The Arabic word ‘hijab’ means ‘to veil’ or ‘cover’, and there is strong social pressure on women in some Muslim countries to cover themselves in public.
There are three main types of headscarves: a hijab covers the head but leaves the face revealed; a niqab covers the face but leaves the eyes revealed; and a burqa is a gown that completely covers the body and face including the eyes.
The Qur’an says women should dress modestly and in some countries, like Saudi Arabia and Iran, religion is law. For women to break it by not wearing a veil means punishment by religious police.
In October 2006 Aishah Azmi refused to removed her veil while teaching in a primary school, Headfield Church of England Junior School. Despite complaints from parents she still refused to take off the burqa that covered every part of her apart from her eyes.
Even after the children complained to teachers that the way she dressed scared them because they couldn’t see her face or any expressions on her face, she still said no.
The school suspended Ms Azmi and told the public they were forced to go to such extremes as she turned up to the interview without a veil and dressed in casual clothes.
Cultures often clash due to the wearing of veils, notably in France where, in 1989, the French Government ruled that headscarves could be worn, but teachers had the choice of whether or not they would accept it in their classes.
Between 1994 and 2003 around 100 female students were suspended or expelled from school for wearing a veil in class. Now headscarves and all religious symbols are banned from schools in France.
Although this kind of discrimination against different cultures seems a bit beyond the line, perhaps more could be done to enable members of faith-based communities to show more respect to the prevailing norms of western countries.
The same is true for western people visiting foreign countries. If a Brit attends a Middle Eastern country, where the proper clothing is a big thing, they should respect it.
If a woman dresses for the beach in a revealing bikini, and the locals are disgusted, the woman should understand and maybe wear a long sari-like gown.
By respecting the culture, religion and law of the country you are in, no visitor needs to worry about offending people or being prosecuted or even attacked.
Whether you are from the east or west you should respect the laws of the land you are in.