France to Prohibit Abayas in Educational Institutions, Affirms Education Minister
On Monday, August 28, 2023, abayas were spotted on sale at a yearly event held by the Union of Islamic Organizations of France, known as the cultural gathering for French Muslims, near Paris (File/Reuters).
In Paris, the education minister announced on Sunday that the wearing of abaya dresses by some Muslim women will be banned in schools, citing a violation of France’s strict secular laws in education.
“Wearing an abaya will no longer be allowed in schools,” stated Education Minister Gabriel Attal during an interview with TF1 television. He further mentioned that he would provide “clear regulations at the national level” to school administrators prior to the nationwide return to classes on September 4.
This decision follows months of discussions regarding the presence of abayas in French schools, where the hijab has long been prohibited.
The ban was advocated by the right and far-right, while the left argued that it would infringe upon civil liberties. Tensions between teachers and parents have reportedly arisen within schools due to the increasing number of abaya wearers.
“Secularism entails the freedom to progress through education,” Attal explained, describing the abaya as “a religious gesture aimed at challenging the secular nature of schools which should serve as sanctuaries.” He emphasized that upon entering a classroom, it should not be possible to discern students’ religious affiliations based on their appearance.
A law implemented in March 2004 prohibits “the wearing of visible signs or garments through which students intentionally exhibit a religious affiliation” within schools. This includes large crosses, Jewish kippas, and Islamic headscarves.
Unlike headscarves, abayas have existed in a gray area and have not faced an outright ban until now.
The debate surrounding this issue intensified following the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad to his students near his school in a Paris suburb in 2020.
The CFCM, a national organization comprising numerous Muslim associations, has stated that clothing items alone do not constitute “religious signs.”
This announcement marks the first significant action taken by 34-year-old Attal since assuming the highly contentious education portfolio earlier this summer.
Together with 40-year-old Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, Attal is regarded as a rising star who may play a crucial role after President Macron’s departure in 2027.