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French schools send home girls wearing abayas

September 5, 2023

Schools in France told dozens of girls in abayas to go home on the first day of the school year, a minister says. The government argues the garments go against secularism rules.

A girl wearing an abaya in front of a school in Marseille
The abaya has been banned at French schools as a sign of religous affiliationImage: Gilles Bader/picture alliance

Dozens of girls who turned up for school in France on Monday wearing abayas in defiance of a ban on the Muslim garment were sent home when they refused to remove them, a government minister told French broadcaster BFM on Tuesday.

The abaya, an over-garment covering the body from shoulders to feet that some Muslim women wear, was banned in schools by the French government last month.

The government says the abaya constitutes a display of religious affiliation, banned at schools under a 2004 law.

Until last month, the abaya had faced no outright ban as a gray zone under the law.

What happened on Monday?

Nearly 300 girls showed up at school on the first day of term wearing an abaya, with 67 sent home after they refused to remove the garment, Education Minister Gabriel Attal told BFM. He said the majority had agreed to change out of the dress.

Attal said those girls sent away were handed a letter to their families stating that "secularism is not a constraint; it is a liberty."

If the girls persisted in wearing the dress to school, there would be a "new dialogue," the minister said.

France to ban girls from wearing abaya in schools

What has been the reaction to the ban?

An association representing Muslims, Action for the Rights of Muslims (ADM), has called on the State Council, France's highest court for complaints against state authorities, to issue an injunction against the abaya ban and one on the qamis, the male dress equivalent.

The ADM motion is to be examined on Tuesday.

French President Emmanuel Macron has come out in defense of the ban, saying there was a "minority" in France that "hijacks a religion and challenges the republic and secularism."

On Monday evening, he said such behavior led to the "worst consequences," citing the brutal murder of teacher Samuel Paty three years ago.

Paty was killed by an 18-year-old Russian Muslim refugee following a social media campaign against him in which he was criticized for showing caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed in a class on freedom of expression.

"We cannot act as if the terrorist attack, the murder of Samuel Paty, had not happened," Macron said in an interview with YouTube channel HugoDecrypte.

"School must remain neutral: I don't know what your religion is; you don't know what mine is," the president said.

Under the 2004 secularism law, large Christian crosses, Jewish kippas and Islamic headscarves were already banned in school.

tj/dj (AFP, EFE)