THE SCHOOL CHALLENGED BY THE HALAL FOOD SPACE
Senior research fellow
Groupe Sociétés, Religions, Laïcités UMR 8582 -
Among the many questions about halal, one is whether the flood of halal products in
supermarkets is not likely to translate into a form of "food separatism".
Public controversies over halal in school canteens paroxysmally illustrate this concern.
And for a good reason: in France the school is the place where the Republican ideal of
integration, assimilation, is transmitted “par excellence”. More generally, food is one of
the few areas where French people readily accept to speak of their "French cultural
identity" in particularistic, and not universal, terms. It is therefore not surprising that the
confessionalization of meals is perceived as an attack on what makes “le Francais”, in a
place that ensures its symbolic reproduction. But the question is actually less about
confessionalization and its obstruction to laicity (or French republican secularism) than
about food specificity. If we don't eat together, then can we still live together? ask the
sociologist Claude Fischler in a book dedicated to the particularization of meals,
echoing a widely shared concern.
To try to measure this trend towards food separatism I have investigated in a school in
the Bordeaux suburbs (city located in the south west of France) where the desertion of
canteens was a striking indicator. I wondered whether or not halal consumption played a
role on the decline of commensality.
Before giving some results, I must specify what I mean by commensality and the
historical link between republican assimilation and commensality.
As a preamble, it should be noted that French law does not require schools to provide
meals. It considers that meals, including lunch, are taken outside school hours :
therefore schools are free to propose or not a place to eat, and therefore free to serve the
Initially published in French in L’ÉCOLE AU DÉFI DE L’ESPACE ALIMENTAIRE HALAL
Editions Karthala | Histoire, monde et cultures religieuses 2014/4 - n° 32 pp 103 à 118. Translated
by the author . I wish to thank Pascale Lambert for the finalization of the translation.
food they want. Legally, there is nothing to prevent an establishment from serving halal,
kosher, organic nor deciding that it will not serve any of these. As the jurist Stéphane
Papi has shown, the law does not play any role in this debate. One can only talk about
accommodations that take various forms
Not all tables are commensal and all avoidances are not threatening
The table is not always a “banquet”, sharing a meal is commensality only as part of a
In many societies, says sociologist Claude Fischler in his latest book on special feeds in
the 21st century
, the refusal to accept any given food produces "a disappointment, an
injury and even a serious offence" (p. 10). It means a refusal of the relationship. In
contemporary societies, food particularities are numerous. These particular eaters face
the "commensal injunction" : they must, according to Fischler "demand or
compromise". C. Fischler sees in the affirmation of these particularities, in their
collective demands, a questioning of something fundamental in sociality: sharing and
commensality (p. 13).
But should we also directly assimilate a table to a group? One can belong to the same
group and never share one table with someone who is not of the same rank, just as it is
common in canteens and restaurants to share your table and food with someone to
whom you do not speak or even whose face you have never seen. In France, table is not
necessarily a Table. A Table refers to the metaphor of the banquet as in the expression
of Mr. Agulhon used by the ministry of interior J. P. Chevènement who wished to offer
to Islam a place at the "Table de la République"
. The table is a Table or banquet only
on rare occasions.
No one confuses a canteen table with a family table. Commensality alone cannot
constitute or de-constitute a community. Shouldn’t we talk of "commensal occasion" as
a sequence where things (in this case, food, tastes, words, gestures) are exchanged?
The anthropologist J. Chelhod suggested that the commensal act should be considered
as part of a broader exchange between social groups. "It is not the fact of eating with
another person" that is at the origin of the alliance, he said, but rather "to offer him
food" (underline by me). For there to be fraternization, wrote J. Chelhod "it is not
enough to eat in the presence of another person who is eating his own meal (...) The two
meals must also be shared. Through this exchange that is established between the
S. Papi, « Islam, laïcité et commensalité dans les cantines scolaires publiques », Hommes et migrations [En ligne], 1296 | 2012,
mis en ligne le 31 décembre 2014, consulté le 10 avril 2014. URL : http://hommesmigrations.revues.org/1522
C. FISCHLER, Les Alimentations particulières : Mangerons-nous encore ensemble demain ? Paris, Odile Jacob, 2013
Formula borrowed from Maurice Agulhon. Source : Pérennisation de la Fondation pour les œuvres de l'Islam de France, 13ème
législature Question orale sans débat n° 1055S de M. Jean-Pierre Chevènement (Territoire de Belfort - RDSE)
exchangers, something personal goes from one to the other, similar to the ebb and flow
that is established between the donor and the one who gives back the gift”
This does not make commensal hospitality necessarily a friendly situation. Sociologist
A. Hahn pointed out that one is not hospitable to our loved ones, hospitality is what one
offer to a visitor or a guest. The Table's apparent friendliness may also conceal, under
politeness, an obligation to a stranger who in turn becomes in debt. The commensal act
is not the covenant itself, but a moment in a sequence of exchange, gift and counter-gift.
