France’s Hijab Ban Will Only Lead To ‘Further Discrimination’ Against Muslim Women
Earlier this month, France’s conservative-led Senate approved amendments to its so-called ‘anti-separatism bill’ that, if passed into law, will ban girls under the age of 18 from wearing the hijab.
The bill, which was introduced as a bid to curb ‘radicalism’, was approved by the National Assembly earlier this year following the country’s president stating that he wants to tackle ‘Islamist separatism’.
The bill doesn’t specifically mention Islam – with senators calling for the ‘prohibition in the public space of any conspicuous religious sign by minors and of any dress or clothing which would signify inferiority of women over men’ – however it undoubtedly affects Muslim women.
The vote in favour of the ban has seen a fierce backlash from both Muslim women and rights groups. In a statement following the vote, Amnesty International said the plans to change the law will lead to ‘further discrimination against the country’s Muslim minority’.
As the news spread, the hashtag #HandsOffMyHijab quickly began trending on social media, with some women stating that it feels like a ‘law against Islam’.
‘Age to consent to sex in France: 15. Age to consent to hijab: 18. Let that sink in. It isn’t a law against the hijab. It’s a law against Islam,’ one user wrote on Twitter.
Amina Begum, who started wearing her hijab at the age of 12, told UNILAD that the idea that the hijab could signify the inferiority of women over men is absurd. She argues that her choice to wear the hijab demonstrates quite the opposite.
‘It doesn’t make sense to me how they think that me, deciding to wear a hijab, is oppressive. Nowadays, in the media, it’s all about showing skin. By going against that, we are choosing to do that for ourselves. We aren’t doing that to please anyone else. The fact they are trying to take that from us is wrong,’ she says.
‘It’s already hard enough, women are always being told what they can and can’t wear and to impose such a rule and make it law, it’s almost welcoming in ignorance and hate that isn’t necessary. It’s already difficult in a western perspective to wear a hijab, to then have the actual government make a stance on it, it’s just fuelling that hate,’ she adds.
Sameen Akhtar, who started wearing the hijab at age 15, says the thought of removing her hijab is unfathomable. She is also critical of the stance that the hijab oppresses Muslim women.
‘We are instructed to cover for specific reasons. Most of the women who do choose to cover their hair, it’s because they’ve read the Quran and they have studied what it says and made a decision. Most women are not wearing it because of their husbands or fathers, it’s because of their own beliefs from the teachings of the Quran. The hijab is no barrier to anything or anyone,’ she says.
If the age restriction does come into law, it will force thousands of Muslim girls into deciding whether they should remove their hijab. Aisha Arshad, who started wearing the hijab in her late teenage years, says her hijab is her identity.
‘My hijab is very significant. It gives me my identity, and it allows me to be seen as a Muslim woman, which is what I want to be seen as,’ she says.
‘I think [the ban] is going to affect young girls significantly. Especially if you’ve been brought up in a Muslim household, and Islam is your main focus point in life,’ she continues, adding that there needs to be better education around the teachings of Islam.’
The view of the hijab signifying inferiority is ignorance. If only you would go back and study how the instruction came about for women to wear the hijab, I think mindsets would be changed.
‘People need to be educated. The French government is trying to ‘modernise’ Islam and make it adapt to their way of life, but I think Islam can fit in our lives regardless,’ she says.
Shanta Hussain, who started wearing the hijab later in life at age 33, says she believes the proposed ban on underage women takes away a fundamental human right.
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‘Modesty is a massive part of our religion and covering your head is part of that. It shows your devotion to our religion and our god,’ she says.
Agreeing with Arshad, Hussain says she takes pride in knowing that when someone looks at her, they know she is a Muslim.
Asked how she would tackle the proposed ban, Hussain is adamant that – like the many women behind the #HandsOffMyHijab trend – she would not remove it.
‘I would find another way. Whether that meant wearing a bandana, or a hood, I’d find another way that they couldn’t do anything about. I’d do everything I possibly could to show them, you’re not taking this away from me,’ she says.
Most women who spoke to UNILAD also expressed concern about the message that the proposed amendment could send to young Muslim girls.
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When asked how such a ban may have affected her relationship with her religion during her teenage years, Akhtar says, ‘I don’t know whether I would have worn it later if I couldn’t have worn it then, if there had been those restrictions. I hope I would have.’
Hussain agrees, saying: ‘I almost feel like they are trying to show our young Muslim children that our way is the wrong way, and it’s not.
‘There’s a lot of teenage girls who understand the importance of wearing a hijab, and want to wear one because that’s their identity and now they could be stripped of that,’ she adds.
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