French authorities to ban wearing Islamic abayas in schools
The French education minister said on Sunday (August 27) that the nation will ban children from wearing the abaya, which is the loose-fitting, full-length robes worn by some Muslim women, in state-run schools. The announcement was made just ahead of the back-to-school season.
Education Minister Gabriel Attal told TF1 television that it will no longer be "possible to wear an abaya at school". He added that he would give "clear rules at the national level" to school heads ahead of the return to classes nationwide from September 4.
Women have long been banned from wearing the Islamic headscarf and this decision came after months of debate over the wearing of abayas in French schools.
France has enforced a strict ban on religious signs in state schools since 19th-century laws removed any traditional Catholic influence from public education. However, the nation has struggled to update guidelines to deal with the Muslim minority.
"Secularism means the freedom to emancipate oneself through school," Attal said, further adding that the abaya is "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.
"Wearing of signs or outfits by which students ostensibly show a religious affiliation" in schools has been banned by a law of March 2004. It includes large crosses, Jewish kippas and Islamic headscarves.
Many are familiar with the headscarves, but the abaya is different. It is 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.
The French education ministry had already issued a circular on the issue in November last year, calling 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.