A heated debate has enflamed Algerian social networks since Minister of Education Nouria Benghabrit defended the ban on prayer in schools on Monday (February 4th).
The minister, who has already been the target of criticism in the past, particularly on religious issues, has taken a stand in favor of the Algerian international school in Paris. The director of this establishment had forbidden prayer on the premises of her establishment.
“Students go to school to study. What happened at the Paris School was that a student came out of class and ostentatiously (she prayed). The School has only done its job” said Ms. Benghabrit; for whom “this practice (prayer) must be done at home“.
Ms. Benghabrit’s response immediately aroused the indignation of many Algerians who saw it as an “attack on Islam“. In addition to her position in favour of prohibiting prayer in schools, the minister is also accused of having used the term “practice” to speak of prayer, while for her detractors she should have used the term “adoration“.
A campaign was launched by anonymous authors under the slogan “Salati hayati” (my prayer is my life) to respond to Minister Benghabrit. Those taking part publish photos and videos of school children, most often elementary students, praying in groups under the direction of a classmate or teacher.
Among these images massively shared in recent days, some are recent and show prayers organized in response to the declaration of Benghabrit but many are older, some of which were not taken in Algeria.
In their responses to the prohibition of prayer in schools, Algerian internet users drew parallels between prayer and other practices to discredit the decision of the Minister of Education “If the place of prayer is home, then the place of the national anthem is the barracks“.
National Education teachers responded to Benghabrit’s remarks and organized group prayers with their students. A teacher filmed himself in front of his students sitting on prayer mats, boys in front and girls, veiled, behind, in what appears to be a classroom. The teacher said he made the video after doing the Dhohr prayer with his first grade class.
“To those who say that prayer is a practice, I say yes, it is one for you who’s alien to our society and you do not know our principles and values” replied the teacher to Benghabrit without directly naming her.
This last video in particular shocked many Algerians, concerned by the young age of children and the staging without the parents’ consent. Some have even made the connection between these images of prayer of little children in schools and others taken in the 90s, before the beginning of the black decade.
“Children filmed without permission, a challenge to the public authority, a talibanization of the school, girls veiled and crushed behind the boys, the return of the FIS” commented writer and columnist Kamel Daoud on Facebook.
Even though the criticisms and attacks against the Minister of Education are numerous, the reactions in her support are increasing. Many netizens, feminists and progressives alike, have expressed their support.