Islamic groups in France are criticizing a recent court decision to deny citizenship to a fully veiled Muslim woman deemed unable to assimilate into French society because of her faith.
The ruling, delivered last month by France's highest administrative court, upheld immigration officials' refusal to grant citizenship to a woman, dubbed Faiza X in the court document, because of her religious beliefs. While the decision has solicited wide approval from politicians across France, others point to it as a sign of intolerance.
"Where does it begin or end; what we are calling radical behaviour?" asked Mohammed Bechari, president of the National Federation of French Muslims. "Will we see a man refused citizenship because of the length of his beard … or a man who is dressed as a rabbi, or a priest?"
The Council of State's June 27 ruling made no mention of the woman's niqab, a veil worn by some Muslim women that covers the face with only a slit left open for the eyes, which she reportedly began wearing after moving to France from Morocco.
A report from a French government commissioner submitted to the council said the woman told officials she was unaware of her right to vote, and would only remove her veil after men left the room.
"She lives in total submission to the men in her family ... and the idea of contesting this submission doesn't even occur to her," the government report said. Faiza X and her husband told immigration officials they were followers of Salafism, a form of the Islamic faith.
The council ultimately ruled against Faiza X, saying that while its goal was not to attack the woman's religion, she had "adopted a radical practice of her religion incompatible with the essential values of the French community, notably with the principle of equality of the sexes, and therefore she does not fulfil the conditions of assimilation" listed in the country's Civil Code as a requirement for gaining French citizenship.
An estimated five million of France's 63 million people are Muslim. In 2004, the country banned religious symbols in public schools, including Islamic headscarves.
France's minister for urban affairs, Fadela Amara, has spoken in favour of the recent ruling in media reports. A daughter of Algerian parents, Amara condemned the niqab as a sign "of a totalitarian political project preaching inequality between the sexes," according to an interview published in the daily Le Parisien.
In a letter written to immigration officials, Faiza X argued against such accusations, saying other French immigrants were able to maintain ties with their traditional cultures.
Fouad Alaoui, vice-president of the Union of Islamic Organizations of France, said the ruling marks a turning point for France's judiciary.
"I don't think that clothing is part of this country's values. Clothing is personal freedom," he said.