Obama tackles the French on the hijab

© Vitostreet

When Obama said that Western countries should avoid "dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear", it could have been perceived as a personal attack in France. The hijab, along with all religious symbols, was banned in French schools in 2004. Read more...

The French government's decision to ban pupils from wearing "ostentatious religious symbols" caused a ruckus with hijab-wearers in the country when it was first enforced. Although the law remains in place five years on, Obama's highly critical comments on the subject come as a slap in the face for the French model. Our Observers who wear, or have worn the hijab, give us their opinion.

The statements in question:

The United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it.

It is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practising religion as they see fit -- for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear.  We can't disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.

I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. 

“White men think they know what is best for Muslim women”

UK - Jana Kossaibati is a medical student from London. She runs the blog Hijab Style.

Of course I agree with Obama's statements. Freedom of religion and freedom of dress are basic human rights. It's unbelievable to force women to remove their clothing - which is exactly what the French government is doing in schools. It's not up to the government to decide how women should dress; this colonial attitude has manifested itself again in this rule; in that white men think they know what is best for Muslim women. No one consulted French Muslim women and girls about what they thought - where is the democracy here?

For a Muslim woman, hijab is something full-time; we don't choose to wear it some days and not others. Again, why is it that everyone BUT Muslim women are the ones deciding how they should live their lives?"

“Every woman should have the choice (…) both in Iran and in France”

IRAN - Shohreh is a 23-year-old art student from Tehran, Iran. 

I live in a country where wearing a hijab is mandatory for everyone: Muslims, Christians and irreligious people, which I find unequal and unfair. But it is just as unequal and unfair to ban everyone from wearing the hijab!

I don't consider the hijab as a religious sign; for me it's part of our culture and custom. Personally I don't wear a scarf (when not in public), but that's my choice. Every woman should have the choice of wearing the scarf or not, both in Iran and in France. I agree with Obama on this."

“The hijab flies the flag for extremism”

FRANCE - Silhem Habchi has been president of the women's rights movement Ni putes ni soumises (Neither whores nor submissive) since 2007.  

I'm very disappointed. Obama, the first president to represent diversity, is supposed to symbolise peace-making. And yet, he forgot one half of humanity. I'm furious. It's like he tried to make a compromise with the Arab world with women paying the price. Trying to get closer to the Muslim world in turning a blind eye to women's rights, to democratic values and to the right of emancipation, is to exploit women. He can't truly want to fight against religious extremism and give in over the hijab issue at the same time. The hijab flies the flag for extremism."

"In the US religious freedom exists. In France, we’re far from it"

FRANCE - Saida Hida is a member the Strasbourg branch of the Ligue Française de la Femme Musulman (French Muslim Women's League). 

Obama has always had a deep respect for religious freedom. It shouldn't go unnoticed that he appointed a veiled woman to his advisory board. In the US religious freedom exists. In France, we're far from it. Secularism could have been understood as a symbol of open-mindedness and tolerance, but we took the route instead of imposing a one-vision system on everybody.

The year 2004 (when the ban was imposed) was a very hard one for Muslim women in France. We saw this law as an injustice. The hijab debate meant that all the other problems French schools were facing at the time - and still are facing - were forgotten. It also served, as Obama pointed out, to embody the post - 9/11 hostility towards Islam. This hostility was created by collective imagination and shallow news snippets.

I have some brilliant young girls in my association who can't attend state school because they wear the hijab. So they have to study from home or move abroad, often to Belgium, where they're without their family and financially drained.  

France can be very proud of some things but in the case of the hijab, they've completely forgotten about "liberté, égalité, fraternité."


Hijab or Burkha

It remains Clear!! what do these women have to hide? One would think that it is a man disguised as a woman. What if she looks as if she is with child? and in Actuality? it is a man carrying explosives? If You're a woman and you have nothing to hide then don't wear anything over your face. The one worn on the head? is nice with all the different colors. But you're wearing an all black veil? who are you mourning? and why hide your beautiful faces? for the likes of Islamic Macho men that can be beaten down? Sometimes or often times by a strong woman? The outrage is to see the ones in Iran wearing all black and carrying machine guns. So if you have nothing to hide? don't wear it. We are not in the Middle Ages anymore for following The precepts put forth by Mohammed back then or whoever. Live in the now. I don't believe the woman that says that it's her choice to wear the veil and that nobody forces her. She obviously has something to hide. And when you hide something? it's not really a protection thing it is because you have something to hide? and it looks more like you feel shame. Give light to your looks. you can always worship Allah with clothes and without. We were born with out and worshipping Him when we were being introduced to the world.


