Niqabi woman denied French citizenship – your thoughts?

Miss France (Flickr)
Credit: Miss France (Flickr)

In June of this year, Faiza Silmi was denied French citizenship because of her choice to wear the niqab – a facial covering worn by some Muslim women. French officials cited her lack of “sufficient assimilation” into French society. They elaborated that they viewed her niqab to be a “straightjacket”, “prison”, and a symbol of her willingness to be oppressed by the men in her family.

So far, the New York Times reports, citizenship had only been denied to those Muslims who had close ties with fundamentalist groups. Ms. Silmi does not have such ties – this decision was based on her choice of garment alone.

It seems that Ms. Silmi leads a pretty standard life as far as that of a Western housewife is concerned: caring for her children (all born in France – her husband being a French citizen himself), shopping for their necessities, driving to run errands, etc. She does all of these in mainstream French society. Nonetheless, officials viewed her niqab as prohibitive to her full integration.

When it comes to the niqab within a democracy or open society, I have only one question myself – I am not sure that it is possible to navigate societies functioning on identifiability  – from driver’s licenses to banking – without permitting your face to be seen. (Note – I said I am not sure. I’d be interested to hear what niqabis have to say about their experiences with this). In any event, it isn’t made clear that Ms. Silmi has encountered troubles in the public sphere. All that is clear is that the French officials deciding her case determined that she is oppressed.

As a twisted sidenote, officials apparently approved of one thing in evaluating her case: that she had seen male gynecologists during her pregnancies. Are they seriously using that as a mark of feminist liberation these days? What is this, the year 1700?

Perhaps what the French could have noted is that Ms. Silmi actually felt freer to wear her niqab in France than she did in her home country of Morocco. In France, religious freedom in one’s personal life is protected by law. Not so in many Islamic countries – where religious expression must often look exactly the same across the board.

The burden falls on the French government, then, to make the case as to why Ms. Silmi has not assimilated. She chooses to wear the niqab not to work as a judge or a public official. She chooses to wear it in her personal life – as French law would seem to permit.

What are your thoughts?

P.S. I dig this commentary.


18 thoughts on “Niqabi woman denied French citizenship – your thoughts?

  1. As a Moroccan I don’t agree with the statement that this Moroccan woman felt freer wearing the niqab in France than in her home country. We have much more diveristy in Morocco and people are more accepting of what others choose to wear. People dress in modern clothing and in traditional clothing. There is a mix. Moroccans, most of them, go to France for economical reasons. Let us stop pretending that Moroccans (or others) like to go to France to “feel free”. People swallow the discrimination, the prejudice and the contempt because they have to send money back home to support their families. I don’t feel free when I go to France because I know people would quickly pre-judge me based on: my name, my clothing (if I chose to wear something tradition) and at times my looks. I don’t feel that way in Morocco. Although many people claim that our behavior is prescribed by the government, it actually is the opposit. It is in places like France where the government has put laws in place for everything and has the ability to enforce them everywhere. In Morocco, not only the state does not have the means to enforce the laws it enactes, there are places that they never set their foot in them. Freedom is relative and it is subjective.

  2. Hey, they’re French! They have a right to discriminate “freely” based on their own “liberal” ideals. Pseudoliberalism forces people to be free regardless of whether they choose to practice those liberties or not. It is part of the spectrum of our society where you have on one hand right-winged conservatives and left-winged pseudoliberals on the other both forcing their views of freedoms and liberties (or their lack of) down people’s throats.

    I personally do not support the niqab which I think has no basis in Islam but people should not be discriminated against based on their choice of apparel. I can also understand the difficulty in dealing with niqabis in today’s life when it comes to law enforcement and security issues. A person choosing to use the niqab does not however, display her unwillingness to break out of the shackles of male domination. In fact their assumption has no logic. If a woman wants to break free then she will not enforce the veil on herself. If she doesn’t want to break free she has made the choice to live her life according to her own ideals thereby exercising freedom of expression.

    Such measures are counterproductive and do not serve the very purpose they’re undertaken for i.e. to free women from bondage and alienates them from it. But what else can we expect from these kool-aid faux liberals especially the “french”?

