French law prohibiting the wearing of the abaya robe in schools has angered Islamic authorities.

French law prohibiting the wearing of the abaya robe in schools has angered Islamic authorities.

The French government’s abrupt decision to prohibit the wearing of abayas in state schools has sparked outrage among Muslim leaders. The Education Secretary in Paris, Gabriel Attal, deems the loose-fitting long robe to be closely associated with Islam. This move aligns with France’s strict ban on religious symbols within state schools and government establishments, a stance rooted in secularism laws.

The ban, set to take effect on September 4, coinciding with the beginning of the new school year, aims to ensure that a student’s religious affiliation cannot be determined solely by their appearance. Gabriel Attal stated, “When you walk into a classroom, you shouldn’t be able to identify the pupils’ religion just by looking at them. I have decided that the abaya could no longer be worn in schools.”

Abdallah Zekri, the vice-president of the French Council for Muslim Worship, criticized the ban, asserting that the abaya has never been a religious symbol. Instead, he sees it as a fashion item. He expressed concern that such bans unfairly target Muslim women and girls and are a means for politicians to target the Muslim community. He also mentioned that the Education Secretary could have consulted religious leaders before imposing the ban.

Zekri cited that the French Council of Muslim Worship (CFCM) had previously ruled that the abaya was not a religious sign of Islam. He found it surprising that the issue of abayas in schools took precedence over more pressing matters such as funding shortages and teacher shortages within the education system.

France has a history of implementing restrictions on religious attire in public spaces, as seen with the 2010 ban on full face veils in public areas. The country’s ban on religious symbols within schools has been upheld since the 19th Century, extending to include items like the Jewish kippa.