French Hijab Ban: A Personal Narrative
French parliamentarians have voted to ban the wearing of the hijab in public for those under 18, to ban burkinis in public pools, and to ban the wearing of the hijab for those accompanying children on school trips. While all three of these votes are absurd to say the least, the last one hit me personally.
A few years ago when my eldest son was in 2nd grade, his class took a field trip to Washington D.C.’s famous Natural History Museum. When he mentioned the field trip to me, I instantly decided to volunteer as a chaperon. However, his response left me heartbroken. To my utter surprise, he said, “No, Ami I don't want you to go with me.” His reasoning was truly devastating. He said, "Ami, I understand it's your choice, but my friends think you are bald. Please don't feel sad, but I won't like it if my friends made fun of you." I was shattered as it took me off guard. Here I was, considering myself fully empowered and confident in my faith, my clothing, my accent, and my culture. All without realizing that my own son had to make explanations on my behalf. I felt embarrassed for causing my son humiliation and unnecessary stress.
Studies report that over 40% of American Muslim kids are bullied for their faith. Any parent can tell you how painful it is to see their kids depressed and not wanting to return to school. I know a number of high school girls who are happy that they are taking virtual classes during the pandemic because that saves them from the humiliation of going to school. But if I've learned one thing in my life, it's that representation matters.
So I made up my mind. I told my son that I'm going to chaperon anyway. What's more, I told him, I will be happy to show my hair to his friends if it helps ease their concerns. I see his friends and classmates as my own children in one way or another. Doesn't it take an entire village to raise a child? So very reluctantly, my son agreed. He was genuinely fearful that kids would make fun of his mom, and that deeply hurt him. Well, the day came and we went on the field trip. I could see my son's awkwardness slowly transform into genuine joy. We had an amazing time. I met so many of his friends and they all seemed like amazing kids. I helped them in their scavenger hunt activity and learnt a great deal myself. I truly appreciated their teachers and other chaperons for taking such good care of children. Not a single kid looked uncomfortable because of my headscarf and thankfully there were no name callings. It ended so well that my son admitted that he had much more fun that he would have had otherwise. Imagine if I had backed out?
When we got home we had a long conversation about why I cover my head, and why it's important to me. I gave him a number of reasons which all made sense. But then, there was the icing on the cake that even I didn't expect. A couple of days later, at the dinner table he told me with such pride and confidence that his substitute teacher, lets call her Miss T, also wore a headscarf. All of a sudden, all his concerns and reservations went away. Again, representation matters. He now saw not only his own mother, but his own school teacher dressed in a headscarf. He no longer feels left out because of his mother’s choice to cover her head in public. After all, teachers can cover their heads too. So the lesson in all this is to be present, to be proud of your identity and faith, and to let your children see your faith living in action.
Sadly, none of this will happen in France. The Muslim kids will learn that to fit in, their mothers have to sacrifice their hijabs. The non-Muslim kids will live in a fallacy that Hijab wearing woman do not exist, or if they do, it is a life of oppression. Muslim women will either be forced to let go of their values or will gradually vanish away behind the closed doors of their homes. A confused generation will prevail under the weight of these oppressive and discriminatory laws, all because representation doesn't matter for some narrow-minded politicians.
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This is such a beautiful essay. I have long admired the beautiful hijabs I see my Muslim students and neighbors wearing, and I have never felt it was something forced on them. I feel so deeply sorry for the women of France whose rights are being stripped from them because of fear and prejudice.