September 22nd, 2011
03:56 AM ET

Burqa ban opponent fined by French court

By Saskya Vandoorne, CNN

(CNN) - A woman fighting France's ban on Islamic face coverings was fined 120 euros ($162) Thursday for wearing a burqa, the first fine handed down by a French court over the controversial law.

Hind Ahmas sought out the punishment so she could take her fight to a higher court, she told CNN. A second woman, Najet Ait Ali, was fined 80 euros ($108) in the same court appearance.

"I am happy to be fined, since I can now take this to the European Court of Human Rights," Ahmas said.

"It's not about the amount I have to pay. It's about the principle," she said, calling the ban "pure provocation. I'm fighting to be able to walk freely in the street."

Rachid Nekkaz, of a group called Don't Touch My Constitution, later turned up at the courthouse with a check to cover the cost of each fine, offering to pay the penalty for every woman fined for wearing a face covering.

The court hearing came after the website of the city of Rennes was defaced by a hacker in protest at the burqa ban and a ban on public street prayers that went into effect last Friday.

"You allow women to walk around half-naked but you don't allow Muslim women to cover their body? Shame on you France, Muslims are people too," read a message posted on the city website.

The site was attacked at about 6 p.m. Monday night and was operating normally again about 24 hours later, said city spokesman Manuel Contin, who said he did not know why Rennes was targeted.

The court did not explain why the two women got different fines. They were not ordered to take citizenship courses - another possible sentence under the law that came into effect in April.

They were arrested May 5.

A woman wearing a burqa and three wearing hijabs - which do not cover the face and so are not illegal - came to court to hear the verdict. There was also a small but noticeable police presence at the municipal courthouse in Meaux, east of Paris.

Ahmas and Ali are not the first women to be fined under the controversial ban.

Police in the Paris suburb of Yvelines issued an on-the-spot fine that was believed to be the nation's first punishment for breaking the law the day it went into effect.

A 28-year-old woman was fined 150 euros (about $215) April 11, according to police.

Police declined to specify whether the woman was wearing a burqa, a full-body covering that includes a mesh over the face, or a niqab, a full-face veil with an opening for the eyes.

Both are banned by the new French law, which has drawn criticism from some human rights and religious organizations and some Muslims as discriminatory. France has Western Europe's largest Muslim population.

Police in Paris arrested two veiled women April 11, but said those arrests were for participating in an unapproved demonstration.

The law allows women who are cited for wearing an illegal veil to pay the fine or perform community service. It reserves harsher treatment for anyone who forces a person to wear a veil. That is punishable by a year in prison and a 30,000 euro fine (about $43,300). Forcing a minor to wear the veil is punishable by two years in prison and 60,000 euros.

Authorities say the prohibition is necessary for national security reasons as well as to uphold French values of equality, dignity and national identity.

The French Constitutional Council said the law does not impose disproportionate punishments or prevent the free exercise of religion in a place of worship, finding therefore that "the law conforms to the Constitution."

But critics argue the government has no business telling people what clothes to wear or how to practice their religion.

"I am free to do whatever I want and this is a choice that I want to make," wrote Hebah Ahmed, a blogger. "And just because somebody doesn't accept my interpretation of Islam or personally like it doesn't mean that we can use laws to violate people's freedom of expression and freedom of religion."

–CNN's France Costrel contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog

Filed under: France • Islam

soundoff (692 Responses)
  1. Food for thought...

    What would happen if you went to visit Kabul and felt your need to "express yourself" with your favorite pair of skinny jeans, a tube top and a shiney new cross around your neck? Would they tolerate it or ask the law to make exceptions for you?

    Stop being so naive and understand that those extremist Muslims do not like Westerners and are being passive aggressive by paying for everyone's tickets so that they may continue to break the law. Stop standing up for their "rights" when i'll bet you the clothes on my back if you went to their country and expressed your "rights" you would be flogged or end up in jail like those dumb Burkley kids for two years.

