On Monday, September 4, 2023, the first day of the new school year in France, dozens of Muslim girls were sent home for wearing abayas, a long and loose-fitting robe that covers the body from shoulders to feet. The abaya ban was announced by the French government last month as part of its secularism policy that prohibits any display of religious affiliation in public schools.
According to Education Minister Gabriel Attal, nearly 300 girls showed up at school wearing abayas, defying the ban. Most of them agreed to change out of the robe, but 67 refused and were given a letter to their parents saying that “secularism is not a constraint, it is a liberty”. If they persist in wearing the abaya, they will face further dialogue with the school authorities.
The abaya ban has sparked controversy and criticism from some Muslim groups and human rights activists, who argue that it violates the freedom of expression and religion of the girls. An association representing Muslims, Action for the Rights of Muslims (ADM), has filed a motion to the State Council, France’s highest court, to issue an injunction against the ban and another one on the qamis, the male equivalent of the abaya. The motion is expected to be examined on Tuesday.