SHAFAQNA – Emmy-winning presenter Baz Ashmawy has hit out at the idea that the veil, burka or hijab should be banned in Ireland following Isil terror attacks. The Egyptian-born presenter has also spoken about being “pulled in” during airport security checks on numerous occasions – but says he refuses to let it get to him.
The RTE star was speaking in the run-up to his widely anticipated documentary, Baz: The Lost Muslim, which airs on Tuesday on RTE2.
The series shows the presenter trying to understand the culture and beliefs of the Muslim faith into which he was born, but which he hasn’t practised since childhood.
Baz’s mother Nancy is from Wicklow, and a Roman Catholic. His dad is from Cairo, Egypt, and a Muslim. Baz was initially raised as Muslim and has made shahada – the first of the Five Pillars of Islam.
The star was brought up Muslim until the age of seven or eight when his parents separated.
For a while, he attended the mosque in Dublin until his faith fizzled out. His mother wanted him to go to Catholic schools in Ireland so she baptised Baz when he was 10. But he fell out with Catholicism and became agnostic.
“My dad would have told me to pray, we would never have eaten pork, he would have never drank. I was always culturally connected to Islam but forgot a lot of it so that’s what the show was about,” he explained. “I’m hearing people talk about Islam and thinking that doesn’t sound anything like what I remember.”
He said an ignorance surrounding Muslims has led many people to believe that the 1.5 billion living around the world all have the same strict laws and customs as the 15pc living in Saudi Arabia.
“This [practice of women] walking behind [men] is a Saudi Arabian thing. They have laws that women can’t drive, no other country has that. So the Muslims who live under archaic laws have nothing to do with Islam, that has to do with an ideology or a translation of Islam to do with a specific area. But that’s not the case anywhere else.”
Speaking about the vast majority of the Muslim population, he said: “In Islam, if a woman works, her money is her money and the man has to provide for his family. My family in Egypt is run by women. My sister Mahy wears a hijab because she wants to, not because she is made to. It’s a symbol of empowerment.”
He added: “Just like if you go into a mosque and women and men aren’t allowed to pray in the same room together, a lot of that comes down to a very simple thing: if you’re praying in a mosque and there’s a woman in front of you bending over and standing up and bending over and standing up, I don’t think your mind will be on prayer.”
Speaking about the proposition that there should be a ban on Muslim dress in Ireland following recent terrorist attacks in Europe and on popular tourist destinations, he said: “I think it’s very odd that you can have someone with a six-foot mohawk and a bolt through their mouth but not someone with a scarf on their head. I think it’s personal preference and you should always allow people to wear what they want. It’s a freedom. It’s democracy.”
And describing his experience as a Muslim passing through airport security, he said: “I was pulled in America. I’d rather not get into how many times I was pulled in.
“I don’t want to let people get to me like that, to be honest. I haven’t done anything wrong so I have the confidence of being calm. You can only change things that you can control. I can’t control what some guy in airport security in Dallas does. If he wants to pull me, he’s going to pull me.”
But he says of his experiences here: “In Dublin, they all know me. They wanted to see the Emmy the last time I was there,” he laughs. “It’s the best airport in the world.”
Baz is encouraging Ireland’s Islamic leaders to partake in more public speaking and “identify themselves” in order for the country’s 55,000 Muslims to become part of Ireland’s greater community. Speaking about a multi-ethnic Ireland, he said: “This is the direction I would love to see Ireland go,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of similarities between Ireland [and Muslims]…we [the Irish] faced racism and were painted as terrorists for a long time and it was untrue of the people.”
‘Baz: The Lost Muslim’ airs on Tuesday December 15, at 10pm, RTÉ2.