Each of the commissaries must be able to give, receive and give back
Not all refusals of food necessarily lead to disapproval, as not all do threaten the
exchange cycle. Not all meals are part of a cycle of exchange between exchangers
However, it is only in a commensal context that not giving is a sign of indifference, not
receiving is obliging oneself
, not giving back is getting into debt.
The question to ask is therefore: in the school environment, is the canteen a table (a
simple place to eat) or a Table (a sequence of exchanges)? From this point of view, the
school canteen is not a commensal place. Whatever the mode of service: table service or
self-service, foods are prepared by "service" personnel who distributes food prepared in
a hidden, inaccessible kitchen, according to recipes that comply with economic
constraints and nutritional rules decided elsewhere, and of which the eaters have no
idea. In the school canteen, the meal is a "final product" to be consumed and not an
object of exchange
1.2 Not all food avoidance threatens the exchange cycle
During meals, it is not uncommon for exchangers to ask why an individual is avoiding
food. They invite the deviant to justify himself, which shows that the refusal is
abnormal and that it should be corrected. But asking is not offensive. What may be
offensive is the reason given by the obliged person. To ask is then considered as an
Not all refusals are threatening. The threat depends less on the extent of food avoidance
than on its ability to jeopardize the general exchange cycle of which the commensal act
is part of. It is not so much the reason of what is refused, but the extent to which the
refusal is negotiable for the avoider. Therefore we can distinguish between relative and
absolute avoidances. Relative avoidance happens when there is a break in the temporal
link between the individual and the food as long as the absorption of the food is
J. Chelhod, « Commensalité, don et sacrifice chez les Arabes », Cahiers de la société des Études Euro-Asiatiques, n°1 :
Nourritures, sociétés et religions: Commensalités, 1990, p. 21
To repeat Marcel Mauss's trilogy in Essai sur le don. Forme et raison de l'échange dans les sociétés archaïques, Paris, PUF, 1925.
consumption is part of a broader productive exchange cycle, that of the market, but those who produce and cook are not
"The gift makes the donee an "obligee" bound by "recognition", Alain Marie, « Le don est un marché (de la dette) », Field Actions
Science Reports [Online], Special Issue 4 | 2012, Online since 31 January 2012, connection on 12 November 2013. URL :
This implies that the function of the food as an identity "marker" becomes more important than other food functions.
considered harmful (and consequently stops when it is not harmful anymore). There is
absolute food avoidance when food is rejected so that the aims is to make it disappear
Not eating meat because it gives cholesterol, not eating pig because one finds it
disgusting, or because one has not been used to it are relative avoidance behaviors. This
is perceived as an individual loss for those who are concerned, which does not affect
Not eating pork or refusing to eat meat because the industrial intensive model is
exhausting the planet, refusing gluten because it will sooner or later destroy our
intestines, all these reasons are absolute avoidance. Absolute avoidance is seen as a
collective gain for those who claim it, and correlatively can be seen as a collective loss
Relative avoidances are intended not to be preserved (if they do not change in the
meantime into absolute avoidances)
. Relative avoidances have little impact on user-
friendliness because the refusal of commensality does not interrupt the exchange. It only
postpones it (even for a lifetime) it will not be perceived as a break-up but as temporary
or an individual singularity. In opposite, absolute avoidances are presented as non-
negotiable between exchangers.
We can therefore conclude that food avoidance has an impact only on conviviality when
it breaks the cycle of exchange between exchangers, and that food refusals are offensive
only if they are displayed or perceived as non-negotiable between those who share the
same Table. This is not the case with school canteens where there is no exchange, no
Table, but a service.
