The education minister said on Sunday that abaya dresses worn by certain Muslim women would be prohibited from being worn at school, saying that the garment breached France’s stringent secular education standards.
“It will no longer be possible to wear an abaya to school,” Education Minister Gabriel Attal told TF1 television, adding that he will issue “clear rules at the national level” to school principals ahead of the start of schools on September 4 across the country.
The decision follows months of controversy about the use of abayas in French schools, where women have traditionally been prohibited from wearing the hijab.
The prohibition was backed by the right and far-right, while the left felt it would violate civil freedoms.
There have been reports of abayas being worn more often in schools, as well as confrontations between instructors and parents over the subject.
“Secularism means the freedom to emancipate oneself through school,” Attal explained, calling the abaya “a religious gesture aimed at testing the republic’s resistance towards the secular sanctuary that school must constitute.”
“When you walk into a classroom, you should not be able to tell what religion the students are by looking at them,” he stated.
In March 2004, a rule was passed that prohibited “the wearing of signs or outfits by which students ostensibly show a religious affiliation” in schools.
Large crosses, Jewish kippas, and Islamic headscarves are examples.
Unlike headscarves, abayas have existed in a murky area, with no official prohibition until today.
Since a radicalised Chechen immigrant killed teacher Samuel Paty, who had showed children cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad, outside his school in a Paris neighbourhood in 2020, the issue has heated up.
The CFCM, a national organisation that represents several Muslim organisations, has stated that dress alone is not “a religious sign.”
The statement is Attal’s first major step since being elevated last summer to oversee the highly controversial education sector.
Along with Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, 40, he is regarded as a rising star who might play a key role following Macron’s retirement in 2027.