Following are excerpts from an interview with Hassan Chalghoumi, Imam of the Drancy Mosque, Paris, which aired on Al-Arabiya TV on January 21, 2011.
Interviewer: Some women wear mini-skirts or shorts out on the streets, so why is there such an uproar because other women want to wear the niqab, especially since the issue has been exploited by some to threaten France…?
Hassan Chalghoumi: The niqab does not pertain to individual liberties. There are well-known groups behind the niqab. Normal, moderate religious women do not wear the niqab. Certain movements spur women to wear the niqab. This is not an individual thing. I am talking about France. Secondly, what is our role, as Muslims, in this country? Is it to present the tolerance and openness of Islam, or something else? If a certain sister wants religious freedom, and wants to demonstrate her religious sentiments and her closeness to Allah, she can do good deeds, like helping her neighbors, helping children with learning difficulties, helping needy families, helping the elderly who can’t walk… This is the tolerance of Islam. This is what we should demonstrate.
But to wear a piece of cloth on her face, terrifying others? The French are scared. We should consider the perspective of the others. They view us with disgust. Unfortunately, we have become a religion of extremism, which denies women their rights. I don’t understand how a woman [with a niqab] can possibly work. How can she complete her studies? How can she coexist with others?
Interviewer: But in the Arab world, many women wear the niqab.
Hassan Chalghoumi: The Arab world is one thing, and France is another. We respect the people, their sentiments, and the way they view us. We should understand our priorities. I think that our priorities are to protect our generation, to teach our youth, and to protect them from moral bankruptcy, and from extremism and wrong interpretation of Islam.