It has already been almost two years since I left France, and this is was the best choice I have ever made as a Muslim woman. When I look back, it is as if I fled.
I currently reside in the United States, in San Francisco, California. I was born and raised in Lille, France, in a family of Moroccan heritage. Lille is an old French city populated by a majority of North Africans; the buildings are made of red bricks, and Lillois (as they call us) love to eat fries and mussels in narrow and small restaurants.
France has a complex and intricate history with North Africa. During the 19th century, France colonized a lot of African nations; in my case, Morocco was under a French protectorate for about 40 years. To this day, individuals still suffer with identity issues. Now that I moved to the U.S., my identity has become more and more complicated.
In France, I am seen as Arab. In the U.S., I am seen as French. To be honest, I do not know where I stand. I lived my whole life in France, and have been to Morocco only two times in my lifetime. I have never felt better than in San Francisco.
I have a love/hate relationship with France. As a woman that defines herself as Muslim and a feminist, I am denied aspects of my identity on different sides.
In France and across the world, the public opinion on Islam and Muslims is usually negative. The Muslim community and the religion of Islam are associated with the oppression of women. Since 2004, women in France are not allowed to wear a hijab, niqabs are forbidden, and you can get fined or go to jail for wearing one. Feminism in Islam is considered by most in the West as an oxymoron. Islam is perceived as a religion completely contradictory to women’s rights. It is a subject of contention.
This hurts me. Deeply. By excluding so many women, many Muslim women are marginalized. On the flip side, many Muslim women in France resent the word “feminism.” Imagine my grandmother being told by Western women that covering her hair is oppressive, such as during the French colonial ceremonies of forced unveiling perpetrated in Algeria by white female colonizers. Some Muslim women view feminism with apprehension because in France the feminist dialogue and narrative is still predominately held by Western women. You can still turn on your TV in France and find politicians and experts debating the hijab in universities and public spaces.
Nonetheless, tremendous change has been achieved. Thanks to American Muslim women, Muslim women have gained more positive visibility and representation in American media. They have managed to get their voices heard, and are slowly creating change in misperceptions of American Muslims. Muslim women are more and more present in the American political landscape and mainstream culture. Islam is at the turn of global transformation. This transformation is being led by Muslim women in the United States.
Imagine my grandmother being told by Western women that covering her hair is oppressive, such as during the French colonial ceremonies of forced unveiling perpetrated in Algeria by white female colonizers.
Undertaking an analysis of Muslim women and our experiences, activism, and feminism is an arduous task, considering our diversity and variables such as geography, class, ethnicity, and other factors. In Europe — and more specifically, in France — we need to develop a multilayered discourse.
Hopefully Muslim, Black, secular, faith-based feminisms and activisms will feed on the elaboration of a coordinated and organized unique feminism, free of labels; a feminism where the secular and the religious are imbricating, a feminism built collectively, that will fully celebrate inclusivity.