Hijab and the City defies French Muslim stereotypes

By Gerry Hadden

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How to integrate Muslims into France's secular state? That's a seemingly endless debate these days. And it's causing an uproar. But Mariame and Kadija Tighanimine, French Muslims of Moroccan origin would rather go shopping. Or at least promote it, on their webzine Hijab and the City. The name is a riff off a television show you probably know.

"We're businesswomen," said Mariame in a recent interview in Paris. "Hijab and the City is our webzine where we talk to our audience about shopping and other normal things. The political debate is just noise for us. It doesn't mean anything."

Mariam and Kadija are attractive twenty-something sisters. They consider themselves French, who happen to be Muslim. Although their religion is important to them, both wear the hijab, or headscarf that covers the hair and wraps around the shoulders. But as the webzine's name says, the hijab isn't everything.

"The hijab in the name doesn't mean we only want to attract practicing Muslim women," said Kadija. "It just a reference to Mariam and me. The city part of the name reflects our urban spirit. These two elements come together on the webzine. Islamism and city life."

Hijab and the City has over 90 thousand subscribers, mostly women, from all walks of life, Muslim and non-Muslim. It has a popular shopping guide, a beauty section and a forum for discussions that range from single life to dating to politics. And they hold brunches here in their little office. Brunches, they say, that do a lot more for French society than the political debate on Islam versus secularism.

The website also has a popular video. Each week the sisters drape a presidential sash over someone's shoulders and ask, What would you do if you were president?

In one video a 25 year old lawyer named Nassima says the first thing she'd do is fix France's housing shortage. The sisters then ask where she'd live as president, and who'd be her 'first man.'

"I'd choose someone who gives France a good image," she said. "Because I can't say that our politicians are very handsome! He'd have to have class. A bit like Matt Damon."

Matt Damon in the Elysee Palace is hardly journalistic hardball, but that's just fine, says Mariam. They want to show that women are women first, regardless of their politics, or religion. It unites them, Kadija said, despite what politicians might have you believe.

"We shouldn't take the French for imbeciles," she said. "People know what's going on. They know when the politicians are manipulating them."

Perhaps, but anti-Muslim sentiment has risen in France in recent years. And far right politicians used the issue yet again to make gains in last month's local elections.

"We can't just sit in a corner like victims," said Kadija, "waiting for someone to extend a helping hand. Fighting online is really the way to go."

Fighting by being perfectly normal, she said. Muslim and French. Religious and at home in a secular state.