France Tightens Religious Clothing Ban: Islamic Abayas Banned in Schools

Ahead of the upcoming return of students to their classrooms, France’s education minister announced that the country will ban pupils from wearing the abaya, a loose-fitting, full-length robe worn by some Muslim women, in state schools.

This move comes as the debate over the wearing of abayas in French state schools continues to intensify after female students were not allowed to wear the hijab there.

I have decided that the abaya could no longer be worn in schools,” Education Minister Gabriel Attal said during an interview with French television channel TF1. “When you walk into a classroom, you shouldn’t be able to identify the pupils’ religion just by looking at them.

Secularism, also called laïcité in French, remains a strong tradition in the Western European country, with public schools banning religious clothing such as Jewish kippas and large Christian crosses across their premises.

France also banned the use of hijabs in public schools in 2004, while a ban on full-face veils was passed in 2010, sparking outrage among the country’s five-million-strong Muslim community. However, unlike headscarves, abayas occupied a gray area and did not face an outright ban until recently.

Although France has enforced a strict ban on religious signs in state schools since the 19th-century laws removed any influence of the Catholic Church from public education, the French government has struggled to update and apply the same guidelines to deal with the country’s growing Muslim population.

France's right and far-right pushed for a ban on abayas, while the left argued that such policies would encroach on civil liberties.

In response to this new ban, the French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM), a nationwide body representing many Muslim associations, argued that clothing items alone were not “a religious sign.

Defending and upholding secularism in France is a rallying cry that resonates across the political spectrum, from left-wingers defending the liberal values of the Enlightenment to far-right voters looking for a bulwark against the growing role of Islam in French society.

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