A young French Muslim determined to challenge the ban on “religious” skirts


By Hajer M’tiri


On a hot Thursday morning last month, Sarah, 15, began her typical hour-long commute to school.

The young French Muslim of Algerian origin had gotten used to removing her headscarf just before entering the Léo Lagrange high school in Charleville-Mézières.

Sarah has been wearing the hijab, the Islamic veil, for a year, but in order to receive an education she was forced to take it off because of a 2004 French law that prohibits students from wearing “visible signs” of religion. like scarves, skullcaps or crucifixes at school.

On this day in mid-April, however, she was going to have a big surprise.

“I was about to take off my scarf as usual, before seeing the principal waiting for me a few meters outside the school,” Sarah told Anadolu agency. “She walked over to me and asked me to come home and change my outfit.”

Sarah wore a long skirt. She was told her outfit was “too religious”.

Because she lives far away, Sarah asked the principal to let her in for the day, after promising to change her outfit the next day.

His request was denied. The next day, she came in with pants on. No problem.

But when she returned the next day of school wearing a long black skirt, Sarah was again banished and sent home with a letter to her parents.

“It was not a valid reason to suspend me,” Sarah said. “The skirt is just a dress style, not a flashy sign. It’s a beautiful skirt and I wanted to wear it.”

Local French authorities, however, defended the principal’s actions, saying they were in line with policy.

“With regard to the concerted protest actions of the students, which follow other more visible incidents related for example to the wearing of the veil, the secular education framework must be firmly remembered and guaranteed,” the office said. regional education office in the city of Charleville-Mézières (northern France). in a press release Tuesday.

Sarah’s story sparked outrage on social media platforms, with the hashtag #JePorteMaJupeCommeJeVeux (I wear my skirt however I want) going viral across the world.

Abdallah Zekri, president of the National Observatory against Islamophobia, told Anadolu agency on Wednesday that it was “scandalous and unacceptable” that a girl should be suspended on the pretext of violating the principles of secularism.

“There is nothing ostentatious about wearing a long skirt,” Zekri said. “The girl respected the law by not wearing her headscarf inside the school, so I don’t see what secularism they are talking about.”

“I believe I was suspended because the school administration knows I am wearing a scarf outside,” Sarah said. “Why were other non-Muslim girls wearing long skirts allowed in? ”

Elsa Ray, spokesperson for the Collective Against Islamophobia monitoring group in France, told Anadolu news agency that Sarah’s case was not an isolated incident.

“Over the past two years, we’ve dealt with hundreds of similar cases,” Ray said. “In recent months, several girls have been excluded from classes for wearing skirts deemed too long in the southern city of Montpellier.

“Suspending school for such a reason is against the law. It is an attack on the freedom of these girls, who have the right, like others, to dress as they wish,” he said. -she adds.

Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter following the incident that France “is pushing secularism too far.”

“I can’t wait to go back to school to continue my studies and I’m going to put on my skirt,” Sarah said defiantly.

When asked what she would do if she was hung up again, Sarah smiled and replied, “Let’s wait and see.

* Additional reports by Feyzullah Yarımbaş and Dursun Aydemir

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