The French government’s recent decision to prohibit the wearing of abayas in state schools has sparked anger among Muslim leaders. Gabriel Attal, the education secretary in Paris, deems the loose-fitting long robe too closely associated with Islam. France’s laws on secularism strictly forbid religious signs in state educational institutions and government buildings.
Mr. Attal announced that the ban will come into effect on September 4th, coinciding with the start of the new school year. He argues that it is essential for a student’s religion not to be identifiable solely by their appearance when entering a classroom. Consequently, he has made the decision to disallow abayas from being worn within schools.
Abdallah Zekri, vice-president of the French Council for Muslim Worship (CFCM), challenges this ban by asserting that the abaya has never been regarded as a religious symbol. Instead, he believes that politicians are exploiting women and girls who wear such attire as a means to target France’s five million Muslims unjustly. Mr. Zekri suggests that consulting religious leaders before implementing such measures would have been more appropriate.
Furthermore, Mr. Zekri clarifies his viewpoint by emphasizing that abayas are merely fashion items and do not hold any significant religious connotations or affiliations. They can easily be found in various stores without any connection to religion.
In June, CFCM also ruled that an abaya does not qualify as a sign of Muslim religiosity. Mr. Zekri expresses surprise at how much attention is being given to banning this garment within classrooms while there are pressing concerns regarding school funding shortages and teacher scarcity.
France has had strict regulations against displaying religious signs in schools since the 19th Century; one notable example includes banning full-face veils in public spaces back in 2010—commonly referred to as “Burqa Ban.” In addition to targeting Islamic clothing practices, other items such as the Jewish kippa have also been prohibited.
This recent ban on wearing abayas adds fuel to the ongoing debate surrounding secularism versus religious freedom within French society. Critics question whether these bans genuinely uphold principles of secularism or if they disproportionately target specific religious communities.