French anti-religion law may ban beards

France's education minister has said beards could be outlawed under a proposed new law barring religious symbols from French schools.

    Many Muslims believe the beard is a religious obligation

    Luc Ferry said on Wednesday the new law would not simply cover Islamic headscarves, Christian crosses and Jewish skullcaps

    , but would also apply to other religious symbols

    .

    When asked by French parliamentarians if this applied to beards and bandanas, Ferry said: "If the bandana is used by young girls as a religious symbol it will be banned."

    He added: "As soon as (the beard) is used as a religious symbol that will also fall under the scope of the law."  

    The beard is considered a religious obligation by many Muslims and by Orthodox Jews.

    And the bandana has been mooted by French Muslims as a compromise for Muslim girls who do not want to remove their headscarves in schools.

    Turban exception?

    However, a senior French parliamentary leader ruled

    out

    Ferry's interpretation of the law.

    "If the bandana is used by young girls as a religious symbol it will be banned... As soon as (the beard) is used as a religious symbol that will also fall under the scope of the law"

    Luc Ferry,
    French education minister

      

    Bernard

    Accoyer,

    the deputy

    parliamentary leader of the centre-right UMP party, 

    said beards and bandanas would not be outlawed. However, he did not give further details.

    Meanwhile, France's small Sikh community is confident its boys can

     continue to wear turbans

    to state schools after talks with officials to explain their

    headgear is not a religious symbol.

    Community leaders reported encouraging talks with senior

    officials in the foreign, interior and education ministries

    aimed at explaining why the turbans should not be banned

    .

    The Sikhs, of whom about 5000 live in the Paris area, say

    turbans are a practical covering for the hair they never cut

    rather than an expression of faith like an Islamic headscarf

    .

    'Orientalism'

    "I think they realise they're in very muddy waters," said

    Jasdev Singh Rai, a London-based human rights activist appointed

    to help French Sikhs fight the looming ban.

    "We are pigeonholed into categories we don't fit in," he

    said. "There is almost an Orientalism here - the West defines

    who we are and we have to live by it."

    Rai said senior French officials he had met accepted that

    Sikh boys could wear the "patka", the simple headscarf they use

    under a turban, but this was not enough for them.

    "It's like saying you can go to school in a bikini - you

    can, but it's not very dignified," he said. "But we have

    started discussing the issue and I think we are moving forward."

    Sikhs say the turban is a practical
    covering for uncut hair

    Sikhs, whose monotheistic religion started in India's Punjab

    region in the 15th century, wear turbans in armies and police

    forces or on motorcycles in Britain, Canada and the United

    States. Germany also lets them ride motorcycles without helmets.

    Secularism 

    France has debated itself into a twist over the ban, which

    President Jacques Chirac proposed last month to stem the alleged

    rising

    Islamist influence among some of the country's five

     million Muslims.

    There is wide support for a ban in France

    and its passage seems secured.

    But the country's efforts to explain that barring religious symbols

    from state schools would reinforce tolerance for all faiths have

    fallen on deaf ears abroad.

    Commentators and religious leaders see

    the idea as a secularist push to suppress religious freedom.

    And

    thousands of Muslims across France - many of them

    schoolgirls wearing headscarves - have recently marched in protest against the ban.

    SOURCE: Aljazeera + Agencies


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