French authorities have announced a ban on the wearing of abaya dresses by Muslim women in schools, according to Education Minister Gabriel Attal. The decision comes in response to concerns that the garment violates France’s strict secular laws in education.
Ban on Abayas in Schools
“It will no longer be possible to wear an abaya at school,” stated Education Minister Gabriel Attal during an interview with TF1 television. He emphasized his intention to establish clear national-level rules for school administrators before classes resume nationwide on September 4.
The debate over the wearing of abayas in French schools has persisted for months. While the wearing of Islamic headscarves has long been prohibited for women, abayas have occupied a gray area and faced no outright ban until now.
Secularism and Religious Expression
Attal explained, “Secularism means the freedom to emancipate oneself through school.” He described the abaya as “a religious gesture, aimed at testing the resistance of the republic toward the secular sanctuary that school must constitute. You enter a classroom, you must not be able to identify the religion of the students by looking at them.”
In March 2004, a law was enacted that banned “the wearing of signs or outfits by which students ostensibly show a religious affiliation” in schools. This prohibition included large crosses, Jewish kippas, and Islamic headscarves. The abaya, however, had not been explicitly banned until now.
An education ministry circular issued in November of the previous year already addressed the issue. It categorized the abaya as part of a group of clothing items that could be prohibited if they were “worn in a manner as to openly display a religious affiliation.” Bandanas and long skirts were also included in this category.
Reaction to the Ban
The announcement of the ban garnered mixed reactions. Some head teachers’ unions welcomed the clarity provided by the decision. Union leader Bruno Bobkiewicz praised the instructions for being clear and unambiguous.
On the political front, Eric Ciotto of the opposition right-wing Republicans party expressed support for the ban. He mentioned that his party had advocated for the prohibition of abayas in schools multiple times. However, Clementine Autain of the left-wing opposition France Unbowed party criticized the ban as a form of “policing of clothing.” She argued that it contradicted France’s secular values and reflected a biased approach towards Muslims.
Context and Future Implications
The ban on abayas follows heightened debates surrounding religious expression in schools, particularly in the aftermath of the 2020 beheading of teacher Samuel Paty. The incident occurred after Paty showed caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed to students.
The decision marks a significant step for Education Minister Gabriel Attal, who was promoted earlier in the summer. Together with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, Attal is considered a rising star in French politics and may play a pivotal role after President Emmanuel Macron’s term concludes in 2027.
(This story has not been edited by Smartkhabrinews staff and is published from a syndicated news agency feed – AFP)