A Muslim mother wearing an abaya robe, Source: Depositphotos

After headscarves, France bans abaya robes

After headscarves, France bans abaya robes

And once again, this sparks a fierce debate in society regarding the nature of the country’s secularism policy

Shortly before the start of the new school year, the French education ministry announced that it would prohibit the wearing of traditional Islamic abaya robes in public schools. The aim of the state is to continue enforcing the strict secularism policy (laïcité) that has been in place since the end of the 19th century.

Originally, that policy was meant to curb the millennial influence of the Catholic Church on French society. A big part of this was the ban on religious symbols in the schools, meant to be spaces of reason and equality. In recent decades, however, it has been somewhat unevenly updated in order to also include the influence of religion among the growing Muslim minority in the country.

Religion or fashion?

To that end back in 2004, the French government outlawed headscarves in schools, and in 2010, it banned face coverings in public. The so-called ‘burqini’ style of swimwear has also been prohibited in swimming pools.

The ban on the abaya, a traditional robe worn by many Muslim women over other clothes, was quick to generate debate, however.

On one hand, the educational minister Gabriel Attal said, in an interview with TV channel TF1, that one shouldn’t be able to identify a pupil’s religion just by looking at them in a classroom. He was supported by both the liberal and conservative parties, albeit for different reasons.

Others, however, have argued that banning the abaya is moving straight into “fashion police” territory because the clothing item is a sign of tradition rather than a religious garment.

Less than a year ago, Attal's predecessor, Pap Ndiaye, decided against going further and specifically banning the abaya, telling the Senate that "the abaya is not easy to define, legally...”



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