Page last updated at 13:23 GMT, Wednesday, 21 April 2010 14:23 UK

Sarkozy orders bill on banning full Islamic veils

Woman wearing niqb, file pic
Mr Sarkozy says the full Islamic veil oppresses women

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has ordered parliament to debate a law banning women from wearing full-face Islamic veils in public, officials say.

Last year he said such veils oppressed women and were not welcome in France.

The proposal has provoked intense debate about religious freedom in a secular society, as well as the position of Muslims in France.

The country's highest administrative body has suggested such a law might be unconstitutional.

The State Council said last month any such law could be in violation of the French constitution as well as the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.

But it added that rules requiring faces to be uncovered 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.

The State Council is required to give an opinion before any major piece of legislation is drafted in France.

Dignity threatened?

The president said at a cabinet meeting on Wednesday that the government should submit a bill to parliament in May on a ban on veils "in all public places", said government spokesman Luc Chatel.


The word hijab comes from the Arabic for veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. These scarves come in a myriad of 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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Mr Sarkozy said the full veils "do not pose a problem in a religious sense, but threaten the dignity of women", Mr Chatel was quoted as saying by the Associated Press.

President Sarkozy has said more than once that the burka and niqab are not welcome in France, and that he wants a law restricting them.

In January, a French parliamentary committee recommended a partial ban on auch garments that could be imposed in hospitals, schools, government offices and on public transport.

There are several types of headscarves and veils for Muslim women - those that cover the face being the niqab and the burka. In France, the niqab is the version most commonly worn.

The interior ministry says only 1,900 women wear full veils in France, home to Europe's biggest Muslim minority.

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