    Those extremists have given the world every reason to be afraid of them. Stop with the sunshine and rainbows, step out of your American 1st ammendement comfort zone and get real.

    September 22, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • William Demuth

      Food for thought...

      So you want OUR country to be like where they came from?

      I hate the outfits myself, but I try really hard not to hate the people that wear it.

      You should realize MANY of these folks are damaged goods.

      I agree they need to assimilate, but YOU need to be honest about your motivations.

      In two generations, they will be smoking Meth and boping to Lady Gaga.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:44 am |
    • Nad

      William Demuth

      In two generations the US will be 30% muslim and your grandchildren children will be handed a Quran on the way to school.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:54 am |
  2. 1chz

    Think about it if an American or actually any other nation of female goes to one of those muslim countries they have to wear some type of thing on their heads. What if that female said no I'm not gonna wear it & still be in your country because it violates my human/religious rights. That person is not muslim. The whole cover up thing is muslim. So are they making others practice their religion? I say yes. If France does not allow you to wear your cover up then uncover or go home. It's the same concept if you don't wanna cover up in a muslim country then go home.

    September 22, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  3. Sodomite

    "You allow women to walk around half-naked but you don't allow Muslim women to cover their body? Shame on you France, Muslims are people too," read a message posted on the city website."

    Geez, no one forced you to live in France! Go back to where you're clearly more comfortable. It's not rocket science.

    September 22, 2011 at 10:29 am |
  4. Steveb

    So Nad, since they harassed and discriminated against you – which you say is Wrong – then it is Right for us to harass and discriminate against them?!? You need to shut up because you are a hypocrite

    September 22, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Nad

      Your opinion is yours, mine is based on MY life experiences. Until you have some of your own that relate to these issues, then by all means I'd be very happy to listen. I'd be more than happy to pay for your ticket to Saudi for you to exercise your beliefs, and when you come back (hah) then you can reply to me.

      September 22, 2011 at 11:03 am |
  5. S.R

    Ah religion....the worst thing to ever happen to human beings. It is all made up bull.....wake up and stop hateing in the name of religion.

    September 22, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  6. PC

    Interestingly, I have personal knowledge that most affluent Islamic women who travel out of the strict Islamic countries, like Saudi Arabia, shed those burqa's, headscarves, and veils as soon as they get to the hotel. Then they go to the casino's and clubs.

    September 22, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  7. pamik

    When you move to a new country, you should first and foremost become citizen of that country or at least a member of their society. Why did you want to go there in the first place if you don't want to do that? Religion should be secondary. Hiding ones faces and/or bodies only give others the feeling you're hiding something more. I appreciate your religious beliefs but you must also appreciate the laws of your adopted country. If you can't, go back to where you came from and see how you're treated. You've gotten so much freedom now, is the loss of a burqua that important? Please come out of the stone age.

    September 22, 2011 at 10:28 am |
  8. N49

    A woman goes to their country, they have to abide by their rules. Why are 'Developed' countries always the ones that try to please everyone yet end up pleasing no one. I was interviewed once for a government job by a woman in a Burqa. I couldn't take it serious and found it extremely uncomfortable. The art of conversation relies strongly on interpreting facial expression and with out that, it's like having a serious discussion at a drive thru menu.

    September 22, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  9. myweightinwords

    So, just glancing through the comments on this page alone what I get is people saying that women shouldn't be allowed to CHOOSE to wear the burqa or niqab because it might frighten someone, or because it is a sign of oppression of women or because somehow covering the face is an act of terrorism.

    Really? If the women CHOOSES to cover her face because she believes it is the right and modest way to be in public, what business is it of anyone other than the woman herself?

    Would you really want a law like this in the US? Would you surrender still more of your freedoms in the name of supposed security and religious bigotry?

