On June 14, 2020, the constitutional court in Belgium issued a ruling banning headscarfs from universities. This declaration means that hijab-wearing women don’t have the right to get higher education. Some will, unfortunately, give up on their dreams, and some will be forced to remove the hijab to get an education.
In the wake of this controversial decision, a group of Muslim women created the movement #HijabisFightBack, as a way to protest the discrimination they are suffering from. Over 1,000 people protested Sunday afternoon at the central Mont des Arts in the Belgian capital.
Using the hashtags #HijabisFightBack and #TouchePasAMesEtudes (“leave my education alone”), activists are using social media to highlight the ban’s discriminatory and sexist impact.
“Women are always the ones taking this kind of blow,” said Fatima-Zohra Ait El Maâti, feminist author and founding director of Imazi.Reine, in an interview with Vice. “A headscarf ban means a serious impact on the right to education and the right to self-determination. Making decisions about what I can wear cannot happen without me sitting at the table. That did not happen at the Constitutional Court. Now we want to speak in our own name.”
It is time to acknowledge that Europe has an Islamophobia problem
The NY Times reported, in February, two violent attacks on Muslims took place in Europe, one in Hanau in Germany, the other in London, took place within 24 hours of each other. Though the circumstances were different — the attacker in Hanau left a “manifesto” full of far-right conspiracy theories, while the motivations of the London attacker were less certain — the target was the same: Muslims. The two events add to a growing list of violent attacks on Muslims across Europe. In 2018 alone, France saw an increase of 52 percent of Islamophobic incidents; in Austria there was a rise of approximately 74 percent, with 540 cases. The culmination of a decade of steadily increasing attacks on Muslims, such figures express a widespread antipathy to Islam. Forty-four percent of Germans, for example, see “a fundamental contradiction between Islam and German culture and values.” The figure for the same in Finland is a remarkable 62 percent; in Italy, it’s 53 percent. There isn’t a single country in Europe where Islamophobic attacks are not on the rise.
In addition, according to The Belgian Association for the Prevention of Islamophobia (CCIB) “There is an Islamophobic attack in Belgium every two days.” This court ruling allows the government of Belgium to tell Muslim women what they can and can’t wear on university campuses, taking away their basic freedom to choose how they dress. Belgium’s obsession with the headscarf and oppression of Muslim women is rooted in their anti-Islamic sentiment.
Belgium’s obsession with the headscarf and oppression of Muslim women is rooted in their anti-Islamic sentiment.
The structural racism Muslims experience in Belgium and across other countries in Europe on a daily basis is something the media and other countries in power continue to ignore blindly.
Why citizens around the world should care
Harmful dress codes that forbid religious clothing in public spaces fuel a range of systemic issues, such as poverty, racism, unequal access to opportunities, and discrimination. We cannot achieve the UN’s Global Goals and end extreme poverty without ensuring equal rights and opportunities for everyone, regardless of their nationality, race, religion, or any other status. You can help by signing this petition here.
Maliya Naz is a Kashmiri/Pakistani American poet and human rights advocate. When she is not volunteering or translating Urdu ghazals, you can find her giving talks about all things Islam and spirituality.