Following are excerpts from an interview with French imam Sheik Hassen Chalghoumi, which aired on BBC Arabic TV on July 17, 2010:
Hassen Chalghoumi: We know full well that according to the Islamic religious scholars, women are not required by Islamic law to cover their faces, and there is no obligation to cover one's face during pilgrimage to Mecca. The message conveyed is that Islam is a very bad religion, which treats women very harshly.
Interviewer: This message is conveyed according to whose perspective? The French?
Hassen Chalghoumi: Yes, according to the perspective of the 60 million people living in this country.
Interviewer: You've said in the past that more than 60 million French people are filled with disgust or fear when they see a Muslim woman wearing a niqab in the street. Do you want the minority to be dissolved with the majority, or do you want a multi-cultural society?
Hassen Chalghoumi: I want a multi-cultural society. Don't forget that after 9/11 – the terrorist events carried out in the name of Islam and the Muslims, and whose victims included the Muslims and their imams – Western societies began to fear the spreading of Islam. Western societies began to fear the spreading of Islam.
Therefore, as Muslims, it is our duty to blend into French society. We will achieve this by highlighting our values, not the niqab. For 15 decades, Islam was not reduced to a piece of cloth on a woman's face.
Do Muslim women need to wear the niqab in France? What is the top priority – the niqab or the education of the children?
Some movements and groups force women to wear the niqab. This is a well-known phenomenon. I don't want to name these movements. Most of these women are converts to Islam. Why do they dress them in this outfit? Why don't they teach them the values of Islam?