Amid controversy, is it a cultural or a religious symbol?
The French Council of State upholds the decision to ban the “abaya” in public schools

The French Council of State approved the decision to ban the wearing of the abaya in schools, rejecting the appeal submitted by the Association “Action for the Rights of Muslims” (ADM), amid accusations by human rights bodies that the government is practicing cultural discrimination against minorities.

A statement by the Council of State said on September 8: “Wearing the abaya reflects religious orientation, and therefore the ban does not constitute a serious and illegal assault on the right to respect for private life, freedom of worship, and the right to education in accordance with the best interests of the child.”

The Association “Action for the Rights of Muslims” (ADM) submitted an urgent request to the Council of State, the highest administrative court in France for complaints against state authorities, to issue an injunction against the ban on the abaya and long shirt for men.

The French Council for the Islamic Religion considered that the absence of “a clear definition of this dress creates an ambiguous situation.”

ADM lawyer Vincent Bringart said the abaya should be considered a traditional garment and not a religious garment.

He accused the French government of seeking political gains through the ban.

The association’s president, Siham Zaini, said that the decision to ban the abaya is a decision that reflects “sexual discrimination” because it concerns girls exclusively and “targets Arabs.”

But the Ministry of Education in France said that “the abaya immediately reveals that the person wearing it belongs to the Islamic religion.” While the government considered the decision to ban wearing the abaya as a response to the need to confront a “political attack” targeting secularism, as well as to the demand of school principals, who called for issuing clear directives on this matter.

French schools had sent dozens of girls back to their homes because they refused to abide by the abaya ban on the first day of the school year.

Education Minister Gabriel Attal told BFMTV that about 300 girls defied the decision to ban the abaya in schools and attended on Monday morning wearing this dress.

Muslims constitute about 10% of France’s population of 67 million, according to official estimates.

The decision to ban the abaya in French schools is being condemned by leftist political parties and French minorities, especially by Muslims.

The director of the Islamic Council in France expressed his refusal to consider the abaya and long shirts as religious symbols, while others considered them as cultural symbols worn by non-Muslims, especially Africans.

Meanwhile, a number of leftist parties denounced the decision of the Minister of Education, seeing it as an absurd war against the Islamic religion.

The French state’s decision to separate religion and state dates back to 1905. The ban on Muslim women wearing the hijab in public institutions dates back to 1989, but it remained controversial until a decision was issued to ban the wearing of religious symbols in schools, including the hijab, in 2004.

In 2010, Muslim women were banned from wearing face coverings such as the burqa and niqab.

Some point out that the discussion about wearing the abaya has been a topic of discussion in France for quite some time, especially by French newspapers in the context of their treatment of political Islam and Islamic dress in French schools.

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