In Paris, hundreds of college students signed up for Hijab Day to spread awareness of what wearing the Islamic head scarves means and how it feels to wear the covering.
The event was held at the prestigious Sciences Po Institute, but controversy ensued when some students and politicians assumed participants’ involvement was to proselytize religion.
The campaign was sparked when last month French Minister for Families, Children, and Women’s Rights Laurence Rossignol called the veils “dangerous and irresponsible.” Rossignol said that women who support the wearing of a hijab are like “negros who accepted slavery,” writes Julia Glum of the International Business Times.
The student organizers of the event said they were attempting to “demystify the veil” by setting aside a day for people to join in on the wearing the scarves and ask any questions they had about the headgear.
“We could no longer allow people to say things supposedly on our behalf. It was time to speak for ourselves,” one participant told France 24.
Resistance began in the form of racist and hateful feedback on the event’s Facebook page. Meanwhile, the university sent out a Twitter message that stated it had not prohibited the social movement, but neither did it support the campaign.
According to France 24, Bruno Le Maire, a politician and lecturer, also disapproved. He wrote: “In France, women are visible. No proselytizing!” Le Parisien wrote that a different group of students hosted a Whatever Day on Wednesday and suggested that students wear dresses and bikinis.
“We offer a day to dress as you want: the crop top with long skirt, anything goes!” the opposition group wrote on Facebook. “Those who wish to come in hijab are also welcome, but unlike others, we do not want to proselytize and entice anyone to wear a particular religious dress.”
Approximately 8% of the population in France is Muslim. Because of recent Islamic State attacks in Paris and Brussels, anti-Muslim sentiment has increased.
French Prime Minister Manuel Valls proposed last week that universities should forbid the wearing of the hijab. The veil is currently banned in state-run schools, as are all religious symbols. Coverings for the entire face are prohibited in public in France, reports Josh Lowe for Newsweek.
Students who organized the event said they wanted to have people wear the headscarves for one day so that they could “better understand the experience of stigmatization.”
Iman Amrani of The Guardian writes that the event was supported by the Feminist Association of Sciences Po, Politiqu’elles, who said they wanted to “give voice to those we talk about all the time but who are never heard.”
The Front National Society and the pro-Nicolas Sarkozy Nous les jeunes (We, the Youth) movement were against the campaign. French writer and philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy stated on Twitter:
“Hijab Day at Sc Po (Sciences Po). So when is there going to be a sharia day? Or stoning day? Or slavery day?”
Other Socialist ministers said a law prohibiting headscarves on university campuses was not necessary.
In the US, writes Kelly Weill of The Daily Beast, a professor at Wheaton College, a Christian school in Illinois, wore a hijab in her classroom to show her solidarity with Muslim women who face violence and discrimination. She was suspended for the act.
Some Muslim women say that a show of solidarity through cultural incorporation is ill-advised because the consequences for non-Muslims who don a hijab are never as grave as it is for Muslim women.