News briefs for week of July 19, 2010

Syria bans niqabs on university campuses, NPR interviews female imams in China, and Spain rejects burqa ban.
Syrian Minister of Higher Education Ghaith Barakat announces a ban of niqabs on university campuses, reports the Voice of America News. The minister’s announcement follows a decision last month to dismiss 1200 school teachers who wore face veils. The move is part of a greater attempt to “act against the more extreme forms of Islam in the country, before it is too late,” explains one analyst. On the flip side, there is also concern that niqab-wearing women who were once allowed to leave their homes for school or work may now be confined to their homes if they cannot wear niqabs out in public.

NPR releases its third part of five in its series, Female Imams Blaze Trail Amid China’s Muslims. Female imams, or ahongs, are interviewed about their role as mosque leaders of female-only congregations in China. They describe their role and status as equivalent to male imams with a few exceptions, like leading a funeral procession. As far back as 100 years ago, some Quranic schools for girls were morphed into female mosques; China is the only country with such a long history of female-led mosques. In recent years, there has been a decline in enrollment of female students interested in becoming imams due to the low wages received by imams.

In a 183 to 162 vote, Spain’s Parliament rejected a proposal to ban face veils worn in public, reports The Associated Press. The leading opposition party, Popular Party, put forward the proposal in support of women’s rights and to prevent Muslim men from forcing their wives to cover. The Socialist government may support a ban of face veils in government buildings in an upcoming bill on religious issues. The burqa ban issue “has been used politically in a search for electoral support,” said Mansur Escudero, president of the Islamic Commission of Spain. He said the last time he saw a woman wearing a burqa in Spain was 10 years ago on Marbella island, but she may have been a tourist.

Shazia Riaz is Events and Publicity Editor for Altmuslimah.

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