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Paris university sorry for Muslim veil 'gaffe'

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Paris university sorry for Muslim veil 'gaffe'
File photo of Muslim women protesting against France's controversial veil laws. Photo: AFP
15:26 CEST+02:00
France's contentious law on the wearing of the Muslim veil may be known worldwide, but not everyone in France clearly understands it or thinks it is strict enough, it seems. The confusion led to an embarrassing incident at Paris's famous Sorbonne university this week.

The head of France’s Sorbonne university has personally apologized to a student who was asked to leave a lecture when she refused to take off her Muslim headscarf.

According to a report in Le Monde newspaper the teacher said to the student: “Are you planning on keeping that thing on throughout all my classes?”

The female lecturer continued: "I am here to help you integrate into professional life and that is going to cause you problems".

After the student refused to do take it off, the lecturer then told her to go to a different class.

A controversial 2004 law prohibits the wearing or open display of religious symbols in all French schools, but it does not apply to universities.

A similarly contentious law was introduced in 2010 banning the wearing in public of the full Muslim face veil, the niqab or burqa. It did not however forbid the wearing of the hijab headscarf.

Realizing the lecturer had a made an embarrassing gaffe the university’s president Philippe Boutry called in the student to offer a profound apology.

Defending his lecturer, Boutry said the gaffe was due to a misinterpretation of the 2004 law.

However in her letter to the university the student said the lecturer knew wearing the veil was allowed at university, but said that if it was up to her it wouldn't be.

For her part the student said her priority was to carry on with her course but she also called for the lecturer to be punished so similar incidents do not occur again.

This is not the first time in France a university lecturer has mistakenly taken the veil law into their own hands.

In January last year The Local reported how a Tunisian student lodged a complaint after her lecturer asked her to leave class when she refused to take off her hijab.

The apparent confusion around the law may soon be cleared up, however.

In August last year a report by France’s High Council of Integration (HCI) urged the French government to extend the contentious 2004 ban on religious symbols to cover universities.

The move was aimed at defusing a “growing number of disputes” stemming from religious differences at higher education institutions.

The French government has so far however declined to act on the report.

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