Muslim leaders urge UPA to change its presidential candidate

By staff reporter

Lucknow : Muslim leaders here Tuesday demanded the United Progressive Alliance withdraw its candidate from India's presidential race after she said Muslim women should stop wearing their headscarves.

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Several Muslim leaders called on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to find a new candidate for this topmost post, accusing Ms. Pratibha Patil of insulting Islam by suggesting the headscarf is primitive.

Addressing a conference in Udaipur over the weekend, Patil said women started wearing the headscarves in India to save themselves from 16th century Muslim invaders, and that it was time to drop the practice.

"Now that women are progressing in every field, we should morally support and encourage them by leaving such practices behind," she said.

All India Muslim Personal Law Board member Maulana Khalid Rashid said it was God who has asked women to wear a headscarf and that this is enshrined in the Holy Qur'an.

"Any statement against the veil means an opinion against Allah and the Qur'an which no Muslim will tolerate," Rashid told the presspersons.

Historians say the practice of women using scarves in the presence of outsiders was already widespread in the 13th century. Orthodox Hindu women also cover their faces in the presence of elderly male members of the family, even though their religion doesn't mandate the practice like for Muslims.

Maulana Hasanul Badr said it was the duty of Muslim women to cover their bodies.

"Why do politicians interfere in our religious matters? It has become a fashion to pass judgment on Islam," he said.

"The statement is a clear reflection of Patil's mindset about Islam and Muslims. It is better that the United Progressive Alliance change its presidential candidate and opt for a more secular person for this post," he said.