Spain debates Muslim headscarf

oct 07 sbs

National debate over the wearing of the Muslim headscarf has been ignited in Spain by the brief expulsion of a nine-year-old Moroccan girl.

Two weeks ago a public school in the town of Gerona in the rich northeastern region of Catalonia said Shaima Saidani, 9, could not attend classes wearing the headscarf, or hijab, as it was against its norms.

The girl returned to school Tuesday after Catalonia's regional government ruled that her right to an education was more important than the institution's norms, which it says amounted to discrimination ...

But the main opposition conservative Popular Party and the regional moderate Catalan nationalists CiU both called for a law regulating the use of the hijab.

Immigrant influx

The issue of the Muslim veil is a relatively new one for Spain which has seen the number of immigrants living within its borders soar from around half a million in 1996 to 4.48 million at the end of last year, out of a total population of 45.12 million people, according to government figures.

Moroccans make up Spain's largest foreign community with some 576,000 residents.

There are now 531,000 immigrant children attending Spain's schools, including 90,000 from North Africa.

Case will ‘blow over’

The Union of Islamic Communities in Spain, which represents the nation's Muslim community, welcomed the decision to allow Shaima to attend school and predicted the issue would blow over.

"In Spain the constitution guarantees freedom of religion. Shaima's case is unique. I don't think this controversy will go much further," the body's president Riay Tatary Bakry says.

In several other European Union states the use of the hijab in schools has been allowed in the name of civil liberty or schools have been given permission to decide their own policy.