French Education Minister has announced that the traditional clothing known as abaya will be banned in schools, arguing the garment violated France’s strict secular laws in education.
“It will no longer be possible to wear an abaya at school,” Education Minister Gabriel Attal told TF1 television, saying he would give “clear rules at the national level” to school heads ahead of the return to classes nationwide from September 4.
The move comes after months of debate over the wearing of abayas in French schools, where women have long been banned from wearing the Islamic headscarf.
The right and far-right had pushed for the ban, which the left argued would encroach on civil liberties.
There have been reports of abayas being increasingly worn in schools and tensions within school over the issue between teachers and parents.
“Secularism means the freedom to emancipate oneself through school,” Attal said, describing 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,” he said.
A law of March 2004 banned “the wearing of signs or outfits by which students ostensibly show a religious affiliation” in schools.
This includes large crosses, Jewish kippas, and Islamic headscarves. Unlike headscarves, abayas, a long, baggy garment worn to comply with Islamic beliefs on modest dress — occupied a grey area and had faced no outright ban until now.
But the education ministry had already issued a circular on the issue in November last year.
It described the abaya as one of a group of items of clothing whose wearing could be banned if they were “worn in a manner as to openly display a religious affiliation”. The circular put bandanas and long skirts in the same category.