NZ Muslim women ‘regularly’ told to remove veils

Two veil wearing Muslim women, living in New Zealand, say they are often asked to remove them. They were speaking on TV ONE’s Close Up about the case of a woman who was refused entry to a bus because she was wearing a burqa.

The incident happened when the woman, a student from Saudi Arabia, was trying to board a bus in Auckland in May. The student, who was wearing a veil with only the eyes exposed, was left crying on the street after reportedly being shouted at by the driver. However, it was not an isolated incident as two days earlier a driver for the same company told another woman to remove her veil.

In Australia, three non-Muslim women wearing the burqa immediately felt the weight of stares when they stepped out into a city centre, as part of a television programme to gauge the public reaction. In a mall they were subjected to verbal attacks from women with comments like “I’d pull it off you right now” and “We can’t see your eyes”.

New Zealand Muslim woman Farzana Saheb told Close Up the reaction in New Zealand  to her wearing the full burqa and veil varies a lot. “The sort of remarks you can see happening in Australia, that does happen on a regular basis sometimes to us,” she said. “Some people say ‘take it off’ while others will come up to you and say ‘you know you don’t have to wear that here.’ And some people do come up to you and ask nicely ‘so why do you have to wear that?’. And that’s I think the best way to come up to us because we’re very willing to just explain our belief to you.”

Another Muslim woman living in New Zealand, Moveena Rasheed said: “If you’re in a mall or you’re walking people come up to you and say ‘remove that, why do you need to wear that’.” Rasheed said she “totally understands” why people find it disquieting to only see people’s eyes and not their faces. “And so I think it’s important how we react as well. It’s very important when I see someone reacting in a very negative manner that I do have an understanding that it’s something new for him or her. I think we need to take a step to educate ourselves.”

She said New Zealand is a tolerant and diverse country and she was surprised and saddened that the woman concerned had to go through the experience of not being allowed on a bus.

TVNZ, 5 July 2011