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1. Hijab Bill in Italy Senate
TORINO — Italian Muslims have commended an endeavor by an senior Senator to draft a law regulating the wearing of hijab in the southern European country, holding out the hope that the motion would not be blocked by the right-wing opposition. "Enacting a law regulating hijab wearing will be a major achievement," Mohamed Al-Zayyat of the Islamic Relief told. "This law, if passed, will give a legal protection to hijab against opposition by politicians, especially the right-wingers."

Senator Silvana Amati, the rapporteur of the Senate's constitutional affairs committee, has unveiled an initiative to draft a law regulating hijab wearing in public places.

The Italian Senator said that the motion, however, would stipulate that the face must not be covered, referring to niqab (face-veil).

Italy has a Muslim population of some 1.2 million.
"This proposed law will be a victory for freedoms in Italy if it really comes into fruition," said Kassab Boshti, deputy chairman of the Union of Italian Muslims. "Italy in doing so will be translating its cherished values of freedom into concrete steps." The Muslim leader said this motion comes to endorse the tolerant stance taken by the state towards hijab. Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations. Italy has a Muslim population of some 1.2 million, including 20,000 reverts, according to unofficial estimates

Stumbling Block
Muslim leaders, however, fear that the right-wing will stand as a stumbling block to having the proposed law see the light.

"The right-wing opposition will block any law supporting hijab," said Zayyat. Ibrahim Al-Amir, the chief editor of Akhbar Al-Shoub daily, echoed similar fears.

"The bill is unlikely to turn into a law because of the right-wing opposition," he told. The center-right opposition led by former premier Silvio Berlusconi has 156 seats in the Senate against 158 for the center-left coalition.

The proposed bill must get 160 votes to become law.

The center-left government of Prime Minister Romano Prodi collapsed on Thursday after losing a vote of confidence in the Senate.

Italian President Giorgio Napolitano was to start crisis talks on Friday to rescue the country from political limbo after Prodi's resignation.

Napolitano will hold meetings until next Tuesday, January 29, aimed at forging consensus for forming an interim government instead of calling early elections.

The center-right opposition is pressing for snap elections that opinion polls suggest will return Berlusconi to power.

Prodi's center-left government has opposed attempts by right-wingers to ban hijab in Italy.

Two bills on banning hijab have been stalled in parliament.

One bill called for banning Muslim girls under 16 from wearing hijab in schools while the other suggested amending the 1975 anti-terror law which bans clothes that conceal people's identity in public places, including hijab.

Hijab has been thrust into the limelight since the 2004 French ban on the Muslim headscarf at public schools and institutions.

Several European countries have since followed the French lead.
  2. "Allah" Lights Kashmir Sky  
Showkat Nanda, a young photo journalist, captured on Wednesday, January 23, a rare pattern made by clouds in the sky of North Kashmir’s Baramulla town forming the Arabic spelling of the word Allah. "When I glanced towards the sky, it was something unique to capture, as I saw an indiscernible pattern of clouds forming word ALLAH," Nada told. "I was really surprised. I observed it for a while and continued to click with my camera."
  3. Mosques Key Factor in French Polls  
PARIS — With municipal polls around the corner, mayors and councilors of almost every political stripe are courting Muslim voters with promises of new stately mosques, or rightists with vows to allow none.

"Most of the candidates have realized that building proper places of worship to Muslims is one good way to win their votes," Eissa Nahari, an official with the Muslim Society of Gennevillier, told Municipal elections will be held on March 9 and 16. Up for grasp are all city mayors and municipal councilors.

Having purpose-built mosques, rather than temporary halls in gymnasiums, garages, unused shops or house basements, has become one of the key demands for Muslim voters nationwide.

The head of the Trappes municipality, a candidate of the ruling Union of Popular Movement (UMP), has promised to equip the city's mosque, according to Bashir Lasoud, a member of the Muslim Union of Trappes.

Mayors and councilors of almost every political stripe are courting Muslim voters with promises of new stately mosques
The online campaign of UMP candidate Francoise de Panafieu for the Paris municipality — the country's largest — features a photo of Muslims praying on a Paris street. The caption reads: "France must be ashamed that citizens practice their rituals on the margins."

No sooner had Panafieu promised a purpose-built mosque than her Socialist rival Bertrand Delanoe joined the fray by vowing to build two Islamic centers in the capital. There are some 1,700 Muslim places of worship in France but only about 400 are stately mosques, according to recent estimates by the Interior Ministry.

France is home to some 6-7 million Muslims, the biggest Muslim minority in Europe.

Or Not

Some candidates have already started translating election promises into action. In the Paris suburb of Massy, the municipality UMP chief, who is running for reelection against a Socialist rival, has laid the foundation of a new mosque.

Nahari, the Muslim activist, says they have seen candidates fulfill their promises in the past, citing what happened after the last elections seven years ago.

"We are thankful to the head of the Gennevillier municipality who kept his word by helping build the first mosque in the city." On the other extreme, many far-right candidates are building their election campaign on Islamophobic grounds. One of the main banners of Thomas Joly's campaign read: "No Mosque in Beauvais."

The far-right politicians remains the stumbling bloc to Muslim ambitions to have stately mosques. In Montreuil, plans for a modern-style mosque were brought to a freeze after a successful lawsuit by far-right politicians. The same happened in the Mediterranean port city of Marseille — home to 250,000 Muslims — where the building of a stately mosque was halted last April year following a similar lawsuit. The construction of a mosque in the Paris suburb of Creteil is also challenged in court.
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