On Saudi Students and Hijab in France

When the French government decided to ban all religious symbols in schools few years ago the decision hardly went unnoticed, especially by Muslims as many of them found the rule directly targeting the hijab. While I find this French rule idiotic, I find it equally if not more idiotic what some Saudi female students who got scholarships to France have to say about the implications of this rule on their education.

“There should be a clear agreement between our two governments by which Muslims going there for education could keep their hijabs on,” one of them told Arab News. After spending SR 7,000 to study French, she is now asking the officials to sort it out.

The only way I see for our “officials” to “sort it out” is this: one of them gets the French citizenship, he wins the presidential elections there, and then he makes the parliament change the law. Pretty straight forward, huh? No offense to Ms. Abdulhadi, but don’t you think you could have spent a few hours learning some general information about France and its laws before you apply for a scholarship there?

Another student went as far as asking the government to stop scholarships to France altogether. Sorry Missy, just because you think French laws contradict what you believe in doesn’t give you the right to deny others the chance to go and pursue a better education in that place as long as it suits their beliefs.

I think this story says a lot about the political awareness of our youth and how they view the world. They somehow seem to believe that it can be modified to become more in line with their liking, and that a simple call to the so-called officials disguised in the name of religion is enough to change everything as we often see around here. This should be a rude awakening to Ms. Abdulhadi and her friends, as well as for the rest of us who are still delusional about where we stand in this world today.

UPDATE: According to John Burgess, there is some confusion around this issue. Apparently wearing hijab in French universities is not forbidden, but medical schools have rules which ban head coverings as unhygienic. However, this doesn’t change much of what I said here.

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34 thoughts on “On Saudi Students and Hijab in France

  1. While Wikipedia has its limitations, it’s pretty clear that the law banning hijab in schools pertains only to elementary and secondary schools. University students are considered adult and thus not susceptible to untoward religious or peer pressures.

    Now whether that is a safe assumption is another matter….

  2. The fact is that the law in France was written by the national democratic government and only applies within the public school sphere in contrast with other examples of bodywear imposition that I don’t need to mention.

    Nevertheless Im still unsure about this law and it is difficult to say when something is imposed and when something is personally decided.

    Could it be that a girl who doesn’t want to wear the hijab and her parents oblige too, is relieved to know that know the State made the choice for her? I guess there are more than one or two of these examples.

    On the other hand, a 17 years old girl who wants to wear it and may be adult enough could not.

    But is the wish of the women the priority for those opposing this law?

  3. How was that saying? Ah, yes, when in Rome do as Romans do. It seems that for some people Romans and the rest of the world should do as Saudis do. Amazing!
    By the way, forget about France, in Turkey (not precisely a crusaders bastion) the use of hijab is forbidden in public buildings as a way of keeping the State and the “Church” separate.

  4. @ Crispal: so according to your line of thinking, all non-Muslims should do how Saudis do when they are in Saudi? right? All non-Muslims should obey Islamic laws and pray 5 times a day? Right? Stupid comment by you, didnt expect lunacy from a French.

    • This is stupid and rediculous. How close minded so many people here are. The HIJAB IS NOT A SAUDI FREAKIN GARMENT!!! Its is a RELIGIOUS garment that is worn AROUND THE WORLD. ISLAMIC laws are NOT SAUDI laws, they are RELIGIOUS LAWS. I get how some people might find hijab to be a cultural thing as it is a different form of clothing from the others-clothing is often cultural (not in this case) but PRAYING FIVE TIMES A DAY IS AN ACT OF FAITH. HOW DARE YOU EVEN SAY ITS CULTURAL. IDIOTS!!!!! LEARN about ISLAM before you freakin JUDGE IDIOTS!

