The politics behind it
On 27th August 2023, President Macron banned the wearing of Abaya in state-run schools. The right-wing politicians were quick to welcome it. This is not something new, the French banned the headscarves in 2004 on the basis that it is a religious symbol. They argue it violates their strict brand of French secularism known as ‘Laicite’. The Abaya is a loose-fitting, full-length robe worn by Muslim women and girls globally, but mostly in the Arab countries with growing popularity in Europe.
Those on the left criticised the move, calling it ‘Clothes Police’ and a move ‘Characteristic of an obsessional rejection of Muslims’. Political analysts believe it’s a political move by Macron whose party is doing badly in the polls, this is a ploy to regain voters. It is a distraction from multiple troubles the French government is facing, from the economic crises to riots in cities with large numbers of Muslims.
Sociologist Agnes De Feo, who has been researching French women wearing niqab for the past decade said “It’s going to hurt Muslims in general. They will, once again, feel stigmatised.” This move will be counterproductive since it is mostly worn as fashion or identity rather than religion.
The moral and spiritual dimension
The sexual revolution in the West has always troubled practising religious people, Christians, Hindus, Jews and Muslims, all have been offended and badly treated. They have lamented the liberal attitudes that promote aggressive feminism, undermining family values, motherhood and gender differences. Many in the West now believe that many maladies of society stem from the sexual revolution. Many Western thinkers believe that “we now have the dominant message, prioritise your own freedom and pleasure as long as you consent and the other person consents and you are adults, it’s all good.”
Macron’s decision to ban the Abaya is a typical reaction of a secular mind that focuses on the outward appearance, the body, face and clothes. But he fails to understand that faith is profound and deep. That’s the superficial view that the president has. What young people need is to be taught more about modesty not less, taught more about decency, not indecency. The lack of chastity and pure living is causing so much misery among teenagers that 25% of teenage girls are known to have planned suicide (Time magazine, 30 Aug 2023).
Contemplating the evolving landscape
In contemplating the evolving landscape, it becomes imperative to dissect the dual position of embracing liberal ideals while simultaneously enforcing bans on clothing that is undeniably appropriate within cultural contexts. This striking paradox between advocating for personal freedom and in the same breath, curbing the freedom of expression through attire choices warrants a closer examination.
The clash between these seemingly opposing stances highlights a nuanced struggle within societies that champion liberal values. On one hand, the right to individual choice and self-expression is lauded, while on the other, these very liberties are contradicted when certain articles of clothing are stigmatised or banned.
French Muslim leaders are insisting that the Abaya is not a religious dress, which I personally find very strange. However, modesty, chastity, decency and pure living are important Islamic cultural values. This should not be taken lightly. So, will the banning of the Abaya unite Muslim parents and lead them to become more practising Muslims? Muslim leaders in France need to be strong and must not compromise, instead they should stand up and not be apologetic for the wisdom of Islamic teachings.
Trust building, inter-cultural harmony and community cohesion
To build peaceful communities where different races, cultures and religions live together in harmony, a lot of hard work must be undertaken by everyone. People by themselves or civil society cannot achieve it, it requires the authority of the law. In fact, governments have to invest heavily in building community cohesion, through legislation, through positive initiatives to tackle discrimination. Unfortunately, in France, we have seen repeatedly the government targeting Muslims. That’s why initiatives like Karimia Institute’s Humankind are so useful as educational tools that allow Muslims to explain in their own words why these values are so important.