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The French and the hijab The French and the hijab
by Joseph Gatt
2019-04-02 08:40:30
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In France, discussing or displaying your personal beliefs is considered very, very rude. You can discuss politics, but don't ever discuss what your personal political tendencies are. You can discuss religion, but don't ever reveal what your own personal religious beliefs are. You can discuss the education system, but don't discuss what education system you hail from. You can discuss money, but don't ever discuss your personal positions on money, your personal financial situation or how much money you make.

So for Muslim women wearing the hijab in France, they are technically breaking the golden rule according to which you should keep your religious beliefs to yourself, perhaps to your household. Oddly enough, there is no debate on Muslim men who wear beards with the mustache shaved off and a “qamis” or Islamic white robe, perhaps because the French don't want the debate to involve Orthodox Jews who also wear beards, black suits and hats and sidelocks.

hij01Debates on the hijab in France are passionate, emotional, at times hysterical, and often very vague. The hijab is believed by some to be “against the French values of secularism” while others claim that “the hijab is a symbol of the submission of women and the oppression of women” while others claim the hijab is a “symbol of adherence to terrorist values.” Whatever that means.

There's also a claim that the Quran “does not mention the hijab.” This claim is false; the Quran mentions that women should cover their hair twice. In one verse the Quran claims that a woman's hair that shows is equivalent to 60 sins. Another verse claims that women should cover themselves in the presence of men, unless the men are grandfathers, fathers or uncles, specifically men who the woman can't marry.

But Sharia law throughout history was never applied to a full extent, except perhaps in Afghanistan between 1996 and 2001. Technically, men are also supposed to have beards the size of their palms or longer, which was rarely applied throughout history. Other verses such as cutting the hands of thieves were also applied in some communities, while rejected in others. Some Muslim communities even forced men to grow mustaches, which is mentioned nowhere in the Quran. Even fasting during Ramadan, which is technically a pillar of Islam, was not observed in some Muslim communities, especially in Africa.

The hijab also evolved from community to community. In some Muslim communities women covered their hair with a scarf while leaving a few locks to show, while others covered their hair and faces, while in other communities’ women were covered from their heads to their toes except for leaving space for their eyes to see. Technically the Quran also mandates covering arms and legs, while in many Islamic communities women did not cover their arms and legs completely.

But why this French obsession with the hijab? The immigration of Muslim women to France only really started to take off in 1977 with a law allowing migrant workers to bring their families. Muslim women came from Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, along with sub-Saharian African countries with majority Muslim populations such as Mali and Senegal. Egypt, Lebanon and Syria also had a number of Muslim female immigrants to France.

Throughout the 1980s, a large majority of Muslim women tended to assimilation, even when assimilation conflicted with parents' and family beliefs. Muslim women tended to dress like French women, spoke French, refused to learn Arabic or their local language (except for the Egyptians, Lebanese and Syrians who spoke Arabic at home) and Muslim women tended to enjoy the fine pleasures of French entertainment, nights out and dating French men, even when that conflicted with their parents.

Social and economic realities caught up with a lot of Muslim women in France. Street crime and drugs started entering their neighborhoods, unemployment started reaching double figures, jobs were scarce, and radical Islamic preachers started distributing audio and video tapes convincing women to wear the hijab.

Now remember this was in France, in a country where discussing private religious beliefs is considered rude and uncivilized. Proselytizing is also considered uncivilized, is barely tolerated when it comes to the Unification church or Jehovah’s witnesses or perhaps the Mormons, but utterly frowned upon when Muslims proselytize.

Now you have to understand the French media. Islamic groups in France very actively proselytize in the streets; encourage football players to overtly proselytize, and any Muslim French celebrities are encouraged to put forward their faith, when the French believe such overt displays of faith uncivilized. The French media also deliberately ask entertainers of Muslim descent to discuss their faith, to prove the point that they are not civilized and don't fit into French society.

So the French media has to counter that proselytizing campaign by leading emotional, almost hysterical debates about Islamic proselytizing. And since it would be rude to dismiss Islam as a whole, it's a lot easier to attack the hijab, as many women were encouraged by preachers to wear the hijab as a means of proselytizing.

Another focus of attack for the French media and far-right parties is public Muslim street prayers, which are partly due to a deficit in Mosques in France but also due partly to French Muslims proselytizing. Yet another favorite for the French media to attack is Halal food, as Muslims use prayer and Halal food as subtle proselytizing gimmicks. The debate is deliberately explosive, as the French media believes the French need to hear both sides of the story before they convert to Islam. But as it gets more hysterical, some French people do end up converting to Islam because Muslim proselytes know how to take advantage of the hysteria by claiming that Islam is a religion of “appeasement” and gives people “peace of mind.”

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