Muslim Woman Runs for Danish Parliament

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — A Muslim woman denounced and ridiculed by nationalists for wearing an Islamic head scarf announced Friday she was running for Parliament — a move bound to rekindle heated debate about Islam in Denmark.

The next election is not expected until 2009, but the mere thought of Asama Abdol-Hamid entering the legislature has revived fears of clashing cultures that emerged last year when Danish cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad sparked riots in Muslim countries.

Even mainstream politicians and party colleagues in the left-wing Red-Green Alliance have questioned whether Abdol-Hamid, who moved to Denmark at age 6 with her Palestinian family, shares the fundamental values of Danish society.

Besides covering her hair, the 25-year-old refuses to shake hands with men. Instead, she greets them by laying her right hand on her heart in Muslim tradition.

“I want another Denmark where we talk about the difference between groups,” she said at a news conference announcing her candidacy. “When we talk about values, (we need) to be open to whatever people are, Muslim or non-Muslim.”

Abdol-Hamid has repeatedly been questioned about her views on the death penalty, gender equality and gay rights — issues on which many Danes believe Islam conflicts with their values.

Abdol-Hamid said she does not support the death penalty, which is outlawed in Denmark, and is “unconcerned with whatever sexual or ethnic background people have.”

“We have a constitution in Denmark and it will be upheld,” she added, smiling broadly under a shimmering, turquoise head scarf.

A social worker from the central city of Odense, Abdol-Hamid made headlines in 2006 when she became the first woman to host a Danish TV show wearing a head scarf. The program sought to promote dialogue between Muslims and non-Muslims in Denmark in the wake of the prophet cartoon crisis.

Danes were shocked last year when massive protests erupted in Muslim countries against the 12 drawings first published in a Danish newspaper and reprinted in several Western media.

While Danish embassies were set on fire in some countries, Muslims in Denmark demonstrated peacefully, denouncing violence and calling for more respect for their religion.

Still, many Danes feel Muslim immigrants, who number some 200,000, have brought with them conservative views on women and sexuality that clash with traditionally liberal values in this country of 5.4 million.

After her plans to run for Parliament became known last week, members of the anti-immigration Danish People’s Party, a partner of the center-right government, took turns explaining why she was not fit for the assembly.

One said the Islamic head scarf was a totalitarian symbol and compared it to a swastika. Another suggested Abdol-Hamid had been brainwashed and needed psychiatric help.

Most other parties dismissed such comments, while Muslim leaders said they underscored a lack of respect for Islam in Denmark.

“I thought we had learned something from the cartoon crisis but we haven’t,” said Zubair Butt Hussain, spokesman for Muslims in Dialogue. “We are still engaging in monologues, blaming each other and making generalizations about Islam.”

But even among those who rejected the People’s Party’s comments, there were some who felt Abdol-Hamid’s religious views could be problematic.

“If you don’t shake hands with men, you can’t be a part of the Danish Parliament,” said Hamid El Mousti, a member of Copenhagen’s city council. “I’m from Morocco and we shake hands with women. If you do not salute people, communication between you and others will be very bad.”

Associated Press writer Katie Rice contributed to this report.

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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday April 30, 2007.
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