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France to ban Islamic abayas at schools: Minister

A woman holds a placard reading 'my hijab is my freedom' as she takes part in a demonstration in Paris to protest against Islamophobia, November 10, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

France's education minister has said the country is to ban wearing across the nation's schools of abayas -- a simple, loose over-garment dress worn by many women across the Muslim world -- citing a violation of French "secular laws."

"It will no longer be possible to wear an abaya at school," Gabriel Attal told France's TF1 television on Sunday.

Attal said he would give "clear rules at the national level" to school heads ahead of the return to classes nationwide from September 4.

"Secularism means the freedom to emancipate oneself through school," the minister said, describing the abaya as "a religious gesture, aimed at testing the resistance of the republic toward the secular sanctuary that school must constitute."

"You enter a classroom, you must not be able to identify the religion of the students by looking at them," he said.

The ban had been spearheaded by the right and far-right political elite, despite an argument by the left asserting that it would encroach on individuals' religious freedoms and civil liberties.

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 argued.

The French Council of Muslim Faith (CFCM), a national body encompassing many Muslim associations, has also said items of clothing alone were not "a religious sign."

Under France’s laws on laïcité (secularism), it is already forbidden to wear the Islamic headscarf in government buildings, including schools.

Public officials such as teachers, firefighters, or police officers are also banned from wearing the hijab while they are at work.

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