When Islam and the West clash...over a chador

The case of a 13-year-old Moroccan girl in Spain has again brought up the issue of what rights immigrants have to practise their religion and culture in the host country. In focus, the case of Fatima, whose desire to frequent classes wearing the veil (chador) caused a public debate in Spain.

Fatima decided at an early age to use the chador. After arriving in Spain to be with her father, a Moroccan immigrant, she enrolled in a school. The Spanish authorities assigned her to a private, catholic school, which her father could not afford, so after an appeal, she was sent to another.

The Director of the school considered that the chador was a sexist ornament and as such, the girl could not attend classes wearing it, because it was an affront to womens’ rights. The girl’s father, Ali Edrissi, took up the case with the Association of Moroccan Workers and Immigrants, explaining that the use of the chador was “a symbol which represents a culture rather than a religion”.

The debate reached the Spanish government, whose Minister of Work, Juan Carlos Aparicio, compared the use of the chador to female genital mutilation, both of which he considered to be “unacceptable customs”.

Carlos Mayor Oreja, the Spanish Education Minister, put off a trip on Saturday as the debate heated up. He decided that since it was the girl who decided if she wanted to wear the chador or not, and since there were other precedents in Madrid of Moslem girls attending schools wearing this veil, Fatima could attend classes “without any conditions”.

Fatima can attend classes in her host country and can keep her own culture. However, it will be interesting to see what she does in the gymnastics classes, wearing a chador and tight shorts.