A Muslim student who was denied entry to her French school last month for wearinga full-length skirt has returned to classes in a similar outfit after her story sparked global outrage.
“I did nothing wrong, I’m respecting the law as I always take off my headscarf before I enter the school; so there is no need for me to change what I wear,” Sarah K told Anadolu Agency on Tuesday, May 12.
“I’ll continue to dress the way I please and receive my education.”
A few weeks ago, 15-year-old Sarah was barred from classes by a head teacher who insisted that her outfit was too “openly religious.”
The remarks were made even though the Muslim student used to take off her hijab before entering the school premises in the north-eastern town of Charleville-Mezieres every day.
The school’s decision was backed by French Minister of Education Najat Vallaud-Belkacem who claimed that the ban was based on the student’s “behavior”.
Belkacem’s claim was refuted by Sarah’s mother, Ourida, who said: “That’s not true. There is nothing wrong with my daughter’s behavior, and even the letter that we received [from the school] mentions clearly that Sarah was sent home because of the way she dressed.
“The decision of the school was based on discrimination; it was made on the basis that my daughter is a Muslim. From now on, I won’t attend any meeting without the presence of a lawyer, as they (school administration and ministry of education) keep changing facts.”
In 2004, France banned Muslims from wearing hijab, an obligatory code of dress, in public places and schools.
France also outlawed the wearing of face-veil in public in 2011.
Yet, the length of a school skirt and its color fit into the context of the law remains a mystery.
The school’s ban has been met with outrage by many people in France and abroad who deplored it as discriminatory. “It is nonsense. I don’t see how a simple skirt could be considered a religious symbol,” Ahmed Nadi, 46, a local dentist of Moroccan origin, said.
“Any girl from any religious background could have worn it, but since this girl is a Muslim, it is being declared as against secularism of the country. I consider myself a secular, my daughter does not wear a scarf, but this is about having the freedom to choose to dress the way you desire.”
A similar opinion was echoed by Mongi, a 38-year-old teacher, who was sitting next to Nadi.
“This is really alarming. Where are we going with this madness in France? Day-by-day Muslim rights here are being narrowed down; today the problem is a long skirt, tomorrow it can be shirts with sleeves, and (I wonder) what next?” Mongi said.
Another resident echoed a similar opinion. “The majority of the people here are against this decision. We can’t understand how a teenager can be deprived of her right to receive education just because she put on a long skirt,” he said.
“It is really illogical. I can’t find any other words to describe the situation.”
Moreover, a hashtag that addresses the issue, #JePorteMaJupeCommeJeVeux, translated into English as, “I wear my skirt as I please,” has been trending with hundreds of messages of support since its creation.
Freedom of religion in France is guaranteed by the constitutional rights set forth in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. France does not recognize any official religion; instead it merely recognizes certain religious organizations, according to formal legal criteria that do not address religious doctrine. In return, religious organizations are to refrain from involvement in the State’s policy-making. France is home to a Muslim community of nearly six million, the largest in Europe. French Muslims have been complaining of restrictions on performing their religious practices.