The writer presents an overview toof the status of Muslims in France and its governmental leadership in the light of the new call for issuing a law that eliminates wearing the hijab and other religious forms and manifestations in schools and public corporations.
The problem of the French female Muslim’s hijab reopens a controversy concerning secularism in France and its relations with the freedom of individuals and faith. Issuing a law that prohibits the hijab and other religious forms and manifestations does not put an end to the problems of Muslims in France. It places the Muslim minority in an upfront position in the French press and on the agenda of political parties. If problems of the Islamic community, especially the problem of the hijab, dates back to 1989, it goes without saying that events of September 11 have greatly participated in aggravating such a problem.
French President Jacques Chirac took the initiative by declaring his complete rejection of French female Muslims wearing the hijab in schools and public corporations. As if Chirac asserts his personal attitude and the conviction of the French political leadership vis-à-vis of the issue of hijab. He adds that he sees a certain kind of enmity in wearing the hijab. The official committee formed by Chirac discusses the issue of the hijab and Muslims in France in all aspects and levels. Newspapers reported that the committee came out with a recommendation of ratifying a law, for the first time in the history of France, that prohibits wearing the hijab and other religious forms and manifestations in schools and public corporations.
Jean-Paul Costa, vice president of the European Supreme Court of Human Rights [http://www.echr.coe.int/Eng/General.htm], explained on October 17, 2003, that issuing a law eliminating religious signs in France does not run contradictory with the European convention on human rights. Besides, a poll points out that 68% to 75% of the French public opinion rejects wearing hijab in schools. Thus, both the right-of-center wing and the socialist party are competing for announcing their opposition towards the hijab.
The French government suffers from severe splits before reaching a final decision in this issue. Nicolas Sarkozy, Minister of Interior adopted at the beginning a declining perspective to issue a law eliminating wearing the hijab. He preferred methods of dialogue and stressed the importance of integrating Muslims in the French society. On the other hand, when Sarkozy found that his strong competitor supported issuing this law, he withdrew his opinion to face his counterpart. The same phenonemon took place between François Hollande , and his competitor Laurenturence Fabius . The former supported the hijab while the latter did not. At last, François Hollande decided to make use of the numbers of voters that back issuing law against wearing the hijab and changed his opinion.
Statistics concerning Muslims in France show a strong controversy. The latest study on Muslim census in France, prepared by Michèle Tribalat, refutes all previous studies. It affirms that Muslims in France do not exceed 3.5 million including 1.7 million immigrants. However, the French society does not take into consideration Muslims except through the growth of specific features applied by Muslims of France, such as: assigning special swimming pools for women, women wearing the hijab are refusing visiting male physicians even in emergencies, and female students wearing the hijab reject attending lectures of sexual knowledge or watch naked humans in art lectures…etc. Such matters make a large number of French people believe that secularism is threatened.
Members of the Islamic community in France believe that the hijab, the rights of citizens in performing his/her religious rituals and other Islamic aspects belong to the core of the Islamic creed. . In addition, they stress that Islam is under attack. This can be illustrated with the decision that women wearing the hijab must uncover their hair in photos for identity cards and passports is not enforced upon nuns. Experts of Islam and sociologists who are far from extremists warn that imposing laws can destroy the freedom of French Muslims in fulfilling their rituals. That will increase the isolation of that group. They also believe that dismissing female Muslim students wearing the hijab at school will deprive them from individual integration and performing their normal role in a secular society. This could push such students to attend Islamic schools with curricula containing extremist ideas. Thus, moderates in France call for more tolerance towards religions. They also give alert that the serious attack which French Muslims undertake pushes forth a kind of phobia against Islam and Muslims. As a result, this will form a real danger to the French future in the coming decades.