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Page last updated at 10:30 GMT, Tuesday, 15 June 2010 11:30 UK

The Islamic veil across Europe

Countries across the continent have wrestled with the issue of the Muslim veil - in various forms such as the body-covering burka and the niqab, which covers the face apart from the eyes. The debate takes in religious freedom, female equality, secular traditions and even fears of terrorism.

FRANCE

A student at a French university
Headscarves are allowed at French universities - but not schools

France is pushing ahead with plans to introduce a law banning women from wearing full-face Islamic veils in all public places.

President Nicolas Sarkozy's cabinet has approved a bill making it illegal to wear in public clothes designed to hide the face, and the measure is now awaiting a vote in parliament.

Parliament has already passed a non-binding resolution condemning the full Islamic face veil as "an affront to the nation's values of dignity and equality".

Mr Sarkozy has said veils oppress women and are "not welcome" in France.

A French parliamentary committee earlier recommended a partial ban inside public buildings - such as hospitals and schools - and on public transport.

The State Council - France's highest administrative body - warned that such a law might be unconstitutional and violate European human rights laws.

However, a ban in public places such as schools, hospitals and law courts could be justified for security reasons, to combat fraud and to meet the needs of some public services, it added.

A ban on Muslim headscarves and other "conspicuous" religious symbols at state schools was introduced in 2004, and received overwhelming political and public support in a country where the separation of state and religion is enshrined in law.

Opinion polls suggest a majority of French people support a full ban.

Muslim headscarves

The word hijab comes from the Arabic for veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. These scarves come in myriad styles and colours. The type most commonly worn in the West is a square scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear.
The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. However, it may be worn with a separate eye veil. It is worn with an accompanying headscarf.
The burka is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through.
The al-amira is a two-piece veil. It consists of a close fitting cap, usually made from cotton or polyester, and an accompanying tube-like scarf.
The shayla is a long, rectangular scarf popular in the Gulf region. It is wrapped around the head and tucked or pinned in place at the shoulders.
The khimar is a long, cape-like veil that hangs down to just above the waist. It covers the hair, neck and shoulders completely, but leaves the face clear.
The chador, worn by many Iranian women when outside the house, is a full-body cloak. It is often accompanied by a smaller headscarf underneath.
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BELGIUM

The lower house of Belgium's parliament has passed a bill to ban clothing that hides a person's identity in public places such as parks, buildings and on the street.

The bill still needs approval in the Senate.

Although the legislation does not specifically refer to full-face Islamic veils, it would outlaw the use of garments such as the niqab and the burka.

The bill enjoys cross-party support and is expected to be passed, which would make Belgium the first country in Europe to ban the wearing of such Islamic garments.

Currently, the burka is banned in several districts under old local laws originally designed to stop people masking their faces completely at carnival time.

In Antwerp, for example, police can now reprimand, or even imprison, offenders. They say the regulation is all about public safety.

SPAIN

Though there are no plans for a national ban in Spain, the city of Barcelona has announced a ban on full Islamic face-veils in some public spaces such as municipal offices, public markets and libraries.

At least two smaller towns in Catalonia, the north-eastern region that includes Barcelona, have also imposed bans.

Barcelona's city council said the ban there targeted any head-wear that impeded identification, including motorbike helmets and balaclavas, rather than religious belief.

It resisted calls from the conservative Popular Party (PP) to extend the ban to all public spaces, including the street.

BRITAIN

There is no ban on Islamic dress in the UK, but schools are allowed to forge their own dress code after a 2007 directive which followed several high-profile court cases.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls said in January 2010 it was "not British" to tell people what to wear in the street after the UK Independence Party called for all face-covering Muslim veils to be banned.

Ex-UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who leads UKIP's 13 MEPs in Brussels, said the veils were a symbol of an "increasingly divided Britain", that they "oppressed" women, and were a potential security threat.

UKIP is the first British party to call for a total ban, after the anti-immigration British National Party had already called called for the veil to be banned in Britain's schools.

NETHERLANDS

In 2006, the Dutch government considered but abandoned plans to impose a ban on all forms of coverings that obscured the face - from burkas to crash helmets with visors - in public places, saying they disturbed public order and safety. Lawyers said the move would likely be unconstitutional and critics said it would violate civil rights.

The government suggested it would instead seek a ban on face-covering veils in schools and state departments, but no legislation has yet been passed.

Around 5% of the Netherlands' 16 million residents are Muslims, but only around 300 are thought to wear the burka.

TURKEY

For more than 85 years Turks have lived in a secular state founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, who rejected headscarves as backward-looking in his campaign to secularise Turkish society.

Scarves are banned in civic spaces and official buildings, but the issue is deeply divisive for the country's predominantly Muslim population, as two-thirds of all Turkish women - including the wives and daughters of the prime minister and president - cover their heads.

In 2008, Turkey's constitution was amended to ease a strict ban at universities, allowing headscarves that were tied loosely under the chin. Headscarves covering the neck and all-enveloping veils were still banned.

The governing party, with its roots in Islam, said the ban meant many girls were being denied an education. But the secular establishment said easing it would be a first step to allowing Islam into public life.

ITALY

The north-western town of Novara is one of several local authorities that have brought in rules to deter public use of the Islamic veil, passing a by-law in January 2010.

In 2004 local politicians in northern Italy resurrected old public order laws against the wearing of masks, to stop women from wearing the burka.

Some mayors from the anti-immigrant Northern League have also banned the use of Islamic swimsuits.

DENMARK

In 2008, the government announced it would bar judges from wearing headscarves and similar religious or political symbols - including crucifixes, Jewish skull caps and turbans - in courtrooms.

That move came after pressure from the Danish People's Party (DPP), known for its anti-Muslim rhetoric, which has since called for the ban to be extended to include school-teachers and medical personnel.

After a Danish paper published a controversial cartoon in 2005 depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a bearded man with a bomb in his turban, there were a series of protests against Denmark across the Muslim world.

GERMANY

Fereshta Ludin
Teacher Fereshta Ludin's case prompted states to legislate

In September 2003 the federal Constitutional Court ruled in favour of a teacher who wanted to wear an Islamic scarf to school.

However, it said states could change their laws locally if they wanted to.

At least four German states have gone on to ban teachers from wearing headscarves and in the state of Hesse the ban applies to all civil servants.

RUSSIA

Russia's Supreme Court has overturned a 1997 interior ministry ruling which forbade women from wearing headscarves in passport photos.

AUSTRIA

Austria's Women's Minister Gabriele Heinisch-Hosek has said a ban should be considered in public spaces if the number of women wearing the veil increases dramatically.

SWITZERLAND

In late 2009, Swiss Justice Minister Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf said a face-veil ban should be considered if more Muslim women begin wearing them, adding that the veils made her feel "uncomfortable".



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SEE ALSO
Barcelona to restrict Muslim veil
15 Jun 10 |  Europe
French cabinet approves veil ban
19 May 10 |  Europe
French MPs condemn Islamic veil
11 May 10 |  Europe
Belgian lawmakers pass burka ban
30 Apr 10 |  Europe
Why Muslim women wear the veil
05 Oct 06 |  Middle East


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