Muslims protest at Belgian move to ban face veils in public


A SMALL group of Muslims held a demonstration outside the Belgian embassy in Dublin at the weekend in protest at moves by the Belgian parliament to outlaw the public wearing of face veils.

The lower house of the Belgian parliament recently voted in favour of the proposed law which, while not specifically banning the burqa and niqab, would prohibit the wearing of such items by calling for penalties for those who appear in public with their face hidden or masked.

Less than 50 people took part in the protest outside the embassy in Ballsbridge. Muslims from countries including Egypt, Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Turkey participated. There were also a number of Irish converts to Islam in attendance.

Among the speakers were Yahya Al-Hussein, imam of the South Circular Road mosque; Ali Selim, a theologian based at the Islamic Cultural Centre in Clonskeagh; and Liam Egan, an Irish convert whose teenage daughter’s request to wear the hijab – or headscarf – at her Co Wexford school prompted the principal to call for official guidelines on the wearing of the hijab in State schools.

Mr Al-Hussein told the protesters that Belgium was “betraying its own values of freedom and tolerance”.

“There is no justification for banning Muslim women from wearing what they want.”

Protesters carried placards with slogans such as “Europe’s crusade against Muslims”, “Bigots of Europe” and “No to secular extremism”.

Organisers had circulated a memo before the demonstration advising those planning to attend not to bring banners featuring “calls to violence or trouble”. They also advised against the burning of flags.

About 10 Muslim women attended the demonstration. One protester, Najad Sanoussi, explained that she had worn the niqab since completing her engineering degree in Libya.

Ms Sanoussi (48) moved to Ireland with her family three years ago. “I’m here to make my voice heard because I am worried we may see a ban here in Ireland in the future. I want to be able to practise my religion freely.”

Teenager Samiya Mooge, whose family moved to Ireland from Somalia, said she wears the niqab only when she goes to Somalia.

“A ban would mean discrimination. People are worried that now it’s Belgium, but where next?”

Ms Mooge and her friend Noor Al-Omari, both of whom wear the hijab, said they had experienced a lot of negative reaction when wearing the hijab in public in Ireland.

Eoin Whelan (21), an architecture student who converted to Islam in his teens, said attempts to prohibit the face veil were unfair. “It shows that some are more equal than others.”

A Turkish protester, who did not want to give his name, agreed. “My wife is Irish and Catholic and we respect each other despite those differences. That’s what is important – respect. Muslim women should have the right to wear what they want.”

Michael Nugent of the advocacy group Atheist Ireland was present to observe the protest and engage in discussion with some of the participants.

He said he had “mixed feelings” about moves to ban the face veil, noting that it was a “complicated” issue with several different elements to the debate.