French Muslims Show National Unity Over Hostage Crisis

    By Hadi Yahmid PARIS, September 4 ( – The third day of school term went smoothly Saturday, September 4, as Muslim students maintained compliance with the hijab ban in a show of national unity over the two French hostages in Iraq. Upon a field visit by correspondent, most of Muslim students have removed hijab before entering schools. Other girls who refused to take it off were allowed into schools, with no cases of expulsion, and school officials entering into a dialogue with them. Although seventy students acted in defiance, all other French Muslim girls showed compliance with the law, which prohibits the wearing of hijab and all “conspicuous” religious insignia, official Ministry of Education sources told IOL. The sources said 1,200 Muslim students were putting on hijab in the 2003 school year, against 240 this year. Over 12 million pupils attending 60,000 primary and 11,000 secondary schools are obliged to heed a “secularity law”, approved by Parliament in March, despite massive demonstrations and vows to challenge it. Many in France’s five-million-strong Muslim community – stressing that hijab is an obligatory to wear under Shari’ah – feel they are being victimized by the law. Hostage Ordeal But the hostage crisis in Iraq has hung ominously over plans by French Muslims to protest the ban in the run-up to the new school year. The militants holding journalists Christian Chesnot and Georges Malbrunot hostage are demanding that Paris repeal the hijab ban. But the blackmail has been fiercely condemned by French Muslim leaders – including the most vocal critics of the law who urged calm for the return to class. “Many have refused to ignite problems over the ban out of a sense of national unity over the hostage crisis,” said Ammar Lasfar, a mosque imam in Leile city. Lasfar – one of the most influential Islamic figures in France – said the hostage ordeal has shed light on the “nationalist mettle” of Muslims in France, “who could now boast their citizenship could not be compromised.” The country’s officially recognized Muslim umbrella group, the French Council for the Muslim Faith (CFCF), has sent a delegation to Baghdad to help secure the release of the two journalists, who went missing on August 20. The delegation returned to Paris Saturday after their shuttle diplomacy, hailed by French Interior Minister Dominique de Villepin. De Villepin said he felt deep appreciation for Muslims over their efforts to help secure the release of the two hostages, including public appeals from Paris mosques and marches stressing the abduction is “un-Islamic”. Fatiha Ajbli, the representative of the UOIF, said during a meeting with de Villepin after the abduction she and other veiled French Muslims were ready to sacrifice themselves for the safety of their natives. “We are French citizens and our loyalty is unquestionable. We call on the kidnappers to immediately release our fellow citizens, ” she has said, addressing de Villepin. “French Islam”;As Most Students Complied With The Law, Some Defied It Mohamed Bechari, one of the delegation, told IOL Friday the abductees are to be released soon and final preparations are made for taking them to Jordan after the release. But the situation remained unclear, with the reportedly kidnapping group, calling itself the Islamic Army in Iraq saying on its website it awaits an edict from Al-Qaeda over the fate of the two French journalists. Still, hopes are there for the release of the two men kidnapped, as Muslims said the move would boost their position in a rigidly-secular French society. The return to school, with compliance of a widely opposed law “reflects a sense of seriousness and responsibility for saving lives of French citizens,” said the chairman of the Union of French Islamic Organizations (UOIF), Althuhami Ibriz. “The French’s perception of Muslims could change, as the Paris government now looks to the community with confidence as well,” said Ibriz. Students said they were given a handout spelling out the new law and were instructed to read it and be able to explain it. Observers said Muslims instead began adapting with the law, with several community organizations setting up hot lines to advise or council young girls in a quandary over the law. Sofia Rahem said her association, GFaim2Savoir, lingo for “I’m Hungry for Knowledge,” has received “an enormous number” of calls. “They are young girls in distress who don’t know what to do with their future,” Rahem, a 23-year-old university student who wears a hijab, has said.

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