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A Primer on ‘Hijab Debate 2009’.

September 9, 2009 6 comments


The garments.

The beginning of the new school year is as good a time as any to take stock of Europe’s seemingly boundless obsession with Muslim women’s dress. I blogged on the hijab in Ireland’s schools for the CCJHR blog in June of last year. Since then, RTE has produced a radio documentary about Shekinah Egan, whose case sparked Irish engagement with this issue.

When I talk about Muslim women’s dress, I have in mind a number of  types of garment which cover the face and body to varying degrees. They are displayed and labelled in the picture on the right, adapted from the BBC website.  The European debates have revolved around the permissibilty of restrictions on this broad class of dress. Even as it becomes a visible part of European popular culture and lived multiculturalism;  in rap music, art and sport, ‘the veil’ excites ever more exclusionary policy-making. This post is intended as an entry level guide to current debates and is confined to a selection of the most important ‘hijab’ stories which have been reported since January. Rather than getting into my own analysis  (or indeed, into the law or the voluminous academic commentary) in any detail in this post, I wanted to write a ‘basics’ post now which will introduce readers to the topic and ground my later contributions.

The European engagement with Islamic dress can be understood in terms of four broad themes: the what, who, where and why of restrictions on Muslim women’s dress.

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