France has banned schoolgirls from wearing abayas and males from wearing qamis at state schools in a controversial move.
The move, coming as the new school year begins, was decreed by France’s new Education Minister, Gabriel Attal, although French law imposes a strict separation between the state and religion.
The abaya is a full-length garment traditionally worn by women in Muslim countries. The qamis is the counterpart for boys.
The ban is based on a long-standing ban on visible religious symbols in schools in France amid ongoing efforts to promote secularism.
Mr Attal said the number of violations of secularism rules at schools has significantly increased over the past few months, often involving abayas.
The ban comes after extensive debate in France about whether the abaya is a religious symbol or an ordinary garment.
“Religious symbols have no place in school,” President Emmanuel Macron said a week ago.
He said heads of schools should not be stuck having to decide on the matter themselves.
An association for protecting Muslims’ rights has already filed a complaint with the Council of State, the country’s highest administrative court.
It is estimated that between 3.5 million and six million Muslims live in France, a country with a population of 67 million people.
The public display of symbols seen as religious has repeatedly provoked controversy, particularly where Islam is concerned.
In 1994, a law that allowed only discreet religious symbols in schools was passed.
Ten years later, donning headscarves was banned entirely in schools, along with the kippa and large crosses.
In 2010, the ban on full-face veils in public followed.
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