Non-Muslim teachers at the Swedish Prästamosseskolan School redefined coexistence and solidarity this week, arriving at work wearing the Islamic hijab in protest of a ban set to take effect in their city within the next six months.
The educators collectively sent a message of disapproval to the municipality of the Swedish city of Skurup after it approved a bill banning "all forms of Muslim headgear" in primary schools and preschools.
The ban - which was passed in December - affects Muslim women who wear headscarves, burqas, and niqabs. Speaking to local press, Marit, one of the teachers protesting the ban, said her Muslim students appreciated what their educators were doing.
"The students get excited when they see that we also have veils. They feel that we support them," she explained, according to Sputnik News.
The school's headmaster, Mattias Liedholm, declared that he will not be complying with the municipality's decision. "Neither I nor any of my colleagues will enforce it. Then it becomes a matter of personnel for the municipality to handle," he said.
The teachers' decision to speak up against the ban subjected them to violent attacks on social media. Some called them "idiots" while others accused them of supporting "the oppression of women." Despite that, the educators and the head of their school continue to take a stand on the matter. The same goes for several Swedish lawyers who said the ban violates personal freedoms.
One of the attorneys speaking up on the issue is Andreas Lindholm, who works with the Swedish National Agency for Education. The lawyer believes the ban on head covering "is contrary to the European Convention on Freedom of Religion."
Backed by liberal-conservative Moderates and the local Skurup party, the ban was initiated and passed through the municipal government in a vote of 22 positive to 19.
The motion has been widely criticized among the local community and around 200 people gathered to protest it outside the town hall on Monday. However, they were met with counter-protests where people chanted hateful slogans including "Close Islam" and other phrases like "Freedom for Swedes."
Some say the ban aims to protect women from oppression, but it really doesn't
Those defending the ban include Lars Nyström, leader of the Democrats group, who said the idea behind it is "to protect women from oppression."
"The basic attitude is that we believe that boys and girls are just as worthy and wearing clothes to hide women's faces and hair that does not belong in Skurup municipality," Nyström explained. This statement ignorantly assumes that all Muslim women are forced to wear specific garments as part of their religion when that's just not true.
The truth is that the majority of Muslim women choose to wear the hijab, niqab, or burqa based on their individual religious beliefs. It's incredibly arrogant to suggest that they need to be saved from oppression, it's unfair to make them feel uncomfortable for their choices, and it's insulting to constantly force them to do things that are against their values.
Today, Muslim communities amount to 8.1 percent of Sweden's total population. Around 800,000 people of the faith call the country their home, according to Pew Research Center.
Though Sweden doesn't enforce a headscarf ban on a national level, some municipalities across the country have been taking it upon themselves to impose them.
Veil and burqa bans are on the rise all around Europe
France is one country that has long targeted veiled women. The European nation often suspends women from "schools and colleges for wearing the garment."
In 2011, France banned Islamic face coverings (niqabs and burqas) in all public spaces. Though it's considered the most vigilant in passing laws against the Islamic head and face coverings, France isn't alone in issuing bans against them.
Last year, Austrian MPs approved a law aimed at banning the headscarf in primary schools. The decision comes two years after the country enforced a burqa ban, prohibiting Muslim women from wearing the outer garment used to cover themselves. Countries across Europe including Belgium, Denmark, and Germany have implemented a similar ban in recent years.