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A Hijab for Muslim Runners? Now Triggering Debate in France

  • It is just the latest controversy over the question of national identity.
  • France has descended, yet again, into histrionics over the prospect of what Muslim women might choose to wear.

PARIS — The world’s largest sporting goods retailer Decathlon exhibited on Twitter a new hijab for Muslim runners to exercise in public while adhering to Islamic Shari`ah’s code of modesty.

But this has triggered a bitter debate in France, Washington Post reported on February 27.

The French company addressed the attacks by tweeting: “From our end, we focus on democratizing the practice of sport. The fact is that some women practice running with hijab, which is often unsuitable. Our goal is simple: to offer them an adapted sports product, without judgment.”

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Much like the ‘burkini’ swimsuit in 2016, the runner’s hijab has been criticized not only by far-right political movements, such as the ‘National Rally’ but also from nominally left-wing French feminists.

“It’s a vision of the woman that I don’t share. As a woman, that’s how I live. All that leads to differentiation bothers me. I’d have preferred a French brand not to promote the veil,” Health Minister, Agnès Buzyn, expressed on French radio.

Left-wing senator and former women’s rights minister Laurence Rossignol said: “the new hijab is an item whose sole purpose is to prolong sexual apartheid.”

Aurore Bergé, a spokeswoman for Republic on the Move, the party of President Emmanuel Macron, criticized the hijab and Decathlon by saying: “My choice as a woman and a citizen will be to no longer trust a brand that breaks with our values. Those who tolerate women in the public space only when they’re hiding aren’t lovers of freedom.”

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Decathlon hijab isn’t the first sportswear for Muslim women.

In 2018, Nike launched the Nike Pro Hijab to give Muslim athletes a late, but deserved, representation in global athletic sportswear.

Succumbing & Muslim Response

However, after a series of such attacks, Decathlon tweeted: “Faced with the violent polemic aroused and threats uttered that went beyond our desire to meet the needs of our customers, our priority is to find a peaceful situation. In this context, we’re suspending our plans to market this product in France to ensure the safety of our teammates.”

In light of the eventual updates, a spokeswoman for the Muslim feminist organization Lallab, Laura Youkana, said: “The irony is that the product — much like the burkini — was evidence of a larger number of Muslim women seeking to participate in public life, not withdraw from it.”

She continued that: “those who attack the hijab speak in the name of women’s rights, but this is something that actually enables a woman to practice sports, and sports is something that emancipates women.”

Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.

What Muslim women choose to wear is a controversial topic in France, an officially secular society that prohibits religious signs and symbols in public life.

In 2004, France banned the hijab in public schools, and in 2010, it became the first European nation to ban the burqa, which covers a woman’s face.

Veiled women face regular scrutiny in public life.

In 2018, Maryam Pougetoux, a student union leader, appeared in a hijab during an interview on national television that had nothing to do with Islam. The interview launched a similar polemic that landed her on the cover of the satirical publication Charlie Hebdo, which depicted her as a monkey. At that time, she was 19.