The ban on wearing the abaya at school was defied by a few dozen students, a very small minority, during the start of the school year on September 4. The Minister stands ready to count other cases, while the Council of State must decide on the measure.

[Updated September 5, 2023 at 10:27 a.m.] The ban on wearing the abaya was massively respected on the first day of school. Only 298 people, out of the 12 million students expected for the start of the school year, showed up in abayas or qamis according to the report drawn up by the Minister of National Education, Gabriel Attal, at the microphone of BFMTV this Tuesday, September 5. Among them, the “vast majority complied with the rule” after the “phase of explanations, of dialogue” with the educational teams and 67 people refusing to remove the garment “went home”.

If the balance sheet does not seem important given the number of French students, the minister warns that it is not final. “Yesterday, for high schools, in most cases, it was mainly the second who were back to school”, so it remains to be seen whether first and final year high school students will comply or not with the ban on wearing the abaya. . We must also expect to see the students wearing the abaya return “since they must be educated, and we will see if they have complied with the rule or not”, notes the minister.

The figures put forward by Gabriel Attal confirm that the subject of the abaya concerns only a minority of students, yet both the minister and the head of state insist on the need for the measure. “There is no place for religious signs” at school, underlined Emmanuel Macron, Monday evening, during his interview with Hugo deciphers. “School must remain this neutral place” added the President of the Republic who joins his minister on the usefulness of “discussing [and] explaining” the principle of secularism to students while remaining “intractable and clear”.

The ban on wearing the abaya in schools has turned into a wide-ranging debate, so much so that Emmanuel Macron had to recall that the measure was not the “most important” subject of the start of the school year. But for some, the subject is on the contrary fundamental and justifies filing an appeal before the Council of State. This is what the association Action Droits des Musulmans (ADM) did to have the measure suspended. The Defender of Rights, Claire Héron, was also seized by the association.

ADM’s lawyers denounce “an attack on the education” and “privacy” of Muslim or presumed Muslim children, and a measure that risks creating “a risk of ethnic profiling at school” and could have social, cultural or educational consequences.

On the other hand, the association points to “unjustified interference in the exercise of Muslim worship” by the State and sees in it “a serious and manifestly illegal attack on freedom of worship”. This point could be double-edged and serve the association: if the wearing of the abaya falls under the practice of Muslim worship, it can then be considered as an ostentatious sign of religious affiliation and justified the ban decided by the ministry. of National Education, because all ostentatious religious symbols are prohibited in school as provided for in Article L. 141-5-1 of the Education Code.

The decision of the Council of State on the appeal filed for interim release by ADM is expected within 48 hours from September 5. The court may have to rule on another appeal that La France insoumise plans to file.

In this note unveiled by Le Parisien, we learn that from the first day of the school year, Monday September 4, no student wearing the abaya or the qamis will be able to attend classes. The student will however be received in the establishment for “an exchange” during which the new rules will be explained to him, but also the sanctions that he or she incurs. If he or she refuses to give up his outfit, “a disciplinary procedure will have to be initiated”, clearly states the note signed by Gabriel Attal. The procedure may go as far as a possible exclusion of the student, we learn again.

“This procedure cannot be a negotiation, in any form whatsoever”, insists in his note the Minister of National Education. And to add: “Its objective is to put a rapid and lasting end to the behavior constituting a disorder in the proper functioning of the school.”

Gabriel Attal was firm on the ban on wearing the abaya at school. But when there is no consensus on the religious character of the garment, how does he plan to go about it? The minister sent Thursday, August 31 a “memorandum” specifying the terms of this ban on schools and had previously indicated, at a press conference on August 28, that the “vade-mecum of secularism” was going to be “updated “.

In this note, the ministry specifies that: “The rise in power of the wearing of abaya or qamis type outfits has given rise to a large number of questions about what to do. The wearing of such outfits, which ostensibly manifest in the school environment a religious affiliation, cannot be tolerated there.”

