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Sunday, 7 April 2013

Alma And Levi - The Two French Sisters' Story of Transformation

Laurent Levy, an Atheist Jew, noticed dramatic changes in his two daughters - Alma and Lila Lévy-Omari, but he did not attribute much importance to them. One day, the two girls stopped eating pork. A while later, they informed him that they intended to fast during the holy Muslim month of Ramadan. then the sisters informed him of their intention to pray five times a day, as commanded by the Qur'an. There is no reason why they shouldn't do this, thought the father. Then they stopped going to the beach and wearing bathing suits. At night the two sat and learned chapters of the Qur'an by heart. Friends in the neighborhood and at school were amazed by the change in the two cheerful young women. Gradually they began to wrap themselves in long clothing, even in the summer, and covered their legs with thick stockings.

A little while later, the transformation was completed. Lila and Alma donned scarves and covered their heads. At school they stopped talking to boys. They did not take part in physical education classes, as they were required to wear gym clothes that they felt revealed too much of their bodies.

According to the father, his daughters were captivated by the Muslim religion and he found himself helpless in the face of their accelerated transformation. All his life he had loathed religious beliefs of any sort and blamed them for ignorance and various kinds of distress. He preached secularism and joined the movements of the extreme left, because he only felt at home there.

The two sisters were called into the office of the principal of the Henri Wallon High School, where they studied. Their external appearance, they were informed, was causing ferment among the students, and therefore they must dress like the others; if not, they would be expelled. The girls refused. The school sent a letter to their parents and warned of the steps it was about to take. The parents, who are divorced, defended their daughters, each in his or her own way: The mother, a non-practicing Muslim, tried to moderate her daughters' stubbornness, the father supported their struggle.

The two sisters were suspended from school until the convening of a disciplinary committee that was supposed to decide their fate. The media depicted the affair as a test of the state's secularism, and the story quickly hit the headlines. The intellectual community was in an uproar, as were local political institutions; both intellectuals and politicians openly applied pressure on the school's disciplinary committee members to reach a decision that reflected their point of view.

Before the girls were suspended from school, they were asked to remove their head coverings because of their religious significance. The school authorities relied on a law concerning the separation of church and state, and argued that the head coverings violated the spirit of the law.

The disciplinary committee met at the school. Dozens of journalists crowded into the entrance to the school, and television cameras broadcast live the arrival of the girls and their father. The deliberations began at 6 P.M. and went on until after midnight. The French waited for the committee's ruling as if the future of the French Republic depended on the decision of a few members of the school board of an obscure suburb of Paris.

At the end of the discussion, the members of the Levy family left the hall. The expressions on their faces testified to what had happened inside. "This was not a pedagogical discussion," one of the teachers told the journalists. "It was like a court martial." Another teacher, with a broad smile on his face, related that the correct and inevitable decision had been taken. "We decided to expel them from the school," he said, "because the internal `balance' in France makes it essential that a head covering not cover the hair, the ears or the base of the neck. It turns out that Muslim young women do not want to expose these parts.'

"This shows how low France has sunk." Levy told Haaretz two days later. He couldn't fall asleep that night, nor could his daughters. They read verses of the Qur'an. "I was proud of them," he added. "I educated my children to be rebellious and I am proud that they have followed in my footsteps."

"Let there be no doubt," added Levy, "I know that the disciplinary committee's decision was taken at the highest levels of the country's government. Only someone who isn't French is unable to understand this country's insanity when it comes to the veil. Say `head covering' to a French person and they're ready to embark on a civil war. I'm a leftist and definitely a secular person, but as I see it, secularism is the freedom to act on your religious beliefs without the government interfering."

"Members of the disciplinary committee demanded that the girls expose parts of their bodies... Since when, I asked them, can people be forced to expose their bodies? To my regret, this was an embarrassing spectacle. None of them listened to me because the outcome was predetermined."

Hundreds of girls like Lila and Alma Levy are forced to make a decision: to take off the scarf and continue their education or to insist on wearing it and face exclusion and even humiliation.

One of the reasons some politicians and scholars cite for supporting the ban of the head covering is that the scarf - in their view - is a universal symbol of women being oppressed by men.

Alma says: "In my point of view, if you want to defend an oppressed woman, then don't oppress another one."

Whats amazing in this story is the fact that the difference in religion never stood as an obstacle in front of love. The father is an Atheist from Jewish ancestry, but he supported his daughters until the end. All respects to Mr Laurent Levy. Also, the fact that the two sisters had a strong will and an iron personality is commendable. In spite of the hard situation, they decided to choose what's right and never give up. These girls serve as a shinning example and an inspiration to every Muslimah struggling in society for their right to follow their faith. May Allah bless them immensely.

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