France to ban Muslim abaya dresses in schools

The loose-fitting, full length dresses are sometimes worn by Muslim women. The education minister stressed the religion of school pupils should not be identified at sight

Representative image of women wearing hijab (Photo: DW)
Representative image of women wearing hijab (Photo: DW)


France will ban school pupils attending state-run facilities from wearing the abaya, a loose-fitting, full length dress some Muslim women wear.

Education Minister Gabriel Attal, who was only promoted to his role earlier in the summer, made the announcement late on Sunday in 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," he said.

What prompted the move against the abaya?

In 2004, a French law banned "the wearing of signs or outfits by which students ostensibly show a religious affiliation" in schools. This applied to large crosses, Jewish kippas and Islamic headscarves.

Nevertheless, abayas were somehow spared, until last November.

The Education Ministry at the time issued a circular including the abaya in a group of items of clothing which could be banned should they be donned "in a manner as to openly display a religious affiliation." The circular also singled out bandanas and long skirts.

The controversy surrounding the abaya intensified in 2020, when a radicalized Chechen Muslim beheaded a teacher. The teacher had shown students caricatures of Muslim prophet Mohammed.

What has the reaction been?

Head teachers' union leader Bruno Bobkiewicz welcomed the announcement.

"The instructions were not clear, now they are and we welcome it," Bobkiewicz, general secretary of the NPDEN-UNSA, said.

Eric Ciotto, head of the opposition right-wing Republicans party, also welcomed the news.

"We called for the ban on abayas in our schools several times," he said.

Others, such as left-wing opposition France Unbowed party member Clementine Autain, condemned it as a "policing of clothing." She argued that it was "unconstitutional" and against the founding principles of France's secular values.

Autain accused the French government of harboring an "obsessive rejection" of the country's some 5 million Muslim population.

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Published: 28 Aug 2023, 10:55 AM