The Hijab is not a choice it is taught, from the time a girl walks. In Saudi Arabia girls are sold to 62 year old men who have the money. The men buy eight year old girls for their Harems. The men buy good Moslem girls from good Moslem families. Girls brought up properly, children who do not tempt the men by showing their faces. Girls who do not make the men have evil thoughts by showing their childish features. The men take these girls as wives. It is Sharia law and the religion of Islam that dictates once a girl reaches puberty she must always wear the Hijab. A girl ofter reaches puberty as early as ten years old. At ten years old the men consummate the marriage. In the USA this is called slavery, rape, lewd and lascivious acts with a minor, and child molestation. When women choose the right to wear the Hijab they are supporting rape of children. When women wear the Hijab women are in fact telling the western world not to find fault with the practice of rich old men buying eight year old girls for their Harem and sexual pleasure.

Yes the Hijab is said to be worn by Allah as to not tempt men, seems like it works pretty good, just like the brown cover on a penthouse magazine, old men dont desire to look inside.

Women should be burning the Hijab in the streets, women should be demanding we go to war to end the tyranny that children are born into. As long as women are docile and ignorant and continue to wear a hijab men will do as they please to eight year old girls.

A bit of fact... an dust cleaning on Obama's doorstep

I'm French and I live in the UK, where there is far more "freedom" related to the "exterior signs" of your religion, and I think it's good; although the core of the problem - which is as Obama stated the equality in access to education - still leaves to be desired here. People are less remarked or judged in UK streets when they wear signs expressing their personal beliefs. People don't really care anymore and it's a good thing because in a democracy, everyone should be able to express their own preferences and choices.

However, I don't want to blindly defend any side but one has to remember that:
1/ It's not the hijab that was banned in France, it's all exterior signs of personal belief. This includes visible crosses around the neck, Kippas and Sikh turbans,
2/ The hijab has been banned from schools, not from public life.

The reasoning behind it is that Republican School is secular and therefore no sign of personal belief should be on display while inside its walls.
You can argue, as I do, that although secularism is to be protected at School this is definitely a step too far, that there are real problems to solve that are not being addressed, and that girls are indeed denied the right to be educated. But one can't deny that there is at least some logic behind it, and that this decision was far less random than we think. France is deeply attached to the separation between the State and the "Church" (originally) and one has to understand the role played by culture and traditions in a country the same way I would by wearing a Hijab if I was a woman visiting Iran.

That Obama, with all the admiration I have for him, comes and criticises this as a seemingly random decision that leads girls de be deprived of their right to be educated makes me laugh. I mean, at least, the education system in France works enough to offer a REAL possibility of being educated to anyone and by this I mean, the ability to achieve top positions later in life with simple State funded education. They might have less restrictions in the US regarding religious expression but in reality, who cares? The truth is that it's the whole US lower class that's denied the right to truly be educated: everybody knows that being good in a US State school will lead you nowhere. You have to be absolutely excellent.. or to have money. There's definitely some cleaning that must be done at Obama's doorstep before pointing out to the world the shortcoming's of France's mistakes and hurdles to the right to education.

Obama was only trying to polish the Muslims' attitude toward USA

I totally understand what France is trying to do. However, I would like everyone to note that wearing hijab is NOT same as wearing a cross around your neck. Hijab is not only an Islamic sign, hijab is an obligatory practice for Muslim women. Wearing hijab and going to schools are both extremely essential, and France is forcing Muslim women to choose among those essentials.

Although a part of me believe that Obama was only trying to polish the Muslims' attitude toward America, what he said was very democratic; I really appreciate him mentioning this issue after all this time.

I absolutely agree

I think you're absolutely right Nora. As I said, I think it's a step too far as there was no real effort to understand the importance and the value of the Hijab in the Muslim religion, or for the Turban in the Sikh religion for example. This law was made too quickly, with not enough thinking put into it.

However, the points I wanted to make in my comment were that:
1/ This law was targeted to all religions although it failed to make the distinction between what was "decoration" (e.g. a cross) and what was not... that's very stupid,
2/ Although I don't agree with this law, it definitely has a logic behind it - driven by France's culture and traditions - and is far less random than some comments I've read on this website would suggest,
3/ Obama is the President of a country that has in my opinion no lesson to give in terms of equality of access to education as it's probably the worst example in the Western world in this regard (the UK follows short).

It's a shame that France passed this law really because the education system is fundamentally good and the curriculum does respect the differences in pupils beliefs. One cannot say the same of a country where schools are slowly reintroducing the Bible-based Creationism theory... I wouldn't call it a mark of respect for non-Christians...

I think this puts things into perspective, doesn't it?

dear fellow muslims,if you

dear fellow muslims,if you accept wearing hijab in muslim countries as mandatory for everyone,including christians why dont you accept banning hijab in the christian world.


People are not forced to wear hijabs in muslim countries so don't talk when you don't know anything...



you can wear shorts and bikinis

dear fellow, if you have visited some Islamic countries, you'll find that in 95% of them, you don't have to wear a hijab, and you can also wear shorts and bikinis, which is totally unacceptable in the Islamic culture.

you live in

you live in secular!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! country,i hope you know what does it mean. none religious!!!!!!!!!!!!! it is very important for you!!!!! to understand that if you live somewhere else but in your own country ,that you must behave and do as country's law and rights and constitution goes. you just cannot feel injustice.it is not your birth right country and if it is than you should know better............