A French Muslim student in a headscarf media storm | Religious News


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Maryam Pougetoux was criticized by ministers who said the garment was “shocking” and a manifestation of “political Islam”.

A Muslim student at one of France’s top universities has found herself at the center of a media storm after appearing in a documentary wearing a headscarf.

Maryam Pougetoux had appeared in the film to talk about the student protests in the country, which have been going on since April of this year.

The student activist is the president of the student union of the University of Paris-Sorbonne IV in the French capital.

It wasn’t her thoughts on the protests that sparked the controversy, rather it was the headscarf she wore during filming.

Since the interview, she has been criticized by French Interior Minister Gérard Collomb, who said the appearance was “shocking” and accused Pougetoux of wanting to proselytize for his religion.

French Equality Minister Marlene Schiappa also intervened, calling Pougetoux’s choice of headgear a “manifestation of political Islam”.

The student defended her decision to wear the headscarf in an interview with Buzzfeed, in which she said her headscarf had “no political function” and that her religion did not affect her ability to serve as president of the union.

“When I defend students, I do not question their skin color, their sexual orientation, their philosophy of life,” she told the media.

History of controversies

The coverage sparked intense debate in France, which over the past decade and a half has witnessed several major controversies over what Muslim women wear.

In 2004, lawmakers passed a law banning the display of religious symbols in schools, including headscarves. However, university students are still allowed to wear the headscarf.

In 2010, the country banned the face covering worn by a small minority of Muslim women, known as a niqab.

Later in 2016, an image of French police in southern France asking a Muslim woman to remove a burkini swimsuit, which covers a large part of the body and hair, went viral.

Officials were acting to enforce a local dress ban, but also ended up targeting women considered to be overly covering.

France’s highest administrative court overturned the bans, declaring them a violation of “fundamental freedoms”.

Alleged bias

Supporters of restrictions on Muslim religious clothing say they either ensure the separation of religious and public life or protect the French brand of secularism, known as secularism.

However, Muslim civil liberties activists say the restrictions are influenced by prejudices against Muslims and other communities.

“Mariam Pougetoux has once again shown that France has a deep problem with its own minorities and an even bigger problem if they dare to speak in public,” said activist Yasser Louati.

“Thanks to this controversy, the whole country has forgotten why she spoke in the first place and mobilized the students she represented,” he added.

He went on to say that the controversy would not be the last to involve the headscarf.

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