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France’s education minister, Gabriel Attal, has announced a new rule prohibiting students from wearing abayas, long robes worn by some Muslim women, in state-run schools. The rule will take effect from the start of the upcoming school year on September 4.

France has a strict policy against religious symbols in schools and government buildings, arguing that they go against the principle of secularism. Headscarves have already been banned in state schools since 2004.

Attal explained that the decision aims to prevent students’ religious affiliations from being immediately visible when they enter the classroom.

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He told France’s TF1 TV: “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.”

The debate over abayas has caused divisions, with right-wing parties supporting the ban while left-wing groups raise concerns about the rights of Muslim women and girls.

Attal highlighted the importance of secularism in schools, describing it as a way for students to learn freely. He sees the abaya as a “religious gesture” that challenges the secular nature of schools.

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To clarify the new rule, Attal plans to provide clear guidelines at the national level before schools reopen after the summer break. France has a history of banning religious symbols in education to maintain a secular environment, but this is the first time abayas have been specifically addressed.

The debate on religious symbols gained intensity after the tragic killing of a teacher in 2020, who had shown cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed in class.

Attal’s announcement is his significant policy move since becoming education minister earlier this summer at the age of 34.

The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) disagrees with the ban, stating that clothing items alone should not be considered “religious signs”.

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