In the beginning of the 1990’s when I embraced Islam in France, the controversy surrounding the wearing of hijab in school was an extremely heated issue. The French were faced with economic problems which had resulted in high unemployment and social insecurity. This was predominantly felt in the big cities. The immigrant population, especially from Muslim countries, was seen as one of the causes of unemployment. The sight of hijab in their towns and schools aggravated already negative attitudes towards Muslims. The majority of people thought that allowing students to wear hijab was against the public education system’s principle of neutrality on religion. I had not yet become a Muslim, and I did not understand why the schools were so concerned over a mere piece of cloth worn on a student’s head. Observing the hijab from the outside, I also did not understand its significance to Muslims. But I considered that in maintaining neutrality in matters of religion, the schools should still respect a student’s beliefs and his performance of religious duties. As long as this expression did not disturb the school’s discipline, it should be not be prohibited.
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