Taqwa Bint Ali was 17 years old when she first started covering her hair in France five years ago. Had she been 17 now, in 2021, leaving her home in a hijab would make her a felon if the country’s proposed Separatism Bill gets written into law. On March 30, 2021, the French Senate voted in favor of the bill, which bans the wearing of hijabs in public for Muslim women under the age of 18, prohibits burkinis at public pools, and forbids hijabi mothers from accompanying their children on school trips.
Bint Ali, who is French-Tunisian, is dedicated to cultivating communities for Muslim women and improving the representation of the hijab in France. She co-founded French modest fashion platform Zarafet Galleries, as well as Akagi Club, which is a safe space for Muslim women to play and practice sports. She has also modeled for Jean Paul Gaultier and Fendi. But although the global modest fashion movement has influenced the highest echelons of the fashion industry, inspiring designers to cater to Muslim demographics and embrace hijabi muses, the piece of cloth continues to be vilified politically.
Here, the French hijabi trailblazer and modest fashion champion tells Vogue Arabia how these new rulings will impact Muslim women in France.
“The saddest part I think is that it didn’t shock me because we have reached a stage where every year there is a debate and liberticidal laws about the Muslim community. I was born and raised in Paris and I’m currently living there, and I started to wear the hijab at 17 years old.
There are so many obstacles for hijabi women in France – the first is education. The hijab is only allowed at the public university, as there is a ban on wearing the hijab in elementary, middle, and high school, so we are limited in our choice of studies because some private schools do not accept the hijab, not to mention the mandatory internships, which leads us to the second problem: having a professional career. It is very frustrating that despite all the diplomas we can have, we will not be able to do the most basic student jobs like being a cashier or becoming teachers, doctors, etc. The hijab is forbidden for public servants, and for private companies, it is the employer who decides whether or not one can wear it – I’ll let you guess what their preference is.
There is a real infantilization of Muslim women. We live in a society where women wearing the hijab are prevented from working, from doing sports, from singing on a TV show, and from accompanying children on a school outing. All these polemics and laws that have a desire to ‘liberate’ women push these women to stay home. It is very ironic when the clichés perceive us as women who do not leave the house and do not work because of male authority when in reality, it is the government that wants to erase us from society.
How can a government consider a 15-year-old girl mature enough for sexual consent but a 17-year-old girl not mature enough to know how she wants to dress? This has a negative impact on any generation of Muslim women – having to erase a part of yourself, and having to submit to a society that wants to think for you. How can young girls see a healthy future in this environment?
Obviously, this pushes many Muslim families to leave France, but not only Muslims. A lot of people, no matter what community they are from, don’t recognize themselves anymore in the country’s ‘values.’ [To the Senators who voted in favor of this bill]: at a time when there are no more places in the hospital, where we do not have enough vaccines, where we’re finding ourselves overwhelmed by the pandemic, please review your priorities.”