Dear Monsieur Sarkozy

Dear Monsieur Sarkozy: I have never in my life wanted to wear a niqab or a burqa, but I do want to wear one now, thanks to you. Perhaps it’s something to do with being British, and doing the opposite of whatever the French want to do. I might even fashion my new niqab out of a Union Jack and ‘invade’ French soil via Eurostar, a cup of nice English breakfast tea and a traditional buttery scone with home-made jam. Or maybe it’s to do with the fact that I’m a woman, and no man is going to tell me what to wear, (except maybe Gok Wan) and no politician is going to determine how I dress.
That’s not your job, is it? Don’t you have other stuff to worry about – like the economic recession, climate change or unemployment levels? I know that you are worried about the reputation that French women have for beauty and glamour in the world, and you don’t want your lovelies to be covered up. However, since you are the global fashion capital, there are probably other more lucrative ways to solve the problem: perhaps a Chanel niqab, or a Louis Vuitton burqa with matching shoes and handbag?

You might think that change is bad, and moving France into the 21st century is a bad thing too – you know, with things like equality of rights and freedom. Oh, hold on. You guys are supposed to have that already aren’t you?

I understand your anxiety about giving women the right to make their own choices, and run their own lives, wear the clothes they want. It’s all a bit well, modern, isn’t it? And you can’t let Muslim women just get on with their lives exercising self-determination and autonomy, can you?

Actually, I’m wrong to say that you don’t like change – after all you altered the French constitution so that you could make the first ever presidential speech in the Palace of Versailles. Really pleased that you focused the historic occasion on women in veils. All 367 of them. You might want to take note of President Obama’s words – who’s a bit more popular than you: it’s up to Muslim women to decide what they wear.

So you’ve said that these poor women are oppressed and that the niqab is incompatible with French values. I imagine you and your mates must have been waiting for all those feminists and civil rights activists to stop banging on about the 40,000 French women who are violently abused by their partners every year, and the 1 in 3 that are raped. Did you explain to them that banning the burqa is a priority above all else, because it is about defending the values of the Republic. Banning will lead to freedom and equality. And fraternite is about brotherhood, so women don’t count anyway.

Your latest proposal to fine husbands whose wives wear the niqab or even send them to jail for a year, could prove very handy, merci beaucoup. Women who want to get rid of their pesky husbands just need to cover their visages, and ‘bam!’, off he goes out of her life for a bit of porridge.

So why do you dislike it so much when women cover their faces? Is it because you want to look at other people’s wives? After all, French presidents do have a reputation for a roving eye. Well, a bit more than just the eyes roving, eh? I noticed that you bonded with President Berlusconi over your shared interest in philanthropy philandering.

Seeing as you know exactly who these veiled women are, perhaps you could just ring them up and ask them nicely to stop wearing the niqab? You know, like a favour to the president.

Or if you want to be a little more classy in your request you could send each of them a personalised letter a la Queen (did you see how I used my ‘A’ Level French in that sentence? Impressed aren’t you). You could even use a similar tone to her letters to those who’ve reached 100 years old: “Thank you for your contribution and presence so far, but I think you may not be around for much longer.”

We should take a moment to be serious – although to be fair it is a bit hard to take you seriously when you feel scared of an itsy bitsy teeny weeny bit of cloth. When it comes to security, Muslim women are generally happy to comply with checks. If you are worried about integration then these women should be included, rather than excluded. And there is one point we agree on – there are indeed women who are forced to cover up through fear and convention. You’re not helping them, because you’re imprisoning them at home and reducing their engagement with the world around them – the world that you say will make their lives better. It’s a case of two men fighting to oppress women. Monsieur Sarkozy, your face should be red with shame.

Which brings me to my final point and what to do about your face – I think I have a good suggestion of what you can do with any unused stocks of niqabs and burqas. Just place the cloth over your face and tie the ends around the back of your head to cover your face and voila! The world will become a better place for everyone else. Come to think of it, you might need two of them. You are a politician after all,

Shelina Zahra Janmohamed, from behind my Union Jack niqab which I am wearing in temporary protest
Shelina Zahra Janmohamed is author of Love in a Headscarf, a humorous and irrevernt memoir of growing up as a Muslim woman. She also writes the Brass Crescent Award-winning blog Spirit 21.


  • sideboom says:

    shelina,salaam molikum sister, if i may ask you, just who is “GOK WAN ”  ?

  • shelinazahra says:

    Hello, and salam

    Gok Wan is British fashion consultant, author and television presenter. He’s popular because he aims to make women feel confident and comfortable with the way they look and to be happy without having to spend huge budgets on clothes and shoes.

    He’s one of those presenters that you are love or hate. I’m probably the latter, but am somewhat transfixed at the way that women feel very comfortable with his styling. It’s probably because he was a very overweight teenager and so he says that he understands that clothes can make you feel good and but it’s all from the inside.

    Anyway – the short of it is that he’s a man who many women take fashion advice from.


  • Amira H. says:

    Very nice article Shelina. I love all your articles and I really enjoyed your book.

  • sideboom says:

    thanks for your reply shelina, although ive lived in the U K for three years, never heard of Gok Wan, is he muslim ?  your description of him is rather steriotyped as a casenova caracter. but thats what it takes in most cases to win a lady over , even when sincerity is not prevalent. I want your book and will look for it here in barns&noble;. best wishes and happy living to you, from me = (sideboom)

  • sideboom says:

    by the way, what is the title of your book please ?

  • shelinazahra says:

    The book is called “Love in a Headscarf”. Enjoy reading!

