The Islamic dress code has helped Muslims stand out among others, yet it has also lead to controversial debates all over the secular world. All Muslim women must wear hijab to cover themselves in public but do all societies accept this mode of dressing easily? Hijab controversy in France refers to the wearing of hijab in public schools in France in 1990s. In 1989 three Muslim female students were expelled from Gabriel Havez Middle School for wearing head scarf inside the school premises. The school authorities objected to it because they believed that essentially religious nature of this head gear influences the rule of secularity in the school. In January 1990 same incident repeated itself when three girls got suspended from Pasteur Middle School when they insisted on wearing hijab in school. In the years between 1994 and 2003 approximately a hundred female students at different schools were expelled for wearing hijab. Many students raised their voices in protest.
The school authorities believed that students who wear hijab not only pose threat to the principle of secularism but they also lead to peer pressure for those Muslim female students who do not want to wear hijab. They insisted hijab being an ostentatious religious symbol should not be there at public schools. If we peep into the French history they have considered faith as a personal matter of individual citizens rather than a matter for a nation, this renders schools as neutral places where students must learn regardless of political and religious controversies. Hence, wearing hijab at school becomes questionable. French government forbids any symbols, religious or political, that will harm or compromise freedom or dignity of the educative community.
In the year 2003, an investigative committee was engaged to check the application of the principle of secularity in the state schools. The committee was selected by the French President Jacques Chirac and was named commission Stasi. A few months later this commission reported that religious symbols and practices in public negatively affected the French law of secularity and should be kept in check. They suggested that students should not wear religious signs such as crosses, Stars of David, turbans for sikh boys and hijabs for Muslim girls. The commission insisted that Muslim hijab poses intolerable negative pressure on young women who are not wearing it. It indicates constraint.
Religious representatives opposed the banning of religious symbols. They believed that this report projected a state that restricted personal freedom of people. The girls who were dropped out of schools were in a way forced to make a choice between education and their faith.
In 2004 the law banning hijab and other ostentatious religious symbols was passed. It was to be applied in France. The law targeted hijab and the veil more forcefully. It prevented Muslim community from asserting its real identity which raised displeasure among many religious and political working bodies. In February 2004 a march on streets was carried out by many hijab wearing Muslim women to protest against the law banning Hijab and other religious gear in public schools. The law was an infringement on religious obligations. In political context the ban has even been considered racist although a wide majority of the French approved of it.
After the enforcement of this law the number of hijab wearing students decreased in school. Many of them were forced to undertake distant learning courses; some migrated to other countries for education. Consequently many Islamic secondary schools were established where female Muslim students could have quality education while they could freely observe and carry out their religious obligations.