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Pakistan Link - January 23, 2004

AMV  joins San Francisco rally
against the French ban on Hijab

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The American Muslim Voice joined the Council on American-Islamic Relations and other Muslim American organizations and other civil rights groups in sponsoring a rally in San Francisco to protest French ban on hijab in public schools. The rally, on Jan 17th 2004,  was held outside the French Consulate in San Francisco. About 300 protestors, mainly women marched from Civic Center to the French Consulate to show support for religious freedom in France.

Addressing the rally, Ms. Samina Faheem Sundas, Executive Director of the American Muslim Voice, said that Religious freedom is a universal right that should not be subject to the whims of the majority or the dictates of secular extremists. “President Chirac is trying to impose his choice, his opinion and his laws on all religious groups telling them what they cant do, including Muslim women that they cant wear hijab.”

French move is a violation of human rights while France proclaims to be the champion of human rights, she added. Today we are trying to protect human rights in France, Germany and of course in America. What happened to the western countries’ claim regarding freedom of expression freedom of speech and freedom of practicing religion”.

"To Muslim women and men, wearing modest attire is not a political statement or a cultural practice imposed by others, it is the fulfillment of a religious requirement," said Dahlia Eltoumi of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

"It took a lot for me to wear a hijab in America," Asma Ghori, 23, of Palo Alto told the crowd. "It's just a piece of cloth with a safety pin, but it was so hard to wear to school and to the grocery store, or even Macy's," Ghori said. "But now I'm proud to say that in just a couple of months I will be celebrating 10 years of wearing a hijab," she said.

"This isn't a ban on a symbol. It's a ban on our religious freedom. Wearing a hijab is part of how we practice our faith," said Nadia Aziz, 23, a civil rights activist.

``To ask a young Sikh boy to come to school without a turban is like asking a young girl to come to school without a top. It's humiliating,'' said Meet Singh, a 29-year-old Sikh from Fremont and a business graduate student at Stanford University. Singh, who has worn a turban most of his life, said he joined the protest in solidarity because the French argument on secularism is ``illogical and makes no sense.'' Secularism, he said, is based on religious freedom. The ban, he and others protesters said, is a form of oppression.

At the rally, organizers handed a petition, signed by more than 7,000 people, to consulate officials. The petition asks the French government to abandon the proposal. ``We understand the concerns of people about this question. Our concern is to let them have the correct information about the situation in France and our position to uphold the principle of secularism in the republic,'' said Yo-Jung Chen, press attache for the French Consulate in San Francisco.

The Rev. Charles Gibbs, executive director of the United Religions Initiative, a San Francisco interfaith group, said religious freedom is crucial to modern democracies.` `If Martin Luther King Jr. were alive, he would be here with us today marching for freedom,'' Gibbs told the protest group.

The protesters want to scrap a bill that will go before French lawmakers in February forbidding "conspicuous" religious signs, from Islamic head scarves and Jewish yarmulkes to large Christian crosses, in public schools. Easy passage is expected, and the law would become applicable with the new school year in September.

The demonstration was sponsored by  the American Muslim Voice (AMV), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Muslim Students Association-West (MSA-West), the MSA-National, Muslim American Society (MAS) Freedom Foundation,the  Muslim Community Association (MCA), the Sikh Mediawatch and the Resource Task Force (SMART), the Sacred Roots, and many others.

Text of AMV Executive Director, Samina Faheem Sundas’ speech at the SF rally