ISTANBUL : France’s decision to bar its athletes from wearing the hijab as it prepares to host its first Olympics in 100 years is the latest in a series of government bans that have drawn Arab and international condemnation.
The country, where around 10% of its 67 million inhabitants are Muslim, has again attracted attention with its latest decision to ban its athletes from wearing the Islamic veils effective July 26, 2024, the date the Olympic flame will be lit.
French Minister of Sports Amelie Oudea-Castera announced during a television program that sportswomen in the French delegation will not be able to wear the hijab during the Olympic Games.
The decision has triggered strong reactions and again fueled the debate on human rights violations.
Paris will host the Summer Olympics from July 26 to Aug. 11, 2024.
The Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation, a grouping that includes member countries of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), on Oct. 2 expressed its “profound concern regarding the recent government decision to prevent French athletes from wearing the hijab at the upcoming Paris Olympics.”
The federation stressed in its statement that “this ban contradicts the principles of equality, inclusivity and respect for cultural diversity that the Olympics stand for.”
It came after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said on Sept. 29 that “there are no restrictions on wearing the hijab or any other religious or cultural attire.”
The IOC’s position was praised by former Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine el Othmani.
United Nations rights office spokeswoman Marta Hurtado expressed similar sentiments.
“No-one should impose on a woman what she needs to wear or not wear,” Hurtado said in a statement.
“These discriminatory practices against a group can have harmful consequences,” she added.
In an indirect criticism of France’s position, the Secretary-General of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, Ali Al-Qaradaghi, said that “Britain’s largest cities have placed in their streets a sculpture of a woman wearing the hijab…Reasonable people understand the fabric of their society and seek to respect the privacy of identity.”
The Secretary-General of the Delegation of the Spanish Federation of Islamic Religious Bodies in the Moroccan city of Ceuta, Idris Al-Wahabi, said that such decisions by France “are intended to provoke Muslims in general and Moroccans in particular,” noting that Moroccans represent the largest Muslim group in France.
“We are working in coordination with the federation and Islamic bodies present in France in order to oppose such decisions,” Wahabi added.
Outrage on social media
Rejection of France’s decision was not limited to regional and international bodies and public figures, as criticism and condemnation spread on the social media platform X.
Writer and political analyst Yasser Al-Zaatara described the decision as “hysteria” against the hijab and “a flexing of muscles against Muslims.”
Criticizing French President Emmanuel Macron, Al-Zaatara praised the IOC’s position, considering it “a slap to Macron and the French Islamophobia gang.”
“The French president is fighting the hijab in France on the pretext that it conflicts with the secularism of the state. However, he has no problem attending a mass held by the Pope,” said Mohsen Al-Obaidi Al-Saffar.
“Macron’s problem is not with religion, but with Islam specifically,” he added.
Abdel Hamid Al-Lingawi said that “France has proven that it is a racist country that’s unworthy of hosting the Olympic Games.”
Abu Abdul Rahman Al-Manea compared France’s position with the Afghan Taliban movement.
“France and some European countries ban the hijab and head covering for Muslim women, whereas the Taliban obligates women to wear the hijab and prevents foreign women with uncovered faces from tourism,” he said.
France’s decision to ban its sportswomen from wearing the hijab is not the first of its kind, as it was preceded by a history of decisions that French Muslims say aim to restrict them.
Last August, French Education Minister Gabriel Attal decided to ban the wearing in schools of the abaya, a long, loose-fitting, robe-like garment worn by some Muslim women that covers the entire body, except for the face, hands and feet, alleging that it is an “Islamic outfit that violates the rules and regulations of the state.”
The decision came among a series of bans issued since 2004, when a law banning the wearing of religious symbols in public schools was passed.
The Council of State, the highest court in France, announced on Sept. 7 its support for the legality of the decision to ban the abaya in schools.
The council had in June upheld the French soccer federation’s decision to ban the wearing of the hijab during its competitions. — AA