In 2017, during a French lesson, I asked why Muslim girls couldn’t wear the hijab in French schools. The answer was simple: “All religious symbols are banned in French schools”. Not knowing any better, and being the only Muslim in my class, I thought nothing else of it. No religious symbols – it puts everyone on the same playing field, right? Cut to July 2021, and the European Union’s highest court has ruled that employers can forbid visible symbols of religious and political beliefs. Suddenly it hits me: this isn’t a level playing field at all.
Muslim women’s clothing has been the subject of debate across the West for decades, and yet until this year, I was incredibly ignorant of it. As a non-hijabi (a Muslim not yet wearing a hijab), I know that whenever I choose to commit to the most visible symbol of my faith I would be fully supported by my friends and family. To those in the EU, the government is increasingly making that choice for them, and the answer is increasingly becoming “No”.
The recent ruling in July hasn’t been the first time Muslim women have faced difficulties in their desire to dress how they choose. In February of this year, the French Senate proposed the ‘Anti-Separatist Bill’, officially aiming to reinforce respect for secularism in France. However, within those measures came the proposal to ban the wearing of religious symbols within a public setting for children under 18. These are the same measures applying for parents wishing to accompany children on school trips. Throughout the entire bill, there is no mention of any religion, seemingly not discriminating against anyone. Yet, social media read between the lines and outrage flashed across all platforms. Tiktoks appeared with young girls wearing snapbacks and hoodies to conceal their hair. Young women pointed out the hypocrisy of how the city of fashion can praise a silk headscarf on a runway while shunning a hijabi on the street. Some pointed out how the age of consent to sex would be lower than the age to wear the hijab in public. Others reminded us of how this wouldn’t be the first time rules about clothing discriminated against Muslim women and directed us to the number of French towns that had banned burkinis in 2016, along with the slew of fines issued.
Yet, the struggles Muslim women are put through for choosing to dress modestly are contained within the community without much outside support. Norway’s female team for the European Handball Championship was recently fined for not wearing bikini bottoms during one of their matches, which sparked outrage across social media and an immense amount of support. The singer P!nk even offered to pay the fine herself.
But, the same courtesy does not extend to the normal women in hijabs, dropping off their children at school. No one offers to pay the fines of the average woman wanting to cover up on the beach instead of wearing a swimsuit. As a society, we embrace the idea of being free to choose how we want to present ourselves, but for those who choose to cover up, they find it increasingly difficult.