Muslim Youth in France Finding Their Way
According to some estimates, around 10 percent (between 5 to 6 million people) of the French population is made up of Muslims. Coexistence is a challenge in any place, and Muslim youth in France are facing various problems, such as banning of hijab in state-run establishments and lack of job opportunities.
The French government prevented Muslim students from wearing hijab at school. This caused an outcry from Muslim youth groups as well as anti-discrimination groups throughout France.
Muslim youth took this as a chance to express their growing frustration about cultural and religious marginalization and discrimination in French society.
While hijab is banned in schools, it is not banned in universities. Speaking to a group of young women who are wearing hijab at Jussieu University, they said that when a woman wears hijab, many doors are closed in front of her. Perhaps she is unable to get a job in the governmental sector, and it will be very difficult to find job opportunities elsewhere, unless she removes her hijab.
They added that many French people are prejudiced and some think that hijab is a veil on the mind as well as the head.
Moreover, even though career options look bleak, they still seek knowledge for personal satisfaction. They hope to show other young Muslims that an assertive woman can fight against prejudice by excelling at university and expressing herself in a meaningful way. "One day, we'll have [French] Muslim women in hijab who are doctors, lawyers, and teachers," said one of the young women.
What can be done to speed up the positive change that these students are so confident about? Another student added, "Although Muslims [in France] need to start communicating, they aren't sufficiently integrated and there isn't enough connection between Muslims and the rest of French society. For example, people don't understand that Muslim women choose to wear hijab by their own will," said another active student who is working in this regard — trying to build bridges of understanding between Muslim students and others.
Another student remarked, "We're French! We were born here and have lived here our entire lives. We're already integrated; others need to accept us for who we are — French Muslims!"
I remember reading the quote of a veteran of May 1968, "Barricades close the street but open up the way," and I wonder just how similar is hijab to the barricades; it covers the head but opens up the mind!
Immigration = Discrimination
Life is not that much different for male Muslim students; they also face discrimination, especially those from immigrant backgrounds, together with immigrants from other faiths.
"A student from an immigrant background needs to work harder to succeed, as he may not have the same opportunities as others who are more settled and stable," said a history student at the famous Sorbonne University.
This student is of Tunisian and French parentage and has already completed a degree in nursing. "Many of my friends from immigrant backgrounds are becoming lawyers, doctors, and teachers; they are proving to youth out there that even though we come from 'the ghettos,' where things may not be that easy, we can — with hard work, determination, and the blessings of God — accomplish things and effect change!"
This is the new spirit of positive change: to be confident, determined and still faithful to your beliefs.
So, while students complained about discrimination, the widely perceived lack of job opportunities and the difficulties associated with growing up in the suburbs, some French Muslim youth are actually making change happen by their strong will and faith!
**Bilal Randeree works in finance and is a freelance journalist. He studied a degree and post-graduate qualification in accounting and business. He is an active youth worker who participated in voluntary and charity organizations for many years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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