France has banned female students from wearing abaya dress to schools, a long loose-fitting dress worn by some Muslim women.
The French education minister announced this on Sunday ahead of the school term starting at the start of September.
The new development comes almost 20 years after France banned headscarves from state schools.
The education minister Gabriel Attal told France’s TF1 TV that: “When you walk into a classroom, you shouldn’t be able to identify the pupils’ religion just by looking at them. I have decided that the abaya could no longer be worn in schools.”
Government spokesman Olivier Veran defended the new guidelines on RMC radio on Monday, stating that French schools were “a temple of secularism” where students were supposed to learn and not to try and convert others to their faith.
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire chimed in saying the ban was an “emergency” response to the rise of political Islam in France.
Le Maire said, “Yes, it is an emergency. I welcome the decision made by Gabriel Attal. I welcome the clarity of his decision.
“‘No’ to the abaya, ‘no’ to all ostensible religious symbols, and ‘no’ to political Islam in our country,” he added.
Recall that late last year, former education minister Pap Ndiaye identified the abaya as a garment that can “take on a possible religious character” even if it is not an explicitly religious symbol.
France’s Council of Muslim Worship said the abaya is “mistaken” by some as a Muslim religious sign.
“Any item of clothing is not a religious sign in itself,” the group said in a statement in June.
“You only have to travel through Muslim-majority countries to realise that the citizens of these countries, of all faiths, are indistinguishable based on the clothes they wear,” it added.