Thursday, Dec 25, 2003
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By Vaiju naravane
Religious leaders from Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon among the Muslim states and members of the Christian clergy in the U.S. and Britain contested the French President, Jacques Chirac's decision to ban the headscarf from schools as part of a generalised ban on wearing ostentatious religious symbols in state schools and public offices.
In a major policy speech on December 17, Mr. Chirac said wearing overt religious symbols went contrary to France's secular principles. Accepting the recommendations of a specially established commission, he said that he would seek legislation banning the headscarves, the jewish Kippa or skull cap or inordinately large crosses from state schools.
"I hope the French Government, which claims to be avant-garde in liberty, equality and fraternity, will cancel this wrong decision," the Iranian President, Mohammed Khatami, told reporters in Teheran.
He said the "hijab is a religious necessity and its restriction is a sign of a kind of extreme nationalistic tendency".
Sheikh Qaradawi, a respected Egyptian cleric who has lived in Qatar for several years, urged Muslims during prayers last Friday to petition Mr. Chirac to "reverse his decision". Syria's mufti, the highest Sunni Muslim figure in the country, wrote to Mr. Chirac expressing his "surprise at the ban".
"The Muslim nation sees the veil as one of the foundations of its religion," Sheikh Ahmad Kaftaro wrote, and asked Mr. Chirac to reverse his support for the ban in order to be "in harmony with the glorious history of France".
In neighbouring Lebanon, female members of the Shia Muslim movement Hizbollah criticised Mr. Chirac in a statement that said the headscarf was an act of faith rather than an act of political defiance.
Lebanon's Sunni mufti, Sheikh Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, described the French move as amounting to "hatred of Islam", after saying the hijab was "a religious duty mentioned in the Koran".
The French leader's move also brought a denunciation from one of Lebanon's leading Shia figures, Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah, who called it an "attack on Muslim human rights".
Last Sunday, Over 3000 persons, including several hundred voluble women wearing headscarves demonstrated in Paris in protest against Mr. Chirac's decision.
The crowd marched behind a banner reading "Headscarf, Cross, Kippa, leave us the choice."
France has a Muslim population of some five million or about eight per cent of the population.
The rally was organised following an appeal by two girl high school pupils from the Paris region aged 17 and 19, who stressed that no political group had been involved in preparing the demonstration. While some rights groups have welcomed the proposed law seeing headscarves as a sign of religious extremism and female subservience others warned that a ban will drive the Muslim faithful into greater isolation and ultimately hamper the goal of integration.
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