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Austrian colleges ban religious symbols after ECJ case

By Askin Kiyagan

VIENNA (AA) – An education company in Austria has banned its staff from wearing visible religious symbols following the decision of the EU’s top court to allow such a block, local media said Wednesday.

BFI, which runs around a dozen vocational colleges across the country, said it had banned its employees from wearing “every kind of visible” religious symbol, the Kleine Zeitung newspaper reported.

In an interview hours after the European Court of Justice said it did not constitute “direct discrimination” to ban the wearing of any “political, philosophical or religious sign”, company executive Wilhelm Techt said his staff would comply with “Western culture”.

He told the newspaper: “We should transfer Western culture and values without misunderstandings. Therefore, educators have to work in Western clothes.”

He added that BFI numbered around 1,000 asylum seekers among its thousands of students. It has around 430 teaching staff, according to the company’s website.

Although the ruling applies to all outward signs of political or religious affiliation, Muslims have described the court’s ruling as a direct attack on women wearing the hijab, or headscarf.

Ibrahim Olgun, head of the Austrian Islamic Society, said the decision would reduce the number of Muslim women in the workplace.

“There will be a serious discrimination against Muslim women,” he said. “We see the reflections of this in the BFI example. The decision will exclude our women who wear headscarves from society.”

The judgment came in the cases of two women in France and Belgium, dating back to 2008 and 2003 respectively, who were dismissed for refusing to remove their hijabs at work.

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Nigerian court rejects state bid to ban hijab in school

By Rafiu Ajakaye

LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – A court in Lagos on Tuesday threw out a state government motion seeking an injunction to stop the usage of hijab among schoolgirls.

The Court of Appeal rejected the stay of execution filed by the Lagos state government that aimed to prevent Muslims wearing a head covering at schools in the state pending a ruling by the Supreme Court.

Justice Mohamed Lawal Garba said the motion could only be heard by the Supreme Court, which has yet to set a date for the hearing.

“We are unable to entertain this motion… and it is hereby struck out,” he said.

Last July, the state lost a Court of Appeal hearing when the court approved the use of the hijab in school by Muslim students.

The case was brought by the Muslim Students’ Society of Nigeria (MSSN) following a state government circular banning its use on the grounds of Nigeria’s secular tradition and the need for uniformity in public schools.

“It gladdens to see that the injunction which the [state government] is using as a basis to deny the implementation of the Court of Appeal judgment has been struck out,” MSSN President Saheed Ashafa said in a statement.

“We hereby urge all stakeholders to be law-abiding for a peaceful implementation of the judgment. There should be no violation of human rights against our students while we expect an immediate implementation of the judgment in all schools across the state.”

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Nigerian Muslim women seek pro-hijab legislation

By Rafiu Ajakaye

LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – Nigerian Muslim women have called on authorities to pass legislation prescribing sanctions against government agencies or private firms which discriminate against the use of the Muslim headscarf, hijab.

In separate news briefings commemorating the Feb. 1 World Hijab Day across the country, coalitions of Muslim women decried rising cases of women being shut out of workplaces or female pupils being sent out of class because they wear the hijab, and said authorities must reverse the trend they insist violates the Nigerian law.

Nimatullah Abdulqadir, president of the Al-Mu’minaat, or the believing Muslim women, told a news briefing in the commercial capital Lagos late Tuesday that some government officials “are perpetrating an act of oppression and injustice against Muslim women.

“We also call on both national and state parliaments to enact appropriate legislations that will guarantee the right of Muslim women to dress according to their religious belief.

“The challenges faced by Muslim women in Nigeria as a result of their desire to wear hijab continue to leave bitter taste in our mouth, especially when juxtaposed with the unlimited freedom enjoyed by other women who choose to dress in any manner of their liking including sometimes in semi-clad attires,” she added.

Mutiat Orolu-Balogun, coordinator of Hijab Rights Advocacy Initiative, said hijab was an added religious duty for Muslim women and asking them to remove it amounted to discrimination and oppression.

“One thing we all seem to agree on is that violence against women is wrong in all its forms, whether it is physical, emotional or psychological,” Orolu-Balogun told another news briefing in Lagos on Wednesday.

“Asking a Muslim woman to remove her hijab is a form of violence against women. It should have no place in a progressive society like ours as more people, including women, are getting more educated and moving into the work force,” she said.

Coalition of Nigerian Muslim Women, another pro-hijab movement, also condemned the attack on hijab and said the government had to prevent continuous discrimination against any woman who chooses to wear the Muslim headscarf.

Hijab has become a serious issue in Nigeria following attempts by some schools and government agencies to ban or restrict its use.

The Muslims have won two cases which are now before the appellate court. Last year, Lagos’ ban of the hijab was declared unlawful by an appeals court. The case is now with the Supreme Court.

World Hijab Day, an initiative of a U.S.-based Pakistani woman Nazma Khan, was first commemorated in 2013.

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Australia theater faces threats for ‘hijab’ billboard

By Recep Sakar

MELBOURNE, Australia (AA) – The Canberra Theatre Center, which displayed an advertisement featuring two Muslim girls wearing the hijab on a billboard for Australia Day, has received bomb threats, according to Australian media on Wednesday.

