Belgian independent deputy Özdemir: Europe continues to bar the representation of Muslim women


Mahinur Özdemir said it is challenging in Europe to be a Muslim woman and more specifically a Muslim woman pursuing a career in politics.

The acceptance of Muslims, especially Muslim women, in politics or in the higher layers of the social sphere is still a problem in Europe and they, as the largest non-Christian minority population, are forced to deal with this, said Mahinur Özdemir, an independent lawmaker in Belgium

As a result of the midterm elections in the United States last week, two Muslim politicians were elected to the House of Representatives for the first time in U.S. history. Along with Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, the first Native American and Latina female representatives were also elected. Ilhan Omar, who came to the U.S. as a refugee from Somali when she was 12, became the first hijabi representative in the House of Representatives.

This was realized in 2018 in the U.S., which in its founding philosophy deems religious and ethnic diversity as cultural richness, 242 years after its conception. Meanwhile, to what extent does Europe accept members of different religions, socially and politically, considering that it is the cradle of democracy that inspired the U.S.?

Muslims are the largest non-Christian minority in most of the European countries. Between 4 and 10 percent of western European countries like Belgium, France, Germany and Netherlands are constituted by Muslims. Moreover, Muslims constitute at least 1 percent of the population in almost all Western European countries. Despite these numbers, Muslim minorities are severely underrepresented in Western European politics.

On the other hand, Muslims are expected to be secularized and to realize their religious practices only in their houses or mosques before being allowed to be represented socially and politically in Europe. Constituting 5 percent of continental Europe’s population, over 26 million Muslims face challenges realizing their religious duties even outside the political and public spheres. For instance, sacrificing during one of Muslim’s most prominent holidays, Eid al-Adha, has become a challenging practice in most European countries.

While there is increasing pressure to build mosques without minarets, some countries have decided that the religious personnel who are to work at these mosques should be elected by an Austrian or Belgian theologian.
Meanwhile, there is increasing violence toward Muslims that parallels the rate of Islamophobia in Europe. Women are the most frequent targets of this violence. A total 60 percent and 76 percent of Islamophobia victims in continental Europe in general and Belgium, respectively, are women.

Currently, there is only one hijabi deputy in all of continental Europe, and she is Mahinur Özdemir, a Belgian independent deputy of Turkish descent. Özdemir explains why Islamophobia in Europe targets women, “Because Muslim women are visible. A car might try to run you down. They’re resorting to physical assaults now; we’re way past discourses. They’re filled with grudge and hate.”


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