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 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.
UK - Jana Kossaibati is a medical student from London. She runs the blog Hijab Style.
IRAN - Shohreh is a 23-year-old art student from Tehran, Iran.
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."
FRANCE - Silhem Habchi has been president of the women's rights movement Ni putes ni soumises (Neither whores nor submissive) since 2007.
FRANCE - Saida Hida is a member the Strasbourg branch of the Ligue Française de la Femme Musulman (French Muslim Women's League).
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."