PARIS: French officials warned Muslim activists against testing the state’s patience yesterday after a second large Muslim group urged schoolgirls to defy a ban on headscarves when schools reopen in September.
The headscarves, which will be banned from state schools after the summer break, surged back into the news when the large Union of French Islamic Organisations (UOIF) pledged last week to give legal aid to any girl expelled for wearing one.
A meeting of about 100 imams (prayer leaders) in the Rhone-Alpes region around Lyon joined the campaign on Sunday, prompting a prominent Socialist politician and a spokesman for school principals to denounce the trend as worrying.
“I’m afraid of provocations,” said Manuel Valls, a Socialist deputy and mayor of a town outside Paris with a large Muslim population. “We should be very strict in applying the ban on religious symbols in schools.”
The resurgent headscarf dispute has publicly split leaders of France’s five-million strong Muslim minority and worried authorities who fear dramatic protests this autumn against the ban voted in March after heated debates.
Philippe Guittet, secretary-general of an association of school principals, urged Muslim leaders to calm things down.
The powerful UOIF says Muslim women should cover their hair as a religious duty. “We want girls to continue their schooling, but we won’t be the ones to force them to take off their veils,” Kamel Kabtane, head of the Rhone-Alpes Muslim council, told journalists after the Sunday meeting.
Moderate Muslim leaders opposed to the UOIF strategy last week urged schoolgirls to avoid any action that would stigmatise French Muslims.”