The Minister of National Education believes that “in the vast majority of cases, things will be resolved, from the first days, through dialogue.” To help school heads implement the ban, “human support” is planned for the start of the school year and, in schools that request it, “secularism teams” from the rectorate will be deployed on site. In addition to administrative solutions, the minister says he is counting on “education” and “exchange with families” to understand the decision and respect the ban. In the most difficult cases, “a letter signed by (the) hand” of the minister will be intended for the families concerned. A “human support procedure” must also be created with the help of “secularism and values ​​of the Republic teams of rectorates, secularism trainers” who will travel to French establishments.

It is a traditional clothing exclusively for women and from Islamic culture. This long dress is intended to cover the entire woman’s body except for the face, hands and feet. Camouflaging the shapes of the body, the abaya is a sign of modesty in Islamic culture. This garment can be considered as an extension of the veil which must cover the woman’s hair and is adopted by some Muslim women. Often black, abaya models have taken on color in recent years.

Wearing the abaya is not systematically obligatory for Muslim women, it depends on the legislation of each state. In Saudi Arabia, other Gulf countries and even Iran, all women, whether Muslim or not, are forced to wear the abaya. But the countries where wearing this long dress is obligatory are not in the majority; in the rest of the Middle East clothing is not compulsory, any more than in the Maghreb. The forced wearing of the abaya is often decided in countries where power is closely linked to religion: where Sharia governs the laws or in Islamic Republics for example. Even in these countries, senior religious dignitaries are campaigning for the compulsory wearing of the abaya to be abolished and for the choice to be up to women.

The qamis is in a way the male counterpart of the abaya. Clothing also comes from Islamic culture, but is reserved for men. It looks like a long tunic which, as for women, must camouflage the shapes of the body and respect modesty. The shape of the qamis is reminiscent of other similar clothing, but named differently depending on the geographical area: the djellaba in North Africa or the boubou in West Africa. Note that these clothes are worn by both men and women.

For Muslims who practice the strictest religious precepts, it is appropriate for men and women to cover the intimate parts of their bodies, especially during religious celebrations or prayers. Women are then required to cover their entire body and hair with the exception of the face, hands and feet while men must cover themselves at least from the waist to the knees or from the upper body to the knees in the presence of women. Abayas and qamis allow these religious principles to be respected. The religious character given to these clothes is also linked to the tradition and practices of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. The hadiths, prophetic stories, claim in particular that the prophet wore the qamis. Clothing is therefore a way to get closer to or imitate the example of Mohammed.

The origin of the abaya and the qamis could also be more cultural than religious. The existence of similar clothing, but yet without a direct link to Islam as seen earlier in this article, feeds this thesis. It should also be noted that the Koran does not explicitly mention the wearing of the abaya or the qamis as Muslim precepts and is content to request modesty and the absence of vanity from the faithful. Modesty can actually go through the way of dressing without requiring the wearing of a long dress as proven by Muslim women who have chosen not to wear the abaya.

Over time, wearing the abaya and qamis in the Islamic world may have become a dress habit more than a religious symbol. A nuance made by certain teachers contacted by Le Monde who observe that “students and sometimes their families frequently deny any religious dimension to the wearing of these outfits highlighting their cultural character”. The question then is how to recognize the worship practice or the cultural habit. The vice-president of the French Council for Muslim Worship (CFCM), Abdallah Zekri, agrees and said on BFMTV that “the abaya is not a religious outfit, it’s a form of fashion”.

The “values ​​of the Republic” units of the Ministry of National Education explained at the end of 2022 in a letter that Le Monde consulted that it is necessary to distinguish ostensibly religious signs from those “which are not by nature signs of religious affiliation ” but which can become so “with regard to behavior”. Abayas and qamis belong to this second category. It is then necessary to know if they relate to worship or culture, using several clues such as the regularity of wearing the outfit, “the persistence of the refusal to take it off” or “the fact that it is “are traditional outfits worn during religious festivals”, specifies the note. However, it is difficult to carry out an individual assessment of the wearing of the abaya or qamis for each student. Didier Georges, principal and national secretary of SNPDEN-UNSA, told Le Monde that “there may be pitfalls but, most of the time, school leaders know how to say what they are”. He welcomed that a decision had “finally been taken” by the ministry.