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Last Updated: Tuesday, 10 February, 2004, 15:02 GMT
Headscarves in the headlines

turkeyRussiaSaudi ArabiaSingaporeEgyptFranceGermanyDenmarkBelgium

France is not the only country where headscarves have proved contentious. A number of countries already ban the garment from schools and other public buildings, while elsewhere it is the failure of women to don a veil which prompts outrage. Use the map above to find out where and when headscarves have been in the headlines.

Singapore

Singapore, keen to avoid racial and religious tensions between its ethnic Chinese majority and the Malay Muslim minority, has banned the scarf from schools. The Singapore government believes the ban is necessary to promote racial harmony, but Muslims say it infringes upon their religious freedoms. In 2002, the authorities became involved in a stand-off with four families who defied the ban.

To the consternation of Singaporean officials, politicians from neighbouring Malaysia then entered the fray, saying it would consider taking the veiled schoolgirls into Malay schools. Singapore hit back, saying the issue was a purely internal matter. The row has since died down, but relations were widely seen as strained at the time.

Egypt

A group of Egyptian female TV presenters recently alleged they had been banned from appearing on screen because they were wearing headscarves, and some even said they were considering legal action.

The veil has recently made a comeback alongside Islamic revival movements in Egypt. The government is widely believed to be wary of the public display of Islamic symbols such as headscarves, fearing it could play into the hands of Islamic activists.

Germany

The issue has come to the fore in recent months after Germany's supreme court ruled that a school was wrong to exclude a Muslim teacher because she wore a headscarf. The judges declared that current legislation did not allow for such a decision, but added that individual states would be within their rights to make legal provisions to this effect.

The German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg has already given initial approval for a law to stop teachers wearing the veil, and seven other states are considering similar legislation. Legislators believe the veil is a political symbol and that children in state education should be protected from fundamentalist influence.

France

The French parliament approved legislation in February banning overt religious symbols - including headscarves - from schools. It comes into force on 2 September.

President Jacques Chirac believes such a ban is necessary to preserve the secularity of the French state. Opinion polls suggest that nearly 70% of French people support such a ban, and that around half of France's five million strong Muslim community are also in favour.

But others fear it will prove divisive, and simply push Muslim girls into alternative Islamic education, jeopardising rather than furthering integration.

Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority recently warned of "grave consequences" if women continued to appear unveiled.

He made the remarks after the country's leading businesswoman made a speech without a headscarf at a conference. She herself had warned in her address of the long-term effect if the potential of the female workforce went untapped.

Turkey

For the past 80 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 consequently banned in civic spaces in the country.

The Islamist-based ruling AKP party, keen to avoid confrontation with the establishment, has not moved to alter that arrangement, although a number of politicians believe it problematic that Turkish girls can wear scarves in Western universities but not at home.

The issue did however rise to the surface last year when the country's president refused to invite any headscarf-wearing wives of senior officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to a reception marking the republic's 80th anniversary. Nearly all the AKP's MPs boycotted the event in protest.

Belgium

Two politicians, inspired by developments in neighbouring France, are hoping to push legislation through parliament that would ban the headscarf from state schools.

They believe that many young Muslim schoolgirls do not wear the scarf by choice, and that imposing a ban would protect them from those who impose it upon them.

Russia

Muslim women last year won the right to wear the headscarf for identification photos, which was banned in Russia in 1997. The women argued in court that the ban infringed upon their civil liberites, and were backed in this by a number of human rights groups, who also alleged that Russia was fermenting anti-Muslim sentiment to aid its mission against separatists in Chechnya.

Denmark

A Muslim woman last year lost a high-profile court case against a large supermarket chain in Denmark after she had been fired for wearing a headscarf at work in 2001. The court ruled that her contract contained a dress code banning headgear.




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