Teenager sparks debate over use of Islamic veil in Spain

Teenager sparks debate over use of Islamic veil in Spain

26th April 2010, Comments 2 comments

A Madrid high school’s decision to ban a 16-year-old for refusing to take off her Islamic headscarf has caused an uproar in Spain.

The decision to ban a 16-year-old girl from a Madrid high school for refusing to take off her Islamic headscarf sparked an unprecedented debate Wednesday in Spain over the use of the veil in public schools.

The school board, made up of teachers, students, parents, municipal representatives and non-teaching staff, voted by a margin of 15-2 to maintain its internal regulations which bar "the use of hats and any other article of clothing that cover the head".

The decision means Najwa Malha, who was born in Spain to Moroccan parents and who began wearing the veil in February, will no longer be able to attend classes at the high school at Pozuelo de Alarcon.

"I feel discriminated against, I feel bad," Malha told daily newspaper El Pais after the board reached the decision. She was banned from attending classes last week.

This combination picture created from AFP file images shows Muslim women wearing a Niqab (L) and Burqa's (C and R)

Associations representing Muslims in Spain said they would contest the decision before Spain's Constitutional Court, arguing it interfered with the student's right to education.

The regional government of Madrid, led by the right-wing Popular Party, backed the high school while Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's cabinet appeared divided over the issue.

"In many high schools, young women wear the Islamic veil and that does not cause any problems, neither for them, nor for the rest of the students," Health Minister Trinidad Jiminez said, adding there was no need to "ban or regulate" the use of the veil.

But Equality Minister Bibiana Aido said she was "personally" against the use of the veil.

"This debate however must be held with respect and dialogue, taking into account that it is very complex," she said.

The issue is a relatively new one for the mainly Roman Catholic country which has seen the number of immigrants living within its borders soar from around half a million in 1996 to 5.6 million last year, out of a total population of 46 million people.

Moroccans make up one of the largest immigrant communities.

There is no nationwide policy on the use of the Islamic headscarf in Spain, with each school allowed to decide its own rules.

Spanish Minister for Equality Bibiana Aido Almagro speaks on violence against women in Europe during a Conference on International Women's Day

The regional government of Madrid has suggested that Malha should be transferred to another high school in the area that does not ban the use of the veil.

"Spanish society must not remain on the margins of this controversy and instead confront the issue decisively in order to avoid future problems," the conservative daily ABC wrote in its editorial on Wednesday.

"The Islamic veil has nothing to do with religious freedom, but is instead related to a tradition whose origins are based in the submission of women to the will of their parents and husbands," it added.

AFP / Expatica

2 Comments To This Article

  • Amanda Launchbury-Rainey posted:

    on 28th April 2010, 12:30:15 - Reply

    This teenager didn´t seem to be disposed to wear the veil before February and had accepted the rules of the school, as had her parents, by choosing to attend. There is a trend towards trying to impose the subjugation of women on a western society where it is not welcome - why do some people shoose to migrate to a country where they know that their religious views are not widely held and are likely to cause offence to the national of that country?
  • Keith posted:

    on 28th April 2010, 12:27:10 - Reply

    I think it is important to respect to realise that the veil is simply a tradition - it has no religious basis, and therefore is nothing more than a personal fashion choice. The girl had only started wearing it in February this year so it must surely be just as easy to stop wearing it in April. We are not told what her motivation was to begin wearing it this year, and that would be an important question to ask.
    We come to live in foreign countries as much for cultural as for business reasons.To expect to change the culture of School boards (or any other Institution) in your host nation to meet your personal wishes is not, in my opinion, a justifiable position to adopt.