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Abaya ban violates secularism principle, lawyer asserts as France top Court hears appeal

September 20, 2023 at 7:02 pm

A group gathered in front of the French Embassy protests against the ban on abaya (long dress) in schools in France in Vienna, Austria on September 16, 2023 [Aşkın Kıyağan/Anadolu Agency]

Abaya is not a religious garment, and the ban on this loose over-garment violates the principle of secularism, said a Prosecutor representing three unions of educational institutions in France which have filed an appeal against the top Court’s recent rulings upholding the ban on abaya.

The Sud Education Paris, La Voix Lyceenne and Le Poing Leve Lycee unions in France have filed an appeal against the 7 September rulings of the Council of State upholding a ban on abaya, a loose-fitting, full-length robe worn by some Muslim students, in schools.

The union’s attorney, Clara Gandin, requested a stay of the earlier orders during the Court’s hearing on Tuesday.

Gandin told Anadolu after the Court hearing that the public’s perception of the abaya is that it is not a religious garment. She also cited secularist historians, Islamic culture experts and religious authorities to back up her claims.

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According to Gandin, French Education Minister, Gabriel Attal, positions himself as a religious authority by determining whether or not a piece of clothing is religious.

In fact, she said, this violates the principle of secularism, and that only those students who are either Muslims or perceived as Muslims cannot wear abaya in schools.

Ariane Anemoyannis, a university student and member of the Le Poing Leve union who attended the hearing, described the ban as a “scandal”.

The ban is an anti-Muslim, Islamophobic step that primarily targets young women who are Muslims or perceived to be Muslims, said Anemoyannis.

Feminist and lawyer, Yelena Mandengue, said that the government continues to pursue a policy that violates women’s rights with the abaya ban.

The Court upheld the government’s abaya ban in its September rulings, declaring it legal.

“This ban does not seriously violate and is not manifestly illegal to the right to respect for private life, the freedom of religion, the right to education … or the principle of non-discrimination,” the Court had said in a statement.

The Court’s decisions came after Vincent Brengarth, a lawyer for the Muslim Rights Action (ADM), filed an appeal on 31 August with the Council of State to seek the suspension of the ban on the abaya, which he said, violated “several fundamental freedoms”.

The controversial move sparked a backlash against the government, which has been criticised in recent years for targeting Muslims with statements and policies, including raids on mosques and charitable foundations, and an “anti-separatism” law that imposes broad restrictions on the community.

READ: France’s obsession with Muslim women’s bodies