2. Republican assimilation as a culinary metaphor
French people have a high opinion of their cuisine. 84% believe it is "the best in the
world". In 1884, at times when Jules Ferry was making education public and universal,
the grand chef Phileas Gilbert proposed to create a school dedicated to the "universal
gastronomic" synthesis where "the culinary richness of the whole world would flow into
the school which in turn would spread them, marked by this stamp of genius our
culinary leaders know how to imprint on what comes out of their hands"
. What better
metaphor to express the republican assimilationist ideal than this universal gastronomy
of a great matrix where the richness of the world would mingle, magnified, as if by
The fate of relative avoidances is not traced, the relative ones can become absolute and vice versa (a behaviour of relative
avoidance of meat perceived as bad for its own health can be justified for ethical reasons and then produce absolute avoidance).
Rothschild, Emma. « Haute culture, haute cuisine ou Hang-tcheou-sur-Seine », Le Débat, vol. 11,
no. 4, 1981, pp. 108-117.
alchemy, by the ‘French genius’. Assimilation is a biological metaphor that refers to the
process by which external substances are transformed into substances and materials
within the body. Assimilating is none other than eating.
French cuisine is seen as a sublimation of regional cuisine, which would remain
subservient to it, without any desire to emancipate itself. Who would dispute that the
foie gras pâtés from Strasbourg, the mirabelles from Metz, or the black pudding and
macaroons from Nancy are not “French” as such? As J. Csergo points out, the
historicization of local cuisine seems to be less part of a project designed by
physiologists of taste (including the most famous Brillat Savarin) than of a historical
tradition of nostalgia
. Already, at the end of the 19th century, there was
concern"(about) healthy traditions and (...) precious recipes (...) forgotten or lost"
much so that one may wonder whether "French cuisine" (and not the Court's cuisine that
preceded it) was not, from its birth, something other than a "regret", a myth that is
constantly forgotten, as today the "forgotten vegetables" return to the markets every
People who gave substance to the French cuisine of terroirs are migrants from the
exodus to the industrial cities at the end of the 19th century. For these migrants, the
culinary tradition is a "place of symbolic roots, a place of memory and a place of
cultural identity", writes J. Csergo, “a fabulous and mythical memory of the land that
revives and guarantees the sense of belonging and sustainability of an urban population
that it restores to its roots and its identity. (...) It is through the incorporation by the
eater (…) of product originating from the native soil and the know-how of the reference
community, that the culinary tradition takes place as a symbolic root, a place of
memory and a place of cultural identity (ibid)”.
Commensality, the carnal experience of French identity, is nourished by this exterior
which magnifies it. This specific French mechanism is said to have developed in the
16th century when the Modern
State was created. French cuisine being the founding
myth of assimilation. It emerges that if the integration of particularities is the condition
of the French universal, then it is not surprising that the non-participation of migrants
ipso facto leads to a crisis of the ability to “make France”
3. Halal-proof assimilation in schools
J. CSERGO, Nostalgies du terroir. In S. BESSIS, (dir). Mille et une bouches. Cuisines et identités culturelles. Autrement, Coll.
Mutations/Mangeurs, N°154, Paris, 1995, 182 p.
A. THEURIET, quoted by J. CSERGO (ibid).
F. Quellier, « Le discours sur la richesse des terroirs au XVIIe siècle et les prémices de la gastronomie française », Dix-septième
siècle, 1/ 2012, 254, p. 141-154. URL : www.cairn.info/revue-dix-septieme-siecle-2012-1-page-141.htm.
To borrow the title of the demograph Tribalat M. (1995), Faire France, Paris, La Découverte.
