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Reader Question: Can I wear a hijab or headscarf while visiting France?

Foreign media often refer to France as having a 'hijab ban' - while this is not the case, there are some restrictions around wearing the Muslim headscarf in France. We look at what this means for visitors.

Reader Question: Can I wear a hijab or headscarf while visiting France?
Members of the pro-burkini association « Alliance Citoyenne » in 2022 (Photo by JEFF PACHOUD / AFP)

Question: We would love to come to France for a family holiday, but we are Muslim and several members of the family wear the hijab. Is it true that this is banned in France?

In August, the French government banned pupils or teachers from wearing abayas – a loose-fitting modest dress usually worn by Muslim women – in public schools,  

The government argued that the garment constitutes a symbol of religion, and therefore contradicts France’s strict principle of state secularism. The rule was an extension to existing rules around secularism (laïcité) which do not allow the wearing of hijabs in French schools.

While there are rules in place around the wearing of any types of religious garment – from a hijab to a kippah to a crucifix – most of them do not affect visitors to the country.


In 2010, France brought in a complete ban on clothing that includes full-face coverings such as the burkha or niqab – these cannot be worn in any public space and you risk a €150 fine for doing so. One source of confusion for foreigners is the French word voile (veil) which is sometimes used interchangeably to talk about both burkhas and hijabs. Technically, the correct term for a full-face covering in French would be a voile intégral.

There is also a ban on wearing the full-body swimsuit known as the burkini in municipal swimming pools – it is allowed on the beach (after France’s state council overturned bans imposed by some local authorities) and in private pools.

As for sport, France’s Constitutional Council said in a June ruling that French sporting federations can choose to impose dress requirements on players in competitions and sporting events “to guarantee the smooth running of matches without any clashes or confrontations”.

As such, it upheld a rule by the French Football Federation (FFF) against wearing “any sign or clothing clearly showing political, philosophical, religious or union affiliation” during play. This therefore bans players from wearing the hijab when taking part in a game on FFF-owned pitches, but it does not cover spectators. 

Federations for other sports, such as rugby, have opted against a ban. Female rugby players can wear a hijab during matches “provided it does not constitute a danger to the wearer or other players.” Handball and judo also permit the wearing of hijabs, and the French Tennis Federation simply requires that “clothing compatible with the practice of the sport” be worn.

Competitors at the Paris Olympics in 2024 will be allowed to wear a hijab to compete, as will spectators.

No ban

On the other hand, there is no general ban when it comes to hijabs, headscarves or abayas.

This means that a foreigner visiting France can be assured that they are permitted to wear their hijab (or their abaya) while walking down a street, touring a museum, taking public transportation or any other activity in the public space.

The rules around wearing religious clothing like large Christian crosses, the Sikh turban or kippas, really only apply to government buildings and public employees – so are unlikely to affect visitors.

For example, public schools are considered government buildings, and as such students and teachers cannot wear overt signs of religion. That’s also the reason why schools do not have religious assemblies, and at Christmas do not perform nativity plays or display a crib.

That being said, a person visiting a French school would be permitted to wear a hijab, since they are not a pupil or a teacher.

Likewise although public employees in buildings like the préfecture would not be allowed to wear a hijab while they are at work (although they are free to do so in their own time) visitors to these buildings are not affected. 

The hijab ban does not cover universities. 


If all this sounds a little confusing, it might help to look at the philosophy behind the rules.

The background is the French principle of laïcité – or state secularism. It is the idea that everyone in France has the freedom to worship as they choose – but the state itself remains strictly neutral and does not take part in any religious practices.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What does laïcité (secularism) really mean in France?

Because the state must be neutral, public officials – as representatives of the state – cannot wear religious signs. This means that a police officer, préfecture or firefighter, for example, would not be allowed to wear a hijab while at work. What they wear in their own time is entirely their personal choice, as of course is their religion. 

Even though France’s government does not keep track of race or religion, private studies estimate that there were at least 5.7 million French Muslim people as of 2022, making up approximately eight percent of the country’s total population. 

Of that population, plenty of women choose to wear the hijab regularly. A recent study by Insee found that over a quarter (26 percent) of Muslim women aged 18 to 49 in France reported wearing a headscarf.

That being said, it is more common to see women wearing hijabs and headscarves in larger cities, such as Paris or Toulouse than in rural France or small towns.

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Islamic sports body says France hijab ban is ‘against Olympic spirit’

A group of sports federations from Muslim-majority countries said on Monday that France's move to bar its Olympic athletes from wearing the hijab would "send a message of exclusion".

Islamic sports body says France hijab ban is 'against Olympic spirit'

The 57-member Islamic Solidarity Sports Federation (ISSF), based in the Saudi capital Riyadh, voiced “profound concern” over the French decision, which was taken in line with the country’s strict rules on secularism.

French Sports Minister Amelie Oudea-Castera said last month the French government was opposed to any display of religious symbols during sporting events.

“What does that mean? That means a ban on any type of proselytising. That means absolute neutrality in public services,” she told France 3 television.

“The France team will not wear the headscarf.”

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Does France really have a hijab ban?

The ISSF said in its statement on Monday that the hijab was “an aspect of many Muslim women’s identity and should be respected”, adding that the French ban could prevent some French Muslim athletes from competing.

“The Olympics have historically celebrated diversity, unity and athletic excellence,” the statement said.

“By implementing a hijab ban for their athletes, a host would send a message of exclusion, intolerance and discrimination that goes against the Olympic spirit.”

The statement urged French authorities “to reconsider this ban” and called for “meaningful engagement with the Muslim sports community in France.”

The ISSF was founded in 1985 to serve members of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, based in the Saudi city of Jeddah, “in all aspects of sports activities”, according to its website.

It has organised five editions of the Islamic Solidarity Games, most recently last year in Turkey.

The UN human rights office has not addressed France’s hijab ban for its athletes directly, but a spokeswoman said last week that “no-one should impose on a woman what she needs to wear or not wear.”