LONDON (AP) — A Muslim lawyer refused a judge’s orders to remove her full-face veil during a hearing, lending more fuel to an increasingly contentious debate in Britain over the right of women to wear the garments.
Shabnam Mughal, 27, insisted she had the right to wear the black veil covering everything but her eyes during the immigration tribunal hearing Monday in Stoke-on-Trent, central England. The judge had asked her to remove it, saying he could not hear her.
Judge George Glossop adjourned the case until later in the day, but Mughal again refused to remove her veil when the hearing was reconvened.
“You are clearly aware of my position on the grounds of my religious beliefs. I won’t,” Mughal told the judge, according to Wednesday’s Daily Express newspaper.
Glossop adjourned the hearing until next week to seek a ruling on the veil dispute from the president of his court, the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal. A tribunal official said the court had never come across such a dispute.
Mughal, a lawyer for the Law Partnership Solicitors in Coventry, is representing a man appealing a Home Office decision to deny one of his relatives a visitor’s visa.
Several similar disputes have set off an emotional debate on British multiculturalism and the identity and integration of minority groups, particularly Muslims.
Last month, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw wrote in a newspaper column that he asks women who visit his office to remove veils that cover almost their entire face.
A short time later, a Muslim teaching assistant in northern England was suspended from her job for refusing to remove a black veil that left only her eyes visible.
Prime Minister Tony Blair eventually jumped into the debate, saying the full-face veil known as the niqab is “a mark of separation.”
Trevor Phillips, the head of Britain’s race relations watchdog, the Commission for Racial Equality, says the debate is growing ugly and could trigger riots. He says Britons are becoming increasingly polarized along racial and religious lines, and risk fueling unrest if they don’t discuss their differences respectfully.