Belgium’s Islamophobia

On July 4th, 2020, the Belgian Constitutional Court ruled in favor of the prohibition of the wearing of conventional signs and clothes within higher education institutions.

This controversial law comes on top of innumerable forms of discrimination already experienced by women wearing headscarves in Europe including iniquity, assault, constant oppression, unequal access, and opportunities to higher education and job recruitments, and the list goes on. This law demonstrates the perfect scenario where islamophobia meets sexism & occidentalism.


In recent years, more and more European countries have started to legislate against political Islam. The false idea that women wearing hijab are forced to do so by their families or communities is becoming more and more widespread. Not to mention that this issue is amplified by popular teenage tv shows that emphasize the stereotypes surrounding Muslim women. A prime example of that would be the character of Nadia in the Netflix produced Spanish show Elite.

The fact of the matter, according to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights states the following :

“ Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others are in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief, in worship, teaching, practice and observance.

Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of public safety, for the protection of public order, health, and morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others ”

To reiterate, this specific article from the ECHR strongly and explicitly states that you have the right to wear religious symbols as long as you’re not a threat. Which, may I clarify, Muslim women seeking higher education are not in any way shape, or form.

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Belgium and France are the first states of the Union to prohibit the wearing of the full veil in public spaces, thus, making them the most restrictive countries in Europe when it comes to the wearing of the hijab.

Unsurprisingly, the Belgian’s constitutional court – being its whited sepulcher and preferential self – stated that “prohibition of higher education does not constitute a violation of freedom of religion nor a violation of the right to human dignity which includes the right to education”.

My response is the following. The right to education should not be negotiable, as it is a form of injustice and a clear announcement that the Belgian system is religiophobic. This is a form of oppression that should never be tolerated.

I have lived in Belgium since 2015 and the number of times I felt like an outcast, the number of times I felt extreme tension when I told people that I am Moroccan and how they would nod their heads and exclude themselves from the conversation. The several occasions of islamophobia I had to endure during class debates and at school are agonizing and beyond despondent.

It is literally exhausting. It took a toll on my mental health. But it only fed my hunger to fight back and not let the stares, islamophobic, and racist comments get under my skin. But as a non-hijabi, I could only imagine what hijabis go through.

On the sidelines of the Hijabis Fight Back protests, I was able to speak to the passionate women who were taking part in this historic event.

Nahwa, 19, a former classmate and young Mauritanian devoted and smart hijabi, gladly elaborated about the different situations during which she faced islamophobia in Brussels:

“ I have often faced discrimination linked to my headscarf. From the humiliations I suffered, I built my strength. But I can’t help but remember the day where me and my aunt got harassed in the middle of Louise whilst shopping and minding our business until this old white man came to us shouting “go back to your country we’re not in Saudi Arabia” then he proceeded to say “this is a European country, if you want to live here, you have to integrate our traditions and customs”. I was speechless, and felt extremely uncomfortable and humiliated.”

Ines, 18, described her experience as a young Moroccan woman in Brussels.

“Shocking would be the perfect word to describe my experience as a Muslim girl in Europe. I was hoping to see some tolerance. But I inevitably had to face some people who are not open to cultures, who are islamophobic and I couldn’t do anything about it. I had to be prepared. And that is what’s sad at the end of the day. Having this much hatred and prejudice towards religion shouldn’t be normalized. Unfortunately, people seem to be turning a blind eye, they think it’s nothing, and they carry on.”

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In July, I was publishing tweets and posts about the #HijabisFightBack movement, one that brought together thousands of Muslim women taking the streets of central Brussels. Unsurprisingly, some of my Belgian and French followers answered back claiming that there is nothing wrong about this law and that its goal is to reinforce and ensure integration. One of them claimed, “ it’s not up to the Belgian majority to adapt to the way of life of Arabs but rather the opposite, that makes a lot more sense.”

Unhesitatingly and without demur, I emphasized on the fact that the Belgian system has a deep-rooted structure of pure bigotry, favoritism, and prejudice against Muslims. I lived in Antwerp for a year, a city in the Flemish region of Belgium, where a large number of Jewish orthodox reside.

I still remember the first time I stepped foot in Antwerp. I remember being astonished by Jewish men and women’s religious apparel, such as gartels, shtreimel, tallits… etc

In fact, I intended an international British school with a great number of Jewish individuals. I was incredibly curious and mesmerized by their culture.

Which begs the question, how can a country such as Belgium claim to be “liberal” when it is revoking women’s higher education based on the way they’re dressed? This law is forcing women to choose between their faith or education. Limiting the dress code is a direct attack on the right to freedom.

So let’s address this conundrum. The Belgian government is not triggered nor offended by how the Jewish orthodox community dresses, but they are abnormally and excessively concerned about young Muslim women’s headscarves

However, in light of all the atrocities they face on a daily, it is truly heartwarming to see Muslim women put an end to their silence and speak up against the perpetual discrimination they are facing.

Referring back to my previous statement, the legislation of the 4th of July must and should apply to every religious minority in Belgium.

” It is not the cloth that oppresses women, it is the illiterate mind ” – Tariq Ramadan

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