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Sunday, July 14, 2024

France Introduces Ban on Abayas for Female Students in State Schools

Ahead of the start of the new school year, France’s education minister announced a ban on youngsters wearing abayas—the loose-fitting, full-length robe used by certain Muslim women—in public schools.

Since 19th-century legislation eliminated any traditional Catholic influence from public education, France has imposed stringent bans on religious signs in state schools and has struggled to update regulations to align with a rising Muslim population. French public schools do not allow the wearing of big crosses, Jewish kippas, and Islamic headscarves. In 2010, the nation approved a law banning full-face coverings in public, which infuriated a large portion of its five million-strong Muslim population.

The country first outlawed headscarves in schools in 2004. In an interview with TV channel TF1, Education Minister Gabriel Attal announced that the wearing of abayas would no longer be permitted in schools. Attal emphasized that a student’s religious affiliation should not be immediately discernible upon entering a classroom. This decision follows extensive discussions regarding the use of abayas within French schools, a topic that has been contentious due to the historical ban on women wearing the hijab. The far-right and right had advocated for the ban, which the left had opposed as it violated civil liberties.

In contrast to headscarves, abayas were in the grey area and, until recently, were not officially prohibited. Clothing alone is not “a religious symbol,” according to the French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM), an umbrella organization for numerous Muslim organizations. The defense of secularism is a political rallying cry that resonates across the political spectrum in France, from leftists preserving the liberal ideas of the Enlightenment to far-right voters seeking a bulwark against the expanding influence of Islam in French society.

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