BRUSSELS – Living for decades in Belgium, a growing number of Muslim women have been complaining for being excluded from the society because of their veil, blaming recent anti-niqab law for adding to their turmoil.
“I’m looking for a job … and here in Belgium there is a new law we cannot work with our veil,” Hind, a 31-year-old Moroccan woman living in Brussels, told Anadolu Agency.
“We have to take it off to work,” Hind, who did not want to reveal her last name, added.
Women in Belgium risk a maximum fine of 150 euros if they wear a full face veil in public. Belgium and France both banned the wearing of full veils in public last year.
Belgium banned the wearing of face-veil in public places in 2011.
In 2012, the Belgian Constitutional Court rejected appeals and ruled that the niqab, or face-veil, ban did not violate human rights.
As a result on the new law, if any woman failed to comply with the law, she will be punished with a penalty of 137.50 euros ($195) and up to seven days behind bars in jail as a punishment.
For many Muslim women, the restrictions on niqab and even hijab resulted in excluding them from the Belgian society.
“When you graduate from any studies and you want any job, they ask you to not wear it,” Esma, a 31-year-old Moroccan doctor who wears a traditional hijab, said.
“It’s not allowed in many activities to wear the headscarf,” she said.
Belgian Muslims are estimated at 450,000 – out of a 10-millionp-opulation – about half of them are from Moroccan origin, while 120,000 are from Turkish origin.
Yet, a very small portion estimated to 200 to 300 of the country’s hundreds of thousands of Muslims wear the face veil in public.
While hijab is an obligatory code of dress for Muslim women, the majority of Muslim scholars agree that a woman is not obliged to wear the face veil.
Scholars believe it is up to women to decide whether to take on the niqab or burqa, a loose outfit covering the whole body from head to toe and wore by some Muslim women.
The recent Muslim concerns were expressed during a Sunday rally protesting the mysterious death of a Muslim in his prison cell.
Youssef Tahriki, a 42-year-old father of eight was arrested Sept. 14 after an alleged family argument.
He was found dead in his cell the next day. Police have not revealed the details of his death, which is being investigated by the Charlevoix district attorney in Belgium.
Tahriki’s death highlights rising tensions in a country in which Muslims say they feel stereotyped and discriminated against.
According to the Organization for Security and Cooperation, 614 racist and xenophobic crimes were recorded by law enforcement in the first six months of 2012.
Sixty-six people were sentenced to prison for such crimes.
Moreover, the recent atrocities committed by the so-called Islamic State (ISIL) have put Muslims under pressure of biased stigmatization of the whole Muslim community.
Elodie, a French-speaking Belgian who attended Sunday’s protest, said the Western media needs to change the way it portrays Muslims in the news and “try to understand that being a Muslim is not a problem for anybody.”
Esma agreed, noting that those who leave the country to fight took such decision for feeling not accepted in the society they live in.
Western media need to be more objective and talk to more people, Esma said.
“They have to give the voice to the voiceless,” she said.