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François Kraus: French people consider the religious nature of the Abaya to be undeniable”

9 September 2023 Interviews   142637  

One year on from the survey he conducted for our monthly Screen Watch (Observatory of teachers faced with the expression of religious beliefs in schools, October 2022), in which the issues surrounding the wearing of the Abaya and the Qamis in schools were probed for the first time, François Kraus, director of Ifop’s Politics / News division, conducted a large-scale survey (representative national sample of 2,145 people aged 18 and over) for our Charlie Hebdo colleagues, following the ban on these outfits in state schools.

In this interview, he discusses the main findings of this two-part study: a survey carried out on 30 and 31 August and documentary research on the religious nature of the Abaya and Qamis and the way in which these outfits are presented to French buyers by the retailers and brands that sell them.

Interview By Gérard Legraud

– What are the main findings of the study you carried out for Charlie Hebdo?

François Kraus: Looking at the results of this survey of a sample twice as large as usual (2,200 people), it is clear that the ban on Abayas and Qamis announced by Gabriel Attal is the subject of near-consensus: 81% of French people approve of this ban, which is even more support than we saw some twenty years ago for the law banning religious symbols (73% in April 2004).

This Ifop/Charlie Hebdo survey is in line with other studies carried out on smaller samples (e.g. 82% according to a CSA/Cnews poll on 29 August, 71% according to an Elabe/BFMTV survey on 29 and 30 August), and therefore has the merit of showing that French opinion is in line with the position of the teaching profession on the subject: An Ifop/Screen Watch survey carried out last year among 1,000 primary and secondary school teachers showed that 82% of them were opposed to the wearing of Abayas and Qamis in public schools.

And with the exception of Muslims – two-thirds of whom (66%) are opposed to this measure – there is majority support for it among all categories of the population, including young people (63%) and residents of working-class suburbs (71%), who might have been expected to be more divided on the subject.

The leaders of the Insoumis and EELV parties opposed the ban. What about their voters?

– The criticisms levelled at the Minister’s decision by a number of radical left-wing figures (e.g. Thomas Portes, Mathilde Panot, Manuel Bompard, Sandrine Rousseau, etc.) appear to be far from shared by their voters. For example, 79% of EELV supporters approve of the ban on abayas and qamis, a proportion similar to that found among Socialist and Communist supporters (73% to 81%). While such unanimity is not in itself surprising among EELV voters who are much more sensitive than the average to the various forms of injunctions (e.g. dress, body, etc.) weighing down on women, it does put into perspective the weight of the criticism levelled by some EELV MPs, notably Sandrine Rousseau and Sandra Regol, who denounced the decision as a form of control over women’s bodies.

But it is above all the disavowal of La France Insoumise’s position on the subject by a large proportion of its voters that is most important to highlight, given that this organisation is by far the most offensive on the issue: its coordinator, Manuel Bompard, having announced that he would propose to his parliamentary group that it take legal action before the Council of State to oppose the ban on the abaya in schools. However, a majority of LFI supporters support this ban (58%), particularly older supporters (74% of those aged 50 and over), those living in rural areas (70%) and those who say they are “convinced atheists” (60%). Conversely, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s position on the subject seems to be more in line with the youngest, most highly educated and most religious supporters.

Some neo-feminists have also opposed the ban on the Abaya. Is this position shared by all people who call themselves feminists?

– Nor do the positions taken by feminist figures such as Sandrine Rousseau and Clémentine Autain seem very representative of those of French feminists in general and of activists in feminist associations in particular. While some people claim that the Minister’s decision goes against women’s rights, people who call themselves feminists are in fact very supportive of the ban (81%), although it should be noted that feminist women (78%) are slightly less supportive than feminist men (86%).

– The argument most often put forward by those opposed to banning the Abaya is to deny its religious nature. What do the French think?

– While the religious dimension of this long dress is the subject of public debate, this is not really the case for the French – 70% of them share the Minister’s view that Abayas and Qamis have a religious character – but also and above all in view of the way in which this garment is now sold to young people on online sales sites.

– Some CFCM officials have added fuel to the fire of those who deny the religious nature of the Abaya. What about those who sell and/or buy this type of outfit?

– While the CFCM’s vice-president, Abdallah Zekri, has said that the Abaya is “a form of fashion” that “has nothing to do (with religion)”, this opinion is in stark contrast to the way in which these outfits are presented in France today by those who sell them on the Internet, whether on generalist platforms (e.g. Amazon, Alibaba, etc.) or on the myriad of community websites specialising in “modest fashion”.

In order to put French people’s views on the religious nature of these outfits into perspective with the way in which the Abaya and Qamis are actually presented to their buyers in France, Ifop analysed all the Abaya and Qamis sales advertisements on the French-language pages of the Google search engine using the key words “Abaya”, “Qamis” or “Abaya for sale” / “cheap Qamis” between 30 August and 1 September 2023. This research, based on a sample of more than one hundred online ads (144), revealed that :

– 79% of the Abaya/Qamis sold on the Internet in France are either presented as explicitly religious (53%), or sold on sites selling only explicitly religious products (26%); By explicitly religious, Ifop means ads where the Abaya/Qamis are associated, for example, with terms such as “religious”, “Islamic”, “Muslim”, etc.

– 21% of the Abaya/Qamis sold on the Internet in France are not of an explicitly religious nature: Ifop considered that the notions of “modesty” or “modesty” presented by online sellers were not in themselves of an explicitly religious nature. However, if we consider that the notions of “modesty” or “modesty” are the result of a religious injunction, the proportion of Abaya/Qamis sold without religious references falls to 14%…

And if you want to find out more about how these outfits are marketed on the French market, all you have to do is visit the Alibaba website, where 1.2 million Abayas are sold in the “Islamic clothing” category. But it is above all on the myriad of “modest fashion” websites, most – but not all – of which emphasise the conformity of their outfits with the Muslim religion. The Neyssa Shop site explains very well how its “legal clothing” complies with “Islamic dress codes”, acknowledging in passing that the area women need to hide from the gaze of others is “much larger than that of men”. Finally, some adopt an ultra-conservative presentation of outfits that hides the hair and body of the models but also erases their faces afterwards by computer, making women invisible in a “scarlet handmaid” atmosphere that will shock not only feminists…

In the light of this initial survey of online ads for abayas and qamis, it seems unlikely that these outfits are not religious in nature for those who buy them. Otherwise, you have to wonder why the people selling them would bother to highlight the fact that these outfits meet religious requirements…