Novara, Northern Italy, May 2010: Tunisian Muslim Amel Marmouri is stopped by the carabienieri, the Italian police, and fined 500 Euros for wearing a burqa.
Whether it’s a phenomenon or a mere fashion to apprehend Muslim women for covering up rather depends on how you look at it. For Izzedin Elzir, President of the Union of Islamic Communities in Italy (UCOII) and a former fashion designer – the decision to fine Amel Marmouri is unacceptable:
“Veiled Muslim women have become the true upholders of western traditions of female dress.” He insists in a fascinating Guardian article.
Good Enough for The Madonna = Good Enough for Me?
“If we go and see the beautiful artistic representations of the Madonna, we see her with the veil. We don’t see her semi-naked, I think. For that reason, I believe it is the Muslims who are protecting the traditions of our country.”
Izzedin Elzir has condemned the fine, imposed under an Italian municipal bylaw passed in January. His heated remarks have caused uproar as the burka debate simmers to a boil around Europe. Last month, the Belgian lower house voted to ban full veils in public. In France, Sarkozy’s government is drafting a bill to the same effect.
Italy’s Northern League, however maintains that the country’s identity is inextricably tied up with its Christian customs. But the Imam feels that contrary to contravening Christian laws and heritage, the veil forms part of the fabric of Italian tradition:
“I believe Italian tradition is that which can be seen by going to a church, to a museum and seeing the beautiful images of the Madonna with a beautiful veil. That is our tradition.”
Living By the Rules…
Marmouri’s husband, 36-year-old Braim Ben Salah, insists that the couple was merely obeying the Qur’an, which states his wife “may not be looked at by other men”. But Elzir disputes that, as The Guardian reports:
“There are two interpretations,” he said. “One interpretation has it that the woman should be totally covered. Another says the woman should be covered totally, except for her face and hands. Both schools of thought are valid and it depends on the woman which school she chooses.
“The important thing is the freedom of the individual. Whether the face is covered or not covered, this belongs to the private sphere of the individual where we believe our constitution – the Italian constitution – guarantees religious freedom.”
In Your Face
The UCOII is not actually pro full veils. But the Imam asserts women’s rights and choices, alluding to equality for Muslim women and half-naked female Italian TV stars. His argument boils down to discrimination, and the bigger picture, which includes issues such as Italy’s spiraling economy and climbing unemployment.
“I believe the politicians and those who have the responsibility for governing ought to be looking at the reality and trying to resolve the problems of society, rather than creating them.” He said.
Ben Salah (Amel Marmouri’s husband) said that the fine imposed on his wife means she can no longer leave their house.
“So what is better?” asks the Imam. “That we condemn these hundred or so women who cover up their faces to spend the rest of their lives at home?”