headscarves in solidarity with Muslims after Christchurch shootings

| 22.03,19. 05:29 PM |

New Zealand women wear headscarves in solidarity with Muslims after Christchurch shootings

Women across New Zealand have worn headscarves to show solidarity with Muslims a week after 50 people were killed at two mosques in Christchurch.

Auckland doctor Thaya Ashman came up with the idea to encourage people to wear a headscarf after hearing about a woman who was too scared to go out because she felt her headscarf would make her a target for terrorism.

"I wanted to say: 'We are with you, we want you to feel at home on your own streets, we love, support and respect you'," Dr Ashman said.

As Christchurch locals prayed in front of the Al Noor mosque on Friday, where most of the victims were killed last week, women in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch posted pictures of themselves in headscarves, some with children in headscarves too.

"Why am I wearing a headscarf today? Well, my primary reason was that if anybody else turns up waving a gun, I want to stand between him and anybody he might be pointing it at," Bell Sibly said in Christchurch.

"And I don't want him to be able to tell the difference, because there is no difference."

Many Muslim women cover their heads in public, although some critics see it as a sign of female oppression.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern won widespread praise last week for putting on a black headscarf when meeting members of the Muslim community after the shootings.

And on Thursday, a female police officer with a scarf over her head and an automatic weapon in her hands kept guard at a Christchurch cemetery where shooting victims were buried.

?Solidarity or tokenism

Rachel MacGregor, who is involved in the Head Scarf for Harmony campaign, said she had felt anxious going out with her head covered, with people staring at her when she entered her office building.

"It's given me for the first time an appreciation for what it must be like to be a minority and to wear clothing that perhaps the majority don't normally wear," she said.


Both headscarves and the niqab, the full-face Islamic veil, have stirred debate in countries around the world.

Some have tried to restrict the items, the niqab in particular, while others have called for women to wear them.

While the New Zealand campaign won support and appreciation from the Islamic Women's Council of New Zealand and the NZ Muslim Association, it has opponents in New Zealand and beyond.

In an unsigned opinion piece on Stuff.co.nz, a Muslim woman called the movement "cheap tokenism".

"The attack in Christchurch was not just about Muslims, it was against any person of colour in a 'white' country so this focus on hijabs is derailing the examination of white supremacy, systematic racism, Orientalism and bigotry," she said.

Mehrbano Malik, a 22-year-old woman from Pakistan also writing for Stuff.co.nz, said while she was "deeply touched by the sentiment", the #headscarfforharmony movement reflected "Orientalist ideologies".

"There are many, many Muslim women who do not veil," she wrote.

"Veiling is not an inherent part of Islam. It is not mentioned anywhere in the Quran."

The United Nations Special Rapporteur for Culture, Karima Bennoune, took to Twitter to challenge the movement, pointing to the case of Nasrin Sotoudeh, who was convicted and faces years in prison for defending women who took part in a viral protest against mandatory headscarves in Iran.

"Can I respectfully ask those thinking of participating in scarvesinsolidarity [to] please also consider that millions of Muslim women do not wear [the] hijab, don't want [to] wear it, [and] many like NasrinSotoudeh take great risks [to] defend this opposition?" she wrote on Twitter.

Asra Nomani, a former journalist in Washington, who has campaigned for Muslim reform, urged women not to wear a headscarf for harmony.

"It is a symbol of purity culture antithetical to feminist values. We have women in jail and dead, for refusing the interpretation of Islam you promote," Professor Nomani said on Twitter.


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