Cultural or religious, the abaya? Huge question. This Arabic word – which means dress, or coat – refers to a loose garment worn by Gulf women outside their homes. Traditionally black, it is now available, thanks to the spread of so-called “Islamic” fashion, in all shades of gray or brown, or even in pastel colors, sometimes adorned with a slight golden border. So many tokens of modernity that have undoubtedly facilitated its arrival in our major “fast fashion” chains… and in the wardrobes of a certain number of young French women.
In which category should it be placed? The question is sensitive because if it were considered only as cultural, it would have had the right of citizenship in our colleges and high schools. While switching to the religious box, it can be proscribed. It agitates the national education staff and puts their new minister, Gabriel Attal, barely appointed and already confronted with the thorny application of secularism at school, up against the wall.
But, in this case, these legal categories only imperfectly reflect a complex reality. Even the idea that “the best way to decide is to survey the interested parties” has its limits. How to ask these young French women who have chosen to cover themselves with an abaya what makes this garment attractive to them? What teenager is able to describe the underlying reasons that led him to choose such and such a look, apart from the desire to look like – to identify with – those who wore it before him? There is no other choice, for national education, than to start from the criteria of the law on the wearing of religious symbols. But we must also measure that the ban will necessarily be misunderstood by young girls in full quest for identity.