By Sahar Kassaimah

26/1/2001

It is hard to believe or even to imagine that, in a Muslim country, Muslim women are being banned from wearing hijab (headscarves), state employees are banned from wearing beards, and workers can lose their jobs if they are spotted praying in public.

Women have been banned from wearing hijab at universities throughout Turkey since the beginning of 1998, and it is considered a criminal offense against the law in Tunisia.

These are very crucial matters in the history of these two countries – one of which is a former capital of the Khilafah, and the other the land of the glorious Islamic University Azzeituna.

The same shameful conspiracy is occurring within both countries – not only against those who have Islamic political beliefs, but also against anyone practicing Islam.

Thousands of Muslim women have been expelled from their work places; and universities, schools and even hospitals will not admit them. Scenes of police on campuses removing women students who have refused to take off their hijab have become all too familiar.

At the same time, the government regimes have placed them under an internal economic siege in which they are facing the intense pressure of being without a source of income for their families. In some cases, they succumb – removing their hijab so that they can provide the basic necessities of life such as food, shelter, medicine and clothing for their children.

In October 1998, four million protestors demonstrated in various cities in Turkey in support of female students who had been suspended from universities for refusing to remove their hijab. The police attacked thousands of the demonstrators for peacefully participating in the protests, which were staged at night. Many women and young girls were taken away.

Several journalists, lecturers and students were charged with treason, and many people were tortured by the police – even youth at the mere age of 13 and 14 – and treated as if they were criminal suspects.

Political prisoners and prisoners of conscience in Turkey are not allowed free and open access to their visitors; they have been forced to speak to them through a series of bars and reinforced plastic sheeting.

According to IHRC Rapporteurs, various methods of torture have been used against some of the prisoners at the hands of guards, including:

· The use of electric shocks on different parts of the body, including their genitalia;
· Beating prisoners while they are blindfolded;
· Exposing naked prisoners to winter weather through open windows after dousing them with cold water;
· Raping women, young girls and even children.

Feliz Beyaz, born in Istanbul in 1975, passed the university entrance exams in 1996 and was arrested in 1998 during demonstrations against the banning of hijab. One week after her release from jail, at half past midnight, Feliz and her friend died on an Istanbul highway after being knocked down by the secret service in a hit and run accident. This method of murder is common in Turkey.

The following story is that of a young Turkish girl who has been asked to choose between attending school and her religious beliefs:

“Today, my school looks at me as [though I am] a stranger and tells me that I am a stranger. However, yesterday, I was the owner of these lands. Tomorrow? I do not know what will happen tomorrow. Will the corridors of the hospital that I have walked [through] for many times claim me again? Will the garden that I have sat for many hours of the guard nights take me to its bosom?

“Our efforts to save the lives of patients, taking their blood pressure…. my friends that I have competed with to take an EGG… My heart beats that I felt when I first made an IV injection… Will they take place in my life, again?

“For five years, I have attended this faculty with the excitement, which I felt the day I first wore the white clothes… I have become eager by listening to the dreams my father had about me. I have striven to see the happiness and pride in my father’s eyes and to take my mother’s blessing.

“When I saw the patient losing his life due to lack of medical care, I decided to work harder and prayed more. I prayed to Allah not to keep me away from my way and to let me be a real doctor that helps the others.

“But suddenly, someone said, “STOP”! You have no chance to enter here with these clothes, especially the funny thing you wear on your head. And then the doors were closed to my face roughly. The police stopped me entering my school that I had reached by the first lights of the day.

“My friends that I had shared the same desks for many years were able to do nothing. The professor who had been expressing his gladness about my success to the classroom was, now, at the door near the policeman. He was sorry… I could see this in his ashamed eyes. The only thing I can do was to cry out my innocence.

“I am really sad to see the ugly face of my elders. But I am not hopeless, I know and I believe that these days and oppressions will end somehow, someday. They will become ‘memories’ from the past.”

In Tunisia, the situation of Muslim women is almost the same as in Turkey despite the claims of President Ben Ali about his social achievements and the improvement in the status of women in Tunisia over the last decade.

In an interview with “Al-Hawadeth” Magazine in 1997, after the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Movement of Change, President Ben Ali said, “In this respect, we are moving forward, on the basis of a complementary conception, in such a way as to safeguard the dignity of women while preserving the interests of the family and the security of society. We have been concerned to ensure an equality of opportunity between men and women and to renew legislation regulating the sphere of women.”

These statements were made while Muslim women wearing Islamic hijab were being banned from schools and work places across the country.

Out of a total population of around nine million, there are more than 3,000 prisoners of conscience – most of whom are Islamists – and there have been dozens of deaths due to torture, and food and sleep derivation.

Human rights organizations have found it increasingly difficult to carry out their activities in defense of human rights in Tunisia. The Tunisian government often targets them, accusing their public opposition to its widespread violation of human rights of being against democracy and in favor of the Islamists.

PCOT defendant Iman Darwiche reported that guards incited her mental illness by torturing, choking, and spitting on her, and defecating on her personal effects. The government does not permit the media or international organizations to inspect prison conditions.

The regime targets women purely for their marriages to or blood relations with Islamists. Violations against them include harassment, interrogations, dismissal from work, torture, sexual abuse and rape. Anyone, including relatives, who assists wives of prisoners or exiled political opponents is liable to prosecution.

Many reports have affirmed that Security Services uses different forms of inhumane torture and degrading treatment against prisoners of conscience. The torture includes methods such as electric shock, cigarette burns, beating them with police batons, submersion of their heads in water and/or chemicals, and food and sleep derivation. Other methods of torture have been used against Islamists in prison that are hard to describe – even harder to imagine.

Over the last few years, many prisoners – particularly women and children – have become mentally, psychologically and physically ill because of the cruelty and inhumanity that they have suffered at the hands of regimes who are obsessed with using their power in a conspiracy against their own people.

Is this what President Ben Ali meant by “the improvement in the status of Tunisian women and the security of society?” Is this what he meant by “the equality of opportunity between men and women?”

Maybe he was talking about equality of opportunity inside prisons, where all prisoners face the same methods of torture without differentiation between men and women.

This shameful agony – being faced by honorable women in Tunisia and Turkey – is for no other crime than adhering to their religious beliefs.

Allah (SWT) says in the Qur’an (Sura’tul 85:8), “And they ill-treated them for no other reason than that they believed in Allah, Exalted in power, worthy of all praise.”