  5. I heard a similar comment from a Saudi lady at US embassy in Riyadh, she objected why the requested photo should show her ears and the start of her hair line…I really think that Saudi women are confused and people here are confusing them too with what, how and when to wear Hijab or not to wear it, the world at large is not Saudi…Saudi Jeans, I didn’t like your sarcastic tone, after all, those girls were grown in here, it’s part of a sacred belief to cover up, how did you catch this tone? people can express what they think about laws, laws and policies are changing every now and then with any new and worthy viewpoints, and democracy oblige people to take all opinions into consideration even from foreigners…People can voice their requests in a free world like France as you know!!!.

  6. As you so eloquently stated: “The only way I see for our “officials” to “sort it out” is this: one of them gets the French citizenship, he wins the presidential elections there, and then he makes the parliament change the law.” Wish I’d have thought to put it this way… And I’m glad I am not the only one who sees the situation this way.

  7. @Viscous, actually in Saudi non Muslims have to abide by the Islamic laws. We are not forced to pray 5 times a day but we are forced to not mingle with the other sex, not drinking alcohol, not smoking in Ramadan, not practising any religion other than Islam in public, etc. Don’t you think we non-Muslims do not follow the local customs? Either you don’t live in Riyadh or you don’t realise what it is for a foreigner to live in KSA.

  8. @crispal,This issue (forbidding the hijab) shouldn’t be about being a Saudi, it has to do with being a Muslim and a person who should express my self the way i want as long as im not crossing any lines,as long as im not harassing anyone. and wearing hijab is not necessarily an expression of Islam, because not all muslim women wear hijab ,just as not all women wearing hijab are considered to be an (orthodox muslims) and so wearing it shouldn’t be a threat to the system.
    As for turkey i find what they did is so wrong on so many levels. For a county that have a population of native Turkish Muslims and they forbid them from wearing hijab is just ridicules..
    i do agree with ahmad.but i would say that its not a Saudi- French issue(cuz Saudi already have her own share of forbidden freedom)..its an Islamic -French thing.
    I have a Moroccan -French friend that couldn’t find a job in her recast town cuz she is wearing hijab,she had to move to England.where she luckly did find.
    As for not wearing hijab for hygienic reasons… this is absurd…. I mean all countries all over the world allow women to wear hijab while they r studying in med schools..Correct me if im wrong.dont u covers ur hair when u start operating on ppl.

  9. This issue (forbidding the hijab) shouldn’t be about being a Saudi, it has to do with being a Muslim and a person who should express my self the way i want as long as im not crossing any lines,as long as im not harassing anyone. and wearing hijab is not necessarily an expression of Islam, because not all muslim women wear hijab ,just as not all women wearing hijab are considered to be an (orthodox muslims) and so wearing it shouldn’t be a threat to the system.
    As for turkey i find what they did is so wrong on so many levels. For a county that have a population of native Turkish Muslims and they forbid them from wearing hijab is just ridicules..
    i do agree with ahmad.but i would say that its not a Saudi- French issue(cuz Saudi already have her own share of forbidden freedom)..its an Islamic -French thing.
    I have a Moroccan -French friend that couldn’t find a job in her recast town cuz she is wearing hijab,she had to move to England.where she luckly did find.
    As for not wearing hijab for hygienic reasons… this is absurd…. I mean all countries all over the world allow women to wear hijab while they r studying in med schools..Correct me if im wrong.dont u covers ur hair when u start operating on ppl.

  10. Yes, you do cover your hair when you start operating on people. However, that is a single use, sterile paper or cloth head covering that put on sterile in the operating theatre and discarded immediately after. It is not the hijab you have been wearing around the hospital all day, with all the germs wafting in the air. KSA is a country where the separation of church and state is an alien concept, but for European societies, that separation is essential for a smooth running society. Don’t forget, its not all about the hijab. There is a total ban on all symbols of religion, including Christian crosses. Unfortunately, the hijab has become a political piece of clothing, not a religious one, and stirs up people’s emotions in a disproportionate manner. If it is true that the ban is not in effect in universities, then the problem is solved. A little research on the matter on the part of those students ready to leave for France would help. And for the opportunity to receive a world-class educational experience, maybe substituting the hijab for a hat, a bandana, or even a wig, isn’t the worst thing that could happen to a girl. And by the way, it is quite difficult to be an expat in KSA, where you are required to submit yourself to significantly more cultural restrictions than anywhere else on the face of the planet in order to live here. I think on balance, foreigners in your country have it way more difficult than Saudis in other countries.