  3. Like Irshad wrote on her blog, it’s very unjust to punish women only and in this case the punishment is totally absurd! There are of course lots of evidence that fundamentalists like Tariq Ramadan actually incite young Muslim girls to wear hijabs at school and go to court, but this case is about grown woman, who willingly is instantiating her faith with a niqab. I don’t see any rational reason except for the identification to ban this and as for identification, it is so easy to look under the face mask to see whose there.

  4. O.k. what about when it doesn’t explicitly manifest itself in clothing, but in the ideological equivalent, WORDS. Eight years ago my Pastor refused to conduct a ceremony where I did not agree to “love, honor and obey”. Would the French deny the essentials of my marriage since it is founded upon such inequality. Would they deny my church the right to require such an oath? Just a thought…

  5. Jussi:

    Why don’t you post the evidence that you mentioned in your post? There is no such evidence, no such surveys, no such data. The evidence you talk about is based on prejudice and contempt for any Muslim who does not subscribe to what some westerners believe as the “ultimate solution” for all mankind. Ireland, a conservative catholic country, was accepted as a full member of the EU in the 70s while divorce was illegal in its laws until the late 90s. The end on the ban on divorce was only lifted after 3 referundums. Would the EU accept such member if a Muslim country? Never. Let us stop with this intolerance (yes, Europe is not as tolerant as some may is tolerant toward people who appear like them..but again who needs tolerance in those situations), prejudice and hatred of anything that is perceived as very different.

  6. Sadiq,

    I am with you. The niqab issue exposes the fact that there is no tolerance. It is just a slogan to make people feel good. The French government will show tolerance towards you if you play within the pre-defined boundaries ie: 1) dress more else like they think you should 2) embrace the same beliefs they have about religion 3) do not challenge any ideals that they think as “ultimate truths” or rooted in French traditions. Now I am fine with these things as long as they stop chanting to us that they are “more free than us” or that they “appreciate freedom or tolerance” more than us. It is not true. The French used to train their dogs to go after people with hats….you know why? because they younger generation of Moroccan (or North African) immigrants wore them as a statement.

  7. I’d like to make sure that my comments are not understood as promoting or condoning prejudice against French or any other ethnicity. We have many French who reside in Morocco and who made it their home and many more who visit for vacation every year. The problem in France is not about Tariq Ramadan as some have posted. Francis Cabrel, a well known singer in France, released a song in 1983 called “Said and Mohammed”. Please go read the lyrics and you will understand. The refrain reads “no one will help you if your name is Said or Mohammed”.

  8. To refuse Faiza Silmi French citizenship when her husband and Children have it is cruel and inhumane. To refuse it on the basis of her wearing niqab is a sad sign of the way in which some governments use women’s dress as a political statement. France wants to announce its secular enthusiasm by refusing religious groups to wear signs of their faith similar to other countries who force women to cover completely to announce their ‘credentials’ as an Islamic state. Both are reprehensible and deny women any choice as if they were children and not adults capable of making their own choices. I am appalled that the authorities think they can decide whether a woman is oppressed on the basis of her clothing. It sounds very much like the old imperial claim to knowledge of the perceived ‘other’ in order to control. What ones personal opinion is on niqab is irrelevant in this issue.

  9. To Moroccan, if you mean the evidence about Tariq Ramadan’s fundamentalism and incitement of young Muslim girls to wear a hijab at school and go to court because of it (Ramadan is an active member of Muslim Brotherhood, like his grandfather Hassan Al-Banna and father Said Ramadan), I highly recommend the book Brother Tariq – The Doublespeak of Tariq Ramadan (Encounter Books 2008) by Caroline Fourest. See also:

  10. Even in morocco the black niqab is not so comon! Well if you feel right to say that shrouding a woman under heavy black veils is liberty what’s next a woman held in leash because she is ok with it? France tries for more than 2 hundred years to stay a secular country and its not easy with those religious nuts.

