Thursday, May 13, 2004

Underneath the Head Scarf


This cartoon appeared in Le Monde on Tuesday (May 11, 2004). It shows a school in which Muslim clerics are being educated in French. The bubble reads “What do you call a female imam?” (Literally: “what is the feminine of imam?”)

The issue of Muslims in France is more complex than the banning of head scarves and other religious symbols in public schools. France is struggling with the question of how to harmonize Islam with political culture.

France is known for its secularism. The clergy reacted poorly to the republic, and the republic retaliated in 1907. Even so, secularization means more than removing faith from public life. It means making a French version of Islam: one that confirms the values that the society holds, and one that does not look outside France for leadership. France is not hostile to faith: it just insists that all faiths be contained within the nation.

On the surface, the creation of a French Islam would appear to curtail the freedoms of Muslims to express their religion and spirituality. The cartoon suggests that the process can also empower Muslism. It is the opportunity to consider new relationships with the greater world and between members of the Islamic community. And more obviously, to give women important roles in faith.

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