Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Leo Katika kumbukumbu: Zanzibar police ban veiled drivers

Zanzibar - A police ban on women drivers wearing veils came into effect on Tuesday across the Indian Ocean islands of Zanzibar, drawing some protests from the overwhelmingly Muslim population.

Zanzibar police commander Ramadhan Khatib said the measure was intended to curb a rise in traffic accidents which reached a record 680 - with 40 deaths and 100 injuries - in 2006.

"We have the responsibility of ensuring we decrease the accidents, and we think veil-wearers have to be included in this exercise as well," he told Reuters.

Police gave no indication of whether any of the accidents had been caused by women wearing veils.

Moves against veils and burqas are the subject of heated global debate, particularly in Europe where some governments see them impeding the integration of Muslims.

In Zanzibar, where 95 percent of the islands' one million inhabitants are Muslim, one Islamic group protested that the traffic order went against local culture.

"This is not acceptable. We do not see any legal basis for this order ... and we are going to challenge it," said Sheikh Khalid Azan, the Islamic Propagation Centre's leader.

"Wearing a veil is a virtue and an obligation to women ... we cannot understand if someone orders them not to wear it."

One woman driver wearing the veil - known as a niqab N said before the ban came into effect that it showed police in Zanzibar were barking up the wrong tree.

"If they do not have anything to do, they could chase underage drivers, they could search for fake licences and those who cheat on their insurance policies," said Asha Issa, covered in a veil as she leaned on her steering wheel.

"This is going too far into my religion...The only person who could take the niqab from me is my husband, and he would not do so because he knows his obligation in Islam."

Although semi-autonomous, the Zanzibar islands are part of Tanzania and lie just off its east coast.

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