According to state-owned Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), the theater received bomb threats by far-right Islamophobic groups.

The “Respect Australia” Islamophobic group had urged its members to react against the advertisement.

The theater received many threats online, including phrases like “bomb it” and “people… to go there and destroy it”. The threats also called for arson attacks.

The theater was forced to lock down its social media pages after receiving the threats. However, it said that it would continue to display the advertisement.

“The image of these young girls is a wonderful example of multiculturalism at work,” the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) government said in a statement.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr described the reactions as “fanatical” and “irrational”.

“There will always be racist rednecks in any community but I’m not going to give them any succor in the ACT,” Barr said.

He added that those who made the threats should be arrested.

Canberra Multicultural Community Forum Chair Diana Abdel-Rahman said: “I’m shocked that something like this would be happening in Canberra.”

Australia celebrates Australia Day every Jan. 26.

Last week, the same advertisement displayed at Cranbourne district of Melbourne had been removed after similar threats from far-right Islamophobic groups.

Australians, in response to the removal of the advertisement, had organized a crowd-funding campaign, and raised 125,000 Australian dollars ($97,000) in 24 hours in order to republish and spread the advertisement across Australia.

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Missing Muslim teen located in New York

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – A Muslim teen who went missing earlier this week has been located, the Nassau County Police Department told Anadolu Agency on Saturday.

Yasmin Seweid was last seen Wednesday leaving her home at around 8 p.m. in New Hyde Park, just outside of New York City, police said.

The department confirmed Seweid had been located in New York and is okay. Other details on the case were not immediately available.

The 18-year-old student reported to police Dec. 1 that she was harassed by three drunk men who called her a terrorist and tried to pull her hijab off her head on the platform of the number 6 train station in Manhattan.

The attack was soon followed by two more against hijab-wearing Muslim women.

Soha Salama, 45, who works with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, was verbally abused during the morning commute Monday by a passenger on a train, who then followed her off the car and pushed her off the stairs, leaving her with leg injuries.

Last weekend, police officer Aml Elsokary was targeted, along with her son, in a hate attack. Elsokary, a NYC native, was told to “go back to your country” and accused of being a terrorist by a white man who pushed her son around. He was later arrested and charged with second-degree harassment.

Attacks on minorities, including Muslims, and anti-minority rhetoric are becoming increasingly common in the U.S. following the election of President-elect Donald Trump.

The Southern Povery Law Center, an anti-hate crime group, chronicled 867 hate incidents in the 10 days after the election alone.

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London mayor Sadiq Khan slams French ‘burkini’ ban

LONDON (AA) – Police in Scotland have announced that the hijab will become an optional part of its officers’ uniform as London mayor Sadiq Khan condemned France’s ‘burkini’ ban.

The Scottish force said the headscarf would be permitted in the hope it would encourage Muslim women to consider policing as a career option.

Police Scotland chief constable Phil Gormley said in a statement: “I am delighted to make this announcement and welcome the support from both the Muslim community and the wider community, as well as police officers and staff.

“Like many other employers, especially in the public sector, we are working towards ensuring our service is representative of the communities we serve.

“I hope that this addition to our uniform options will contribute to making our staff mix more diverse and adds to the life skills, experiences and personal qualities that our officers and staff bring to policing the communities of Scotland.”

Muslim women police officers in London have been permitted to wear a hijab for the past decade.

Police Scotland’s announcement came as leading voices in Britain condemned the decision by several French resort cities to ban the full-body swimsuit – known as the ‘burkini’ – worn by some Muslim women.

London mayor Sadiq Khan, a practicing Muslim, was among those who have criticized the ban.

“I’m quite firm on this. I don’t think anyone should tell women what they can and can’t wear. Full stop. It’s as simple as that,” Khan told the Evening Standard newspaper ahead of an official visit to France on Thursday.

“I don’t think it’s right. I’m not saying we’re perfect yet, but one of the joys of London is that we don’t simply tolerate difference; we respect it, we embrace it, and we celebrate it.”

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Canada’s national police force allows hijab

By Barry Ellsworth

TRENTON, Ont. (AA) – The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) has approved female members wearing hijabs, an official confirmed Wednesday.

The addition of the hijab to the force’s distinctive red serge tunic, blue serge breeches, leather riding boots and brown broad-rimmed peaked hat, better reflects Canada’s diversity, according to Scott Bardsley, a spokesman for Canadian Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale’s office.

“The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is a progressive and inclusive police service that values and respects persons of all cultural and religious backgrounds,” Bardsley wrote in an email, Canadian media reported.

He added that the move to allow the hijab was made to encourage Muslim women to join the force.

“The commissioner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police recently approved this addition to the uniform to allow female members of the Muslim faith to wear a hijab if they so choose,” Bardsley said, as reported by Global News.

The RCMP has struggled to attract women to its ranks. Out of a total force of 19,258 regulars — 28,000 counting civilians and public servants — 20 percent are women, according to 2013 figures on the RCMP website.

