CAIRO - France has unveiled a new charter designed to reinforce secular rules banning religion from schools, sparking fresh criticism from Muslim officials who considered it as a veiled attack on their faith.
"We can very well see who (this charter) is addressing, Dalil Boubakeur, new president of the French Council for the Muslim Faith, was quoted by The Telegraph.
"I fear, as was the case in the 2004 law, seeing Muslims of France stigmatized as a whole and that this ban (on religious symbols) will be perceived as too brutal," he added.
Like many of French Muslim leaders, Boubakeur was referring to the Charter for Secularity in School which was released on Monday, September 9.
The charter, which would be displayed in poster form in every state-funded school in the country, was pioneered by the Socialist government's education minister, Vincent Peillon.
"Nobody can say that due to my opinions I'm not going to this or that class or sport, Peillon said as he unveiled the document at a special ceremony at a school near Paris.
The Republic recognizes equality between girls and boys. There is separation of the private and public sphere.
Arising from France's 1905 law on secularism and the separation of the church and the state, the document reminds teacher and pupils of a number of broad Republican principles.
Article 9 states: "Secularism implies the rejection of all violence and all discrimination, guarantees equality between girls and boys, and is based on a culture of respect and understanding of the other."
The charter guarantees the "freedom of expression of ones' convictions" but expects "strict neutrality" from teachers. "They must not show their political or religious convictions in the exercise of their duties."
Underlining the principles of the Enlightenment, Article 12 states: "Lessons are secular ... No student can invoke their political or religious convictions, in order to dispute a teacher's right to address a question on the syllabus."
The charter reaffirms France's 2004 law banning pupils in state schools from wearing any "ostentatious religious symbols".
"Nobody can cite their religious appearance to refuse to obey rules applicable in our schools," states Article 13.
Boubakeur, the chairman of the French Muslim Council, said the charter's emphasis on that law and to the equality of girls and boys amounted to "allusions" to Islam which would trigger concern in the community.
"Ninety percent of Muslims are going to have the feeling they are being targeted by this charter," he told AFP.
Abdallah Zekri, president of the Observatory on Islamophobia said he felt "targeted" by the charter.
"This charter was supposedly made to combat communitarianism," he told Le Parisien.
"But honestly, I feel targeted because now when anyone talks about 'communitarianism,' they're really talking about Muslims," he said.
France is home to a Muslim minority of six millions, Europe's largest.
Muslims and their customs and traditions have been under the spotlight in recent years in France.
Citing the country's "La laÃ¯citÃ©", or secularism, France banned Muslims from wearing hijab, an obligatory code of dress, in public places in 2004.
France also outlawed the wearing of face-veil in public in 2011.
Under former President Nicolas Sarkozy, the French government has also outlawed Muslim street prayers, a sight far-right leader Marine Le Pen likened to the Nazi occupation.
In October, a poll by Ifop's opinion department found that almost half of French see Muslims as a threat to their national identity.
The poll also found that most French see Islam is playing too influential role in their society.