The French constitutional court last night came to a decision about the wearing of hijab in public places. According to this new law, it is illegal for women to wear a full facial veil such as the niqab or burka. To avoid any accusations of religious intolerance, racism or bigotry, the rule will allow this tradition in public houses of worship. To do otherwise, the BBC reports, may “violate religious freedom.”
A fine of 150 Euros is applicable to anyone who wears a full facial veil in public; alternatively, women may enrol in a “citizenship course.”
Muslims in France have been ‘assured’ however, that there will be a six-month period of education; during this time, Muslim women who wear a niqab or burka will be informed of the illegality of their tradition. They will be told that the fines for such crimes are severe, and that they could face arrest.
Those who force women to wear a full facial veil are liable to pay a fine of 30,000 Euros.
This debate began some years ago amid concerns of a dwindling French identity. Public sentiment maintained that French people were not free in their own land – and that the cosmopolitan nature of their modern society had left them without a national identity of their own.
Riots and racial violence had in the past stopped this law from going much further than the forums of public debate.
There are however, some forms of hijab permissible under this new rule: hijab, al-amira, shayla, chimar and chador.
However, there is further controversy around this judgement as it will force around 2,000 French women who currently wear a full facial hijab to switch to one of the permissible items of hijab. These women have been given six months to alter a practice they have maintained since they were six years old.
French president Nicholas Sarkozy has backed this ruling; ending, in effect, a nation- and continent-wide debate on French national identity and the place of Islam in modern France.
British national papers report that Spain and Belgium are considering implementing this law.