France targets the hijab: how does this affect us?

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Sara

After the French National Assembly proposed a ban on religious symbols for minors in public schools, young Muslim women in france started the hashtag “HANDS OFF MY HIJAB.” This hashtag has emassed over 70,000,000 retweets, and can be seen all over protest posters in France. It was started by Muslim model Rawdah Mohamed, which she has encouraged others to post in solidarity with Muslim women in France.

By Sara Albarcha, Parkway West High School

When three middle school girls refused to remove their headdresses in France in 1989 while at school, the government intervened, banning hijabs in public school. After three decades, France has continued to discuss the appearance of women, singling out an astounding number of controversial actions regarding Muslim women, and their “audacity” to cover in public. A new law was proposed on March 30, banning minors from donning any religious symbols or clothing. As a young Muslim woman, this made me question my identity. I believe it’s important for not only Muslim women, but everyone as a whole, to participate in the fight for religious freedom, and the woman’s right to dress as she pleases. 

The law in France 

On March 30, the French Senate passed a measure that would “prohibit in the public space of any conspicuous religious sign by minors and of any dress or clothing which would signify an interiorization of women over men,” which essentially places a ban on hijabs for those under the age of 18. They also proposed a ban that would prohibit hijabi mothers from attending their children’s school field trips. These are amendments to a law that the government introduced to address religious extremism. While the hijab ban has not been legally amended by the National Assembly, and may never be, it still brings me to question the rampant enforced assimilation and Islamophobia in not only France but our world as a whole. 

France has strived in maintaining a secularist view of governance, often arguing that religious symbols are in opposition to European values. With French lawmakers stepping forward in revoking a women’s choice to cover, it moves us as a world many steps back in the fight for women’s rights as well as freedom from suppression. France as a country has actively enabled Islamophobia, and despite being the epicenter of culture, fashion, and art I saw people who attend French shows, support their brands, and admire their culture openly oppose the ruling.

My experience 

While this law may only directly affect Muslim women in France, it leaves a significant impact on the world around us, including me. Muslim students at Parkway West are free to wear the hijab while attending school. As a Muslim student in this district, it disheartened me to read about the rising political debate in France. Not only did I feel for my Muslim sisters, but it also concerned me of my freedom to embrace my own identity. I felt like I needed to do something, and searched for ways to fight back this oppressive ruling, even if I’m thousands of miles away. 

As the ban began to flood social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, I found myself scouring the web searching for support from known names in the media. Messages from famous athletes, actors, and politicians poured into my feed, and the media seemed like it was finally on our side, contrary to the typical negative displays of Muslims in the media.

Coming from a Muslim family, the women in my household have all chosen to wear the hijab, and I look up to them in their ability to not conform to societal standards of fashion and beauty. All around me are Muslim women who don the headscarf, whether it’s my grandma, mom, sisters or aunts — all generations come together in representing our religion. I quickly realized that this was what I was searching for. In reality, there wasn’t much I could do to actively fight against France’s ruling. But by making that choice to wear the hijab in a world where many will not accept it, I could stand in solidarity with my fellow Muslim sisters in France. Not only is the hijab a religious requirement, but it’s also a statement. It shows the world that we are proud of our religion and that it intertwines into our identity — and that’s exactly what I wanted to do. On April 5, I officially started wearing the hijab. 

The danger of such laws

I’m only one person in a world of billions, and this is only how I’ve been personally affected. Despite my actions, this law may still pass, and Muslim women in France are having their identities suppressed. Implementing such laws is dangerous to our society, and by trying to cleanse the country of any traces of Islam, it may inspire other individuals and countries to follow in their footsteps. When the government comes to hold this much power in oppressing its civilians, it creates a safe environment for those who want to legitimize Islamophobia in their own government. As of today, European nations like Germany, Austria, the Netherlands, Russia, Italy, and Spain have imposed a hijab ban, or at least tried to within the last decade.

In a continent like Europe that is most known for its colonialism and efforts to dominate foreign countries, they have a multitude of refugees inhabiting their nations, specifically Muslim refugees. As we see a rise in humanitarian crises in majority Muslim regions, like in the Middle East, an influx of refugees have escaped to Europe. They come in vast numbers in an effort to seek asylum from their war-torn conditions, only to be accepted, then stabbed in the back by anti-Islamic laws. Laws like these force them to conform to society and abandon their identities. When we begin to morph into a society equal in image, we lose that aspect of diversity, identity and religious or cultural traditions become unlawful, which may only lead to even more tension among minority groups. France is a diaspora home to people from all around the world, and when it is made lawfully OK to suppress them, that may give the go-ahead for French citizens to partake in prejudice. 

What this means for me/America

In a country like America, we see a major contrast in the way we govern society. We have amended laws in place guaranteeing our right to religious freedom and the right to express ourselves however we want. As a hijabi woman now, I don’t see our country following in France’s footsteps legally. However, that doesn’t diminish the fact that Islamophobia is common in our nation. Growing up in this country, I’ve witnessed the media, the public and people close to me practice Islamophobia — and seeing this makes me question our world’s future. France’s ruling only reveals how common anti-Islamic beliefs are despite how accepting this world may seem. As a hijabi living in the Midwest, I too am at risk of potential attacks against me, especially now that I am visibly Muslim. 

Moving forward, I hope this news helps people understand how discrimination still plays a major role in our world, and that the global fight against Islamophobia is not over yet. I encourage everyone to simply learn about the true values of Islam, and specifically why Muslim women around the world choose to cover. I believe having strong, knowledgeable allies is where we can begin our movement: allies of all religions, races, and backgrounds. Even by just visiting our local Ballwin mosque Dar Al-Salam, you can be introduced to our small, but loving community– a community ready to welcome you with open arms. Only by confronting Islamophobia on an individual and community basis, can we truly help our Muslim sisters in France and all over the world. 

This story was originally published on Pathfinder on April 26, 2021.