Once again, a political intention, related to religious symbolism in France, caused tensions within the french society. Education Minister Gabriel Attal intends to ban the so – called “Abayas”, a kind of dress, which is worn by the mass of women in Muslim countries, in French schools. The reason for this is that according to Attal the “Abayas” are religious symbols, which have already been banned in all schools in the country since 2004.
The minister plans to communicate the new regulation at the beginning of the new school year 2023 (school starts on the 4th of September in France). Attal spoke to the French media as follows: “I will give the school teachers clear rules at the national level before the schools start again on 4th of September. I intend that the wearing of the Abayas will be prohibited nationwide in the future.”
France sees itself as a secular society. Secularism predetermines that state and religion must be strictly separated from each other. It is therefore necessary, from the point of view of the French Government, to create a framework in which school children can live in freedom and emancipate themselves at the national schools. This includes, according to Attal, who is in office since July 2023, that upon entering the classrooms, it should not be recognizable which religion the students belong to. In contrast to his predecessors, Attal stepped up the “Abayas” as a religious symbol immediately after taking office, and immediately announced that he would act against them.
Already in 1994, a law in France came into force, which allowed only discreet, but not conspicuous religious symbols in schools. Ten years later, in 2004, religious symbols were completely banned in schools. For this reason, religious symbols such as the Islamic headscarf, the Christian cross, or even the Jewish Kippa are also banned in French schools. Since 2010, the ban on full veiling in public has also been added to the law.
In the Muslim community in France in particular, there are regular intensification of the prohibitions on religious symbolism for displeasers. Thus, an imam of a mosque in Marseille commented the situation to the media as follows: “what’s next? In the future, is it not possible for men to wear a beard anymore, because this can also be attributed to religious reasons? We have the right to live our religion and traditions accordingly. Who does it hurt when a Muslim woman wears an Abaya? Why is there no discussion about a “Jogger”, but about a Abaya? This is a piece of clothing from a different cultural circle. The Abaya is not primarily intended to be used during the prayers.”
In fact, the Abaya is an overdress, which is worn by a majority of women in their everyday life. In certain regions of Arab countries, the Abaya symbolizes the social and religious environment of a woman due to its processing or ornamentation. Not only in the Arabian Peninsula, but also in countries such as Indonesia, Pakistan, but also India, these garments are worn. Since the Abayas are always high – closed, long – sleeved and have a floor – length cut they are also suitable for use as prayer robes. A similar example are the Gallabijas, which are widespread in North Africa. This piece of clothing, which is mainly worn by men, is suitable as a prayer wall due to its floor – length cut, but is used in everyday life, especially in rural areas, in a wide variety of uses. In this way, both farmers, as well as wealthy businessmen, wear these robes.
Needless to say, political calculus like this resonates with these thematic areas. Therefore, the different political camps try to position themselves accordingly. For example, the Muslim umbrella organisation CFCM expressed its concerns about the Minister’s deliberations. On the contrary, the Abayas are a piece of clothing, not a religious symbol and, for this reason, also not a subject of the current debate. Members of the left – wing political party LFI, above all Clémentine Autain, are seeing things quite similar, stating, that the planning of the Minister of Education is an unconstitutional step and warns of a dress police at French schools.
Republican Party leader Eric Ciotti advocated the announcement of the education minister. Bruno Bobkiewicz, Secretary General of the head of the school’s, also welcomed the fact that there will be now clear instructions for the directors to avoid further missunderstandings.
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