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Last Updated: Monday, 14 June, 2004, 14:48 GMT 15:48 UK
Women vow to protect Muslim hijab
By Paula Dear
BBC News Online

Muslim women have launched a Europe-wide campaign to protect their right to wear the hijab headscarf.

The international network Assembly for the Protection of Hijab, or Pro-Hijab, was formed in response to headscarf bans in France and parts of Germany.

Ramaana Habeeb and Rajnaara Akhtar
Muslim women are keen to dispel myths about the hijab
Pro-Hijab aims to reverse bans already brought in and prevent more "abuses of democracy" being imposed.

"As Muslims we are proud of the hijab, we are not oppressed," said co-ordinator Abeer Pharaon.

The group, launched in London on Monday, wants to banish the "negative sterotypical image of the hijab which lies at the root of this discrimination" and to offer Muslim women a platform from which they can speak out.

The group has the support of a number of prominent groups such as the Muslim Association of Britain, National Assembly Against Racism, the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe and human rights group Liberty.

'Lacked confidence'

MEP Caroline Lucas, Fiona McTaggart MP, and George Galloway MP and London Mayor Ken Livingstone have also supported the founding of the campaign.

Speaking at the launch Ms McTaggart gave an assurance the government would protect women's rights to wear the hijab, and would not be following France's example.

Student Rumaana Habeeb, 18, said the hijab allowed interactions between men and women to be free and safe.

"Relationships can then based on intellect and nothing else," she said.

Monowara Gani
I think it was the best decision I ever made...I am so happy
Monowara Gani

Pharmacist Saba Naeem, a mother of two, said she had started wearing the hijab later than many women.

"I had wanted to do it for a while but I suppose I didn't have the support network, and I lacked the confidence.

"My husband gave me the encouragement I needed and I came back from honeymoon wearing the hijab. It feels so positive.

"It is a religious duty, but also exists to preserve a woman's modesty. It means you are not just a sex symbol - you have something to offer other than just your looks."

She said the hijab had many benefits, such as bringing communities together and being identified and greeted by fellow Muslims all over the world.

'Initially shocked'

The scarf is not about the oppression of women, she said.

"I am a professional woman who works, I am involved in many activities in my own right. It's important to realise that Muslim men also have dress codes, and the women's hijab also acts as a reminder to them to preserve their dignity."

"The covering of the head is something that is commanded by God, not man," added microbiology student Monowara Gani, 20, who decided in her first year at Nottingham University to add the face veil to her hijab.

"I can't explain why, it's something between me and God. I think it was the best decision I ever made. I know it looks different, and maybe some people think it's wierd, but I am so happy.

"People on campus were initially shocked but in the end it didn't matter to them. We still chat and laugh as before.

She says most comments are positive and the few insults she receives are easy to ignore.

"I walk down the street with so much confidence now."

Pro-Hajib will hold its first full conference at the Greater London Authority on 12 July.

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