  11. Crispal:
    Although most of the population is Moslem, Turkish state has been officially secular since 1924 and everyone has freedom of religion and beliefs.
    Althought Italy also secular country does it means Naturism have right to walk arounds the Dom?

  12. It is because of Muslims like Abdulhadi that I have absolutely no patience or good will for Islam and Muslims. They want for themselves what they do not give to others. They want special rights yet treat non-Muslims like dirt where they dominate. Others have to change their ways to meet Muslims “special” needs. In other words, many Muslims believe Western laws shouldn’t apply to Islam and Muslims. This is pathetic.

    When I see a Muslim, I see a person that has no honor or sense of decency. Until Muslims start treating others better (ending the oppression of women and discrimination against non-Muslims) I see no reason to believe that any Muslim, no matter how “moderate,” can be trusted. Why should I believe the so-called moderates in the West are any different from the tens of millions of Muslims in Islamic countries that tolerate the oppression and restrictions placed upon non-Muslims?

    Am I wrong? I don’t think so. For Muslims, kindless, respect and the rule of law is a one-way street.

    Radical Muslims kill, moderates make excuses.

    Kactuz

  13. @mr.beachbums. The idea of separation between the State and the Church is new to you, isn’t it? I don’t know in Italy but in some countries Naturism is allowed in some places but it is only followed by a minority.
    Let’s be serious in our comments, please.

  14. لجنة الاستشارية الشبابية العربية لمشروع المرصد العربي للشباب
    إدارة السياسات والهجرة
    بالجامعة العربية

    شبكة المدونين العرب

    نداء للمدونين العرب

    في خلال أعمال منتدى الشباب بالجامعة العربية تم إنشاء شبكة للمدونين من شباب العرب سواء المقيمين في المنطقة العربية أو خارجها وقد سعت هذه الشبكة إلى تفعيل عمل اعضائها ودعم جهود الشباب الفاعل نحو حوار عربي/عربي حقيقي لايجاد نقاط التقاء بين الشباب العربي والسعي لايجاد حلول لمشاكل مجتمعاتهم على ايديهم.

    وقد شارك في هذه الشبكة منذ بدايتها عدد كبير من الشباب من مختلف الدول العربية وشهدت ساحاتهم حوارات ساخنة تارة وعلى نار هادئة تارة أخرى اتسمت جميعها بالايجابية واثبتت ان الشباب قادر على تحقيق المستحيل إن توفرت الارادة والحماس والرغبة في الفعل.

    ونحو مزيد من تفعيل عمل هذه الشبكة تحت إشراف المرصد العربي للشباب بجامعة الدول العربية ندعوك للانضمام لمجموعة محدودة ومختارة بعناية من المدونين العرب الممثلين لبلادهم لاثراء حوارنا وعملنا باقتراحات وأفكار وحوارات ومناقشات ومشروعات. وهناك بالفعل عدد كبير من الاقتراحات التي تلقى دعم القائمين على منتدى الشباب بالجامعة العربية حيث سيتوفر لنا فرص كثيرة للانجاز الحقيقي بوجود دعم يتمثل في مسابقات بجوائز مادية وعينية للمشاركين الاكثر نشاطا والافكار الايجابية .
    كما سيجري اختيار عدد من اعضاء شبكتنا هذه للمشاركة في الفعاليات المختلفة التي تنظمها إدارة السياسات السكانية والهجرة والادارات الاخرى بالجامعة العربية من مؤتمرات وقمم ولقاءات شبابية.

