In 2004, France banned the Islamic headscarves in its state schools
French President Nicolas Sarkozy has spoken out strongly against the wearing of the burka by Muslim women in France.
In a major policy speech he said the burka - a garment covering women from head to toe - reduced them to servitude and undermined their dignity.
Mr Sarkozy also gave his backing to the establishment of a parliamentary commission to look at whether to ban the wearing of burkas in public.
BBC News website readers have been writing in to give us their reaction to Mr Sarkozy's views on the burka.
I am a Muslim women who wears the burka and never ever was I forced to wear my Islamic dress code or even felt remotely enslaved by my Islamic values and clothing. Mr Sarkozy doesn't understand Islam and never will because his heart is full of hate to my religion.
I was born free to make my own choice.
Mariam Siluiman, Paris, France
Why it does not bother us when we encounter nuns (YES Catholic Nuns) covered the same way? Through education we will overcome this obstacle - not through judgments - and YES help these people get educated not judging them
Benhard, Paris, France
I am a Muslim and glad to be not living in France. This is a direct attack on Islam, as a Muslim you have to practice according to your religion and if that means women have to wear burka, then burka it will be. This is nothing but Islam bashing, it is in fashion with Western leaders.
Really if Sarkozy is that concerned about oppressed women he should consider how many women follow fashion religiously to the point of walking in the streets barely covered? Now that is exploitation.
Talat, London, UK
All over the France half of the French billboards and commercials are studded with pictures of virtually naked women. Just because the males seeking pleasure in those naked pictures of women would turn the eyes to these commercials.
The French do not have any objection to when women are turned into an object of pleasure, but when few women want to have burka as a part of religious/social custom, then the French start to preach their social doctrine.
It should be the people who dress should choose how to dress themselves rather than the president of their country. Why can't French be open-minded as the British are.
Haldia Saudagar, Caen, France
I converted to Islam nine years ago just after I came to live in France.
I agree with M Sarkozy when he says that the "the burka is not a sign of religion but a sign of subservience." However, I think he does not go far enough. Following his logic one can say the make the same argument against the other types of veil worn by Muslim women. There is nothing in the Koran that states a woman should cover her head. In my opinion our religion must adapt to modern society in the west.
Colin Fox, Nice, France
I am a Muslim woman living in France. I am pleased with the banning if such attire since it made others reluctant to be social to me. It was ruining my social life and the prejudice was becoming overwhelming. I back President Sarkozy's decision 110%. Islam needs to be more relaxed about women in general or conversion is becoming an attractive prospect. I may explore Christianity and see what their like. But well done to Sarkozy for standing up and not being scared.
Ara Ahmed, Paris, France
It is truly ironic that a country who uses the pretext of freedom to invade a country does not allow its own citizens to exercise its freedom right to veil herself.
Islam advises woman to veil themselves, it is not obligatory - it could hence be concluded that the average woman who does veil herself would do so out of her own free will.
By banning the veil I feel woman who are engaging in this noble act are oppressed rather then liberated. As a Muslim woman I feel that I would experience a greater freedom in Iran then in France - is that not just the most Ironic yet true reality?
Aeesha, Paris, France
I'm a British Muslim but I spent 5 years in Paris and only left back in April. I find it hugely hypocritical that a so-called secular establishment, goes so far as to interfere in the religion of it's citizens. It's even worse when non-Muslims, people who truly get information about Islam from tabloid newspapers make statements about a religion to which they belong. In France there is a strong far right movement. So when it's President says such a thing, it's as if giving a green light to the racists that exist to go and attack/abuse any woman wearing a burka.
Surely the United Nations should condemn a world leader, a permanent security council member of making inflammatory remarks. It's so ignorant, and I'm really disappointed in the so-called secular president!
Ibrahim Kalil, Paris, now London
I agree with President Sarkozy. Many of us are forced to wear this hideous garment which separates us from the rest of humanity. Why don't men cover themselves up so that they do not create lustful thoughts in women? or are men really the weaker sex?
Please all Muslim women support the President and the liberation of all our sisters.
Yasmin, Lyons, France
I hope Sarkozy's new found respect for women's liberty will include laws that also prevent women from revealing too much flesh as well as too little! But I doubt it, he might have to arrest his wife.
Really, if this is the respect for women to say what they can't wear? Patronizing and chauvinistic.
Florence, Maison Laffite, Paris
Here we go again. This is nothing but Islamophobia and generalisation that would serve nothing but escalate the tension between the Muslim community and the west. I would doubt that Mr Sarkozy has even talked to a single veiled Muslim woman before he decided to talk on their behalf. My wife is a veiled Muslim and she is wearing it because of choice. When I see all the scantily dressed women on the street and compare my wife, I hold my wife in great esteem and look at her as an inspiration because of all the trials she going through by just wearing the veil.
