Headscarf Controversy Seen as Matter of Human Rights vs. Fundamentalism

February 12, 2004

Source: The Jakarta Post


On February 12, 2004 The Jakarta Post ran an article by Mohamad Abdun Nasir, who is conducting research on the Muslim headscarf in contemporary western Europe as part of his Masters program in Islamic studies at Leiden University, Holland, in which he discusses the religious and political controversies surrounding the hijab (or jilbab) in Western society. He writes, "These cases depict different viewpoints on and approaches to the jilbab. Some think that a jilbab is an expression of religious freedom -- as it is a symbol of religious belief -- and should therefore be protected by a nation's constitution. On the other hand, it is accused of representing inequality between men and women under Islam, which is incompatible with the Western concepts of female emancipation and gender equality. The headscarf is also considered a challenge to the modern, secular identity of the West. Meanwhile, it is viewed as a reflection of the rise in problems of social integration among the Muslim minority in Western Europe. It is also feared that the jilbab signifies the emergence of religious fundamentalism and radicalism in the West. In short, the Muslim headscarf is now at the center of discursive battles over religious freedom and human rights on the one hand, and debates on fundamentalism."