On Sunday 27th August 2023, the French education minister Gabriel Attal said that the wearing of abaya dresses by Muslim women in schools will be banned in France. He asserted that the attire contravenes stringent secular regulations in the field of education in France. Abaya is a full-length loose-fitting dress worn by Muslim women. This baggy garment is worn by Muslim women to comply with Islamic beliefs on the so-called ‘modest dress’.
Gabriel Attal said, “It will no longer be possible to wear an abaya at school.” He mentioned his intention to provide “clear rules at the national level” to school administrators before the resumption of classes across the country on September 4. The declaration made by Attal marks a significant step forward, as it comes shortly after his promotion to the position of education minister earlier this summer.
This decision follows months of discussions regarding the use of abayas within French schools, where there has already been a prohibition on women wearing the Islamic headscarf. Reports have emerged of a rising trend in the wearing of abayas within schools, leading to escalating tensions between educators and parents on this matter.
The education minister of France further said, “Secularism means the freedom to emancipate oneself through school. Abaya is 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.”
In contrast to headscarves, abayas, which are loose-fitting, long garments worn in adherence to Islamic principles of modest attire, have existed in a somewhat uncertain territory and had not encountered a complete prohibition until this point. However, the education ministry had previously released a directive on this matter in November 2022. This directive classified the abaya as part of a collection of clothing items that could potentially be prohibited if they were “worn in a manner that visibly showcases a religious association.” The circular also included bandanas and lengthy skirts within this same grouping.
In March 2004, France enacted a law that prohibited students from displaying religious affiliations through attire or symbols within schools. This encompassed items such as prominent crosses, Jewish kippas, and Islamic headscarves.
Notably, Islamic fanaticism in France has continuously increased in the past few years. In 2020, a Chechen refugee carried out the beheading of teacher Samuel Paty over alleged ‘blasphemy’ after he reportedly showed the Charlie Hebdo cartoons on Prophet Mohammad in a class.
Protests and unrest ensued in Paris suburbs after a teenager, Nahel Merzouk who was a delivery agent was killed by a police officer on 27 June. He was stopped by the police and was asked to show documents while he was driving when he tried to flee the scene during which shots were fired. One of the bullets hit him in the chest and he died on the spot.
Riots and chaos virtually took over France in less than a week, creating a situation that many compared to civil war. More than 45,000 police officers were stationed across the country. Protesters clashed with police, torched vehicles, looted stores and burnt them down. The largest library in Marseilles, Alcazar, also fell victim to the violence and was set on fire.