Il The ban on abaya in French schools raises questions about identity, religious freedom, and secularism. While the abaya represents an important element of Islamic culture and tradition, the 2004 law on secularism prohibits religious symbols in schools. The debate raises relevant questions regarding religious freedom and the principle of secularism, and requires a balance between individual expression and the principle of state neutrality..
The ban on abaya in French schools is at the center of a heated debate that raises crucial questions regarding identity, religious freedom and secularity. The abaya, a female garment in some Muslim countries, is a black gown that covers the whole body, except for the head, hands and feet. The discussion was initiated by the French Minister of Education, Gabriel Attal, who took office on 20th July 2023. The Minister highlighted that in France, a secular nation, the abaya is prohibited in schools according to the 2004 law on secularism against symbols religious.
The dress represents an element deeply rooted in Islamic culture and traditions. In fact, it is often a way to cover one's body and show oneself in a sober, respectful way and in line with religious devotion. However, its meaning and interpretation can vary according to the cultural and personal context. While for some women wearing the abaya is a choice of faith, for others it can represent a symbol of resistance against cultural and gender standardization.
Education Minister Gabriel Attal said: <<>strong>It will no longer be possible to wear the abaya at school
The debate on the issue raises relevant questions. On the one hand, there is the importance of respecting religious freedom and the right of people to express their religious identity through clothing. On the other hand, the principle of secularism, which is fundamental in the French context, and seeks to maintain a clear separation between religion and state institutions, is underlined.
Former French President Jacques Chirac strongly backed the 2004 secularism law, also known as the “law on the display of religious symbols in public schools". The objective of the law is to preserve the neutrality of the state with respect to religions and to promote equality among all citizens. The law particularly prohibits the display of visible religious symbols in public places, including public schools. However, its application has been controversial in the years following its adoption, especially towards female Muslim students wearing the Islamic headscarf.
However, this law does not specifically mention the abaya, thus opening a debate on how this garment should be considered. Some proponents of the abaya as a cultural expression believe that it is not a direct religious symbol and, therefore, should not fall into the category of prohibited religious symbols.
From an Islamic point of view, the abaya is interpreted from different perspectives. While for some it represents a garment of modesty, for others, however, the abaya can be a means to avoid unwanted attention and promote self-esteem. In other words, some women may choose to wear the abaya to feel safe and secure, or to express their personal style and cultural identity. Nevertheless, the central aspect of the discussion remains whether the abaya should be considered as a religious symbol, therefore subject to the restrictions of the law on secularism.
The French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM) intervened with an official communiqué on the matter: <<It is enough to visit some Arab country to realize that the abaya is worn by people of all religious denominations. We are witnessing yet another debate on Islam with the usual collection of stigmatization and clichés”.
The debate over the use of the abaya in French schools raises complex questions regarding identity, religious freedom and secularism. On the one hand, it is important to respect individual religious convictions, while, on the other hand, it is equally crucial to maintain a balance between personal expression and the principle of secularity.
Finding a balance between the right of each individual to express their identity and beliefs, and the principle of state neutrality with respect to different religions and beliefs, is essential. This balance implies that every individual has the right to express their faith and practice their religion, but in compliance with the laws and principles of coexistence of secular society. At the same time, the State must ensure that no religion or belief is privileged or imposed on individuals, in order to protect the freedom of thought and religion of all citizens.
The goal is to reconcile the right to individual expression with the principle of state neutrality, thus promoting an inclusive society that respects different identities and beliefs.
In conclusion, it is important to keep in mind that political clashes can have repercussions on the polarisation of social debate and fuel an "absurd religious war". France, in seeking a solution to this debate, will have to carefully consider the cultural, religious and social implications linked to the use of the abaya in educational institutions.