The abaya and the kameez, the comparable clothing for males, were prohibited from being worn in public schools, according to a late-last-month announcement from the French government. This was done in order to uphold French regulations on secularism.
298 females, the majority of whom were 15 or older, were reportedly requested to remove their abayas on Monday when they returned to school following the summer holiday, according to official statistics.
Most of the girls consented to do so and take off their Muslim dress, changing into European-style clothing; however, dozens of the Muslim girls refused to change clothes and were forced to go back home by the schoolmasters, according to Education Minister Gabriel Attal in an interview with BFM broadcaster.
Attal noted that the teenage girls refusing to change clothes were given a notice addressed to their parents saying that “secularism is not a constraint, it is a liberty.”
The minister warned that if these teens showed up again at school wearing the abaya dress there would be a “new dialog” with them.
On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron defended the controversial measure, saying there was a “minority” in France who “hijack a religion and challenge the republic and secularism” with it.
However, the French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM), a national body encompassing many Muslim associations, has argued that items of clothing alone were not “a religious sign.”
A complaint has been filed with the State Council, France’s highest court for complaints against state authorities, for an injunction against the ban on the abaya.
The Action for the Rights of Muslims (ADM) motion is to be examined later on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the new ban has been criticized by many politicians, who argue that loose, covering clothing is not a manifestation of religion and that students should not be excluded from classes because of their dress.
Clementine Autain of the left-wing opposition France Unbowed party denounced what she described as the “policing of clothing.”
Attal’s announcement was “unconstitutional” and against the founding principles of France’s secular values and a sign of the government’s “obsessive rejection of Muslims,” she insisted.
Wearing the muslim headscarf in public spaces, such as schools, is already prohibited by France’s lacité (secularism) regulations, which were established in March 2004.
According to the law, it is against the law for public servants like teachers, firefighters, and police officers to wear signs or attire that apparently displays a student’s religious affiliation while they are at work or in a public setting like a school.
The five million Muslims who call France home claim that regulations intended to keep them out of society are discriminatory.
They claim that the French government has taken a number of steps to limit Muslims’ right to personal freedom, including the abaya prohibition.
Many Muslims have been forced to leave France due to the mounting social pressure, as a recent research report from the University of Lille shows. The report states more than two-thirds of the Muslims interviewed for the study said they left France to practice their religion freely, while 70 percent of them said they fled the country due to racism and discrimination.