This original new work is the fascinating result of sociologist and documentary filmmaker Agnès De Féo’s ten-year exploration of the phenomenon of niqab wearing. It is at once a groundbreaking study and a series of compelling first-person accounts from French and Francophone women who wear or have worn the niqab in France’s Salafi communities. With the backdrop of the French government’s 2010 ban on full facial veiling in public spaces, which itself has shaped the phenomenon, De Féo draws on her subjects’ own words to show their agency, working against the clichés that often underlie public views of the niqab—that it is purely the result of masculine pressure, for example, or extreme religiosity or nationalism, or the submissive desire to disappear. Instead, she shows, the niqab is multivalent: women wear it for reasons that range from religious piety to the desire to rebel against mainstream society, family, or the rule of law. The reasons are complex, overdetermined, contradictory, or even inconsistent, but they are the women’s own.
Despite being worn only by a small minority of Muslim women, the Islamic garment has nonetheless been a major source of intense political, religious, and cultural debate in France. Searching to understand, rather than speculate, De Féo chose to approach the people who wear the niqab, and to make them, rather the veil itself, the subject of her research. Her unprecedented study, based on more than 200 interviews, reveals the many factors—social, political, geopolitical, and psychological—underpinning a personal choice that is not always as religious as it seems.
The book ends with sixteen captivating interviews giving voice to stories rarely heard. With finesse and discernment, the author debunks the myths surrounding the wearing of the niqab, and sheds light on a practice subject to misunderstanding and prejudice, offering the reader unique insight. Challenging our preconceived notions and stereotypes about women who wear any form of Islamic apparel, but particularly the niqab, The Niqab in France introduces a group of women each with her own life story, her own share of personal struggles, aspirations, and desires, and her own claim to a certain place in society.
This work received support for excellence in publication and translation from Albertine Translation, a program created by Villa Albertine.