QUEENSLAND - Australian Muslim leaders have highlighted Islam's flexibility on the removal of face-veils, or niqab, in necessities, amid a growing debate about the wearing of the outfit in courts.
"The Islamic scholars in Australia have already reached a position on this, Muslim community leader Keysar Trad told SBS on Monday, June 17.They've published a statement to say that, whilst a person is required to be identified, there are certain points -- for example, entering the court building, et cetera -- they can remove it temporarily, and, if they're in the court and they're giving evidence, they can remove it for the duration of the period that they're giving evidence.
So, where it's necessary and there's a legitimate reason for removing it, the scholars have said that they should remove it for that period and then they can put it back on when they finish."
A debate on the wearing of face-veil engulfed Queensland last week after a judge sentenced a woman for leaving her baby unattended in a hot car for 45 minutes.
Speaking in the court hearing, magistrate John Costello said I can only see the eyes of that defendant.
Though the judge declined to ask the Muslim woman to remove her face-veil, his words hit headlines.
Queensland Premier Campbell Newman said Thursday that the issue was something for "judges to make a call on".
"I think the judges themselves are the ones who are the masters of their courtroom and they have a right to decide whether justice is served by people wearing that sort of head dress or otherwise," Newman said.
"They have to be able to see people give evidence and the like in front of them."
Echoing a similar view, Muslim leaders said judges have every right to see the people standing before them.
I think that the judicial system is supposed to be fair and equal for everybody, and I think it's important that it's there to protect everybody, said Yasmin Khan, the president of the Muslim community festival Eid in Brisbane.
While hijab is an obligatory code of dress for Muslim women, the majority of Muslim scholars agree that a woman is not obliged to wear the face veil, but believe that it is up to women to decide whether to cover her face.
In 2011, New South Wales passed legislation requiring the removal of face veils for the purposes of legal identification, but Queensland has not sought similar powers.
Muslim leaders criticized the media coverage of the issue for worsening the already-existing stereotypes about their community.
It reinforces (accusations) like not integrating into Australian society. It reinforces one rule for one, and another rule for another, said Khan, whose forefathers built the first mosque in Brisbane.
You know, people will always say, 'Oh, well, they want Shari`ah law,' so there's always those sorts of issues. You know, (people say) they want their own legal system, you know, women are oppressed, women have to be covered, and yet husbands can walk around uncovered.
So there's a whole heap of stereotypes that go on there that we try so hard to dispel constantly, she said.
Muslim leaders urged courts to make arrangements to check the identity of veiled women without embarrassing them in front of attendants.
"She could go to another room to reveal her identity to a female officer, said Jamila Hussein, formerly with the Muslim Women's National Network of Australia before becoming a lecturer in law.
There should be no difficulty about that.
Muslims, who have been in Australia for more than 200 years, make up 1.7 percent of its 20-million population.
Islam is the country's second largest religion after Christianity.In post 9/11-era, Australian Muslims have been haunted with suspicion and have had their patriotism questioned.