  • fashionfatwa says:

    So, I have very mixed feelings on the French… well, in general, but in particular, toward their new laws on the niqaab. My family and I got into a big debate about this, and someone brought up the point that driving in a niqab or burqa would be impede visibility (this was obviously someone on the pro-ban side of the argument). My father, who is neither Muslim nor particularly fond of veiling, said that if public safety was the concern, then people would be banned from wearing motorcylce helmets or driving if they only have one eye, which is obviously not the case (at least, in the US).

    I was sort of taken aback by his insight into this… not that my father isn’t smart, but that he immediately saw through the bullshit (pardon mais Francais, si vous plais – yeah, I never took French) of the “public safety” argument.

    What was my point? Uh, well, that you totally have me craving a scone and tea now, thanks. 🙂

  • innominepatri says:

    A little understanding goes a very long way indeed. Unfortunately this tirade seems to show nothing of this, but instead the negative: there is contempt, spite and anger evident in the above. It is fun, assuredly, but it is imperfect.

    I’ll refrain from deconstructing your arguments in an attempt at brevity. Lets focus instead on the real issues here:

    First and foremost there is a clear undertone of negativity. This does not help anyone or anything (except maybe the author through sales), and does little to promote common decency. Let us at least attempt to defuse tensions. This niqab issue is nothing to do with sharia, it is entirely cultural. Therefore it is not, in any way, against Islam. I would suggest you bear this in mind while reading Surah Mumtahanah: 60/8.

    Here’s a nice quote from Mike Ghouse:

    “Let me define religion:

    To be a Muslim is to be a peace maker; one who constantly seeks to mitigate conflicts and nurtures goodwill for peaceful co-existence. God wants us to live in peace and harmony with his creation; life and matter. Indeed that is the purpose of religion. Please feel free to substitute the word ???Muslim??? with ???Religious???.”

    So let us consider peaceful coexistence with other people of the book – France, by the way, is a former Catholic state, and therefore has its foundations in Christianity. Thats where the ideals of liberty, equality and brotherhood come from. Bearing this in mind we should consider the bible too:

    ???Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses????
    Jesus replied, ??????You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.??? This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ???Love your neighbor as yourself.??? The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.??? (Matthew 22:36-40).

    Love your neighbour. Promote peaceful coexistence. If you live among non moslems, in a non moslem country, perhaps you should consider their cultural norms and values before imposing your own, alien customs upon them. That would surely be an act of love, respect and goodwill. And it would surely serve to minimise potential conflict.

    On this note I would draw your attention to the great article “A dialogue with Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah”:

    We should perhaps consider the veil from a Christian viewpoint too:

    “When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face.”
    Genesis 38:15

    This verse should give you pause for thought. If the purpose of the niqab is to serve modesty, and yet it is percieved as total and complete immodesty, then certainly it serves only to fuel negativity.

    “But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
    2 Corinthians 3:16-18

    Removing the veil actually pleases God.

    And of course seek knowledge even in China: why not consider the first people of the book, the Magi? What can they teach us?

    Zoroastrians believe that their purpose in this world is to help God make the world a better place to live. This would logically be achieved through positivity – goodwill, understanding and consideration.

    The basic tools of the Magi are Good Thoughts, Good Deeds, and Good Words.

    We could all surely benefit from focussing on these alone.

    In closing I would draw your attention to the banner on this page that says ‘My imam saved my life’. She’s wearing a headscarf, isn’t she? There is nothing wrong with a headscarf.


  • innominepatri says:

    @ katseye

    You speak on behalf of the entire French race?

    Your opinion is your right, but it is clearly flawed. Perhaps there is an element that believes exactly what you describe; probably there is, but to claim that an entire race is terrified of losing its culture and is therefore prejudiced against Islam is at best vainglorious.

    FYI the French attitude you describe is not at all engendered by the causes you list – they are issues that no doubt stimulate the attitude, but the attitude itself, that is simply French culture. This culture has been clearly demonstrated in their dealings with the British over two thousand years.

    If you have such an issue with French culture, why move to France?

    Could it perhaps be because that, for all their flaws, they still offer you a better way of life?

    And yet you challenge the foundations of their way of life without hesitation.

    It would appear to be you who harbours the prejudice.

    The veil, for your information, is an immodest symbol of aggressive seperatism and isolationism. The veil is devoid of religion, as it is purely and entirely a cultural affectation. Nowhere in the quran is the veil mandated. This has been outlined above at much greater length. This is a statement of fact – wether it is intended that way or not, this is how it is percieved.

    If you live among non moslems, in a non moslem country, perhaps you should consider their cultural norms and values before imposing your own, alien customs upon them. That would surely be an act of love, respect and goodwill. And it would surely serve to minimise potential conflict.

    In this, it would seem, these moslems are the aggressors. Do not be distressed when they elicit a response.


  • innominepatri says:

    One final thought… ‘their former colonial subjects?’ Don’t you mean to say ‘the former colonial subjects of their long dead ancestors?’

    It seems doubtful there are many French people alive today that participated in the ‘centuries of destruction’ alleged above.

    The exact same argument may be applied to Britain, Spain, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy… the list goes on.

    Show me one man alive today who actively participated in the pillaging of an Empire, and you’ll have a man worthy of your enmity. 99.9% of Europeans alive today just happened to be born into a country where colonialism once occured. Why should they fear the repercussions of something they played no role in whatsoever?

    Would you put a man on trial for the crimes of his grandfather?

    And if so, would you put him on trial for the crimes his grandfather was forced to commit on pain of death?

  • katseye says:


    France’s idea of equality and brotherhood is hypocritical just as any other place in the world. The French have understood assimilation to be the number one goal for immigrants-meaning they should not bring their “foreign” practices onto French soil, should adopt French names, and to idealize French sociopolitical points of view. The “veil” has nothing to do with the argument. It’s xenophobic hysteria-the French realizing that their former colonial subjects are banging down their door after centuries of destruction.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *