Freedom means being able to wear the veil, too
December 5th, 2012
04:26 PM ET

Freedom means being able to wear the veil, too

By Sahar Aziz, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Sahar Aziz is a fellow at the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding and an associate professor of Texas Wesleyan School of Law. She serves as the president of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association. The views expressed are her own.

In October, in a blatant act of discrimination, a Muslim woman wearing a veil in an Oklahoma bank was reportedly told she had to be escorted from the door to the teller. The Valley National Bank in Tulsa stated that this was not an act of religious discrimination, but rather part of their “no hat, no hood” policy instituted to allow security to clearly identify and take surveillance pictures of customers.

But as Executive Director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Adam Soltani said, "singling out Muslim women or other people of faith who wear religiously mandated head coverings that do not hinder identification is inappropriate and discriminatory."

According to the Pew Research Center, 43 percent of the roughly 1 million Muslim women in America wear headscarves. That’s a significant number of women in this country who face potential difficulties based on their decision to practice their faith the way they see fit. Yet their unique civil rights challenges are not reflected in any substantive way in the agendas of American Muslim organizations, who dance around the issue of gender, or among American feminist groups, who don’t want to touch issues of religion with a ten foot barge pole.

With the American public generally still suspicious of Muslims, evidence increasingly suggests that for American Muslim women, the “veil” now “marks” them as representatives of the suspect, inherently violent, and forever foreign “terrorist other” in our midst.

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A recent policy brief published by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, shows that Muslim women of all races and levels of religiosity face unique forms of discrimination at the intersection of religion, race, and gender because of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Consequently, these women are caught in the crosshairs of national security conflicts that profoundly affect their lives – including the safety of their family and their economic prospects – and receive inadequate support from advocacy groups focused on defending Muslims, women’s rights or civil liberties post-9/11. With the number of bullying cases against Muslim children and employment discrimination cases filed by American Muslim women on the rise, American women’s organization must stand up and take notice.

While these women’s rights groups have focused on equal pay, abortion rights, and other gender-specific issues certainly benefit Muslim women, the American women’s rights agenda fails to address the unique forms of subordination experienced by American Muslim women and the challenges faced by many other religious groups. With 86 percent of American women affiliated with a faith tradition, exploring issues of women’s rights and religion is a critical issue.

This exclusion from the agenda is the latest iteration of the ongoing challenge faced by Western feminists to remain relevant in an increasingly diverse and complicated conversation on women’s rights in this country. Add the element of religion, specifically American Muslim women who cover their hair, and traditionally progressive feminist organizations get nervous. Ironically, feminist groups such as the National Organization for Women and the Feminist Majority Foundation have consistently called for banning the burqa and spoken in defense of women’s rights in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Middle Eastern nations while remaining silent on an American Muslim woman’s right to wear the headscarf free of discrimination and violence. They might address the fact that civil rights are abused when it comes to religious women’s rights; however, they don’t take issue and support the gender rights of these women through concerted campaigns.

What will it take for a woman’s choice to cover her hair based on her religious beliefs to be seen as a civil and woman’s right? Whether a woman wants to take off the burqa in Afghanistan or wants to wear the headscarf in Oklahoma, women’s rights organizations must remain consistent in their support of choice and yes, freedom to practice religion in the way that aligns with a woman’s core beliefs.

In the end, a woman’s rights are about personal autonomy to choose her life’s path, not whether we approve of it.

Post by:
Topics: Islam • United States • Women

soundoff (38 Responses)
  1. Hahahahahahahaha

    Time to "Ban the Burka"!!!!!!! They could be bank robbers!!!!! Hhaahahhahhaha

    December 5, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Reply
    • Khaled

      Its is 'high' time for you to consult a psychiatrist .. already gone Mad..


      December 7, 2012 at 2:26 am | Reply
  2. Gamal Omar

    great article i agree it is all about freedom ,civil and human right

    December 5, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Reply
    • Hahahahahahahaha

      Wrong!!! It's all about oppressing women in the name of religion!!!! Hahahahahahha

      December 5, 2012 at 5:07 pm | Reply
      • Seniora

        excuse me but why do you feel threatened by a covered woman but not by a naked woman...could it be with the naked woman you can feast your perveted eyes on?

        December 6, 2012 at 1:02 pm |
      • Patriot

        It isn't ironic at all that the women's rights groups want to ban it, IT IS A SYMBOL OF OPRESSION! Something we don't tolerate in america, women should be ashamed and should feel harassed because they wear it, wearing a burka is spitting in America's face and by god we won't stand for this crap forever. Islam and the west can never be at peace when islam tolerates no one and it is a hate filled cult.

        December 10, 2012 at 1:41 pm |
  3. j. von hettlingen

    The author has to failed to see the clash of civilisation between Muslim women, who defend their rights to wearing a headscarf or a burqa and American feminist organisations, who see them as a display of suppression. They advocate for women's rights in Afghanistan, as it's one of the worst places on earth for women, but they will not support Muslim women who want to cover their hair.

    December 5, 2012 at 5:12 pm | Reply
  4. Amilcar Tavares

    Major problem with the "religiously mandated head coverings". There are scholars who says that this not clear.

    December 5, 2012 at 7:36 pm | Reply
    • Livefordeen

      Yes, but majority of the scolars as well as muslim women in the past and present wears a headscarf as part of their religious act. Even in early judaism and christianity women used to cover their head. We have the nuns who are more covered than most muslim women in America.

      December 6, 2012 at 5:10 pm | Reply
  5. Quigley

    I agree with Sahar Aziz about this. It's the right-wing fanatics who want to ban the burka as they seek to impose their will on others as always! It seems that these right-wingers always get their way!

    December 6, 2012 at 8:15 am | Reply
  6. Hate Wins

    The Islamic traditions that require women to stay covered are the MOST RUGHT WINGED PART OF ISLAM. So I guess its ok to be right winged if it oppresses women for religious reasons but not for political one.

    It is their religion, we are not their keepers. If any of these women ask for refuge to escape theses restriction on them then give it to them. We can guess that they are being forced but until they ask for help the laws should protect their rights also.

    December 6, 2012 at 9:14 am | Reply
  7. jasb92




    December 6, 2012 at 10:34 am | Reply
    • Tina

      The "rule" (which most people call "laws") stipulate that a bank can't discriminate against clients with a policy of making some remove a turban or headscarf that do not inhibit anyone from identifying them. If this bank wants to somehow completely disassociate itself from the Fed and not be backed by the FDIC, then maybe it can make up its own "rule." Otherwise, it is obliged to follow the law of the land.

      December 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Reply
      • Tina

        Typo... The second word should have been "rules" – left off an "s".

        December 6, 2012 at 12:50 pm |
      • Hate Wins

        Dose the law say anything about, face coverings that block identification of the wearer? If not then the banks rules apply.

        December 6, 2012 at 12:57 pm |
      • Hate Wins

        Also what is required when facial ID is required to cash a check or some other transaction?

        December 6, 2012 at 1:01 pm |
  8. Just for Fun

    I support nudity can I go to Wal-Mart nude? NO it’s not allowed. If the bank requires uncovered faces and you do not agree then use a different bank.

    December 6, 2012 at 11:29 am | Reply
  9. Just for Fun

    Are the men of Islam so afraid that can not keep their women if other men can see them?

    December 6, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Reply
    • Seniora

      no you see you made a fundamental error one who knows nothing about Islam will make....the burqa is not mandated by men but by God...and stop saying stuff when you know nothing about the subject...first educate yourself then contribute to the discussion...furthermore, I guess if a man is not affected by asking his wife to wear a miniskirt and a bra and walk in a local bar to be seen by other men then I believe it is okay for a Muslim man to walk in a restaurant with his wife wearing her clothes modestly! What makes one different from the other?

      December 6, 2012 at 1:08 pm | Reply
  10. Hate Wins

    Is this the same God that told the Taliban to shot a young girl for just wanting to read, or throw acid in the faces of other young women for wanting to learn or have their Dads kill them because they choses not to wear a BURQA?
    I hope not since we all pray to the same God of Abraham. My God dose NOT condon the killing of Children.

    December 6, 2012 at 1:26 pm | Reply
    • Adil

      The God of Islam does NOT condone such behavior just as the God of Christianity does not condone the actions of the Klu Klux Klan. The girl who was shot by the taliban was asked by interviewers what she would say to the taliban if she ever saw them again and she said that she would not be angry at them; she would just ask that they read the Quran again for it never instructed them to do what they have done.

