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Muslim Councilor ‘Forced to Sit Out Council Meeting for Hijab’

GENEVA – Geneva’s new secularism law has sparked uproar due to an elected Muslim councilor who chose to sit in the public gallery during a recent council meeting, rather than obey the new law by removing her hijab so that she could take part in the session, The Local reported.

Sabine Tiguemounine, a councilor with the Greens for the Geneva municipality of Meyrin, said it was absurd she had “the right to work behind in commissions behind closed doors out of public view but not the right to vote in a plenary assembly.”

The move by Tiguemounine came just days after Geneva’s new cantonal secularism law came into force on March 9th.

The new law included a ban on visible religious symbols, in a move seen as targeting Muslim women in a canton with no less than 40% of population formed of foreign residents, and 6.24% of them are Muslims according to 2017 estimates.

The law, which aims to more clearly define the limits of religion in the public sphere, was adopted after 55 percent of voters in the canton backed its introduction in a referendum in February.

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It was, however, criticized by Greens, feminist organizations, unions and Muslim groups.

The Greens have already lodged an appeal against the relevant article of the new law, but a decision on whether to suspend it while the matter is appealed won’t be taken until March 22nd.

The head of the Greens in Meyrin, Maurice Amato, said the party respected the law and the institutions but was appealing the article in the new law because it violated the Swiss constitution. Under the Swiss constitution, the right to freedom of religion and conscience is guaranteed.

Two-thirds of Switzerland’s 8.5 million residents identify as Christians. But its Muslim population has risen to 5%, largely because of Balkans Muslim immigrants.

Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not just a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.

As for the face veil, the majority of Muslim scholars believe that a woman is not obliged to cover her face or hands.

Scholars, however, believe that it is up to women to decide whether to cover their faces.