Paris, France – Nearly 300 students arrived at French state schools on Monday wearing the abaya, a long Muslim robe that was banned in schools just last week. This move has sparked a wave of dialogue, compliance, and legal challenges, highlighting the ongoing debate surrounding religious attire in the country.
According to official figures released by the French Ministry of Education, 298 girls, primarily aged 15 or older, turned up at school in the prohibited garment. In response, each case underwent a period of dialogue with school staff. Most of the girls eventually agreed to change into alternative clothing and were able to begin their classes. However, 67 girls refused to comply with the new regulation and were subsequently sent home.
A further round of discussions will now take place with the families of these non-compliant students. If these dialogues prove unsuccessful, the students may face exclusion from their schools.
Despite this resistance, the government maintains that the ban has been broadly accepted, especially when considering the approximately 12 million students who returned to school on Monday. However, a legal challenge by a group representing some Muslims is set to go before the courts later today.
This ban on abayas in French state-run schools was announced by the education minister at the end of August and took effect at the start of the new school year on September 4th. It is part of France’s broader efforts to enforce its strict ban on religious signs in state schools and government buildings, which has been in place since the 19th Century.
France’s ban on religious signs includes not only the Muslim headscarf but also the Jewish kippa and, more recently, full-face veils in public, implemented in 2010. The nation argues that such bans are necessary to uphold its secular laws and prevent any religious influence in public education.
The recent controversy surrounding abayas in schools has exacerbated a political divide in France, with right-wing parties advocating for the ban while left-wing groups express concerns about the rights of Muslim women and girls.
The debate over religious attire in schools is far from settled, and as legal challenges unfold, it is clear that the issue will continue to be a topic of contention and discussion in France.