FRANCE: France’s education minister announced that students in state-run schools will no longer be allowed to wear the abaya, a loose-fitting full-length robe worn by some Muslim women. The rule will take effect once the new school year commences on September 4.
France enforces a stringent prohibition on religious symbols within state schools and government edifices, asserting that such symbols contravene secular legislation. The wearing of headscarves in state-run schools has been prohibited since 2004.
“When you walk into a classroom, you shouldn’t be able to identify the pupils’ religion just by looking at them,” Gabriel Attal, France’s education minister, told TF1 TV, adding that “I have decided that the abaya can no longer be worn in schools.”
After months of discussions regarding the wearing of abayas in French schools, this decision has been made.
The attire has been worn in school more frequently, causing a political split with right-wing parties, who advocate for a prohibition, whereas left-wing groups express worries about the rights of Muslim females.
In his interview with TF1, Attal stated that “secularism means the freedom to emancipate oneself through school,” contending that the abaya is “a religious gesture aimed at testing the resistance of the republic towards the secular sanctuary that school must constitute.”
He stated that he would provide precise guidelines on a national scale prior to the commencement of the school term following the summer vacation.
In 2010, France outlawed the public wearing of full face veils, which infuriated the country’s five million-strong Muslim population.
Since the 19th century, France has strictly prohibited all religious signs, especially Christian symbols like huge crosses, from being shown in schools in an effort to reduce any Catholic influence on the curriculum.
Over the years, it has updated the ordinance to reflect its shifting demographic, including the Jewish kippa and the Muslim hijab, although abayas have not been outright forbidden.
The discussion around Islamic symbols has gained momentum after a Chechen refugee beheaded Samuel Paty, a teacher who had displayed Prophet Mohammed caricatures to students near Paris in 2020.
This announcement marks the initial significant policy choice by Attal, who became France’s education minister at the age of 34 this summer, following his appointment by President Emmanuel Macron.
The CFCM, a national organisation representing numerous Muslim associations, has stated that clothing items by themselves do not constitute “a religious sign.”