Options for French Muslims

By Khalid Baig
Posted: 21 Zul-Hijjah 1424, 12 February 2004

Once a law trampling their religious rights has been passed, the paramount question becomes, what can the French Muslims do?

The search for solutions must begin with a clear understanding of the situation. A good starting point may be the statement of the same Shaikh Syed Tantawi whom the French government recruited to make the change more acceptable to Muslims. He affirmed that hijab is a religious obligation. Then he invoked coercion as a justification for violating it. It was the first time in history that a Muslim scholar invited coercion of fellow Muslims from a foreign government as a doctrinal option. But he was right on the first statement. Hijab is a religious obligation and no one has the right to abrogate it any more than he has the right to abrogate fasting or prayers.

As for his creative suggestion for violation of this basic Islamic obligation, a range of scholars from even the Al-Azhar explained clearly the very next day that coercion means a life and death situation. If a person is literally starving to death and the only food available is pork, then he can consume just that much from it that is absolutely necessary to avoid death. Needless to say, it is stretching it somewhat to apply the doctrine to hijab and the situation in France.

Obviously once Muslims have been asked to leave their Islam at the door before entering a government school, effectively the school door has been shut on them. Their options now will be private schools or home-schooling. Under the circumstances it becomes a collective obligation on Muslims in France to open as many private schools as possible. This does require that Muslim organizations stop infighting and pool all their resources. Another option will be sending children to Islamic schools across the channel in the UK, in Algeria, or wherever else such schools are possible. Muslims in neighboring countries should help as much as they can in this regard.

Further, those who can home-school should seriously start considering this option, a tradition that is well established and growing in the USA. Useful exchanges are possible between Muslim home-schoolers in the USA and the potential ones in France.

The anti-hijab drive may turn out to be a blessing in disguise if Muslims pursue these options vigorously. For regarding our children we should be concerned not only with what goes on their head but also with what goes in their head.

At the same time Muslims must forge alliances with other people of conscience to wage a struggle for restoration of their religious rights. Banning hijab is just the beginning. Other draconian measures, like ban on opting out of sex and physical education classes, and ban on requesting treatment from same sex doctors, have already, and quietly, been slipped in this first serving. There should be no illusion that it will end even here for the goal is much bigger. Anyone contemplating the idea of a mini scarf should know that you can either fight back or else surrender and be content with a mini Islam.

Of course if all else fails then one must consider migration. Hijrah, or migration, as Islamic history tells us, means moving away from a land where Muslims are persecuted to a land where they can live freely as Muslims. The Qur'an does warn those who would fail to move (when such move becomes obligatory because of the circumstances) and then cite coercion as an excuse for not practicing. "Lo! As for those whom the angels take (in death) while they wrong themselves, (the angels) will ask: In what were you engaged? They will say: We were oppressed in the land. (The angels) will say: Was not Allah's earth spacious that you could have migrated therein? As for such, their habitation will be hell, an evil journey's end." (An-Nisa' 4: 97). We hope and pray that it does not come to that. A very large-scale migration is unthinkable to many. But then so is the idea that Muslims can voluntarily live in a land that forbids practice of their religion.