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Last Updated: Monday, 12 July, 2004, 19:22 GMT 20:22 UK
EU Muslims demand headscarf right
Ramaana Habeeb and Rajnaara Akhtar
Activists say the hijab expresses freedom, not oppression
Muslim activists from across Europe have met in London to defend the right of women to cover their heads.

Delegates from 14 countries have launched a campaign that will include lobbying the European Parliament.

The issue of wearing the hijab - as the traditional headscarf is called by Muslims - has sparked controversy across the continent.

Hijab bans have been imposed in France and Germany, and other countries are considering similar moves.

Conference organisers told the BBC that the headscarf was not a symbol of subjugation for Muslim women, but an expression of freedom and self-respect.

Addressing the conference, Islamic cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi urged the French government to reverse a ban on hijabs in state schools saying it evoked "a ghetto mentality".

Similar messages of protest were made against bans in several German states and in Belgium.

Anti-discrimination laws in Britain ensure the right of Muslim students to wear the headscarf.

But the BBC's Arian Koci says the issue continues to be controversial even in the UK, and ultimately the issue is about the integration of Muslims into Western societies.

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