The survey I conducted in October 2013 focused on demands for Halal meals at school
canteens and the answers provided. These requests seemed sufficiently numerous for the
Minister of the Interior to have devoted a specific paragraph on this subject in 2011 in
his circular to the Prefects, a document that recalled the rules relating to public
authorities in response to requests for special diets
Demand for halal in schools
The investigation took place in a town in the suburbs of Bordeaux where I had been
informed of requests for halal menus. I knew this territory because I had studied the
constitution of the “Islamic field” to write my PhD fifteen years earlier
. To sum up, the
working class suburban commune on the right bank of the Aquitaine capital
of the characteristics of Sensitive Urban Zones: 12% of foreign nationality, 30 to 40%
of households living with a maximum of 500 euros per month before redistribution,
40% of 15-64 year(s) olds unemployed, 50% having a low level of education
(maximum a secondary school Brevet)
At least until the late 80’s, the city, with its traditional labor workers and socialist roots,
proudly claimed welcoming immigration of Latin immigrants from Spain, Portugal or
Italy. From the 1990s onwards, on the contrary, it has worked hard to reject the stigma
of being an immigration city, while there was a slow but real rise in xenophobic parties
(such as the National Front). But the "diversity" as the Socialist Town Hall calls it, is
displayed on the skin colours, through the languages and accents of the inhabitants who
gather in the same HLM districts on the high part of the city, and distinguish themselves
from the low part of the city where European migrants have been assimilated to the
creuset français. No matter how they put it, diversity shows through skin colors,
languages and accents of the social housing inhabitants in one part of town, when the
other one gather European migrants well established in the “creuset français"
With a positive migration balance, the city's statistics show 12% foreigners. These 12%
reflect the national average rate but not the cultural and religious reality that is reflected
by the great ethnic and religious heterogeneity that can be observed when examining
profiles, behaviors, and first names. Out of about 600 students enrolled in the schools
where the survey was carried out, a quarter have Arabic and Turkish surnames and
forenames, the rest being composed of first names of different other countries, French
names appearing as a minority among others
Minister Claude Guéant recalled that "the fact of providing menus because of religious practices is neither a right for users nor an
obligation for local authorities", Circular of 16 August 2011 on the reminder of the rules relating to the principle of secularism -
Requests for special diets in public service catering services.
F. BERGEAUD, L'institutionnalisation de l'islam a bordeaux. enjeux sociaux, politiques et economiques de l'implantation du culte
musulman dans un espace urbain, doctoral thesis in sociology (anthropologie), Université de Bordeaux, 1999.
A municipality that we will not name to preserve the anonymity of the place and the interviewees.
Source: Agathe Dardier, sept 2012, Etude de l'évolution du territoire de la Rive droite de l'agglomération bordelaise, sur la période
2000-2008, sur le plan socio-démographique et socio-économique. GPV, 2012 .
This method, used in particular by the Islamologist Bruno Etienne B. ETIENNE based on the recognition of first names, cannot
constitute strict proof of origin or nationality. It indicates a cultural and linguistic diversity, which contrasts with a discourse that
opposes two groups: majority (French)/minority (foreign).
The interviewed schoolchildren do not see the neighborhood divided between a French
majority and "minorities". According to their words they live in a society with several
communities: French" (which includes "whites" usually assimilated to "Christians"),
"Arabs" (who speak "Arabic French"), "Turks" (who are "like Arabs" or "also
Muslims"), "blacks", as well as all intermediate groups of Arab French, Muslim blacks,
and all that is too particular to form a group
. Their perceptions are in dissonance with
the dominant discourse who distinguishes a French majority and a "diverse" minority.
With the help of a former head of a parents’ federation, two focus groups
were held at
the home of a 35-year-old Franco-Turkish mother, a member of the same federation.
The first one gathered 7 Muslim mothers of schoolchildren, the second one was made
up of 8 Muslim schoolchildren.
According to this Franco-Turkish mother, requests for halal menus were rare. The town
hall and the general council systematically opposed them a refusal to receive. "It's no
use, we know the answer, it's no." The second reason was that not many Muslim
children go the school canteen
Low attendance of school canteens is common in many secondary schools in those so-
called ‘sensitive areas’, as shown by several studies which attribute the reason for this to
the economic difficulties of families. But this reason can hide other ones. In the Report
of the French Defender of Rights based on individual complaints about access to school
canteens and the service provided
, 28% request that vegetarian meals be provided to
. Vegetarian demand is usually low in France, except for religion reasons. As
early as 2001, anthropologist A. Hermet had noticed that the introduction of the Social
Fund for the canteen had increased the attendance of the canteen, but that it had
decreased during the month of Ramadan, a decrease followed beyond the fasting month
by many unsubscribing
THE CANTEEN IS NOT HALAL
Among the 8 Muslim high school students (2 Arabs and 6 Turkish as they self identify
themselves despite being born in France and of French nationality), aged 11 to 14 years
old, in 5 different classes, 7 had already been to the canteen during their school life but
Like a Sri Lankan schoolgirl classified sometimes among blacks, Muslims but who defines herself as "Christian"....
