Muslims in France: A Town Attempting to Reduce Barriers

In the suburbs of Trappes, Paris, a Muslim woman dawning a veil was stopped by police officers for an identity check and subsequently ticketed for wearing a traditional veil—a symbolic item that has become a heated national debate about the role of religion in France. Her husband, who accompanied her, was arrested after attacking the police officer in anger. These events erupted into street riots, where objects were hurled as projectiles against police officers in an attempt to demonstrate against the treatment of Muslims in general, and Muslim women in particular, by French authorities.

France’s attempt to live by the code of “liberté, égalité, fraternité” by forcibly integrating its citizens is witnessing the drawback of seeking homogeneity amongst a diverse population. The state’s egregious attempt to relegate religion to the outskirts of public life, thus alienating and barring those that openly practice their faiths, is only inspiring rebellion and dividing an already fragile society still reeling back from the 2005 civil unrest that highlighted the manifest social stratification and lack of integration existing amongst immigrants of mostly Muslim backgrounds. A few years later, the president of France and self-made scholar of Islam, Nicholas Sarkozy, sought to declare the face veil inconsistent with the values of French society as it imprisoned women and served as an impediment to women’s societal advancement, all the while referring to it as a “burqa”—a term intentionally and strategically employed to spark images of women’s oppression under the Taliban in the minds of the undecided French. His controversial law on banning the full-body veil was passed and enforced by authorities in parts of France against those unwilling to abide to the unfair and discriminatory measure. About two years later, the first French Muslim woman was ticketed for wearing the religious article in public.

Many communities in France, of course, are attempting to understand their Muslim counterparts and the Islamic religion, but unfortunately they are entrapped in a vicious, Islamophobic atmosphere inspired by politicians and right-wing activists with inimical intentions to marginalize Muslims. Hope for communal peace and support for a multicultural society, where religious practice does not need to be in conflict with state principles or replacing the veil representing identity and faith with a false one representing assimilation, is possible with the right approach. Such examples can be witnessed in Roubaix, a town north of France.

“A French Town Bridges the Gap Between Muslims and Non-Muslims,” by Alissa J. Rubin for the New York Times:

Wearing head scarves and long skirts, the women glide along the faded back streets of this poor French town as they make their way to the mosque to hear the last prayer of the evening.

Like their husbands and brothers, fathers and sons, they feel at home here. That is in large part because Roubaix, a small city in northeastern France, has made a point of embracing its Muslim population, proportionately one of the largest in the country.

“I am comfortable in these clothes here in Roubaix,” said Farid Gacem, the bearded president of the Abu Bakr mosque, who was wearing a nearly ankle-length loose brown tunic on a recent afternoon…

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