Monday, November 29, 1999

European Muslim meeting criticises veil ban plans

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Muslims attending a conference in Austria's capital on Monday criticised European countries for considering the possibility of banning face-covering veils, saying it is counterproductive and regressive.Veil bans are being considered in Belgium and France, and lawmakers in other European countries have also raised the issue.The roughly 100 imams and Muslim religious advisers from 40 countries participating in the meeting in Vienna agreed that Islam doesn't make it a requirement for women to wear face veils and saw little need to discuss it because of consensus on the matter, said Carla Amina Baghajati, a spokeswoman for the Islamic Religious Authority in Austria, which hosted the meeting."Nevertheless, we are critical that it comes to a ban," Baghajati said. "Why? Because it's counterproductive." She was among about 30 women taking part in the meeting.An extensive draft resolution presented at the end of the two-day conference called for programs to promote the education of Muslim girls and women and said every mosque should have a female contact person for women's issues.It also expressed concern about a Swiss referendum late last year to ban the construction of new minarets and stressed that the practicing of Islam encompasses the respect of people from other religions or who hold different world views."Muslims don't want to be seen as a problem but rather as part of the solution for modern challenges," the document said.The laws proposing bans on face-covering veils promote a stereotype that there is "something dangerous" about Muslims and that they don't respect women's rights, Baghajati said.A discussion within the Muslim community has helped keep the number of women dressing this way in Europe to a minimum, she added.Famile Fatma Arslan, a Dutch lawyer and fellow conference participant, warned that the bans, if approved, could backfire.

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