Also known as the "collective interview" method. It involves inviting a small group of people to discuss and react to an issue,
observe interactions, agreements/disagreements, links between subjects, terminology used, etc. Cf. S.DUCHESNE, F.HAEGEL
L'entretien collectif - L'enquête et ses méthodes par, editions armand colin, 2005.
A researcher investigating in the ZEP in 2001 had already pointed out the low attendance of school canteens, which she attributed
in particular to halal consumption: A. Hermet, De la faible fréquentation de la cantine en collèges de zep, VEI Enjeux, n°127,
December 2001 http://www2.cndp.fr/revuevei/127/16217511.pdf. On low attendance see also S. CZERNICHOW, A. MARTIN,
Rapport. Nutrition et restauration scolaire, de la maternelle au lycée : Etat des lieux, Agence Française de Sécurité Sanitaire des
Rapport du Défenseur des droits « L’égal accès des enfants à la cantine de l’école primaire , 28 Mars 2013.
The report adds that 9% report problems related to the composition of meals that offend their religious beliefs, explicitly.
Annick Hermet (ibid)
finally left it when they entered the sixth grade
. The reason, according to all them, was
that the food was not helal (Turkish pronunciation) /halal (Arabic pronunciation).
Having been unable to obtain the official attendance figures of the schoolchildren who
eat in the canteen, I asked them to count how many Muslims in their classes ate in the
canteen. It appears that they were a small minority of Muslims in this case. This excerpt
from the interview also indicates that they know their classmates' religion and gives
indications of how they rank them.
In your class, how many Muslims and how many who eat in the canteen?
Toutché: We are 9 out of 20 Muslims and only 2 eat......
Ouissem: we are 3 Arabs out of 26, and 5 Muslims out of 26 in Ste Claire, none of us
eat in the canteen, if one who is Moroccan but French, his mother is Moroccan and
his father French.
Attakan: in my classroom there is 3 Muslims and none of them eat
Attila: 6 Muslims and 3 eat in the canteen,
Farah: 11 Muslims out of 25 and 3 eat in the canteen
Did you eat in the canteen?
…Yes, on Thursdays and Fridays in primary school,
… So did I
And the meat, did you eat it?
All the high school students: No, no... because it's not helal/halal
The college is never very far away in the concentrated habitats of the so-called sensitive
areas. As soon as they are autonomous and allowed to go home on their own, which is
not allowed in primary school, chidren go back home. Sometimes they meet one or both
parents who prepare the meal, sometimes they are alone and prepare their own meal,
heating leftovers they find in the fridge to microwave. Among the schoolchildren
interviewed, none of them wishes to stay and eat at the canteen. Among the reasons,
here are those that were reported during the discussion:
1-The contamination, the fear of making mistakes
Attila: I used to give the meat to my friend, but now you see … the meat can touch
The first names have been changed.
Eray: I only ate fish... Oh yes .. once I ate chicken I thought it was fish !!!
2-Fear of being forced
Toutché: Once I was in the “discovery class” (where children go travelling with their
professor) … I cried because they forced me to eat meat that was not halal. The lady
cut it off in my plate and put it in my mouth. She forced me....!
Ouissem: Me, in my class (discovery) nobody ate meat, we were punished and
nobody ate it anyway, we went on strike so they sent words to the parents…
3-The economic and psychological cost of eating vegetarian food (an option that most
ZUS colleges offer)
Ouissem: this year I'm not going at the canteen, it's too expensive, and also I don’t
want to, because... so I eat the leftovers from the fridge, from last night, because my
parents work and I don't know how to cook (laughs) I go to HFC
cheaper than the canteen and we eat more, for 4.90 a menu, it's the same as KFC
but it's Halal.
Toutché: well, yeah, for 3 euros in the canteen you get a salad and bread... salad and
kiri frankly... (grimacing)
Ouissem: what's annoying is that sometimes people have good stuff, with pork …
and we can't eat because it's not halal
4- The impossibility of bringing food to the college
Ouissem: we are not allowed to bring stuff to eat because "apparently it kills (ironic)"
(laughs)...because meat (would be) no good", only those with allergies can. In
college we are not allowed to bring our meals.
I brought a sandwich and they yelled at me...
We tell them it's not halal, and they say, "But it's not pork!"
They don't understand that it's not halal even meat....
Children confide that there are good advantages to going back home: it's good, and the
schoolbags are lighter.