Harassment allegations by some of its female officers has hurt recruitment as the force pushes to raise its female component to 30 percent by 2025, CTV News reported.

The Mounties are the third Canadian law enforcement agency to allow the hijab, following in the footsteps of the Toronto and Edmonton police forces.

The RCMP uniform dates back to the 1800s and has had few changes.

The force was formed as the North-West Mounted Police in 1893 and aptly named because members patrolled Canada’s north and west.

Today, the Mounties cover everything from policing in municipalities in jurisdictions across Canada to national security intelligence services.

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Egypt’s hijab-wearing volleyballer raises eyebrows in Rio

By Yasin Tuncer

RIO DE JANEIRO (AA) – As the standard uniform of female beach volleyball players at the Summer Olympics currently underway in Brazil is the bikini, Egypt’s Doaa el-Ghobashy has raised eyebrows by becoming the first beach volleyball player to participate at the games wearing hijab (Muslim covering for women).

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, el-Ghobashy said that she wanted to correct widespread misperceptions in the West regarding Islam, saying Muslim women should be represented in all fields.

“I respect those who play [volleyball] in bikinis and my competitors respect my choice to play while wearing hijab,” said el-Ghobashy, whose Olympic uniform reveals only her hands and face.

She went on to assert that, in the Muslim world, women play as active a role as men, particularly in her country, noting that some 5,000 women play volleyball in Egypt.

“I receive positive messages on social media from many countries, especially from women who say I have given them courage and that they are proud of me,” el-Ghobashy said.

“I’ve opened the door for many hijab-wearing women and they thank me for that,” she added.

When asked by her fellow volleyball players why she chooses to wear hijab, the 20-year-old tells them that she has been wearing it for 10 years.

It is her personal preference, she explains, and in accordance with Muslim norms.

“Most of my fellow players understand this,” she said.

El-Ghobashy, who hopes to represent Egypt four years from now at the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, says she wants to be judged by her volleyball performance — not by what she chooses to wear.

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Nigerian court says girls can wear hijab in school

LAGOS, Nigeria (AA) – A Nigerian court ruled on Friday that Muslim girls can wear a headscarf to school as long as its color is the same as the approved uniform.

“Hijab is a matter of [the] fundamental right of freedom of worship and the Muslim children have a right to it without fear of molestation,” Justice Jide Falola said in a 51-page ruling.

The court was ruling on a suit filed by Osun state’s Muslim community, challenging a government decision to disallow the use of hijabs – head-coverings worn by female Muslims — in public schools.

This ruling — subject to appeal up to the Supreme Court — applies only to government schools in the state including missionary institutions the government has acquired since 1975.

Southwestern Osun state was engulfed in a serious crisis in 2013 after Muslim students wearing the hijab were asked to leave a Baptist school, one of the colleges long acquired and funded by the government.

A similar situation is playing out in southwestern Lagos state, although a high court there ruled that the government was right not to permit the hijab. Local Muslims rejected that ruling and have filed an appeal.

The Muslim Students Society of Nigeria has hailed the Osun ruling, saying it “upholds the supremacy of the constitution”.

The government of Osun has yet to comment on the ruling. It is not clear if an appeal will be filed.

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US military academy rejects student’s hijab request

WASHINGTON (AA) – An elite American military college has decided to deny a recently-accepted Muslim female student’s request to wear the hijab.

Citadel President Lt. Gen. John Rosa said in a statement Tuesday that after consideration, the school will not be able to accommodate the student’s request to wear the head covering used commonly by some Muslim women. Her name has been withheld due to privacy considerations.

“As the Military College of South Carolina, The Citadel has relied upon a highly effective educational model requiring all cadets to adopt a common uniform,” Rosa said in a statement.

He said the academy seeks to provide for the cadet’s specific needs “whenever possible”, and pointed to the shuttling of students to churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship.

“Accommodations for prayer and dietary needs are common at the college,” he said.

While three Muslims currently attend the school and several others have graduated in the past, this was the first request for a hijab exemption.

A spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which says it is the largest Muslim-American advocacy group, said that the student will not attend the school unless an exemption is made.

She told the school’s commandant this morning that it is not fair to choose between her faith and attending the Citadel, Ibrahim Hooper said, noting that the family is currently examining legal recourses.

Founded in 1842, the South Carolina military college is known for its strict attire and conduct codes, as well as its high academic standards.

The Citadel’s religious accommodation policy states that the college “places a high value on the rights of cadets to observe tenets of their respective religious faiths.”

In addition: “The Citadel will approve requests for accommodation of religious practices unless accommodation will have an adverse impact on a competing institutional interest,” the policy says, but adds that religious accommodation “cannot be guaranteed at all times.”

Corey Sailor, also an advocacy group spokesman, said: “When somebody wants to serve their country and is trying to observe freely held religious beliefs, I think the extra effort can be made.

“It is extremely important that institutions like the Citadel understand that because we have a diverse country, they have to be willing to deal with diverse beliefs,” he said. “The Citadel can look to the military for guidance on this.”

The U.S. military recently accommodated three Sikh service members hoping to keep their beards untrimmed, and cover their heads with turbans.