    تلك دعوة من شبكتنا إليك بصفتك مدونا عربيا تنم كتاباتك عن اهتمامك بمجتمعك وقضايا التنمية به .. ندعوك معنا لتمثل بلدك في هذا المحفل الالكتروني العربي

    وفي حال الموافقة يرجى استكمال بطاقة التعارف المرفقة أدناه
    الموافقة على أن تكون عضوا بالشبكة
    الموافقة على حضور الفعاليات التي تنظمها الادارة
    دعم الشبكة ونافذتها الالكترونية (هذه المدونة) عبر مدونتك

    واي اقتراح سيكون موضع ترحيب دائما

    وفي حال الموافقة سيتم ارسال لينك المدونة وكيفية الاشتراك وبعض مقترحات بدء التواصل

    مع خالص تحياتي

    منسق شبكات الشباب
    للتواصل:marianne@lasyouthforum.org

    http://www.lasyouthforum.org/

    بطاقة تعارف:

    الاسم:

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    الدولة:

    المهنة:

    الانشطة الاجتماعية:

    الاهتمامات:

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  15. I dont agree with the French ban, I think it is discriminatory and does target Muslims.

    However, if Muslims do not like it, they have a choice NOT to travel to France, live there, or go to school there.

    There is a clear difference, the choice made by the French government was a choice made by a government elected by it’s people and by judges appointed by those representitives.

    It is a bit much for people coming from a country ruled by a monarchy to then demand that a democratically elected government change the way that they do things.

    Hint, it isnt Saudi where you can call in your wasta (connection) or come up with a reshwa (bribe) large enough to change things. It is a democratic government, choosen by the people of France, who decide what happens.

    Instead of wanting to change France the ladys should be wondering what they can do to give themselves equal access and say in their OWN government.

    I have dealt with the Saudi government time and time again and I am never out of reasons to dislike the way they do business. It is amazing how inept, corrupt and bigoted the entire system is, from top to bottom.

    The students need to stop worrying about what covers their hair and pay attention to their own lives, their own government and their own society.

    If you dont like France but want to study French, go to school in Belgium. God willing they’ll go back with a hunger to change their own situations and their own governemtn. Too bad a recent article says that many Saudi students go back to Saudi after schooling in the West MORE entrenched in Saudi culture.

    http://www.saudigazette.com.sa/index.cfm?method=home.regcon&contentID=200806058457

    Saudis returning from US more ‘Saudized’

  16. the blockage is a clear proof that you let people write what you feel comfortable with. This means that you are no more different from the Saudi authorities anymore whom you so often criticize for censure.

  17. Your comments are not blocked, as you can see here. Sometimes the spam filter identify some comments as “false positives” but I’m trying to make sure that all comments appear here even if they disagree with me.

  18. @ Expat in Saudi: If you are finding it difficult then why dont you leave Saudi? Maybe you do not want to leave working in Aramco which pays you the double of what you would get if you were working in your own country, right? Stop suggesting what Muslim women in France should do when you do not want to do it yourself i.e. leave Saudi.

    J. Cactuz: You should be glad that you are allowed to work in Saudi in the first place. You should also be glad that the ignorance of the Kings is very beneficial for you to make good money while staying in the Saudi. I am sure that you earn more than $20k per month. Good for you. When France allows Nudists to not wear what they do not wear, how could that government dictate Muslim women NOT to wear what they want to wear? Is not that hypocrisy? Stop living in fool’s paradise. You wont get away so easily by typing bogus terms full of meaningless words.

