01/22/2004, 00.00
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Islamic Veil: Muslims and Christians in favor of the French prohibition

Jakarta (AsiaNews) –  Debate is growing ever hotter regarding the Islamic veil and France's decision to prohibit it in schools. Yet there are also Muslims and Christians who defend France.  

Last Jan. 16, 200 Indonesian Muslims participated in a protest to ask Paris to revoke its prohibition of the jilbab (Islamic veil), sustaining that it amounted to a forbiddance of practicing religion. The protest was organized by Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an international Islamic movement, which in recent years has gained wide popularity among the ranks of Muslim radicals. The protestors, many of which were women in Islamic dress, shouted "Allah-u-Akbar", ("God is the greatest") and raised up signs which read "The jilbab is obligatory not an embellishment" and the  "Secularism oppresses Muslim women".   

Members of the group in addition recalled that Muslims helped King Francis I, who was detained in the hands of the Spaniards during the battle of Pavia in 1525. In an open letter to president Chirac they asked France to return the favor to Muslims by overturning the law.

Zainal Alumuslim, spokesperson for the Indonesian Hizb-ut-Tahrir, told AsiaNews that the protest against the French prohibition wanted to urged Paris not to take measures, in the name of secularism, which are too harsh against the Muslim community . "If France will go ahead and prohibit the Islamic veil, said Almuslim, "it means that Paris merely wants to provoke hostility within Islam and its faithful."

According to Ali Muhamad, graduate of the University of Edinburgh and professor at the state University of Jakarta, the protest reflects only one side of the problem.

The veil problem brings to light that the issue of secularism is still open, even in the first secular state of France. He made references to Yusuf Qardawi, an influential Egyptian religious against the veil's prohibition, but also to Mohammad Sayyed Tantawy, a sheikh at the religious University of Al-Azhar, who holds that France has the right to forbid the Islamic veil in state schools and that Muslim women must abide by the their government's decisions if they want to live in a secular state as opposed to an Islamic one.   

The veil's prohibition - Ali Muhamad says – must not be considered absolutely unjust and wrong, but in relation to the country in which the law is enacted. Indonesia can consider the prohibition inappropriate; the French government has learned from its own history how to cope with diversity.

Catholic priests and protestant pastors in Indonesia said that the problem should not be debated in public, since Indonesians are too sensitive.

At any rate, the same problem has afflicted Catholic and Christian schools for at least 10 years. These schools have mandated specific codes of conduct prohibiting the use of the jilbab. In others, male and female students have been required to wear school uniforms since the very first day they entered .  (MH)

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