Headscarves in French Schools

Posted: 17 Zul Qa'dah 1424, 10 January 2004

France has proposed to ban conspicuous religious symbols in public schools. The law, which is expected to be passed before the next school year, will ban students from wearing headscarves, yarmulkes, and large crosses to school. While it seems to cause equal misery to all three religions, the real victims are only Muslims as yarmulkes and crosses are not a religious obligation in the same way as hijab (headscarf) is and very few people actually wear them to school, anyway.

The issue of the headscarf in public schools in France is nearly 15 years old. Every year, at the beginning of a new school year, girls get expelled for wearing a headscarf to school. This year, French President Jacques Chirac set up a commission to research the issue, which came up with the conclusion to ban headscarves and other religious symbols. The commission was biased and it did not provide any solid grounds for its recommendation; however, it did provide a suitable cover for the Islamophobic actions of the government.

Why does France feel so threatened by the headscarf? To President Chirac, the wearing of a headscarf is an act of aggression. Imagine, a president dictating what you can wear or not wear (and what part of your religion you can follow and not follow) and then declaring that he is doing that to fight aggression!

Why are they scared of a yard of cloth covering the head? France seems to be in a grip of Islamophobia. This is proved by Chirac’s desire to ban patients from refusing to be cared for by a doctor of the opposite sex. What does it hurt him if people prefer being treated by a doctor of the same gender?

In the first article of the Constitution of France, it states that, “… It [France] shall ensure the equality of all citizens before the law, without distinction of origin, race or religion. It shall respect all beliefs.”

Banning the headscarf and thus not allowing Muslim girls to practice their religion now makes it official that that part of the Constitution does not apply to Muslims. It “shall respect all beliefs” but as far as the Muslims are concerned, it will force its own beliefs on them. And what kind of beliefs they are? Well, France will allow students wearing revealing clothes to attend school but it will not allow students who are covered up!

Some people argue that the headscarf is a sign of submission of women to men and has no place in a secular society. Covering up has actually been ordained upon women as a protection against abuse and temptation. A Muslim woman feels secure with the hijab. By banning the headscarf, they are depriving the Muslim women of this right.

Others have been arguing that many girls who wear the headscarf have been forced to do so, and such a ban would end such forcing. Wait a minute. They are against anyone forcing the girls regarding the wearing of headscarves. So they will force them not to wear it?

Quite simply they are stealing rights from women. The right to cover, the right to seek an education comfortably, the right to practice religion. Yet they consider themselves the champions of tolerance and rights. They go and lecture people about tolerance yet they have no tolerance.

They are snatching off the hijab from girls in the name of freedom. They are banning girls from attending school in the name of equality. Is this freedom? Is this equality?

This issue is not limited to French public schools. If France is successful in banning scarves in schools, bans could take place in other places and countries. Already, two German states have passed laws banning the headscarf. Religious intolerance is spreading across Europe and the rest of the world and it needs to be stopped.