When does a student wear an abaya? New ban makes a lot of noise in France 07:22 Abroad Wearing the covering dress would go against the secular principles in the country. Muslims are afraid that the new ban will lead to more stigmatization.

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A girl wearing an abaya in Nantes, France
NOS News
  • Eliane Lamper

    editor Online

  • Eliane Lamper

    editor Online

Dozens of French girls were turned away at the gate at the start of the new school year: they had to take off their long dress, or abaya, first. Those who did not were sent home. The abaya ban is the latest measure by secular France, which has been combating religious expressions in public for years.

Education Minister Gabriel Attal announced the ban on the eve of the new school year. When you walk into the schoolroom, you shouldn’t see what religion you follow, the argument goes. Qamis, long blouses for men, were also banned.

“This fits in with a broader development that has been going on in French politics for some time,” says Nadia Fadil, sociologist and anthropologist at KU Leuven. “The already strict rules of secularism are becoming increasingly strict. Wearing a long dress would send a message of political Islam, and thus be an attack on the secular values ​​of the state.”

Wearing the wide, covering dresses had long been a point of discussion in French schools. The abaya fell into a gray area. School boards raised the alarm because more and more students were wearing such clothing and they did not know whether to send them away.

Protest against the abaya ban in Seine-Saint-Denis: ‘Comparing high school girls to terrorists is a no’

The secular regulations mainly affect Muslims. “Wearing an abaya would be suspicious and is even linked to terrorism,” says Fadil, “As if these girls want to convey an ideology with their clothing.” For Muslims, this creates a feeling of insecurity, the researcher says.

Popular dress

The ban should provide clarity to schools, but it is not so clear what exactly an abaya is. “It is not religious clothing, such as a headscarf, but rather a traditional dress to show your Muslim identity,” says Jasmijn Rana, anthropologist and researcher at Leiden University. “It’s actually a maxi dress that’s popular right now.”

This oversized garment can be found at all major fashion chains. It is also worn by non-Muslims. “The question is where the dividing line is. Now there is a chance that schools will play moral police and determine what is and is not religious,” says Rana. Muslims are afraid that they will be singled out solely on the basis of external characteristics, such as skin color.

An interest group for Muslims, ADM, went to the highest court this week. They call the ban Islamophobic and discriminatory for students with an Arab background. The judge disagreed and said that the ban does not conflict with fundamental freedoms.

Lots of support among the population

The new restriction is causing unrest. Girls are speaking out against the new rules on TikTok and Instagram. There was a strike by teachers in the Parisian suburb of Saint-Denis this week, they say it only concerns a small group.

The ban follows a series of previous measures. Since 2004, it has been forbidden to wear a headscarf, yarmulke or cross in French schools. In 2016, it was banned to wear a burkini, covering swimwear, at public swimming places. Previously, the niqab was also banned.

The vast majority of the French population believes it is right that secular principles are protected in this way. More than eighty percent of French people support this ban, a recent poll showed. There is also great support in politics from left to right.

Hoodie style abaya

The question on social media is now: what is an abaya and what is not? Photos of gowns, evening dresses and kimonos are shown. British fashion designer Saeedah Haque designed a long dress in the style of a hoodie. She launched it this week especially for the French market.

She encouraged girls to wear them at school from now on. “They can’t ban hoodies,” said Haque, who designs sporty clothing for Muslim women, among others. Her dress sold out within a day.

  • French schools send dozens of girls home in abayas
  • France bans abaya robe in schools: ‘Against secular rules’
  • French government wants to ban number of Islamic organizations
  • Abroad

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