abayas at school, the ambiguities of a ban

abayas at school, the ambiguities of a ban

For the wearing of the abaya by students, it will therefore be a “no” in principle. As he had promised to the rectors of academies on Thursday August 24, then announced on TF1 on Sunday, the new Minister of National Education Gabriel Attal reaffirmed on Monday August 28 during his back-to-school press conference the ban on schools of this loose dress worn by some young Muslim girls.

The Minister specified that he will address in the coming days a ” memo ” which will specify the implementation of the measure and that it will update the reference document, the “vade-mecum of secularism”. To properly engage all the authority of the institution, he will also justify the measure by a letter signed by him that the heads of establishments can send to the families concerned.

A recent wave that worries

Nearly twenty years after the 2004 law prohibiting the conspicuous wearing of religious symbols at school, the minister raises his voice in the face of a practice that is still recent but which, in the age of social networks, is taking on a scale that disconcerts certain establishments .

In June 2022, a note had landed on the desk of the new Minister of Education Pap Ndiaye. The document was signed by the council of secular elders, the direction of school education as well as the “values ​​center of the Republic” of the institution. It alerts on this new wave of abayas (and to a lesser extent, on the wearing of qamis by boys). “The consequences could be, on the one hand, the multiplication of these outfits out of social conformity and concern for community belonging and, on the other hand, the appearance of conflicts and disturbances in the functioning of the school or the ‘establishment’, is alarmed the document that The cross was able to consult. He calls for a strong and clear response from the institution.

But Pap Ndiaye does not react, and we have to wait until the start of the 2022 school year for him to recognize the ” phenomenon “. In November, he sends a first note to educational staff. For the minister, these abayas are not in themselves religious clothing, in the same way as the veil or the yarmulke cited by way of example by the 2004 law. establishment, called upon to react “with regard to the behavior of the student”. If the item of clothing is worn on a regular basis, and the student refuses to take it off, it is the outfit that he also wears for religious holidays, penalties may be incurred.

“We were left in a difficult interpretation situation, regrets Carole Zerbib, member of SNPDEN, the main union of school heads. There is unequal treatment from one high school to another and, for some colleagues, the fear of intervening, especially since the assassination of Samuel Paty. »

The abaya, a difficult definition

A few weeks after taking office, Gabriel Attal marked his difference from his predecessor by asserting that abayas are indeed religious clothing as such, which must therefore fall within the scope of the 2004 law. change of doctrine, the shift highlights a style, a temperament. According to our information, Pap Ndiaye’s cabinet was already working on a new firmer instruction in view of the current start of the school year. The latest reports from the administration showed a worrying increase in reports of attacks on secularism linked in particular to religious dress, and professional organizations were urging the minister to intervene. “Pap Ndiaye was not on this line of firmness, but reality imposed itself on him” analyzes Alain Seksig, secretary general of the Council of Elders, who welcomes the rapid reaction of his successor. “From now on, things are said. »

Is the ban on abayas in principle legally sound? The association La Vigie de la laïcité (which notably brought together lawyers or researchers worried about an intransigent conception of secularism) doubts it. It published, Monday, August 28, a press release which recalls the circular of application of the law of 2004. “the wearing of which leads to immediate recognition by its religious appearance”. However, it seems difficult to prohibit any loose dress that can be worn without any religious reference. What definition will the ministry give of the abaya? “A general ban, without taking into account behavior indicating religious affiliation, of any covering dress, (…) would refer to a perfectly counter-productive clothing policy” warns La Vigie of secularism.

Abayas worn “out of modesty”

In this sense, the French Council for Muslim Worship (CFCM) immediately criticized Gabriel Attal’s announcement. He dreads that the abaya is defined only “in a purely arbitrary way, depending on the “profile” of the girls and women who wear it, their origin and their supposed religiosity”. Unless you simply forbid the wearing of any long dress at school“it will be impossible to apply a measure specifically targeting the ‘abaya’ without falling into the trap of discrimination”, insists the CFCM.

Legally uncertain, the bet of the prohibition in principle also risks quickly finding the limits of its effectiveness on the ground, because the young women who wear abayas will not lack clothing imagination to circumvent the rule. Carole Zerbib, principal of a vocational high school in Paris, agrees. She is well aware of the arguments of students who retort that they bought their dress in a supermarket or that they wear ” by modesty “. “We know it’s not going to be easy. But showing that we are not fooled, that we value French secularism, is important. » Alain Seksig also admits that the question of religious outfits will not be dealt with in a quarter but judges that it was necessary to go through the ban. “To name a problem is not to solve it, but it is to put oneself in a position to achieve it. It will take time, but we are starting on a clear basis. »

Between pro- and anti-prohibition, the battle will also be very political. For the time being, it is mainly on the left, within the Nupes, that it is digging the first divisions. At the Socialist Party, the decision is welcomed rather favorably: “It’s not a clothing police, but a proselytizing police at school”, thus estimated the deputy Jérôme Guedj, when the mayor of Montpellier, Michaël Delafosse (PS), estimates that “the principle of secularism must be affirmed with clarity”. Conversely, within La France insoumise, we see a new expression of Islamophobia. MP LFI Clémentine Autain judges this decision “contrary to the founding principles of secularism” And “symptomatic of the obsessive rejection of Muslims”. On the right, the boss of the Republicans, Éric Ciotti, welcomed the decision of the Minister of National Education.


The other projects of the Minister of Education

Better pay teachers. All will earn €158 net more per month on average at the start of the school year. Volunteers will earn €1,131 net per year more, in return for new assignments.

Fight against teacher absenteeism, by organizing administrative tasks and continuing education outside class attendance times and by organizing short-term replacements between colleagues.

Organize a “fundamental knowledge shock”, emphasizing French and mathematics.

Split classes in priority education, limit enrollment everywhere else to 24 students from the Grande section to CE1.

Shorten the holidays of children who need tutoring by generalizing pre-entry refresher courses and the “homework done” system everywhere.

Promoting the inclusion of students with disabilities by opening one Ulis class per middle school by 2027.

Renovate 10,000 schools by 2027.


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