France Bans the Abaya in State Schools



France has banned girls in state schools from wearing abayas arguing that the abaya is a religious symbol which violates French secularism. The education minister, Gabriel Attal, was quoted saying: “The style of long, flowing dresses worn by some Muslim women would no longer be allowed when the new term begins next week because they violated the French principle of secularism.”


Muslims form the second largest religious group in France after Christians. Yet, Islamophobia tends to be an institutional phenomenon spearheaded by the State through the so-called anti ‘separatism’ law. This law denies public expression of religion in state institutions. The anti-separatism law introduced by the government in 2021 systemically obstructs religious freedom and Islamic practices. Muslim girls and women, wearing headscarves are the worst affected victims of Islamophobia. Rights activist Yasser says: “…if you are a Muslim woman donning a headscarf, you have a 1% chance of finding employment.”


The ban of the abaya is both is xenophobic and chauvinistic. France does not tolerate multiculturalism, it demands assimilating immigrant cultures into a single French culture, even if that culture offends the religious values of its citizens. Cultural assimilation leads to a loss of identity and belonging. It discriminates and forces people into a social straitjacket that is demeaning and discriminating. “Crucially, the space we call freedom, where civil society, religious or otherwise, is able to organize according to their ideals, principles and values, as long as these do not infringe the law – is shrinking… In seeking to eradicate the space for oppositional thinking in the name of upholding ‘republican principles,’ France is betraying itself.” (Myriam Francois, Time International, 8 Dec 2020)


France’s obsession with Muslims women’s dress is both excessive and unreasonable. It is absurd to regard the abaya as a religious projectile tailored to ferment social hostility. It is characteristic of France’s obsessional rejection of Muslims. Such a policy has less to do with ‘republican values’ and more to do with Islamophobia and the objectification of women.


We call on the French government to reconsider its fixation on ‘assimilation of cultures’ and, instead, focus on integration of its diverse ethnic communities.


Yusuf Patel (Moulana)
Secretary General


28 Safar 1445 / 14 Sep 2023