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France will ban female students in state schools from wearing the abaya, the latest policy targeting Muslim dress that the government insists is aimed at preserving the country’s secular values even as critics accuse it of being Islamophobic, CNN reported.
French Education Minister Gabriel Attal announced this week that the ban will come into force at the start of the new school term in September.
Attal emphasized that the decision is in line with France’s principles of “laïcité,” a term referring to the separation of state institutions and religions.
But the move received criticism from opposition lawmakers, who described it as a “new Islamophobic campaign.” Others have cautioned that the idea of laïcité has been hijacked to justify anti-Islam positions.
The abaya is defined as a loose robe-like dress that is worn by some women in Muslim-majority countries. But there is a public debate about whether the garment can be considered a religious symbol.
Even so, the new rule is the latest in a series of divisive restrictions or bans on garments worn by Muslim women in recent years.
In 2004, France banned students from wearing headscarves, such as the Islamic hijab, in schools. Six years later, officials banned full-face veils in public, angering some of France’s five million-strong Muslim community, according to Sky News.