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The Abaya Debate in French Schools: What is at Issue?

Freshly appointed to the Ministry of National Education, Gabriel Attal made the inaugural decision to ban the abaya in schools. However, it is worth noting that this demand came from several school principals who were unhappy to see their classrooms filled with young women in abayas.

While most political parties have praised the minister’s initiative, an essential question arises. Yesterday, the Council of State was seized by a request from a Muslim association and rendered its verdict on the matter. According to the highest French administrative authority, wearing the abaya falls under “religious assertion.” In this regard, the judges are not wrong. However, is this a problem that we have created ourselves in France?

The issue of the veil in schools has shaken the political sphere and administrative justice since the Kherouaa case, presented before the Council of State in 1989. The administrative judge had decided by shifting the responsibility for this decision to school principals. If the “veil problem” arises in France and not elsewhere, it is because France is one of the few secular republics in the world. And this secularism applies to schools, which are a quintessential public service. During Chirac’s mandate, the legislator later settled the issue by simply banning the veil. However, the media debate continues to rage.

By focusing its policy on the “fight against Islamism” and focusing on manifestations of “Islam” such as the headscarf, the French legislator has transformed a “religious” issue into a “political question.” Beyond religious assertion, the “headscarf” has become a form of “political assertion” for a group that claims to be “victims of rejection” by the state. In other countries, the question of the headscarf has never arisen because there has never been a debate on the subject. Perhaps the French integrationist model, in contrast to the Anglo-Saxon communitarian model, explains this difference in how the issue is treated.

Perhaps the abaya was a form of identity assertion, while the headscarf was completely prohibited in the school environment. It was another way to assert one’s religion when the headscarf was banned. In this sense, the administrative justice ruled in favor of the state. However, administrative judges are not qualified to judge the “opportunity” of an administrative decision.

In this sense, the ban on the abaya, following the same logic and steps as the ban on the headscarf a few years earlier, was precipitated by Gabriel Attal to avoid a significant problem. However, it carries the risk of exacerbating the sense of rejection among Muslims and creating a “significant gap” between the expectations of the French and political decisions. Most families today are embroiled in crises and face much more significant problems than the abaya.

In the end, according to information from the newspaper Libération, 300 girls showed up wearing abayas, but only 67 returned home. On the other hand, news broadcasts of all persuasions inundated the start of the school year with this highly controversial issue. The sense of rejection among Muslims intensifies.”

C.E.O HELL SINKY, author, journalist, documentary

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