Halal Fast Food Restaurant.
Fast food restaurant chain.
THE CANTEEN IS NOT MUSLIM
Later in the discussion, I asked if they would like halal meat to be offered in the
canteen. The answer was unanimously positive. However, when I asked if they would
go, they were hesitant, sometimes mute. Of course, they would lose the benefits they
find when they return home. But there is another reason illuminated by another
sequence of the conversation which focuses on food sociabilities.
Are you going to eat with non-Muslim friends: no, never
you wouldn't eat the meat? no: no : no
what if they say it's halal? Well, I don't eat because I don't know if it's true... if I'm
really hungry, I look in the trash! (everybody laugh)
what if he's a Muslim? yes: yes : yes
Ouissem (who makes his friends laugh again): and you ma'am, you know if it's halal or
not halal? Once there was a guy who told me there's coke in the pig, well, no, I mean
there's pork in coke, you know...
Farah: my girlfriend brings candies, she's from the Sri Lanka, but I say (disappointment)
I don't want it…
Attila: well they say there's rat stuff in coke!
Eating halal meat is not enough. All food can be contaminated. And only a Muslim
seems to be able to guarantee the lawfulness of food. As the canteen is not part of the
Muslim space, it could not reassure them on this point. I then ask if they would prefer to
go to a Muslim school.
Would you go to a Muslim school to eat in the canteen? silence: silence
Obviously surprised, the schoolchildren look at me with round eyes. My question is
probably poorly worded. It is illogical to them given what has been said. Why change
schools to go to the canteen when it’s good to eat lunch at home? As the conversation
progressed, the hypothesis of a separate school did not appeal to them at all, nor did
they ever think of it.
TO BE A MUSLIM AMONG OTHERS,
Wouldn't a school with only Muslims be better?
Ouissam: No... because we couldn't make fun of them... no I'm kidding... I don't know...
because we can't hit them !
Attila (to Ouissam) : hey that sounds racist! (everybody laughs)
Ouissam: because Muslims don't take the time to do their homework... it would be nice
(to be only Muslims) … but it's better when there's everyone around…
Attakan: …so we can know the culture
Ouissam: … it's better so that we can cheat on the best students (necessarily not muslim
according to Ouissam)
The Franco-Turkish mother intervenes in the conversation. For her, children are caught
up in a dynamic of influence that she disapproves of. This does not seem very "Islamic"
Mother: If I understand correctly, she said, when you are together, you only eat if it is
helal. If, for example, a Muslim friend doesn't eat helal, do you judge him? (answer
from the children in chorus: NO!).
Mother: He does what he wants? (children's answer: YES!).
Mother: And then why can’t he do it (eat haram ndla) when he's with everyone, when at
home he's not going to eat helal? How do you explain that?
Farah : He is ashamed...
Mother: And you point it out to him?
Toutché, embarrassed: no, well, yes, sometimes some do. I say you don't eat halal, you
don't eat halal, I don't care. I mean, I'm still going to tell him! But in a nice way.....
Attila, her son, answers : Yes, sometimes we don't care about others.
Mother: I know some kids who forbid their parents to eat at Mac Do if there are friends
around who can see them, it goes that far !....
None of the children interviewed would want to leave the school to be among Muslims.
In this world of cohabitation of cultural groups, children consider the barriers erected
between them in functional terms. Everyone must be in their place, behaving according
to their religious identity, a little like in a sport team. The assimilationist discourse that
translates into an (sometimes violent) injunction to eat like others appears to them as a
racist discourse, which denies them, undermines who they are, what they defend, their
The children in this discussion group are aware of racism and acknowledge that they
have patterns of exclusion. But they only say they are victims of it from adults. They
live plurality from their identity, which is all better experienced when one feel "strong".
For them, the problem is not having a strong identity, the problem is rather not having
one. And for them, French people suffer from a lack of identity. They are weak. Their
"French" comrades do not assume themselves as such, sometimes they are afraid : they
Toutché: sometimes they (French or whites) say I'm a Muslim, but it's not true... I
don't like it, it's not their religion. For example, someone is Catholic, he won't take
responsibility, he'll say I'm a Muslim. (je dirai : if someone is Catholic, he will deny
it, he’ll say he is Muslim instead.)
Ouissam: yet he doesn't believe in anything at all !
Is it better to be or even pretend to be a Muslim?
