Farid Hafez

Political Scientist, Visiting Professor of International Studies at Williams College, Senior Fellow at Bridge Initiative/Georgetown University

What’s Behind France’s Abaya Ban in State Schools?

France’s education minister has announced that the abaya will be banned in state-run schools, as of next week. The loose-fitting garment – worn mostly by Muslim women – has been a point of contention in France. The staunchly secular country enforces a strict ban on the wearing of visible religious signs and symbols in state institutions. Politicians on both sides claims the abaya violates the country’s secular stance – but Muslim groups argue the abaya itself isn’t a religious garment. France banned women from wearing a headscarf in state instituations in 2004 and face veils in public spaces in 2010. It went even further in 2021, when its constitutional court upheld the controversial anti-separatism law… It’s a bill that enforces secularism in the civil services and gives the government the right to exert control over charities and NGOs. Critics argue the bill only singled out Muslims, allowing the French government to crack down on religious education and organisations. The mounting restrictions have again sparked outrage amongst France’s Muslim community – a population estimated at over five million people. Watch our discussion here