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French deny Muslim visa over scarf rule

Houston Chronicle, USA
May 7, 2004
Edward Hegstrom • Saturday May 8, 2004

As a devout Muslim and international businesswoman, Nashida Subhi has worn her head scarf into corporate offices around the world.

But now she has learned she will no longer be welcome in France unless she takes her scarf off for a photograph.

The French Consulate in Houston recently denied Subhi’s request for a visa to visit the country on business, she said. Subhi was told that French regulations require her to bare her head for an identifying photograph — something she is not willing to do. A representative of the French Consulate could not be reached for comment Thursday evening.

The Hijab

“Hijab is the modern name for the practice of dressing modestly, which all practicing Muslims past the age of puberty are instructed to do in their holy book, the Qur’an. No precise dress code for men or women is set out in the Qur’an, and various Islamic scholars have interpreted the meaning of hijab in different ways.”
- Wikipedia

But the consulate told the Associated Press French law forbids anyone from wearing anything that obscures the view of the head in a visa photo.

France, a country with an estimated 5 million Muslims, recently passed a controversial law forbidding Muslim girls from wearing head scarves in public schools. French President Jacques Chirac has argued that Muslims need to accept that France is a secular society.

Subhi said she found it perplexing that she would be required to take her scarf off for a photo. Her religion forbids her from being seen in public without a scarf covering her hair.

“I never go out without my head scarf,” said Subhi, a native of Bangladesh. “I’ve never had a problem anywhere.”

Local representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations denounced the French decision in the Subhi case.

“It’s shocking how such discrimination can go across the border,” said Najat Elsayed, spokeswoman for the local CAIR office.

Subhi is an accountant and internal auditor with a multinational corporation based in Paris. She asked that the company not be named.

She said she is missing a crucially important conference in Paris this week.

After working in the Middle East and frequently visiting Europe, Subhi was stationed in Houston last July. She had no trouble getting a Texas driver’s license with her head scarf on.

“There hasn’t been a problem here,” she said. “A newcomer can fit in.”

A Florida judge last year ruled against a Muslim woman who wanted a driver’s license photo taken while wearing a veil that covered her head and face.

Subhi notes that her scarf covers only her hair and not her face, so that a photograph can still identify her.

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