France will ban youngsters in public colleges from carrying the abaya, a loosefitting, full-length gown worn by some Muslim girls, the federal government stated this week. It stated the measure was essential to stem a rising variety of disputes in its secular faculty system.
However critics referred to as the ban a discriminatory policing of youngsters’ clothes, fueling one more debate in France over the best way Muslim girls costume, which has turn out to be a recurring flashpoint within the nation’s relations with its Muslim minority.
Since 2004, center and high-school college students in France have been barred from carrying “ostentatious” symbols which have a transparent spiritual that means, like a Catholic cross, a Jewish skullcap or a Muslim head scarf. Since 2011, it has additionally been unlawful to put on a face-covering veil in public in France. French folks broadly agree with these guidelines.
The abaya, nevertheless — an extended costume that covers the legs and arms, however not the arms, ft or head — falls right into a grey space. Whereas it’s common within the Gulf and in some Arab international locations, it doesn’t have a transparent spiritual significance.
In France, it’s principally worn by Muslim girls who need to observe the Quran’s teachings on modesty. Headmasters had voiced concern over the previous yr that they wanted clear directions from the federal government on tips on how to cope with a small however rising variety of college students coming to class carrying abayas.
This week, the federal government responded.
“The abaya has no place in colleges,” Gabriel Attal, the schooling minister, stated on Monday.
Mr. Attal stated assaults on the precept of laïcité — France’s model of secularism, which ensures freedom of conscience but in addition the neutrality of the state and of some public areas — had “elevated significantly” in French colleges.
“Once you enter a classroom, you shouldn’t be in a position to distinguish or establish the scholars’ faith by them,” Mr. Attal advised the TF1 tv channel on Sunday.
Laïcité applies to quite a few public establishments — public hospital staff, as an illustration, can’t put on spiritual clothes — and there’s robust cultural aversion to public expressions of religion.
However colleges have traditionally been the focus of debates across the subject.
Laïcité got here out of the Enlightenment philosophy of the 18th century however was additionally the results of a centuries-long battle to reject the dominance of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly in colleges, which at the moment are broadly seen as impartial areas that forge citizenship and the place college students could be shielded from spiritual influences.
“Faculties are nonetheless an emblematic battlefield,” stated Anne-Laure Zwilling, an anthropologist specializing in faith on the CNRS, France’s nationwide public analysis group. “Tensions round laïcité are stronger there.”
France was not too long ago scarred by the killing of Samuel Paty, a instructor who confirmed caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad in school as an example free speech, which led to his beheading in 2020 by an Islamist fanatic.
However a nationwide abaya ban was like “utilizing a bulldozer to crush a fly,” Ms. Zwilling stated, as a result of it introduced disproportionate consideration to a posh subject affecting few college students.
“The identical habits can have a very totally different that means relying on the particular person and on the context,” she stated.
Official statistics present the variety of incidents associated to laïcité reported by faculty officers has elevated, to wherever between 200 to 900 monthly over the previous yr, amongst a middle- and high-school pupil inhabitants of almost 6 million.
Unions representing faculty administration officers welcomed the ban, arguing the matter shouldn’t have been left to the various interpretations of headmasters scattered throughout roughly 10,000 center and excessive colleges. Trainer unions have been extra circumspect.
Sophie Vénétitay, the top of one of many important instructor unions, referred to as the ban a “political maneuver” by President Emmanuel Macron to curry favor with the best. However, she added, abayas have been an actual subject that ought to neither be “overestimated nor underestimated.”
“There’s could be nothing worse than for these pupils, via provocation, misunderstanding or frustration, to show away from state colleges and go to denominational or personal colleges,” Ms. Vénétitay stated at a information convention.
The French Council of the Muslim Religion, an umbrella group of Muslim organizations, stated that the abaya was not spiritual in its nature, however an ill-defined garment tied to Arab tradition. The federal government shouldn’t resolve what’s spiritual or not, it stated.
“Until all lengthy attire are banned altogether in colleges, for college students and academics, no matter their religion, it is going to be unattainable to use a measure particularly concentrating on the abaya with out falling into the lure of discrimination and arbitrariness,” the Council stated in a assertion.
Opposition events on the best praised the ban, however the left was divided.
“How far will the clothes police go?” stated Clémentine Autain, a lawmaker for the leftist France Unbowed occasion, saying the ban exemplified an “obsessive rejection of Muslims.”
However Jérôme Guedj, a Socialist lawmaker, stated that if abayas have been worn as an ostentatious spiritual image, they clearly violated the regulation. “It isn’t a clothes police however a policing of proselytizing in class,” he stated.
In November, Mr. Attal’s predecessor, Pap Ndiaye, stated headmasters might ban clothes even when it didn’t have any inherent spiritual significance, like lengthy skirts or bandannas, if officers believed that they have been worn “to ostensibly specific a non secular belonging.”
However Mr. Ndiaye — an educational of Senegalese and French descent who was changed after months of vitriolic criticism from the best and much proper — had refused to subject a nationwide ban, arguing that he didn’t need to “publish countless catalogs specifying costume lengths” that might be circumvented or challenged in courtroom.
Ismail Ferhat, a professor on the College of Paris-Nanterre who has studied laïcité in colleges, stated college students typically wore abayas towards their mother and father’ will and famous that elements like social media fads or the teenage need to problem faculty authority additionally performed a task.
However France has grown extra secular over the previous few a long time, Mr. Ferhat stated, and what might need been dismissed prior to now was now being flagged as critical.
“The road between religiously acceptable and unacceptable has modified,” he stated. “And the tutorial institution might be harder on the problem than earlier than.”