¿Is Hiyab Preventing Chileans From Accepting Muslims?
In recent years, Islam has become the religion by choice for many Chileans. Migration flows from countries in the Middle East and North Africa, and the presence of Palestinian refugees and from some West African countries, has made the presence of Muslims is winning, slowly, visibility in Chilean society.
However, the inclusion of Chileans and immigrants of Muslim faith is not free of problems. During the past two years, reports of discrimination against the Muslim population have become frequent in the press. Discrimination affects mostly women and girls, as it is they who become an easy target for mocking and exclusion because of the using of hiyab or islamic headscarf.
In October 2010, the authorities of ”Pequeño Mozart” school in Santiago, banned Yasmin Elsayed, a Muslim girl of 8 years old, from attending to school because she wore the hijab. She was told that if she did not remove the hijab, she would be expelled from school. The girl’s parents appealed to the Ministry of Education. The Minister Joaquin Lavin gave his full support to Elsayed family because “In our schools there can be no religious discrimination: we must respect multiculturalism and diversity in Chile ‘.
Finally, Yasmin was again admitted to the school under the condition that she wear a hijab to match the colors of the uniform that the institution requires. However, media sources reported that this is not the first case of discrimination against Muslim girls in this school “Pequeño Mozart” and there are four unreported situations kept in silence.
Another case of discrimination in which the use of hijab is the problem, took place in August 2010. Fabiola Palominos, Chilean converted to Islam, was forced to take off the hijab in order to cash a check at the State Bank in Santiago, Chile. Currently, she has an ongoing lawsuit against the Chilean government before the Inter-American Human Rights Court.
The last case of discrimination against a Muslim woman occurred in February 2013. Maya Nura, Chilean converted to Islam, was stolen by criminals on the streets of downtown Santiago, in broad daylight. She lost all documents, money, transportation cards, identification, etc.When she went to a police officer – in chile “Carabinero” – which is usually patrolling the streets and asked for help to report the theft, the policeman laughed at her for her headscarf and refused to give appropriate assistance. Instead, he went to ask if she was a foreigner, if she understood Spanish and to look up and down her clothes (jeans, thigh-length tunic and headscarf). Despite Maya’s insistence, the police officer didn’t pay help or wanted to support her in this emergency and Maya finally had to resort to help from the manager of a store who left her use a phone and walked her to the police station.
The Problem is Not The Headscarf
At first glance, the problem seems to be the hijab and is very easy to reach the conclusion that if a girl or a Muslim woman does not want to have problems into society, must give up the use of the headscarf. But this is not so. The real problem is the ignorance and prejudice that exist in Latin American societies in general and in particular in Chilean society towards Muslims. If Muslim women stop wearing the hijab, still persists the prejudice against women who use it in the collective imagination of people.
Hiding the elements of religious identity is to kick the problem of discrimination under the carpet. Also, Why we Muslim women would have to hide our religious identity? Hiyab does not prevent people from see our faces so the alleged obstacle that hiyab would be to be identified is not true. No calls to the same to Catholic nuns nor Christian believers. All they are free to wear veils, headdresses, necklaces with crosses, rosaries in their necks and bracelets with images of saints.
It is true that Islam is a newly religion in Chile, but constitutional rights and the duty of officials to assist citizens are not. It is the duty of the state to ensure respect for the right to self-image, in the form of choice for some cultural-religious symbols. The right to equality certainly includes those aspects that are part of personal space.
However, at this point it is up to the Muslims themselves to be proactive and make islamic authorities take accountability. Is not possible that, in one hand, women are encouraged to use the headscarf, they are told they must not be afraid and must feel proud about their choices but there’s no further support for them if they suffer discrimination for this.
Authorities of mosques and Islamic centers in the country must share knowledge and lead the integration of Muslims and Islam in the Chilean community; set instances of consultation and legal support for Muslims, especially on issues of discrimination; Planning conferences and spaces for dialogue with media, journalists and opinion leaders in order to achieve a greater understanding of our religion and avoid the reproduction of harmful stereotypes and encourage networking with government agencies to avoid vulnerability of our brothers and sisters in this type of situation.