France and Veiling


Photo from BNP News

How does a Muslim woman really assert her rights? This seems to be an underlying question in many discussions on Islam worldwide and touches on issues of choice and self-determination. However, questions like this can never be answered in one way because of the diversity of Muslim communities that cannot be defined by one culture, one outlook, one interpretation of faith, or one context. Not only must we address this reality, we must truly engage it and work with the consequences. Although a topic that seems so overly debated, Muslim women’s bodies continue to be a part of different political landscapes. The veil–along with all its numerous manifestations–needs to be critically assessed by women (enough discussions by men) and appropriated in a way to represent what they choose about their faith.

The event that provokes me to write on this question is French president Nicholas Sarkozy’s address to Parliament on June 22nd, in which he spoke of eliminating the burqa. While his comments alone are provocative, it is interesting to read them in light of President Obama’s speech a little over two weeks earlier where he spoke of a woman’s right to choose to veil. For me, the question is really one of the right to determine one’s relationship to their faith. By this I mean that a Muslim woman, wherever she lives, should have the right to determine her relationship with Islam without anyone deciding that for her. If President Sarkozy is concerned for the rights of Muslim women, he should make an effort to dialogue with Muslim women in his country and find out the challenges that they face and the rights that they seek. He may find it is very different than what he anticipated. In fact, its important that Muslim communities worldwide engage in this dialogue among themselves. Women are half of the Ummah, the Muslim worldwide community, and should have the right to self-determination.

How did you react to President Sarkozy’s comments? Have you felt unable to determine how you express your religious commitment? What do you think are the really concerns of women? Please leave your comments below.

2 thoughts on “France and Veiling

  1. I have to agree with your point on simply the freedom to choose. A coercion of anything is not genuine and while in Islam the headscarf is required, it is up to the woman to choose to wear it or not, just like any obligation.
    I am upset about Sarkozy’s statement regarding the ‘burqa’. If France is supposedly a liberal country, it should allow the freedom to choose to wear the headscarf, or any religious symbol for that matter.

  2. It is really disturbing that recently I have read that the France’s highest administrative court upheld a decision to deny citizenship to a female muslim on the ground that her “radical” practice of Islam was incompatible with French values like equality of the sexes.

    The newyork time said that “It was the first time that a French court had judged someone’s capacity to be assimilated into France based on private religious practice, taking laïcité — the country’s strict concept of secularism — from the public sphere into the home”.

    This case has really disturbed me and sharpened the focus on my head about the delicate balance between the tradition of Republican secularism and the freedom of religion guaranteed under the French Constitution, and how that balance may be shifting.
    So far, citizenship has been denied on religious grounds in France only when applicants were believed to be close to fundamentalist groups but I honestly have never heard about denying someone’s citizenship because he/she wants to wear something in a certain way. I think if Edward Said is still alive he would have said that this is the age of ignorance and close minded society in france. Thank you inside islam for tackling such critical issue.