This article demonstrates that the struggle over the Muslim ‘veil’ in public schools, which is related to tensions between the norms of secular democracy and principles of religious tolerance, has also become a topic of debate in Cameroon. I take the life of a young woman, Maimouna, whose life I have followed for 22 years, as a point of departure, and place it in the historical and social contexts of her society. I try not only to negotiate presuppositions about women and Islam in order to challenge notions of Muslim women as a homogeneous category, but also to challenge the automatic association of Islam, fundamentalism and the debate on veiling. In this debate it is often taken for granted that women have no say over their own lives. I show not only that the wishes of diverse groups of women living in Muslim societies may vary, but also that in a single woman's life her views may change. I explore how aspects of the new fundamentalist discourse (in which education for women is of importance) – against a background in which political and religious leaders, as in the past, cooperate closely – come to the fore in the subject of veiling. Religious and political councils initiate the foundation of private Islamic schools that are built with money from Saudi Arabian NGOs. In these schools women may wear headgear, which they have to take off in public schools in accordance with the laic prescriptions of Cameroon's constitution. The incessant change of views on veiling is linked to local, national and international contexts, but in a different way at each level. The story of Maimouna indicates that modernity is gendered. In the fundamentalist discourse in Cameroon in which veiling has acquired significance, men opt for another type of school where veiling is allowed, while women opt for education.