Paris- He met the inauguration of the former French Minister of Education Gabriel Attal Being the youngest prime minister received great attention in the local media, he did not receive the same fanfare among young people, especially after he proudly confirmed his decision to ban the wearing of the abaya in French schools.
Criticism of this decision extended beyond the country's borders to reach… United nations Special rapporteurs considered it a measure that “opens the door to abuse, harassment and discrimination” and could lead to “self-control and racial profiling.”
In a letter addressed to the French government on October 27, the UN rapporteurs called for information to be provided on the measures taken to ensure that this ban “does not violate the rights of Muslims to freedom of religion without discrimination and does not lead to increased social marginalization.”
In this 13-page letter, a copy of which was obtained by Al Jazeera Net, 6 rapporteurs concerned with the right to education, cultural rights, minority issues, freedom of religion, and violence against women and girls criticized this ministerial measure, warning of its discriminatory consequences.
They expressed their concern that the measures taken to ensure the principle of secularism – through which the French state aims to guarantee freedom of religion and belief for all – have “actually undermined the freedom of Muslim women to manifest their religion,” stressing their rejection of any form of “coercion” that “targets “Disproportionately restricts Muslim women and imposes restrictions on their rights to express opinion, religion or belief.”
The letter called on the government to provide information on how to understand and define the state's neutrality towards all students and commitment to respecting children's basic rights and access to education, with a focus on religious minorities.
In this context, the rapporteurs confirmed their awareness of the administrative decisions implemented by the French government and sports bodies to prevent women and girls from wearing clothing that apparently shows their religious affiliation in the fields of education and sports.
They based this on the statements of Sports Minister Amelie O'Dea Castera, who announced that female athletes would be banned from wearing the hijab in the 2024 Paris Olympics, as well as the French Football and Basketball Federation implementing the same order.
The committee is affiliated with the United Nations and its headquarters Geneva Banning loose-fitting clothing could constitute “discrimination and punishment against girls who refuse to be judged based on their appearance and bodies.”
The Secretary General of the Union of Islamic Associations believes in Paris Muhammad Hamish said that there is a clear desire to raise the issue of the abaya ban to prevent highlighting the real problems that the education system suffers from. “If this matter really mattered to Atal, he would have retained the ministry to deal with this problem.”
He told Al Jazeera Net that banning the abaya in schools “is not one of the ten priorities for the French, and in the education sector there are pivotal problems such as unpaid hours, a rise in cases of harassment and suicide, and the controversy surrounding the new Minister of Education who transferred her children from a government school to a private school.”
The UN committee said that it had received testimonies stating that female students were prevented from studying because they wore “kimonos” or clothes that were considered “covered or too loose” and they felt insulted, while parents expressed their confusion about the definition of the abaya.
Other testimonies pointed to interrogations, sexual and racist biases, as well as allegations related to the religious affiliation of students by school employees, as this type of dialogue or comment – which aims to invade their privacy or intimidate them – is not accompanied by any legal representative who protects young girls in a manner consistent with their rights. According to the same source.
In its response, which it sent on December 22 and published on January 9, the Ministry of Education supported the abaya ban, considering that it falls within the “application of French law.”
The Ministry stressed that the instruction memorandum is “accurate and explicit enough to avoid any difficulty in applying the ban on traditional clothing to be clearly identified by public officials, especially heads of institutions.”
Hamish considers the ministry’s message “a fabricated matter,” pointing out that female athletes are prohibited from wearing the hijab during the upcoming Olympic Games, even though its wearing is licensed by the International Olympic Committee.
While Atal received the keys of power from the former Prime Minister Elizabeth BourneOn January 9, he announced that he was committed to freedom “by making strong decisions about abayas and secularism.”
Religion or politics?
With this ban in effect since the beginning of the school year on September 4, Prime Minister Gabriel Attal (then Minister of Education) led a hostile attack targeting Muslim girls in secondary schools. Not only that, but he sent observers and ordered school administrations to prevent the entry of female students wearing abayas.
According to the figures announced by the Ministry, at least 298 female students tried to wear the abaya or similar clothes to attend school, and when 67 girls refused to comply, they were sent home, while the others were allowed to attend school classes after they agreed to take off the abaya.
Members of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights denounced the details of the circular issued by the former Minister of Education, which does not give any definition of the abaya “because it is not considered a religious dress, but rather a cultural or traditional dress for some religious bodies.”
Muhammad Hamish says that the government wants “Muslims to disappear” because it does not want to see or hear them, and this explains the strictness in the hijab and abaya because they are manifestations that express the Islamic religion, he said.
He continued, “With the dissolution of Islamic associations, the ban on importing imams from abroad, and the closure of the Islamic secondary school in the city of Lille – and other examples – we conclude that the government is determined to remove everything that indicates Islam in the public sphere.”
Hamish believes that the matter is related to the political orientation followed by the state, especially with the rise of the extreme right, which means implementing stricter measures towards Muslims and Islamic symbols.
He added, “Muslims lost religious freedom and freedom in general during the president's two terms in office Emmanuel Macron. Today they do not want to see Muslims and would be happy if they disappeared or practiced their religion secretly.”