Shalom Life | May 03, 2015

French Muslim Teen Sent Home For Wearing Modest Skirt

In an attempt to preserve secularism, a Muslim girl was sent home for wearing a skirt deemed too modest and a sign of her faith

By: Caitlin Marceau

Published: May 1st, 2015 in News » World

Photo: 15-year-old Sarah K. wearing a long skirt

Credit: DW


A high school in France has sent a 15-year-old girl home twice in the same week for violating their dress code by sporting a long skirt that was considered to be an “ostentatious sign” of the girl’s Muslim faith.

According to a report from the New York Times, the controversy has set social media ablaze in France by people who see this case as one of discrimination against the girl. A law was passed back in 2004 which forbids students in both elementary and high school from wearing visible signs of their faith to schools. The rule applies to all faiths, with Jewish students not being allows to wear skullcaps or the Star of David, and Christians not being allowed to sport the Crucifix.

However, this attempt to enforce these strict secular laws have resulted in extreme interpretations of the law. Long skirts, big sweaters, and even headbands that are deemed too wide or too similar to a headscarf have all been banned, and girls around the country have been frequently sent home for violating the rules. In an attempt to keep religion out of the public sector, rules have been increasingly strict on what women can and can’t wear.

However Elsa Ray, a spokeswoman from the Collective Against Islamophobia in France, believes that, “It’s a huge problem.”

“[It’s a] really excessive interpretation [of the law],” she said, when referring to the case of Sarah, the 15 year-old sent home.

Léo Lagrange, the principal of Charleville-Mézières, felt that the long black skirt worn by the girl was too expressive of her faith. The Collective Against Islamophobia in France has counted over 130 cases across France of a similar nature since the beginning of 2014 alone. The French government is worried about women being forced to wear the veil (the term they use for headscarves and other garments including the niqab), and are ironically forcing them to wear alternative clothes.

However, Sarah’s mother says none of her daughters have ever been forced to wear the headscarf, and that several of her sister’s don’t wear one at all. “About a year ago, she started to wear a veil, as I do. But every morning when she gets to school, she takes it off because she knows it’s forbidden.”

Many French Muslims believe that in removing the headscarf they’re complying with the rules and regulations concerning secular dress in the public sphere. However some officials have linked modest dress to signs of faith.

“It is a sign of identity,” explained the education director for the Ardennes, which controls schools such as Charleville-Mézières, Patrick Dutot. “The question isn’t how long the skirt is. They come with an outfit that shows an affiliation that we respect. But once at school, you have to return to a republican and secular space - but they only remove the veil.”

According to Sarah’s mother, the skirt wasn’t bought as part of a religious statement but was rather a piece of clothing bought at Kiabi, a discount clothing chain in France.

“The skirt was really nothing special,” said Sarah, as quoted by French paper Le Monde. “It was very simple. There was nothing ostentatious about it.”

A photo of Sarah also appeared in the paper and there’s clearly nothing about her skirt which suggests religion. Without Sarah’s headscarf, she would look just like any other girl attending high school. Despite this, the school still sent a letter home with Sarah which threatened expulsion and that her parents had to, “rectify her clothes if you want her to continue her schooling.”

Since then, however, the school is saying it would like to resolve things between Sarah amicably through discussion and “mutual understanding” with Sarah and her family.

In any event, the Collective Against Islamophobia in France is requesting that the education ministry, “put a stop to what is happening and to make sure to provide concrete directives to the schools,” to better help officials interpret this ban on religious clothing.

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