The French Minister of Education, Gabriel Attal, announced this Sunday that he will ban the use of the abaya, the Islamic female tunic.in the schools of the country.
The move comes after months of debate over the wearing of abayas in French schools, where women have long been banned from wearing the Islamic headscarf.
“Secularism is not a restriction, but a freedom”, declared Attal in an interview with the French channel TF1, where he spoke of a “necessary and fair” rule. Although he has not given an exact date, the minister confirmed that he intends to discuss the issue with educational officials before the start of the school year on September 4.
“We will no longer be able to wear the abaya to school. The principals of the schools are, in many occasions, in the combat front of these problems, of these questions of secularism, and we have to help”, he added.
“I want to provide you with some clear rules at the national level in the next few days,” Attal said of the ban on wearing this tunic, which covers the entire body except the head, although women often top it off with a headscarf to virtually cover themselves.
The right and far right had lobbied for the ban, which the left said would encroach on civil liberties.
There have been reports of abayas being worn more and more in schools and of tensions within the school over the issue between teachers and parents.
“Secularism means the freedom to emancipate oneself through the schoolAttal said, describing the abaya as “a religious gesture, meant to test the republic’s resistance to the secular sanctuary that the school should constitute.”
“When you walk into a classroom, you shouldn’t be able to tell the students’ religion by looking at them,” he said.
A March 2004 law prohibited “the use of signs or clothing that conspicuously indicates to students a religious affiliation” in schools.
This includes large crosses, Jewish kippas, and Islamic headscarves.
Unlike headscarves, abayas, a long, loose-fitting garment worn to adhere to Islamic beliefs about modest dress, have occupied a gray area and have not faced any outright ban until now.
The debate has intensified since a radicalized Chechen refugee beheaded Professor Samuel Patywho had shown his students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad near his school in a Paris suburb in 2020.
The CFCM, a national body that groups many Muslim associations, has said that the clothing by itself was not “a religious sign”.
The announcement is the first big step for Attal, 34, since he was promoted this summer to handle the highly controversial education portfolio.
Along with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, 40, he is seen as a rising star who could play a major role after Macron leaves office in 2027.
This announcement comes a few days after publication, both in le figaro as in other media, from the conclusions of a note from state services that reveals an explosion of what they describe as “attacks on secularism” in schools. Thus, 4,710 reports were made in this regard during the 2022-2023 school year, compared to 2,167 in the 2021-2022 academic year.
(With information from AFP and Europa Press)
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