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Last Updated: Thursday, 4 August 2005, 15:03 GMT 16:03 UK
Women hit back over hijab ruling
Woman wearing the traditional Muslim hijab
There has been a rise in religious hate crime since the London attacks
A Muslim women's group has criticised a suggestion they should stop wearing headscarves for fear of hate attacks.

The Assembly for the Protection of the Hijab said wearing the traditional Islamic scarf was a duty and compromising was giving in to violence.

But chairman of the Council of Mosques and Imams Dr Zaki Badawi said removal was justified, as wearing it in the present climate might invite harm.

Dr Badawi's ruling comes after a huge rise in faith hate crimes in London.

Dress is meant to protect from harm, not to invite it
Dr Zaki Badawi

The Metropolitan Police said on Wednesday that there were 269 crimes in the three weeks after the 7 July bombings, compared with 40 in the same period of 2004.

Dr Badawi, who is seen as a progressive Muslim leader who advocates integration, warned that "a woman wearing the hijab... could suffer aggression from irresponsible elements".

"In the present tense situation, with the rise of attacks on Muslims, we advise Muslim women who fear being attacked physically or verbally to remove their hijab so as not to be identified by those hostile to Muslims."

The hijab was designed to identify women as Muslim and thus protect them from molestation, he said, so if it led to harassment it ought not to be worn.

"Dress is meant to protect from harm, not to invite it," he added.

Dr Badawi said he had sought to clarify the situation after being approached by a concerned woman.

His ruling did not mean that women should not wear the headscarf, but simply gave them the choice to remove it if they felt threatened, he said.

'Identities'

But Rajnaara Akhtar, of the Assembly for the Protection of the Hijab, said women should not abandon the key outward symbol of their faith.

To remove the headscarf denies women's "identities as Muslims", she said.

HAVE YOUR SAY
I have no intention whatsoever of abandoning something which is essential to my faith
Elaine Nawaz, Reading, UK

She added that the Koran only allowed woman to remove the hijab if they feared for their lives.

"It's not about life and death. It's not so extreme that if we step out of our house with our hijab we are going to get attacked."

She added that most people in Britain understood that those who attacked London were not Muslims.

Stop-and-search

The London mayor's human rights adviser, Yasmin Quereshi, said the only people who should change their behaviour are those who seek to intimidate or attack Muslims.

"As we would not say to Jewish people that they should not wear the skull-cap, or say to Christians to hide their crosses or Sikhs to take off their turbans, so Muslim women have a right to wear the hijab and this right should be defended."

Met Police Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur said there was no doubt that incidents "impacting on" the Muslim community had increased.

Dr Zaki Badawi
Dr Badawi said the hijab should not be worn if it invited attacks

Communities were also frustrated by the increased use of stop-and-search and the new "shoot-to-kill to protect" policy for suicide bombers, he said.

"It can lead to these communities completely retreating and not engaging at a time when we want their engagement and support," he warned.

A spokesman for the Muslim Safety Forum, an umbrella group which works closely with the police, said the figures reflected a recent increase in calls to their members about abuse and attacks.

The figures emerged as Home Office minister Hazel Blears held the first in a series of meetings with Muslim community groups.

Ahead of the meeting, Ms Blears pledged that Muslims would not be discriminated against by police trying to prevent potential terror attacks.

She also opposed racial profiling, saying stop and searches should be based on good intelligence, not just skin colour.


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