Take it off

For centuries women have been striving for the right to dress and behave the way they want. More and more you see people identifying themselves through their style, such as wearing colorful outfits, 90s fits, as well as wearing a hijab or headscarf. However, this is not the case for French Muslim women and girls since they don’t have the freedom to choose when they want to wear the hijab or headscarf.

Story by Anahita Ahmadi

The hijab, more commonly known as a headscarf, is legal in public spaces including shops, cafés, and the streets. When walking on the street it’s not uncommon to see women wearing them, especially in certain areas of big cities like Paris. However, this doesn’t mean that there is no restriction (on Muslim) women and their freedom to wear the hijab.

In 2010, the country brought in a complete ban on clothing that includes full-face coverings – including the burka and niqab. These cannot be worn in any public space in France, at risk of a €150 fine.

It is common for a woman to wear a hijab or headscarf in public in France especially in certain areas of big cities like Paris, but this is seemingly very controversial.

In France it’s prohibited to wear overt religious symbols- including the hijab – in government buildings, including primary and secondary schools; except for visitors. This is in line with France’s laws on secularism. This means that public officials such as teachers, firefighters, or police officers are also barred from wearing any overt symbol of their religion while they are at work.

This ban goes further than employees, as a supervisor on school trips, you also not allowed to wear a headscarf or hijab. So if you are a mother who wants to accompany her child on a school trip, for example, she should not wear a headscarf or hijab because she would be wearing a religious symbol in front of young kids.

The French government thus wants to prevent young girls from being forced to wear hijabs or headscarves. They feel that from university onwards since you are 18+, you are old enough to make this choice yourself.

Amal (20) and Riham (21) are both students at the IUT in Paris and live just outside of Paris. Amal has been wearing a hijab for two years and Riham started wearing the veil a week ago.

Amal (left) & Riham (right) Photo: Anahita Ahmadi

Amal says: “We both wear a hijab now because it is allowed for us now. I wanted to wear it sooner, but it was not allowed in elementary school and high school. This was something I struggled with because I felt disconnected from my religion. If you don’t listen to this rule you will be sent home and in some cases even suspended.”

Apart from this problem, Islamophobia is also something many Muslims struggle with. Riham: “Every time I’m outside people look at me with fear as if I’m a danger to their safety. The people who are the most scared are the white old people. They even look at me with disgust. Because of this rule, people are also not used to ‘us’. The government thinks they help us this way, that they are giving us freedom, but it works the opposite for us. They should suspend this rule and let us be really free.”

Something that has caused the most fuss for Muslims is the fact that from the age of 15, you are allowed to decide independently whether you want sex or abortion, but you are not allowed to choose whether to wear a headscarf or hijab.

Incidentally, the ban does not only effect France’s 5.4 million Muslims. Tourists traveling to France will also no longer be allowed to wear religious symbols. An important note, however, is that the draft law from 2010 seeks to ban all flashy religious badges. But because the headscarf is one of the most explicit religious badges, the legislation is sometimes simplified into ‘the French headscarf ban’.

Sauloup Guillaume the head of communications of The Grand Mosque of Paris. “We do hear from several families that their daughters are having a hard time starting to wear the hijab or head scarves as soon as possible. They are scared that people will behave differently towards them. We also experience young girls experimenting early by starting to wear the hijab or headscarf outside school and taking it off inside school .” The Grand Mosque of Paris is a mosque located in the 5th arrondissement of Paris. He further indicates that not being able to wear the hijab or headscarf freely does pose a real problem for the young Muslim women in Paris. Fortunately, the Muslim community in Paris has a very strong bond and they can count on each other with these hardships.

The Hijab ban continues to divide the country a both a political and societal level but for the coming time no change can be expected. This topic has started many discussions in society and there have been many demonstrations plus a lot of influencers have shared their views on this issue. However, this has not changed much for the Muslim women. This ‘hijab ban is still an ongoing problem for many Muslim girls.