First France banned headscarves in its public schools, then full face veils. Now, the abaya, a long, baggy robe worn by practicing Muslim girls and women in the name of modesty, joins the list of banned attire in the nation’s classrooms. Reuters reports that new Education Minister Gabriel Attal made the announcement over the weekend, right before the kickoff of the school year next Monday. “I have decided that the abaya [can] no longer be worn in schools,” Attal told TV channel TF1 on Sunday. “When you walk into a classroom, you shouldn’t be able to identify the pupils’ religion just by looking at them.”
The school ban against headscarves, or hijabs, was handed down in 2004, while the face veils were barred six years later—moves that were greeted with much anger among the 5 million Muslims living in France. Those bans, as well as the current one, have been part of the country’s push to keep public schools secular, which started back in the 1800s when religious signs touting traditional Catholic influence were barred. Al Jazeera notes that large Christian crosses and Jewish yarmulkes are also a no-go in French schools.
The news outlet notes the bans have appeal among both France’s left (who push for secularism) and right (who want to minimize Islam’s influence in French society), but the French Council of the Muslim Faith has argued that items of clothing alone shouldn’t be interpreted as a religious sign. A rep from France’s leftist opposition “Unbowed” party says that what Attal is trying to do with the abaya is “unconstitutional,” telling France 24 it’s a “policing of clothing” due to an “obsessive rejection of Muslims.” Attal says he’ll offer “clear rules at the national level” to schools across the nation before kids head to school next week. (Read more France stories.)