French authorities are to ban the wearing in school of abaya dresses worn by some Muslim women, the education minister said on Sunday, arguing the garment violated France’s strict secular laws in education.
“It will no longer be possible to wear an abaya at school,” Education Minister Gabriel Attal told TF1 television, saying he would give “clear rules at the national level” to school heads ahead of the return to classes nationwide from September 4.
The move comes after months of debate over the wearing of abayas in French schools, where women have long been banned from wearing the hijab.
The right and far-right had pushed for the ban, which the left argued would encroach on civil liberties.
There have been reports of abayas being increasingly worn in schools and tensions within school over the issue between teachers and parents.
“Secularism means the freedom to emancipate oneself through school,” Attal said, describing the abaya as “a religious gesture, aimed at testing the resistance of the republic toward the secular sanctuary that school must constitute.”
“You enter a classroom, you must not be able to identify the religion of the students by looking at them,” he said.
A law of March 2004 banned “the wearing of signs or outfits by which students ostensibly show a religious affiliation” in schools.
This includes large crosses, Jewish kippas and Islamic headscarves.
Unlike headscarves, abayas occupied a grey area and faced no outright ban until now.
The debate has intensified since a radicalized Chechen refugee beheaded teacher Samuel Paty, who had shown students caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, near his school in a Paris suburb in 2020.
The CFCM, a national body encompassing many Muslim associations, has said items of clothing alone were not “a religious sign.”
The announcement is the first big move by Attal, 34, since he was promoted this summer to handle the hugely contentious education portfolio.
Along with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, 40, he is seen as a rising star who could potentially play an important role after Macron steps down in 2027.