Reuters, Apr. 21, 2003
Paris – French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy drew boos at a Muslim gathering by insisting that Muslim women must remove their veils for identity photographs.
His words were drowned out when he said Muslims must obey the law, even if that meant baring their heads.
French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy drew boos and whistles at a Muslim gathering by insisting that Muslim women must remove their veils for identity photographs.
Sarkozy made the remark on Saturday at the annual congress of the hardline Union of Islamic Organisations in France (UOIF). His words were drowned out when he said Muslims must obey the law, even if that meant baring their heads.
“The law states that the holder of a national identity card must be bare-headed in their photograph, whether they are male or female,” Sarkozy told the 7 000-strong audience.
“This is respected by Catholic nuns, and there is no justification for Muslim women not to respect it,” he said.
French commentators were alarmed earlier this month when the UOIF, styled on the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt, won a third of votes for a national Muslim council.
The group, which seeks Islamic rule via personal purification and political action, has gained ground among young Muslims descended from North African immigrants. Sarkozy’s presence at the annual congress was described by one newspaper as “historic and very symbolic”.
But his remarks on veils provoked boos and whistles that drowned out his assurances he was speaking “as a friend”.
“We want this law to be changed because it’s unfair,” UOIF official Abdallah ben Mansour told LCI television.
“If Catholics want to remove their headgear that’s their business. But the veil is part of what makes Muslim women special, and France must accept that,” said Souad, a young, veiled woman at the congress.
Sarkozy has urged France’s diverse Muslim groups to put aside their differences and form a joint council.
Yet divisions still exist between the UOIF, the more mainstream Moroccan-backed FNMF and the moderate Grand Mosque de Paris, which could complicate talks with the government on issues like veils and mosque-building.
Sarkozy wants France’s five million Muslims lifted out of the shadows of this secular, mainly Catholic country of 60 million.
That means building more mosques to bring Muslims out of makeshift basement prayer rooms. It also means fostering a better understanding of Muslim customs in a country where many have been swept up by a global fear of Islamic extremism and become wary of ordinary Muslims.
UOIF Secretary General Foud Allaoui said he agreed with Sarkozy that Islam did not permit laws to be flouted.
“Mr Sarkozy’s frankness does him credit. Islam does not authorise breaking the law. It’s up to Muslims in France to work on our image.”