*MCT PHOTO
Veiled women and girls have been banned from wearing headscarves or hijabs in schools in France, creating widespread discrimination against Muslim women.
*MCT PHOTO Veiled women and girls have been banned from wearing headscarves or hijabs in schools in France, creating widespread discrimination against Muslim women.
Imagine a woman being assaulted for being dressed too modestly or being denied health care because she is dressed conservatively.

These reflections inevitably bring to the mind an image of a society where a woman’s right to self-determination is denied.

They evoke the image of a society which holds women to be so intellectually weak that they cannot even choose how to dress; a society where a woman’s worth is no more than that of a doll to be dressed and undressed as you please.

This society, ironically, is one which claims to uphold the rights of women to live their life free from oppression.

This is France, a secular state which claims to be an advocate of women’s rights. In 2004, France banned Muslim girls and women from covering their hair in schools.

This ban on headscarves or hijabs led to widespread discrimination against Muslim women.

Female teachers were forced to choose between their jobs and their hijabs and Muslim mothers were barred from participating in school activities.

Since this controversial law, Muslim women in France wearing the hijab became the target of intolerance, and physical and verbal assaults of Muslim women increased.

In 2011, France went even further and barred the face veil worn by Muslim women from public places.

The law states that a woman wearing a face veil can be arrested and fined. She can also be denied healthcare, education and other public services.

While it is true that the ban against face covering applies to all, irrespective of religious affiliations, it cannot be denied that Muslim women constitute the majority of those who veil the face and are the ones who are most affected by this ban.

Thus, on one side there are some ‘Islamic’ governments who insist on covering women from head to toe at all cost.

On the other side there is the French government insisting that Muslim women wear no covering and go to great lengths to remove their headscarves and veils, whether the women like it or not.

In both cases, women are being victimized and nobody cares enough to listen to what they want. Islam enjoins modesty in thoughts, speech, behaviour and dress for both men and women.

Women are additionally advised to “disclose not their beauty except that which is apparent thereof, and that they draw their head-coverings over their bosoms.” (Holy Quran 24:32).

The form that this covering takes varies according to one’s tradition and culture as is evidenced by the wide variations of hijabs in the Muslim world.

A good majority of Muslim women adopt the hijab and veil due to the desire to fully abide by all Islamic injunctions.

Forcing a Muslim woman to remove her hijab or veil is most certainly a vile thing to do and can only cause distress and offence to the woman’s religious sentiments and values.

Instead of liberating them from oppression, such coercion subjects Muslim women to hurtful and humiliating discrimination and intolerance.

A woman’s right to self-determination cannot be snatched in the name of upholding secularism.

Indeed, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad, Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, has correctly asked (Peace Symposium, 2010): “Is it such a heinous crime to cover one’s head and chin with a piece of cloth so that an entire Parliament sits to pass a law against it?”