Ban on the abaya at school: on TikTok, the worrying success of cyber-preachers

Ban on the abaya at school on TikTok the worrying

Video resembles the short formats that Brut media can produce. The visual identity appears marked, always with a yellow background and a title in capital letters on three lines. The only difference with other films broadcast on social networks aimed at young people, the purpose of this program is to carry out religious proselytism. “Heart of Islam” is the name of this channel on TikTok, the number 1 social network for 18-24 year olds and high school students. She has 322,000 subscribers.

His video on the ban on abayas in schools was viewed more than 700,000 times in ten days, more than the extracts from Do not touch My TV, Cyril Hanouna’s show, or TF1 on the subject. It responds to the codes that can be found on media like Konbini. A voiceover is used – it is computer generated. Subtitles reproduce the oral message recited in real time, for effortless understanding. Entitled “The abaya. Why are they banning it?”, the video logically begins with a short excerpt from Gabriel Attal announcing the ban on the abaya at school on TF1. Then “Heart of Islam” gives its reading of the abaya, an “expression of devotion and adherence to Islamic teachings on modesty”, and concludes, as noted recently The Parisian : “The control of facies and origins is inevitable, which is racism and Islamophobia. So the whole educational body will join forces to discriminate and harass girls of the Muslim faith”.

What happens next may surprise you. “Heart of Islam” invites Muslim women, who are “oppressed every day because of their veils” not to give in, nor to “concede part of their religion” to “unbelievers”. Then the surah of the Koran called “The Cow” is cited. “Neither Jews nor Christians will ever be satisfied with you until you follow their religion,” it is written. Or again: “Association is worse than murder”. The other videos on this channel also celebrate the Quran and conversion. “This channel is part of a very marked Brother-Salafism”, notes Florence Bergeaud-Blackler, researcher at the CNRS and author of Brotherhood and its networksat Odile Jacob, who notes that “Cœur d’Islam” promotes the figure of Sulaiman Al Rajhi, a Saudi billionaire.

“Liberty, equality, fraternity, except for French Muslims”

“The idea is to invite conversion by highlighting orthopraxy, that is to say the correct practice of religion. But we cannot speak of strict Salafism, because the faces would then be hidden” , continues the researcher. According to her, this type of content incorporates both elements of Salafist thought, that is to say the strictest Islam, as practiced in Saudi Arabia, inspired by the descendants of Mohammed in the 7th century, and of the doctrine of the Muslim Brotherhood, which aims to politicize religious issues to strengthen the Muslim community. Florence Bergeaud-Blackler believes that the exploitation of the ban on the abaya corresponds to a “Brotherhood theme”, which consists of “persuading Muslims that they form a distinct community, so that it comes together”. A particularity of “Cœur d’Islam”, no video is played by the host of the channel.

The TikTok channel “Rational Believer”, 370,000 subscribers, uses the same approach. Same color codes borrowed from “cool” media. Same proselytism, same voice-over with subtitles. And even an extract from Gabriel Attal on TF1 in his one-minute video entitled “Abaya interdiction”, viewed 647,000 times. “I call on all Muslims to make dawas against them”, that is to say, to mobilize, writes “Croiant Rational”. The only difference with “Heart of Islam” is the idea that the abaya “is not religious clothing”. “Liberty, equality, fraternity, except for French Muslims,” the voiceover concludes. The other videos mainly contain stories about the legends of the Koran, pleas on the existence of God and religious advice (is it haram to have a dog?, masturbation, is it haram?, etc.). On its website, “Rational Believer” also sells a development kit incorporating a program called “how to stop listening to music”, a sign of a very conservative conception of religion.

“Salafo-Brotherist entryism”

These two TikTok channels testify to a phenomenon that is a priori against the current of what we see on social networks, including concerning preaching videos. Here, no embodied program, no charismatic imam. The content is presented as purely informative and “educational”. “There are no Koranic references or hadiths because in the minds of the editors the message would become too complicated, it is necessary to strike the spirits. They claim a single possible interpretation, their own, a single “authentic” Islam, the theirs,” notes Florence Bergeaud-Blackler.

On August 27, 2022, a note from the Interministerial Committee for the Prevention of Delinquency and Radicalization (CIPDR), which L’Express had revealed, mentioned an offensive carried out on the Web aimed at destabilizing the educational institution. The document noted that on August 23, 2022, an Islamist influencer, followed by 47,500 subscribers, posted a video on TikTok, challenging young Muslim women to “put a belt on the abaya to go in progress so they don’t say it’s Islamist clothing. Advice revealing a “Salafo-Brotherist entryism strategy aimed at bringing religious practices and rites into the republican school”, then described the note.

National Education Inspector Jean-Pierre Obin observed this strategy as early as 2004, when he submitted a report to the government on religious manifestations in schools. “I had already noticed this: there were preachers, authorities who gave instructions. For example the strange idea, which has flourished since, of separating Muslim and non-Muslim boys in sports locker rooms: it’s really an instruction that came from Wahhabi Salafism,” the senior official tells us.

Screenshot of a video from the TikTok channel “Coeur d’islam” on the abaya.

© / “Heart of Islam” / TikTok

Qatari funding

Social networks have given a new dimension to these activities. Even getting involved in the political debate. A year after the CIPDR note, the challenge to the ban on the abaya on TikTok has diversified. There are humorous, politically engaged accounts, conspiracy influencers and religious influencers. Audiences related to the subject have been multiplied. Beauty influencer Lily-Rose Kahn, for example, achieved a record number of views, 2.9 million, with a short seven-second video showing her in an abaya, the Bible in her hand. Comment: “The abaya allows you to know the religion of the students”.

Several religious influencers have also taken up the subject. Redazere (3.1 million subscribers on TikTok), recently cited in an article by The cross on “the new wave of Muslim influencers”, as a particularly effective preacher, has produced several videos with more than 300,000 views to challenge the ban on the abaya. “There will be a policy soon, if you are Muslim, you cannot go to class,” denounces this Algerian living in Quebec. Abdel, the official comedian of AJ +, media financed by Qatar, also produced a spot seen more than 300,000 times on TikTok. In this one, he also attacks the French government’s policy on the abaya, with the same argument of the “Islamophobic” drift: “What’s the next step? Give pork once per week in the name of secularism?”

However, polls show broad public support for the ban on the abaya. According to a study published by Ifop on September 6, 81% of French people are in favor, as well as 79% of EELV supporters and 58% of Insoumis supporters. Even within the sphere of Muslim influencers, the measure is debated. What has not escaped the far right: the “thefrenchdroitard” account recently relayed the ultra-conservative Muslim influencer Bassem. “The abaya has been soiled by women who wear it in high school just to give themselves a style. Whereas when they go dancing, they are in miniskirts,” vituperates the former rapper, denouncing “leftist Islam”. The video has been viewed more than 270,000 times.