By Chris King • 28 August 2023 • 0:20
Image of Muslim women wearing traditional abayas.
Credit: Rod Waddington/Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0
A decision taken in the name of secularism will see the wearing of the abaya banned at state schools in France.
It is a move that is supposed to put an end to the controversies surrounding this traditional loose-fitting, full-length robe that is worn by some Muslim students.
Speaking with TF1 this Sunday evening, August 27, Gabriel Attal, the Minister of National Education Gabriel explained: ‘I’ve decided that we can no longer wear abayas to school. You enter a classroom, you must not be able to identify the religion of the students by looking at them’.
Since taking office this summer, Attal had promised firmness on this subject and judged that going to school in an abaya was: ‘A religious gesture, aimed at testing the resistance of the Republic on the secular sanctuary that the School should constitute’.
The question of this traditional garment is sensitive, with the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM) considering for its part that the abaya, a long dress covering the female body, is not a Muslim religious sign.
Haoues Seniguer, a lecturer at the IEP in Lyon and a specialist in Islamism insisted that it was: ‘more ambivalent than a veil’.
According to the French law of March 15, 2004: ‘In schools, colleges and public high schools, the wearing of signs or outfits by which students ostensibly manifest a religious affiliation is prohibited’. A circular specifying these signs included: ‘The Islamic veil, the yarmulke, or a cross of manifestly excessive size’.
In 2010, it passed a ban on full-face veils in public, angering many of its five million-strong Muslim community. Unlike headscarves, the abaya – a garment worn to comply with Islamic beliefs on modest dress – occupied a grey area and faced no outright ban until now.
The French Ministry of Education had already got to grips with the abaya last November. In a circular, it considered this garment – like bandanas and long skirts, which were also mentioned – to be clothing that could be banned if it was: ‘worn in such a way as to ostensibly manifest a religious affiliation’.
Pap Ndiaye, Gabriel Attal’s predecessor, was questioned by the headteachers’ unions about the increase in incidents linked to these dresses, but refused to: ‘publish endless catalogues specifying dress lengths’.
According to a government memo, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, attacks on secularism – which have increased significantly since the murder of teacher Samuel Paty in 2020 on the outskirts of his school – rose by 120 per cent between the 2021/2022 and 2022/2023 school years.
The wearing of signs and dress, which accounts for the majority of attacks, increased by more than 150 per cent over the last school year.
Attal paid tribute to school heads today: ‘who are on the front line when it comes to secular issues’, and promised to meet them ‘next week, to give them all the tools they need to enforce this rule’.
Bruno Bobkiewicz, the general secretary of the National Union of Education Managers, told AFP: ‘The instruction was not clear, but now it is, and we welcome it’.
‘Now that the message is stated, it must be implemented in the establishments. The heads of establishments must not be alone in the face of the abayas’, he added.
On the opposition side, the decision was applauded on the right, led by Eric Ciotti. Posting on X (formerly Twitter) he wrote: ‘We had repeatedly called for a ban on abayas in our schools. I welcome the decision by the Minister for Education, who has proved us right’.
However, on the left, Clémentine Autain was outraged by the ‘dress police’, calling Gabriel Attal’s announcement ‘unconstitutional’ and ‘contrary to the founding principles of secularism’.
He added; ‘It is symptomatic of the obsessive rejection of Muslims. Barely back in office, the Macron government is already trying to take the RN by the right’, as reported by sudinfo.be.
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Originally from Wales, Chris spent years on the Costa del Sol before moving to the Algarve where he is a web reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news.
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