Everything: I don't know… it seems it's better, … so he'll go with us, they say "I'm
muslim", sometimes they say ouallah, they swear on the Koran… but they should
just swear on the Bible!
Ouissam: yeah, sometimes there are French people they say "about the Koran" when
they are not even Arabs
Attakan adressing to Ouissam : you can say Muslim you know, Turks are not Arabs!
Ouissam: yes yes I know... There are French people they say "I swear on the Koran
of Mecca I will go there etc.... "
Are you telling them they're not Muslims?
Ouissam: Yes, but it's a habit, as they hang out with us, they copy our sentences.
They are afraid of us, it seems…I don't know when we're among ourselves, there are
French people, they're afraid of us, we're terrorists (laughs), … but they want to do
everything like us, if I yell at her (he points out her Arab neighbor), she'll defend
herself! when I yell at a French person it's not the same thing.. he keeps his maw shut
(uh his mouth).
I'm not going to hit you, quiet! We say""""Expressions in Arabic..."" And then they
repeat it !... we ask what does that mean? They answer "I don't know"
Is that a lack of courage? Is that fear? Do they have any reason to be afraid?
Several schoolchildren : No, no, no, not at all... we just laugh. That's the way they
Attakan: Yes, they are afraid.
Attila: Yes, when you say something, they don't defend themselves, they stay like
that, they are paralyzed, why they are afraid of us, it's the way we talk, I don't
What divide them is "racism". But if they spontaneously mention the racism of some of
their teachers and give multiple examples, they never mention racism of other children.
They seem quite aware of their own conduct towards "French". But they justify
themselves by the fear they arouse according to the following reasoning: "We
sometimes play the villains, but if they (French kids) are too afraid, it is not because we
are really bad, because we are not, it is because of their prejudices against us".
Let us listen to the mothers in the second focus group.
4. From the taboo of the pig...
From the taboo of pork
French mothers from Turkish and North African families - all born in France or at a
young age - were unanimous in stating that children were more attached to halal than
they were themselves, and that their children paid far more attention to what they ate
than those of their generation. Better informed through the halal market, internet
advertising, TV shows, and what they learn at the mosque, children were more aware,
they say, of the differences between halal and non-halal. Here are some excerpts
(extracts) of the conversation:
"Our parents didn't tell us... »
"The parents didn't go into detail, they didn't explain..."
"The halal market didn't exist, there were very few butcher shops..."
"We weren't asking ourselves the question..."
"We ate at school, we went to Mac Do..."
"I wasn’t taught so much the right way, but my neighbor next door did cut (bleeding)
the animal ndla) themselves..."
"Eating pork was forbidden, but if I had eaten in the canteen I would have eaten meat..."
"Our children know the difference..."
"This (us) poses us a problem of conscience..."it’s a consciousness problem to us
"I know I shouldn't..."
"We have regrets..."
"It's harder than a regime you don't respect because there's religion..."
According to the mothers, there is an emulation between youngsters: for example, a son,
then very young, decided to stop eating non-halal meat when his cousin taught him that
eating it was as serious as swallowing pork. What the child believed to be true came
from his cousin but not from his parents. However, the mother did not contradicted him
even though she had not been educated in this way and had eaten non-halal meat. The
mother even found a reason to agree with her son. She considered that her own conduct
was the result of the ignorance in which her parents held her and, although pious, they
had little knowledge of their religion and therefore did not explain it well.
All but one of the mothers in the focus group had eaten "non-halal" meat before because
their parents served it to them. Today they are questioning the education they received
from their parents.
When we investigated the same territory 15 years earlier, the taboo of pork appeared
central, the obligation to consume halal meat being discussed. This taboo was
responsible for the exclusive use of Muslim butcher shops or kosher shops, where
customers were guaranteed that there would be no pigs
Before the 1990s, Muslim religious leaders did not propose a theological basis for the
existence of a halal market
. The dominant religious interpretation was that "the meat of
the people of the Book" (those of Jews and Christians) was lawful to Muslims
But with the development of the halal market, the European Fatwa and Research
Council began to call on Muslims to create their own supply chains. The cadres of Islam
in France seem today to have repressed the conciliatory position of the great Egyptian
reformist mufti and the turn of the 21st century marks the end of what we call the food
consensus of the People of the Book that existed throughout the 20th century
the French Council of Muslim Worship does not officially call on Muslims to eat only
halal, it has proposed a "halal charter" only in 2010.
