Since Monday, Muslim students accustomed to abayas are turning to other clothes, which despite everything arouse the suspicions of the educational team, in an atmosphere of mutual mistrust.
On to serious things. The day after the start of the school year at La Martinière-Duchère high school, some 2,000 students officially resumed classes on Tuesday, September 5, in this establishment located in a working-class district of Lyon. From early morning, the stream of teenagers finds its habits and shows its credentials at the entrance, personal pass in hand. The Islamic headscarves, worn by dozens of young girls, are removed and buried in the bags, as has been required by law for almost ten years. A comeback like the others, or almost.
The educational team stationed in front of the gates observes the outfits with meticulousness. As soon as a high school girl in loose clothes appears, attention redoubles: abaya or no abaya? Firm instructions have been sent to staff to enforce the ban on wearing this long dress from the Middle East, now considered by the government as clothing with a religious connotation contrary to the law on secularism at school.
>> Why the ban on the abaya at school raises legal questions
“Hello Hello !” Having come to supervise the checks, Olivier Coutarel, the headmaster, catches up with a student in BTS who is about to cross the access gates. Fatou*, 17, wears pants and a “kimono”, a long vest covering more and more fashionable. This set, ample and fine, is sufficiently suspect in the eyes of the head of the establishment to earn the young woman an aside with him. The day before, about fifteen students were even summoned to his office after having “held the attention” Staff. “We spoke with each one and half of them were able to go to class”reports Olivier Coutarel. “The other half were asked to go home and come back with another outfit today.”
“It’s serious to come to this”
For the start of class, Isra* chose to put on light pants and a gray T-shirt. She hopes, this time, not to regret it. The day before, this final year student was one of the young girls summoned by the management. Of Muslim faith, Isra likes to wear abayas, a garment she finds “comfortable, beautiful and hides shapes”. A summer outfit, too, to change thick “joggers” that she says she puts on in the winter. Monday morning, the abayas remained in the closet in favor of a long green velvet dress revealing her wrists and ankles. No abaya, that’s fine, she thought.
“The principal told me that I was trying to circumvent the text and that it was provocation. I replied that my outfit was not religious and that I had the right to have a dress.”Isra, student at La Martinière-Duchère high school
The 17-year-old student came out of there stunned, especially since two of her friends who came in long dresses did not have a call to order. “Probably because mine was white with blue patterns”, speculates one. The other was not wearing a veil before entering, which would have spared her from the suspicious looks of adults, according to the girls’ hypothesis. “It’s serious to come to this”sighs Isra.
In his office, the headmaster claims to have the 2004 law as his only compass. “The Minister has made a real clarification by naming the abaya, but any other conspicuous manifestation of religious affiliation by a sign or an outfit remains prohibited”defends Olivier Coutarel. “The school cannot remain indifferent to the phenomenon”, he launches, while calling to relativize these very minority situations. He greets the “respect for school and the law” by almost all students and families.
“My daughter is modest”
Among the students interviewed by franceinfo, all had learned of the new rules on the abaya. But no one understands the merits of it. “I don’t see why we would be afraid of an outfit or why we insist on people’s bodies”, asks Louisa*, 17 years old. She herself likes to wear “this fashionable garment”far from all “religious connotation”Who “helps to fight against complexes”.
The argument of modesty is not unrelated to the practice of Islam, however, believes Lynda, 36, mother of a student summoned Monday. “My daughter is modest because she is in religion, and it is her choice”defend this “non-practicing believer”, wearing a tight, low-cut pink dress. On the first day of school, her teenager showed up in “t-shirt, kimono and pants” and yet has “couldn’t go to class”according to the outraged mother.
“It was already a big effort for my daughter to give up the abaya.”Lynda, mother of a high school student
Not far away, Hind* and Kahina* claim to have been out of pocket for “find alternatives” in the abaya. While shopping, they opted for denim skirts, long and fitted. “It affects morale to worry about how to dress”, laments Hind, resigned. She says she felt the wind turn last winter at La Martinière-Duchère, when the headmaster, who had arrived a few months earlier, “summoned all the high school veiled”. “It was bizarre, a mixture of curiosity and call to order.”
“We have been asking for a clear position for two years”
The headteacher confirms having, in recent months, “received from students whose outfits (him) had been reported as ostensibly manifesting a religious affiliation”. He intended to establish “a dialogue” on wearing the abaya and said he was able to measure the “difficulty discerning motivations” students, between “TikTok fad”, “care to be elegant” And “willingness for religious observance”.
“There is in these young girls an immense legitimate need for respect and recognition. It is also an age of fragility and susceptibility, where one seeks to define one’s social place.”Olivier Coutarel, headmaster of La Martinière-Duchère high school
Faced with the proliferation of wearing abayas, Olivier Coutarel felt disarmed and finally settled for an update of the internal regulations. (PDF)in May, to insist on a ban on all clothing that “incorporate” the islamic veil, “whatever name you give them”, and on the obligation to store any conspicuous religious sign in the bag. The rector of the academy followed suit, this summer, by slipping into the registration files a form on the prohibition of clothing manifesting a religious affiliation. “by their nature or by the behavior of the pupil”.
The ban on the abaya announced shortly before the start of the school year by the Minister of National Education, Gabriel Attal, was “extremely well received” by the principal, as well as by his counterparts in the department. “We have been asking for a clear and clear position from our authorities for almost two years”recalls Gérard Heinz, representative of the SNPDEN management staff union in the Rhône. “We will be able to remind families that secularism guarantees respect for everyone’s convictions, which do not have to be affirmed by a specific outfit at school.”
“This is not going to make the start of the school year easier for us”
Intended to solve certain problems of attack on secularism, the banishment of abayas from schools could push young people to turn away from public high schools. Wrapped in a loose beige kimono, Neyla, 19, puts on her black veil on leaving high school, helped by a friend who holds her phone as a mirror. “Without the veil, I’m missing a little thing”she smiles, she who carries it by “duty” as a Muslim woman. Deprived of an abaya, this final year student says she plans to give up “do a BTS” in high school. “I’m thinking about going to college”where the wearing of religious symbols is not prohibited, “or else in a Muslim establishment”she says.
Perhaps the most worried are the mothers. “After her summons to the start of the school year, my daughter was in tears and threatened to stop school”says Lynda. “In the evening, mine said to her father ‘Take me out of school, dad’“, reports Hajar*, Isra’s mother. “It’s unfortunate. It’s a good school. She pulls her class up and I want her to go far. I changed her whole wardrobe on purpose this summer. We still have the right to wear a dress? Or is the abaya just a pretext to target Muslims?”
“We are still made to feel like strangers.”Hajar, mother of a high school girl
In the teaching ranks, “we fear departures to the private denominational”reports Rindala Younès, head of the Snes-FSU union in the Rhône. “There will be tensions and this will not simplify the start of the school year for us”, she explains. For his part, the principal of La Martinière-Duchère is satisfied with the “relevant time” of the ban, because “Things are getting started in the fall”. He now relies on pedagogy and a “long-term work”. “This prohibition does not target people, but behaviors. There is no malevolence. We want to welcome everyone.” The message remains to be heard.
* Some first names have been changed at the request of those concerned.