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Abaya Ban: Sparking Culture Clash in Education?

France's Education and Youth Minister Gabriel Attal delivers a speech during the new school year meeting of rectors at the Sorbonne university in Paris on August 24, 2023. (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

French Minister of National Education Gabriel Attal announced on Sunday a ban on the wearing of the abaya, a traditional dress worn by some Muslim students, in public schools. The international press fears a new “culture war” in France.

“The political return to school promises to be hot in France”, with “several burning issues” on the agenda, including the wearing of the abaya at school, which the French government has just banned after “several months ” of controversy, writes the site Observ’Algérie.

Invited Sunday evening of the “20 hours” of TF1, Gabriel Attal announced “that we could no longer wear an abaya at school”, in the name of respect for secularism. “In a classroom, you shouldn’t be able to identify students’ religion by looking at them,” he said.

The abaya is “a long, flowing dress commonly worn by Muslim women”, but also “by other communities in North Africa and the Middle East”, notes the European edition of Politico. Unlike the veil, which has been banned since 2004, its wearing in schools has so far been in a “grey area and has not been specifically prohibited”.

But a recent report from the Ministry of Education, quoted by Il Corriere della Sera, revealed a sharp increase in violations of “the ban on displaying religious symbols” at school, with “more than 4,700 cases reported ” in 2023 alone, stoking the controversy over the abaya, which has become a political object and a headache for school heads.

“France, which has imposed a strict ban on religious symbols in public schools since 19th century laws removed any traditional Catholic influence in public education, has struggled to update its guidelines to deal with a growing Muslim minority,” notes Middle East Eye.

“Hot topic”

“Secularism in French schools has always been a hot topic”, adds Politico, “its supporters claiming that religion, and Islam in particular, encroaches on the public space” and its detractors “arguing on the other hand that minorities nuns are discriminated against in a historically Christian country”.

Noting that “right-wing parties lobbied” for the abaya ban, while “those on the left raised concerns about the rights of Muslim women and girls”, the BBC believes Sunday’s announcement “constitutes the first major political decision of Mr. Attal”, a little more than a month after his appointment.

But the government must now “expect reactions from the students who wear them and from those who defend the fact that these clothes are not religious”, warns Observ’Algérie. In fact, the French Council for Muslim Worship (CFCM), quoted by Al-Jazeera, reaffirmed on Sunday that it did not consider the abaya to be “a religious sign”.

For Il Corriere della Sera, the government’s decision “threatens to open a new ‘culture war’ – and not only with the many Islamic communities of France – just weeks after the riots which burned the suburbs of many cities of the country. ”.

Politico further recalls that “tensions around education and religion have worsened” in France since the death in 2020 of Samuel Paty, a French teacher beheaded by a radicalized Chechen refugee, for having “shown in class caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad”.

This article is originally published on .courrierinternational.com

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