“In public debate, as soon as we link secularism, Islam and women’s rights, all rationality is lost”

Ismaïl Ferhat is a professor of education at the University of Nanterre. His research focuses in particular on secularism in schools. He co-wrote in 2019 Scarves of Discord. Feedback on the Creil affair, 1989 (Editions de l’aube and the Jean Jaurès Foundation, 2019).

While the Council of State examined, Tuesday, September 5, an appeal filed by the ociation Action the rights of Muslims against the memo published on August 31 by the Minister of National EducationGabriel Attal, to prohibit the wearing at school of abayas (long dresses of Middle Eastern tradition) and qamis (long tunics for men), the researcher returns to the controversies that have punctuated the public debate for thirty-five years .

How was the jurisprudence forged around the wearing of signs and outfits ostensibly showing religious affiliation at school?

Appeals to administrative justice are not new. It was not so much in 1989, at the time of the affair of the three veiled college girls in Creil (Oise), as after the Bayrou circular of September 20, 1994 that administrative justice began to play an important role. This text, which asks heads of establishments to include in their internal regulations the prohibition of conspicuous religious symbols, leads to a large number of administrative disputes in which parents oppose the exclusion of their child, and gain very often.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers The ban on the abaya at school under debate at the Council of State

The long debate leading to the law of March 15, 2004 [qui encadre le port de signes et tenues manifestant ostensiblement une appartenance religieuse à l’école] is also being done on this issue of the regulatory and legal certainty to be provided to headteachers and educational teams. In 2005, the Council of State then made two administrative decisions, which served as the basis for the memorandum issued by Gabriel Attal a few days ago. The administrative judge then indicates that a bandana or a Sikh turban can become a sign ostensibly manifesting one’s religious affiliation and can be prohibited in the same way as the veil, the yarmulke or a large cross.

Some observers point to similarities between the controversies around the ban on the abaya and the controversies around the Creil affair in 1989. What about?

We are in the continuity of the debates which arose in 1989. This case cemented the current questions. We are on the same grammar around an explosive triangle between secularism – especially at school –, Islam and women’s rights. In this regard, the 1980s marked a historic turning point. Whereas before 1984 [année des mobilisations des partisans de « l’école libre » contre le projet de loi Savary], when we talked about secularism at school, we spontaneously thought of the conflicts between public schools and Catholic schools. From 1989, the relationship between Islam and school came to the fore.

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