  11. As Michael Savage, a famous radio commentator from the United States would say, “Liberalism is a mental disorder!” [Liberalism here means and / or refers to communism, extreme socialism, anarchy, NOT classical liberalism] As a Muslim, I am apalled that Muslimesses [Muslimaat in Arabic] like this woman could be so arrogant as to take citizenship as a right. It is not a right, but a privelege for those who the state deem worthy of it. After all the state gives us the “rights,” through concensus of the general will of the people (France is predominantly Catholic, though there are significant Hugenot, Jewish, and particularly Muslim populations). Though I despise Europe’s nasty turn toward socialism (we should acknowledge that it was America that helped save the continent from the tide of facism in World War II and communism in the greater Cold War), I think that the Europeans are actually doing SOMETHING right at this time. As Muslims, we should not impose our religion on any nations, whether the weak and humiliated ones like our own, and especially such enlightened ones as France. This is not a contradiction to my earlier statement, because France needs to become more conservative – just like America and the West – so they can stop illegal immigration and Hitler in a headscarf. Muslims sign what is known as a “covenant of peace” in Islamic Theology (when they take the required steps reside in non-Muslim country), and they must abide the laws of the nation they lave in – even if it may seem that their “rights” are being stepped over (which it most certainly is not).

    If Muslims want to live in the Dark Ages, they are free to do so in their own countries (at their own loss, as tragic as it may be). I read this excellent book that I would like to recommend: Bernard Lewis’ “What Went Wrong?” If Muslims want to live in the West, they must do as the Romans do – as much as humanly possible. By “suffering” in the west, perhaps Muslims can have a Renaissance with their learnt experience. Even though I hate Zionism, I admire what the Zionists did and how they got the state of Israel. If Muslims want Chechnya, Kashmir, and Palestine (not to mention their entire rap sheet of demands, although I think global domination is out of the question on this Earth anyway), they must learn to compromise their “holier than thou” attitude in favour of more politique attitudes. The Caliphate, the Ummayyads, Abbasids,Ottomans, Mughals, and Safavids all thrived when they asserted “liberal” policies.

    Let me summarise and explain here (given that I will receive the most odious responses from both liberals who want toooollllllleerrraaatttee my brothers and sisters and my bretheren themselves): Europe has gone too much to the left, and Islam too much to the right (for it is not only the media as the Islamofacists make it appear, but the Muslim populations en masse). When a Muslim is backward, they need to go “forward.” When someone is on the verge of accepting communism, they must “retreat” to more conservative ideologies.

    On a final note, I love the niqab because it is hidden beauty and very Romantic indeed – if only the Kuffaar (those who cover the truth despite knowing it) knew that! Bahebak an-niqaab. Main niqaab bohat pyaar, ishq, aur mohabbat karta hoon. Yeh ek khoobsoorat nishan-e-taqwa hai. [This is a sign of piety, in Urdu my native tongue.] A munaaqibah is infinitely more beautiful than the whores we see on the streets, given that she does the action of the people of Jannah. However, my brothers and sisters, it will suffice for us to keep modest clothes and trimmed beards for the brothers, and modest clothes with simple hijaab for the sisters. Islam does not advocate extremism; it is Muslims who do, unfortunately. We were most the advanced civilisation, and by rediscovering the Qur’an and Sunnah through following the scripture in BOTH law and spirit, we can be a force to be reckoned with on the global stage. We must be a balanced Ummah to avoid the continuing curse of God that has come upon us. Realise that Islam is liberty, equality, and fraternity. We have to accept our problems and move on, because I did not remain a Muslim to see my Deen – my blessed way of life – destroyed before my eyes in full shame. When the Christians allowed Romans to realise that they exhibited the virtuous traits of Cato, only then did the Roman public at large admire us. When we are a modest and humble people who are good to ourselves and others, Inchallah, we will win hearts and minds. It’s not just about PR; it’s about choosing to take Islam into modernity. Let us reach for the stars and make Allah Ta’ala and Nabi Kareem Salallahu Alaihai Wassalam proud of us!

