It's not just men who take to the streets in support of modest dress. Earlier this month, supporters of the Pakistani religious party Jamaat-e-Islami held a rally to observe the World Hijab (veil) Day in Islamabad. Scores of the party's female supporters wearing veils gathered to advocate the necessity of veil for the Muslim women (see photo). To coincide with the event, a major medical university in Pakistan began requiring female students to wear the hijab when treating males.
Government Regulations Vary
On one end of the spectrum, governments require religious dress. For instance, countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan require women to cover.
For instance, a Sudanese woman, Amira Osman Hamed, reportedly was to stand trial on this month for refusing to wear a hijab, the scarf worn by many Muslim women to cover their hair. According to The Huffington Post, Hamed was charged with violating a Sudanese law that states, “Whoever does in a public place an indecent act or an act contrary to public morals or wears an obscene outfit or contrary to public morals or causing an annoyance to public feelings shall be punished with flogging which may not exceed forty lashes or with fine or with both.”
Some governments that formerly restricted head coverings for women are shifting their policies. For instance, in an effort to win support from Islamist groups, Syrian President Bashar Assad reversed a decision that bans teachers from wearing the niqab (face veil) in 2011 .
At the other end of the spectrum, Turkey has not permitted government workers to wear headscarves, though it appears this policy is in the process of being changed. In Tunisia, women may not wear headscarves or full veils in public buildings or schools, though since the Arab Spring revolution, pressure is mounting to change this policy.
A number of other governments have banned or are moving to ban the veil. The Russian Supreme Court has upheld a ban on wearing Muslim headscarves to school in southern Russia.
In the U.K., a senior minister said this past week that the government should consider banning Muslim girls from wearing veils in public places such as schools. And France addressed the issue by reminding all students in state schools that they may not wear religious garb such as headscarves or crucifixes in a 15-point written statement being posted on school walls.
In Quebec, Canada, this month the Parti Quebecois government proposed a ban on religious clothing for public employees including at schools, hospitals and courthouses. The "Charter of Values,” if adopted, would prohibit public servants from wearing hijabs, kippas, turbans or large crucifixes. The proposal has reportedly triggered aggression against Muslim women wearing such headscarves.
Restrictions on religious dress also occur in employment. Just last week, clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch was fined for not accommodating their store's dress code to allow a Muslim female employee to wear a headscarf. (Also see Bloomberg Businessweek coverage).
Employment discrimination over religious dress affects not only Muslims. For instance, earlier this year the European Court of Human Rights found that there had been a violation of religious freedom in the case involving a British Airways employee who was barred from visibly wearing Christian crosses around her neck while at work.
A recent increase in school bullying in the New York City school is reported to include students pulling off Sikh turbans and Muslim headscarves. And in Niagara, NY, last week, several 16-year-old girls are facing charges for assaulting a 17-year-old Muslim girl wearing as headscarf leaving a mosque.
In one way or another, an increasing number of governments regulate the wearing of religious symbols or attire, such as head coverings for women or facial hair for men. The Pew Research Center’s latest report on global restrictions on religion finds that, as of 2011, 53 of the 198 countries included in the study (27%) have such restrictions, up from 21 countries (11%) in 2007.
But the increase in social hostilities is even more dramatic. Social hostilities over religious attire were found in 50 countries (25%), more than 3 times more than five years earlier when such incidents were reported in 14 countries (7%), according to the Pew Research Center.
While there may not be a direct causal connection between government regulations and social hostilities involving religious attire, Pew Research data show that harassment of women over religious dress occurs more often in countries where the wearing of religious symbols and attire are regulated by any level of government.
For more on connections between social hostilities & government restrictions, see my TEDx Talk.
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