      December 14, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Reply
  11. Hate Wins

    This is not to offend anyone, but I think you can see my point. I try to understand and each time I hit this wall.

    December 6, 2012 at 1:30 pm | Reply
  12. Hate Wins

    HAhahahahahaha: Is a Child and has no cocern for others just his/her enjoymen of what he/she says or dose.

    December 6, 2012 at 1:37 pm | Reply
  13. Samreen fatima

    They are the ppl who are still stucked n confused regarding the actual concept of freedon n human rights..what an Irony!
    How they could accept a naked woman walking freedomly on the roads but they restrict a woman in veil.?why dont they let a woman in veil to go through her life n work with the same freedom.?
    How they dare to call themselves as liberals n human right activists.?

    December 6, 2012 at 3:47 pm | Reply
    • Patriot

      Because you ignorant terrorist is that women CAN'T walk "naked" in the streets, maybe wearing shorts and a t shirt is naked to you backwards animals but its called freedom, you should be ashamed of oppressing people and justifying it with your death cult "religion"

      December 10, 2012 at 1:46 pm | Reply
  14. muntaha maryam


    December 6, 2012 at 3:51 pm | Reply
  15. deniz boro

    An essential basic of freedom is to communicate. And the fundamental role of a state may be to establis these rights locally, regionally and internationally. When even those people who speak the same language can not find a basis of communication, this indeed looks like a hard task. However, if humankind learns to listen. Well it might help.

    December 7, 2012 at 5:25 pm | Reply
  16. Moyoni mwa Mwafrika

    Reblogged this on MOYONI MWA MWAFRIKA.

    December 8, 2012 at 5:19 am | Reply
  17. Carl

    (1) A number of states have banned the wearing of face-concealing masks in public in reaction to KKK crimes which their members got a way with because they couuldn't be identified; (2) for similar reasons of the need for identification, esp. in view of recent bank and store holdups by persons wearing "hoodies," some establishments, strangely enough, want to discourage would-be thieves from thinking that they left no means of tracking them; (3) facial idetification is a major method of helping to track certain public behavior on lesser criminal levels, such as leaving the scene of an accident, assaulting a person in a subway and running away; grabbing a woman's purse and fleeing. Hard though some people believe, there are actually woman bank robbers, as has been found out from Massachusetts to California, and they were traced because cameras had images of their FACES.

    December 8, 2012 at 2:54 pm | Reply
  18. HK

    Poverty Reduction has become the biggest challenge, everyone should think about this global issue and try to find solutions we can start from ourselves; our idea might change the world.

    December 9, 2012 at 5:42 am | Reply
  19. Sally

    Here in Germany it's somehow funny to hear voices in public saying that women wearing a scarf or a Burka are automatically victims of surpression. They think, that there is a golden rule how things ought to be and that wearing a scarf doesn't fit to liberty and freedom of speech. But most of them judge out of prejudice, because why should an outstanding person by seing a scarf automatically know about the actual feeling of that woman in particular? Maybe it's her decision and in private there isn't any surpression at all. Wearing a scarf or anything is only the phenomenon, the underlying pattern is fear for something strange and unknown, the disliking of other religious traditions and the wish to discriminate.

    December 9, 2012 at 10:43 am | Reply
    • Patriot

      It's subtle terrorism Sally plain and simple, america won't stand back and let these animals win, THESE COLORS DON'T RUN TERRORISTS! Understand all of you who think you'll win with shiraha law or whatever the hell it's called you won't win, you'll lose and there won't be 7 virgins or whatever your death cult claims, you face free men here! Not slaves or cowards!

      December 10, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Reply
  20. HK

    I also agree that most of the people does not consider it as sign of suppression they wear it because it's their tradition their religious needs....

    December 9, 2012 at 10:57 pm | Reply

    A veil, which covers one's face and a hijab, which covers one's head/hair are different. Here the writer uses both words indiscriminately. Please don't get confused. A face cover is not a part of Islam and is not religiously mandated. No jusification of wearing it.

    February 11, 2013 at 5:31 am | Reply
  22. Daniel

    Hi my friend! My name is "Daniel"! I'd really want to mention this article is fabulous, excellent written and hold virtually all vital infos.

    November 4, 2013 at 1:41 am | Reply

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