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French Muslims meet as Hollande prepares wider hijab ban

r
r Reuters/Jacky Naegelen

France’s largest Islamic grouping meets this weekend at Le Bourget, north of Paris, as the government prepares to extend the ban on Islamic headscarves in educational establishments, a move many Muslims feel would be discriminatory.

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Organised by the Union of Islamic Organisations of France (UOIF) the Le Bourget conference is a key event in the Muslim calendar but often generates controversy.

The UOIF, an umbrella group of 200 Muslim organisations, is thought to be close to the Muslim Brotherhood, which leads the Egyptian government and is influential in Tunisia and other Middle Eastern countries.

More than 160,000 attended last year's conference and heard speeches from intellectuals and scholars, including Swiss academic Tariq Ramadan.

Last year’s meeting was tense, coming in the wake of Mohamed Merah’s Toulouse killing spree but also in the run-up to the presidential elections where Islam became a political hot potato.

Far-right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen demanded that the UOIF be banned.

The government banned six foreign imams it suspected of being Islamist radicals from attending and there was a heavy police presence in case women wearing the full-face veil turned up.

This year the organisers say the atmosphere is far calmer but Muslim head-covering is still the subject of controversy in France.

UOIF president Ahmed Jaballah told RFI that many Muslims are worried about President François Hollande’s pledge to extend the ban on the wearing signs of religious appartenance to private education not just state-run institutions as was decreed by the 2004 law.

That follows a court’s ruling in favour of a woman sacked for refusing to remove a headscarf while working in a private nursery, a decision that was criticised by Interior Minister Manuel Valls.

Jaballah believes that Muslims are worried they're not getting equal treatment in the French secular system, which separates religion and state but also guarantees equal treatment of all faiths.

Islam is France’s second religion and France is home to the largest Muslim minority in Europe, estimated to between two million and four million.

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