    September 22, 2011 at 10:27 am |
    • MJS

      Actually, I would. When I travel outside of the US to other countries that require that I wear or dress a certain way I do exactly that. If France feels that this is going to make their country safer then that's their right. I have plenty of Muslim friends and they agree. People knew about the law and they know what country to go to if they want to wear a burqa.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • myweightinwords

      But what if France is their home? Born there. Raised there. And they feel that modesty demands covering their face?

      Are we ready to say to a citizen of our own country that they must conform to government dictated clothing requirements or leave the country of which they are a legal citizen?

      September 22, 2011 at 10:43 am |
  10. Patricia D

    Totally OK in my book to ban clothing that hides who the people are. In this day and age, especially with terrorists and suicide bombers from the Middle East running around, people should never have the privilege of wearing clothing that hides who they are. Sorry, but as others have said, if you don't like it, go back to your own country. If you want to live in a new country, get with their program or get out.

    September 22, 2011 at 10:26 am |
  11. MJS

    It's up to a country to make their rules and regulations. If I were to travel to certain countries I would be REQUIRED to wear certain coverings. If I were to go to France and want to wear a burqa I would be REQUIRED NOT to wear one. I don't hear/see anyone complaining about the countries that force people to wear burqa's or hijab's.

    That being said Islam is a beautiful religion. If people would sit down and read about Islam then I think a whole lot of people would be understanding. Every religion has done something to another religion. The Spanish Inquisition? What did Prince Phillip and Queen Mary do to anyone that wasn't Christian or people that weren't Christian enough? What about what Jews and what they did to Jesus Christ? Religious battles are getting old. It's to bad people can't understand another religion and not fight over it or use it as a tool against one another.

    September 22, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  12. got chicken france

    french targeting women... lol you cant make that up ..

    September 22, 2011 at 10:25 am |
  13. Milo Kowalski

    This law is ENTIRELY fair and reasonable and in no way overtly infringes on anyone's right to anything. You are not allowed to be nude in public and likewise you should be required to show your face if you interact in a public environment. Someone here already made the point: would we feel OK with people wearing ski masks in public? This most certainly is a matter of public safety. I think its a pretty simple sacrifice- you get to live in a first-world country like France, so you are required to show your face to the world.

    September 22, 2011 at 10:24 am |
  14. Alex

    Every country gets to set their standards of "decency" for dress - but people assume that decency only has to do with the *minimum* allowable amount of clothing. If a country can say you can't run around naked in public it can also dictate how much it is allowed to cover your body, the style, and the color. I see no problem here but I personally this ban will not stand for long.

    September 22, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  15. Jeff

    I never... EVER.. thought I'd say this.... the French are awesome!

    September 22, 2011 at 10:23 am |
  16. Bubba

    We need to require ALL ugly women in U.S also cover their face and body.... I was in Daytona Beach last week, and I tried to push a whale back in the water when she start telling me she ain't a whale and curse me out. I wish she had covered her body. She totally crossed me out.

    September 22, 2011 at 10:22 am |
  17. guest

    I seems to me that Muslims are not well liked, so why do they stay? Hummm, well could be their agenda, not that they like it here or anywhere else.

    September 22, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • William Demuth

      The Blacks, the Jews, the Chinese, the Italians, the Irish, the Mexicans and the Spanish were ALL hated when they came.

      Perhaps it is the freedom they desire?

      Perhaps they want opportunity?

      Who knows for sure, but if they put up with people like you they MUST want it really bad!

      September 22, 2011 at 10:36 am |
    • Nad

      William Demuth

      I didn't realize blacks, mexicans, the Chinese, the Italians, the Irish, the Mexicans and the Spanish are all different types of religion.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:56 am |
  18. tonelok

    And Christians don't try to convert non-believers or have a history of killing for their beliefs...
    Just because we haven't had a good crusade in a while doesn't make your religion and less intolerant than another.

    September 22, 2011 at 10:22 am |
    • William Demuth

      I seem to remember a Christian dude named Adolf who killed 12 million or so because they were "inferior"

      I guess you overlooked that?