  12. Tariq Ramadan – the fundamentalists themselves condemn him. I don’t really know why. One of their websites, reports this. However, the fundamentalists condemn each other, so I wouldn’t surprised that Mr. Ramadan, a respected scholar, who is descended from Hassan al-Banna (Rahimullah, a great Muslim thinker in Egypt inthe last century) would be accused of being “baatil” (deviant, astray, wrong) as the fundamentalists say. Scholars do need to be re-educated, this I must admir. Oh, by the way, as a Muslim I am voting for Senator John McCain as president – merely on the issue of national security. Both Obama and McCain are fairly similar on most other issues, although Obama appears to be a staunch Marxist who is bent on extreme land redistribution. McCain is the only man capable of ending this war in Iraq, because of his service to the United States. When the French dumped Indochine on us after Dien Bien Phu, we came in to preserve democracy. We failed, but Mr. McCain has the experience and determination worthy of a president. Although he’ll be quite similar to Bush, it’s better than having America accept communism as the predominant dogma of the day. We agressively approached the Commis till they armed themselves – in tur neglecting their own economies, no wonder the Soviet Union collapsed. Anyways, I say this all to illustrate how we can assimilate ourselves. Voting Republican is NOT voting against Muslims. Apparent B.O. associates himselves with The Weathermen and several known Wahhabis; how can THIS man be president. This discussion was about one “citizen” in France, but we should look at the bigger picture, at the most powerful man on Earth. Do you want Bush 3 or Marx 2? Do you want pirate capitalism or rabid communism. Do you want compassionate liberalism (J.McCain) or harcore illiberalism (B.O.)? Well, I think since the audience is French, decide what you will. I eagerly anticipate next Tuesday’s election results. By the way, I’m not a racist or an Islamophobe or an apostate (murtad). As a Muslim, I’m obliged to HATE racists, to be patient with the anti-Muslims, and to save myself from fallign in the pit that Yasir Arafat,the kaafir rulers, and Ayan Hirsi Ali fell into. I am a conservative Muslim who seeks the welfare of the Muslim peoples by requesting them to reform themselves so that God will once again favour us like he did with Muhammadur-Rasoolallah (Alaihi Wassalatu Wassalaam) and the Sahaba (Radiyallahu Anhu Ajma3een). Fiamanallah Ma’saalami. Adieu.

  13. I hope things change under President-elect Obama in a more positive attitude than I had previously conceived, but I’m highly skeptical. I’ve spoken to my colleagues in the local Muslim Student Association, only to maintain a modified version of my pre-election attitudes. It probably would have been the same under McCain. Now I realise Ron Paul was the man who should have been nominated for the Republican party’s candidate.

    I deeply respect the niqaab, but maybe my inclination towards regionalism and even Islamism makes me feel the need for the khilafah rather than the urge to demand citizenship. I was born in America, but still I feel strange here, in almost in an existentialist sense. I believe that the Muslims should strive to end the neo-colonialism in their lands, and re-establish a caliphate from the Morocco on the Atlantic to the Moluccas near the Pacific. We can learn from the Zionists (though I despise the ideology) in some respects how they were able to re-establish Israel through migrations and movements. Maybe I’m just being naive, but assimilation would corrupt our spirituality and extremism is not the answer either. If we can unite the Muslims someway somehow, then neither would we have to live in a foreign land, nor in humiliation at home.

  14. Perhaps its a year late but I think its no problem to share something in my mind 😀 🙂

    I’m an Indonesian (male), and here in my country hijab or even a Niqab (“cadar” so its called here (feil that cover the face, in/exclude the eyes)) is freely can be used by the one who want it, inspite fo some people consider it as a religious equipment, but the user herself consider it as their “way” to dress and symbol of their identity as woman (islamic woman specifically) not special equipment, and, they are PROTECTED by LAW (UUD’1945 (Fundamental Law 1945) pasal 29), and there are no citizenship deny to whom who want or dont want to use it (in every aspect of life in Indonesia).
    IF France is consistent to their Law,then there should be no deny or any rejection to this, dont consider all which is teached by a religion as a ritual or religious “thing”, be open mind, If it offers better solution or perhaps another society way of life that is not againts the law and humanity, then why not ? Permit it, consider it as one of democracy, especially in Islam which teach its own way of life in human society in all aspect of life.

  15. I think its outrageous how other people feel like Muslim women are oppressed when we’re not complaining ourselves. It’s not like we’re harming anyone by not showing our faces. In Islam, it’s our choice to wear a niqab or not. Why is it okay for women to go around half naked in a bikini but it’s always big deal when a girl decides to cover herself? There’s clearly no harm in protecting one’s modesty.

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