Hijabs in women’s football set off a new French secularism controversy

By Nour-Jihane Dahman

The Council of State chose to continue the ban on the religious hijab in football events, which is against the recommendations made by the public rapporteur. In the end, this choice was made under intense political conflict and covert government coercion. Once again, the first party is harmed by the ongoing debate over secularism in sports and society in general.

The Hijabeuses’ (a group of Muslim footballers wearing the hijab) legal action against the French Football Federation (FFF) was thus denied. In summary, the highest French administrative court believes that the federation can legitimately establish specific rules, including the refusal of the Islamic veil in competition — in this case in the name of article 1—which prohibits “any wearing of sign or outfit ostensibly manifesting a political, philosophical, religious, or trade union affiliation” since 2016. FIFA, as a reminder, has allowed allowed female players to wear the hijab since 2014. “FIFA enacts rules, particularly in the context of international matches, that have nothing to do with amateur football,” remembers Jolle Monlouis, sports lawyer and vice president of the Paris-Ile-de-France football league. The appropriate regulations, however, are French regulations. They requested that the French regulations be placed on the same footing as FIFA’s. These are two distinct rules that do not apply to the same items.

Some would regard this as an additional and special unfairness placed on Muslim women, while males appear to be able to continue crossing themselves or praying in a “ostentatious” manner before a match (even in terms of discrimination, sexism always prevails). Others will rejoice in a triumph for the protection of secularism in the face of separatism (of course, Muslims and conservative Catholics opposed to marriage for all are unconcerned). “They will want to go further and seize European authorities,” Me predicts. Monlouis, Jolle. For instance, the European Court of Human Rights.

Furthermore, since the death of young Nahel, the sense of injustice in the face of this scenario has developed dramatically. “Violence levels higher than in 2005 with a different physiognomy, with contagion to all types of cities.” This was stated by allies of Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin during the riots that erupted in French cities in response to the death of the young Nahel, only 17 years old, who was shot at close range by a police officer simply for refusing to halt his automobile.

Such eruptions have not occurred in France since 2005, when Zyed and Bouna were electrocuted in Clichy-sous-Bois after police tracked them down to a high-voltage room. However, we should have expected the severe violence that transpired overnight from Thursday to Friday. Because young people’s rage has been added to a mound of bitterness.

France is divided, socially fractured, with a pension reform perceived as unbearable state violence; the country is plagued by uninhibited and assumed racism all the way up to the National Assembly; Islamophobia creeps into educational institutions with a census of absent students during the Eid holiday; the right systematically adds fuel to the fire, and let’s not even get started on the extreme right. And things aren’t going to get much better with Darmanin’s immigration bill, which is already strict but which Republicans (the right) want to toughen even more.

The Minister of the Interior’s office claims a “record” level of violence that “seems stronger, more powerful than the 2005 riots.” The battles have expanded to dozens of localities across the country, with unprecedented ferocity. For the third night in a row, destruction of public property, looting, and confrontations with police have been reported in several locations throughout the Paris region and in the provinces following Nahel’s murder on Tuesday in Nanterre.

To avoid a “generalization” of urban violence, the government have sent 40,000 police and gendarmes, as well as elite intervention teams like the Raid (police) with its renowned black armored cars, or the Intervention Group of the National Gendarmerie (GIGN). Extremely heavy.  Clamart (Hauts-de-Seine), Neuilly-sur-Marne (Seine-Saint-Denis), and Compiègne (Oise) have all implemented night curfews. In the north, the prefecture has rigorously barred any assembly in Lille and Tourcoing, while a helicopter and drones patrol the city’s main thoroughfares.  But, no matter how spectacular the security deployment is, it can never fix the basic problems of a country that refuses to treat evil at its root. The rejection felt by foreigners and French citizens of foreign origin is, and will continue to be a fundamental issue for an integration paradigm that has reached its limitations.

When the right offers nothing more than a state of emergency to cope with the Nahel scandal, we know that France is not likely to tackle the crisis of trust, or even the schism between young people and institutions.

In conclusion, the French government continues to face criticism for its prohibition on hijabs in women’s soccer, sparking worries about discrimination. The continuous discussion is a reflection of more general societal problems like sexism, secularism, and social fragmentation. The recent unrest and demonstrations in France have brought attention to the pressing need to solve integration and trust issues.


Hi!! My name is Nour-Jihane and I’m a French law student. Throughout my life, I always had a deep connection to social justice issues. Growing up, I was raised in an environment that emphasized the significance of tackling human rights violations. Writing for WIP allows me to explore and contribute to important conversations about social issues.

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