      September 22, 2011 at 10:27 am |
  19. Nad

    I wonder if I wanted to exercise my right to not wear coverings in Saudi Arabia if they would accept that. Or if I choose to walk around with a big cross on my neck in Iran, Syria, etc. I'm sure they would respect my Religious rights. They would respect my rights with a good stoning.

    I was born and raised in the middle east as a Christian and all you human rights activists who get in an uproar over this need to shut up. Until you see members of your family persecuted for being Christian (or anything but Muslim). You should consider moving to Iran or Saudi and trying to exercise your religious rights, and If you succeed I'd be more than willing to listen.

    September 22, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • sharpei

      like this

      September 22, 2011 at 10:24 am |
    • opinion

      Very well said! I also grew up as a Christian in the Middle East, there is no freedom of religion, there is no freedom at all.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:25 am |
    • Brandi P.

      I agree with Nad 100%! We Christians are called to be tolerant of everything, but no one is tolerant of our morals. Sometimes I get angry over this but I remember, the ultimate Victor has already won! Praise Jesus Christ!

      September 22, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Steve

      So your argument is because there are intolerant countries in the Middle East, we should act in the same way?

      September 22, 2011 at 10:29 am |
    • Cynthia

      That is an unfair argument. Western Europe has long tradition for tolerance and place high value on freedom. This law conflicts with western ideals and politics. This is another poorly disguised assault on women's freedom. Women should be allowed to wear whatever they want without harassment from the public and the State.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • Tha Chikin


      That was AWESOME!!

      September 22, 2011 at 10:30 am |
    • William Demuth


      For half a century I have seen Gays, Blacks, Women, foreigners, Communists and Athiests beaten, ostrasized, discriminated against, tortured, molested and even murdered for their beliefs right here in the good old US of A.

      Your beliefs are NOT a solution, they are the problem itself.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:34 am |
    • isnogood

      Aha! I see – so you are comparing living in France to Living in Saudi Arabia or Iran.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:38 am |
    • Nique_mil

      Nad, but just to play the Devil's Advocate role here, Western societies, on the other hand, could "teach" others what religion freedom really is by allowing people to dress (or not dress, for that matter) as they want.

      On the other hand, I admit that I feel uncomfortable whenever I am next to women wearing burqas, which is not uncommon here in the D.C. area. For some reason burqas come across to me as self-flagellation.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:40 am |
    • Nad

      I understand your points that we should be the better and lead by example, but all of you who are responding so aggressively towards my comments. Once again I beg of you, go and exercise your right in the middle east, that's all. It's easy to preach what you believe is right when you have NO idea of what Middle Eastern Christians deal with. Heck if CNN was based in Saudi I'm pretty sure I wouldve been hung by now.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Nad

      William Demuth,

      Please don't try and critisize my beliefs as you don't know me. What I'm stating is my opinion based on my Life experience. If you're not ok with that's you're right, now go exercise similar rights in the ME, then come back to me. GL to u.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:51 am |
  20. opinion

    In the Middle east you have to abide by their rules, there is no freedom of religion, if you are Christian you have to cover up. Therefore, if you are Muslim in another country you have to abide by that countries rule, if the French don't allow burqas then don't wear one and stop complaining. If it's really that bad you should move back to your own country where the burqa law originated.

    September 22, 2011 at 10:21 am |
    • Lady Freedom

      I TOTALLY agree that these women should abide by the law that in that country and if they don't agree go back where you came from. These people REFUSE to assimilate and force thier values upon us. France is fighting FOR womens rights and these brain washed idiots don't get it! America has lost its main Christian values because of bleeding heart liberals and THESE WEAK CONGRESSMEN allowing these other radial religions to bully our culture around. Muslim is not a BURKA- A BURKA is a woman in chains and oppression.

      September 22, 2011 at 10:43 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.