The French government's ban on wearing garments seen as part of the Muslim hijab was made into law in 2004 and began to be enforced in September of that year. The hijab can be any garment that protects the modesty of a woman of the Muslim faith, ranging from a scarf that covers the hair to a burka that covers the whole body. The wearing of certain religious symbols, including the hijab, is banned in state-operated schools in France. Alongside the banning of the hijab, other religious symbols that are banned from being worn in French state schools include the Sikh turban. The religious symbols ban does not include the banning of the wearing of Christian symbols, such as the crucifix.
Introduction of the French law was controversial because it directly opposed the rulings by courts in France. French President Jacques Chirac was in power at the time of the parliamentary vote and introduction of the French hijab ban. Chirac’s successor, Nicolas Sarkozy, offered support for the ban following his election in 2007, calling the hijab a threat to French values. The French hijab ban does not allow any person entering the property of a state-run school to wear a headscarf or other religious symbol.
Controversy has surrounded the French hijab ban, with Muslim and human rights groups opposing the law. People who support the ban claim that the law frees Muslim women from the oppression of covering themselves under rules imposed by a male-dominated culture. Opposition groups disagree with this view, claiming that the French hijab ban forces a Western culture on female members of the Muslim religion. It is claimed that by imposing the ban, the French government is eroding the traditions of the Muslim religion.
Opposition to the ban initially included a series of protests and marches by Muslim groups and other people who were opposed to the ban. The marches ended following several incidents, including the kidnapping of French citizens by extremist groups that were calling for an end to the ban. Muslim groups within France did not wish to be associated with extremist groups and halted protests against the French hijab ban.
The aim of the ban was to include French Muslims into the French society as a whole. Banning the hijab was an attempt to remove what the French government saw as obstacles to the inclusion of members of the Muslim society into mainstream French culture. The fear of radical Islamic groups is considered to be one of the major driving forces behind the introduction of the French hijab ban.