French authorities on Monday began enforcing a recently announced ban on the ‘abaya’, a Muslim dress for women, in schools. More than 500 educational institutions were under scrutiny as students across the country returned to class.
The government had declared the ban on the abaya last month, asserting that it violated the principles of secularism in education.
These principles had already led to the prohibition of Muslim headscarves, as they were considered a display of religious affiliation. While this move was welcomed by the political right, it sparked opposition from the hard-left, who viewed it as an infringement on civil liberties.
Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, during her visit to a school in northern France, reported that the morning had proceeded without any incidents. She emphasized the need for vigilance throughout the day to ensure that students grasped the significance of this rule.
She noted that in some schools, girls had arrived wearing abayas. Some agreed to remove them, while others would engage in discussions, and educational approaches would be used to explain the application of the law.
Critics from the hard-left accused President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government of trying to appeal to Marine Le Pen’s far-right National Rally and shifting toward the right with the abaya ban.
Education Minister Gabriel Attal disclosed that authorities had identified 513 schools that could be affected by the ban at the beginning of the school year. France has approximately 45,000 schools, with 12 million students returning to school on Monday.
Special attention had been given to identifying schools where the ban might pose challenges, and trained school inspectors would be deployed in certain schools.
However, Attal expressed his opposition to imposing a ban on parents wearing clothing with religious significance when accompanying their children on school outings, distinguishing between what happens within the school and outside it.
Some prominent figures on the right had called on the government to introduce school uniforms in state schools, and Attal indicated that he would announce a uniform trial in the autumn, although he expressed reservations about its effectiveness in solving all school-related issues.
In March 2004, a law was introduced in France that prohibited “the wearing of signs or attire through which students conspicuously display a religious affiliation” in schools. This encompassed items like large crosses, Jewish kippas, and Islamic headscarves. Unlike headscarves, abayas, which are long, loose garments worn for modesty in compliance with Islamic beliefs, had not faced an outright ban until now.
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