5..... halal as a symbolic space
The move from the simple taboo of pork to the exclusion of all non-halal food is not
quantitative but qualitative. We are not dealing with a simple increase in the number of
commodities declared illegal, but rather with the definition of an Islamic food space
Several factors contribute to this, which are far from being the result of religious
dynamics alone. The food taboo has been overtaken by modernity and its scientific,
technical and industrial means, which are supposed to reassure consumers by creating
trust. Traceability from stable to table, hygiene control standards known as HACCP
DNA detectors are based on the principle of mistrust. Confidence can now be bought
through halal certificates in a overbidding dynamic on the "ever more halal"
search for legal food that does not contain pigs, alcohol or protein from conventional
BENKHEIRA M.H. La Nourriture carnée comme frontière rituelle / Meat as a Ritual Frontier In: Archives des sciences sociales
des religions. N. 92, 1995. pp. 67-88.
This is still the case for some of them. BENKHEIRA M.H. (ibid)
This interpretation had become obvious after the publication of a fatwâ by Muhammad Abduh, one of the fathers of the Nahda in
almost all currents, including political Islam. F. BERGEAUD-BLACKLER, Les Sens du halal, CNRS editions 2014.
Organization representing the Muslim Brotherhood currents.
F. BERGEAUD-BLACKLER (2014)
For more details, see F BERGEAUD-BLACKLER, « « Islamiser l'alimentation » », Genèses 4/ 2012 (n° 89), p. 61-87 URL :
Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points
The one of "more halal than me you die" as a Saphirnews journalist ironically puts it, http://www.saphirnews.com/Plus-halal-que-
slaughter in its molecular state, as well as those which may have been in contact with
these prohibited substances, leads to the exclusion of all suspicious substances. Because
haram is found everywhere in adjuvants, colorants, thickeners for industrial dishes...
The haram can even appear from a candy as the young Attila sighs with regret.
Everything can be "halalised". In South East Asia, Malaysia in particular, this logic of
purity has been pushed so far that it is not only products, but processes and even today
spaces that are "halalised"
. The fight against the haram is so laborious, that it ends up
generating a hidden desire for a reinsuring “halal space”.
The low demand for halal menus may be related to an increased desire for authentic
halal in a particularly uncertain food world
. The doubtful (masbuh) once acceptable is
no longer acceptable. Families therefore manage to avoid having to face this dilemma:
leaving the child in the haram and in a food hypervigilance - this form of neophobia that
we find among those who have been sensitized very young to the avoidance of certain
foods - or facing the misunderstanding of a school administration that, in any case, will
be incompetent to solve the problem.
While commensality has virtues of social integration, particularly in a country like
France, not all food avoidance negatively affects them. The mere presence of a food
taboo is not enough to undermine conviviality.
But in a segregated world where dialogue seems difficult, where the assimilationist
republican discourse is interpreted as a discourse of protective identities negation, where
food avoidance is absolute, where places of common restoration are not commensurate,
where only certain groups possess a system of meaning that links food and (live???)
identity, conviviality seems endangered. The desertion of school canteens, particularly
in the suburbs of the Republic
, the attachment to the normative space of halal reflects a
separation of populations and signals the advent of another model of conviviality that
has the full and entire support of the halal market promoters who, like the integralist
, live and are enriched by the segmentations of populations.
Reason for the availability of halal water, J. FISCHER, Halal Sanitised: Health and Science in a Globalised Religious Market.
Society, (1), 24-47. 2010.
On the other hand, when requests for halal meat are made, it seems that it is rather the minority fact of Islamic associations that use
this type of claim as a political resource without necessarily believing in its outcome. For example, the Committees against
Islamophobia consider any resistance to the accommodation of menus as Islamophobic acts, which prevents them from
understanding all the reasons for it. Islamophobia does not seem to us to systematically motivate these refusals. Islamophobic
groups are few in number but extremely noisy, and above all they no longer hide.
Borrowing the expression and title of the book by G. KEPEL; L. ARSLAN; S. ZOUHEIR Banlieue de la République, Paris,
"Integralist" means living one's religion as a way of life, a style in every sense of the word. J. CESARI, L'islam à l'épreuve de
l'Occident, Paris, La Découverte, 2004.