  19. This is interesting. I am not agreeing with you, yet not disagreeing either. The French had every right to ban whatever it is they want to ban. In Rome, do as the Romans right? ;) . I understand why they want to ban hijab (or, i think i do), and i also understand that Saudi woman should oblige to that rule.. because if they didn’t want to follow the rules, they don’t have to, they can stay at home.. but what i don’t understand is that this “understanding of rules” is not reciprocal!
    If we are to respect their rules.. why can’t they respect ours? I understand Saudi isn’t perfect, but we have rules which we know is a necessity in our country, but in which they look upon it as mediocre !
    How are we supposed to have a mutual understanding, if they look at us as idiots and them as superiors ???
    I just don’t understand that…

  20. As far as I can tell, hospitals don’t allow their staff to wear head coverings they bring from home due to the little problem with hospital-acquired infections. This is hygienic issue — French non-Muslim medical interns cannot wear baseball hats — and to work around it would require these medical schools to accommodate Muslim women by providing perhaps sterilized fabrics (like those hair nets they wear in surgery). Perhaps Muslim women can simply choose to wear those nets all the time if they’re so concerned about their male colleagues admiring their immense beauty in a lewd fashion. (Or they can get over themselves and if they choose to enter the secular medical science community — play by the rules of hygiene like everyone else. Or do they expect to wear their home clothing into surgery unlike everyone else?)

    Burgess is right: this is a different issue than hijab in French (public) secondary and elementary schools. Muslims may have a legitimate right to allow their children to wear hijab in public secondary and primary schools in France, but they should also understand the French culture and customs and if they can’t accept it don’t go there. Why do Westerners always have to accommodate but if they say “there are our cultural customs based on secular social contract” they get criticized as “Islamophobic”? I think the river flows both directions: when I am in the Arab world I respect the customs even if I find some of them disagreeable. Hiding behind the alleged righteousness of religious dogma doesn’t give people any more license to try to change other cultures than it would for secularists to try to impose secular Humanistic values and customs on cultures that reject them.

    In a secular Humanistic society like Franch, orthodox Muslims are free to create their own religious private schools as long as they’re accredited and abide by the laws. That’s the beauty of a liberal society. Saudis in particular have no room to complain since their own society does not guarantee these rights to non-Muslims.

  21. PS: Before anyone says “well, Saudi Arabia is the home of Islam so it has the right to prevent non-Muslims from practicing certain customs” I’d like to underscore my rejection that the country of Saudi Arabia itself is the seat of Islam. The Saudi people could have their holy cities and shut out all non-Muslims while still allowing their Catholic maids to go to mass in Dammam. The problem here is that the Saudi government uses Islam as a shield for their own power. If I were a Muslim I’d be offended by this — from putting the Shahada on the national flag to the judges using and abusing Islam to justify horrendous tribal rulings that have more ot do with the culture of the Arabian Peninsula than with Islam itself.

  22. Aah, good to see kaktuz leaving crazy messages on this blog also. However, fear not. Because not all us Aussies are as crazy as he.

    The position taken by this blog is one I’ve never read on any blog emanating from a Muslim-majority state. I guess what you’re advocating is a strict “rule of law” approach to this.

    And if there is a ban on wearing hijab in certain places, surely the solution is to avoid such places if you regard wearing the hijab as essential to your lifestyle.

  23. I know there is a lot to debate between my home country (the USA) and parts of the Muslim World, but I would just like to state that the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment (Right of Free Speech and Religion) would make any sort of Turkish or French hijab ban impossible.

  24. Hello Ahmed,

    You point out an interesting point of conflict in this post: that legislation in different nations sometimes affects Muslims on a symbolic level. The hijab has come to mean many different things to the Westerner and Muslim alike. Challenging the right to wear the hijab is a challenge to many other religious rights and is also reminiscent of the colonialist behavior.
    I was in Denmark in 2006 when the cartoons of Muhammad were published. To many Westerners, both the dispute over wearing the hijab and publishing the cartoons seem trivial. However, pulling the blinds on Europe and the United States would reveal an unwillingness to examine past action in the Middle East and to uncover exactly why these disputes are so volatile. In Denmark it would also, sadly, show an extreme misunderstanding of Muslim values and an increase in a form of nationalism that feels threatened by such foreign ideals. I would hope that the students you write about who are studying abroad are trying to bridge this gap and educate the West!
    I really enjoyed reading your blog, and your perspective as a Saudi student!
    Thank you,

    Cecilia

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