Abdulhadi does mention only Muslims, but naturally she must be speaking of a bilateral agreement between France and Saudi Arabia, allowing students of both sides to wear religious symbols in government hospitals. Otherwise, the call for religious tolerance sounds hypocritical.
A Saudi student, who recently gained a scholarship to pursue higher medical studies in France, has decided not to go as she has been told that she would not be allowed to wear her hijab there.
H. Abdulhadi, who did not want to give her first name, said she wanted to study Obstetrics and Gynecology in France, and has now decided not to go due to the country's strict rules on hijab. "There should be a clear agreement between our two governments by which Muslims going there for education could keep their hijabs on," she said.
According to an official at the French Embassy, the law does not allow students to wear hijabs in medical schools in France. "This is only in hospitals. They can do what they want outside," he said, adding that the rule is not directed at Muslims alone, but applies to people of all faiths.
"You are not allowed to display any symbols of religion," said the official, adding that this is a law that cannot be changed and is followed in some other countries.
Abdulhadi, who has already spent over SR7,000 studying French, said she is not worried about wasting the money and losing her scholarship. "The hijab is part of my faith, something that I cannot ignore. ... Officials need to sort this out," she added.
Another medical student, who is currently in France, said she faced few problems when she first arrived in France to learn French.
However, she was told she could not keep her hijab on when she started her medicine course. She added that some students, based on fatwas issued by imams in France, took their hijabs off, while others decided to cut short their education and return to Saudi Arabia.
"We are only hoping to get an education to help people in the Kingdom. We try and preserve our religion as much as we can," said the medical student, who uses a bandana to cover her hair, something that she says looks "bizarre."
A group of Saudi students in France have complained to the Saudi Embassy in France. However, nothing has happened and they have been advised that this is the law in France. "They should stop scholarships to France, because of this," said a student who did not want her name published.
A source at the Academic Affairs at the Saudi Embassy in France said that women students have not been harassed and that they have not received any complaints.
He also said that students know the rules and are encouraged to adhere to them. He added that doctors are not allowed to wear the hijab due to reasons relating to cleanliness.
Ahmed Al-Ghamdi, head of the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Makkah, said the West "promotes freedom for everyone, including homosexuals, and by banning the hijab they contradict what they stand for."
Al-Ghamdi said students should not take off their hijab in the face of difficulties. They should ask those responsible to interfere or, alternatively, travel to other countries, which do not have these types of rules.
"People must be proud of their religion and must not give up," said Al-Ghamdi.
Source: Arab News (English)