Top French administrative court upholds ban on students wearing Arabic-style robes in classrooms

September 9, 2023
Ben Marquis

France, which prides itself on its secularism, recently announced a ban on students wearing an Arabic form of dress to schools known as abayas and qamis -- long, flowing, shoulder-to-toe robes favored by Muslim women and men, respectively -- over concerns that the robes were too identifiable as a religious association.

That ban was challenged by a Muslim rights group but France's top administrative court, the Council of State, just ruled on Thursday to uphold the ban as lawful and non-discriminatory, Breitbart reported.

The ruling to uphold the ban comes nearly 20 years after French authorities in 2004 banned the wearing of all "conspicuous" symbols of religious affiliation in schools, including Islamic head coverings and Christian crosses.

French court upholds ban on Arabic-style robes in classrooms

France 24 reported that the ban on abayas and qamis in schools was first announced late last month ahead of the start of the new school year and was immediately challenged by an interest group known as Action for the Rights of Muslims, which argued that the ban was discriminatory and a form of racial profiling that could lead to the incitement of attacks and hatred against Muslim students.

The group's president, Sihem Zine, also accused the ban of being "racist" and "sexist" in that it "targets Arabs" and singles out Muslim females who most often wear that form of dress.

However, Al Jazeera reported that the Council of State rejected a request for an injunction against the ban and ruled that the wearing of the banned garments "follows the logic of religious affirmation" that is disallowed in French schools.

The high court further ruled that the ban did not constitute any "serious or obviously illegal harm to the respect for personal lives, freedom of religion, the right to education, the wellbeing of children, or the principle of non-discrimination."

Particular clothing violates France's strict adherence to "secularism" in schools

Breitbart reported separately last week that French Education Minister Gabriel Attal, in announcing the ban on abayas and qamis, told reporters, "When you walk into a classroom, you shouldn’t be able to identify the pupils’ religion just by looking at them," and added, "I have decided that the abaya could no longer be worn in schools."

Despite an immediate outcry, Attal's move was supported by French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne, who accused left-wing groups of deliberate "manipulation and attempts at provocation" in stirring up anger and resentment in response to the ban.

"But I want to state things very clearly: there is no stigmatization. Every one of our fellow citizens, whatever their religion, has their place in our country," Borne explained. "There is one principle: secularism. And there’s a law prohibiting the wearing of any sign or garment by which a student manifests his or her religious affiliation. This law must be applied to everyone, and we’ll make sure that it is properly applied."

Even French President Emmanuel Macron appeared to support the ban, as he acknowledged that "there will be cases" of students testing the new rule and acting out to "defy the republican system" but vowed that his government "will be intractable on the subject."

Defiant students, striking teachers, and threats of additional complaints

President Macron's prediction proved prescient, as the Al Jazeera report noted that nearly 300 girls did indeed attempt to defy the ban on abayas on the first day of school, though only 67 of those girls were ultimately sent home after refusing to remove the prohibited robes when instructed to do so.

At the same time, there were reportedly teacher-led strikes involving students in a few schools across France who engaged in protest against the "Islamophobic policy" that would require them to "police the clothing" and "stigmatize students who wear an abaya or a qamis."

Despite the high court's ruling to uphold the ban, the fight may not yet be over, as France 24 noted that an organization known as the Council of the Muslim Faith, which was established specifically to petition the government on behalf of Muslim citizens, has suggested that it may soon file its own formal complaint with the court against the new policy.

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