Wahib, Paris, France
In times where France is facing huge economic and political problems, this debate is coming from nowhere to distract people from the more urgent issues.
I don't personally support burka or niqab, but it is unacceptable for me that a government or a parliament tells people what they need to wear. I can't understand why Sarkozy and his ministers are particularly worried about the reason behind niqab-wearing. Why don't they ask nuns or church clerks whether they selected their clothing without external pressure?
Saidi Kisra, Paris, France
If France is such a secular country, then why is gay marriage not allowed?
What about the right of women who want to wear the burka? Who will protect their rights? The French Republic?
Sarkozy is good at banning, but by banning he is depriving other people from their rights. He is contradicting himself because now he will force women not to wear the burka.
This law is supported by two kinds of persons:
- members of the very left side of the political scale who think that the women who wear the burka are being oppressed. They have not done any studies and are just trying to reach the conclusions they want.
- members of the very right side (like Sarkozy) who funded the Council for the Muslim Religion in order to control it because they are scared of it.
Those two kinds of people are completely opposed in the way they see the society but unfortunately agree on this stupid idea.
Romcraig, Paris, France
I am quite shocked by the establishment of such a parliamentary committee in France - especially because I've just returned from England and found the English much more tolerant than the French. I'm a convert and do not wear the hijab yet but I feel less and less at home in France. I resent the comments such as "If Muslims refuse to do as the French do then they have to leave" because I was born and raised in France!
In terms of religion, I don't consider the wearing of the niqab as absolutely necessary but I approve of women that chose to wear it and I'm very sad to see that the government of my country finds Muslims women incapable of taking decisions by themselves. They think that all of them are illiterate, submissive women that need to be freed. I call this racism.
Jessica DB, suburbs of Paris, France
The burka is worn as a sign of modesty, rather than a means of depriving women of their identity. If we are expected to put on at least some clothes in public, then why can't we accept something as mundane as a head scarf or a full-sleeved shirt? Islam does not require veiling of the face, only the hair. If we are free to tie our hair, wear a bandanna, we should also be free to wear a scarf. It is a part of our identity, and requiring us to be otherwise by law undermines our dignity.
I do not live in France but I believe that in the western world we should all have the freedom to wear what we want to wear. If a woman can appear nude in magazines and movies why can't a woman cover her body if she chooses to do so. For a president of country to say how a woman should dress is not right and shows the leader is not being unbiased. I myself am a Muslim woman who proudly wear the niqab. I'd made the decision to wear it when I was in my late teens (I'm 21 now). If president said something like that I would be pretty pissed off. A President is suppose to be open minded to all ideas. I'd admired President Sarkozy. But now I'm pretty disappointed in him for saying this.
Rania, Philadelphia,PA, USA
I am not a Muslim but I find the arrogance of people deciding what other cultures mean a typical symptom of the problem that I can imagine causes many Muslims to feel persecuted by westerners.
Trevor Hatten, Manila, Philippines
Some one should tell this ignorant person that the covering is an actual part of Quranic order.
It is to preserve a woman's dignity. Unlike the females who show their bodies and are regarded as sex objects, a covered woman has respect and grace.
His morals are shown by the choice of his partner. I think it is time that west should look inwards rather than pointing fingers.
What do they have that show's equality, respect or regard for others, nothing.
Just that the laws box people in limitations where as true following of Islam leads to real freedom, respect for others and kindness to mankind.
And I mean Islam not the extremism that is found in terrorist fractions.
Imran, Tewkesbury Gloucestershire
Although I am not a Muslim living in France, I hope I will be allowed to comment on President Sarkozy's speech.
Burka does not undermine a woman's dignity. What undermines it is not being able to wear (or do or say) whatever she chooses to.
By banning wearing burka, President Sarkozy would become much like the Islamist fundamentalists who forces their choices on women.
He, as a leader of a nation known for their tolerance of all, should champion women's right to choose, not force a decision on them.
Eishita Alam, Dhaka, Bangladesh
Though I don't live in France, I am a convert who wears the burka, or face veil.
If initially people assumed that wearing a burka was forced upon all women, I think western women have repeatedly proved that this was not the case.
What I find oppressive is the repeated attempt by lawmakers to ban the burka. It is a choice that a woman makes. Many women want to wear it and still be able to go out, work, have fun etc.
It's a religious choice for Muslim women.
It's about time someone examines the psychological trauma many Muslim face due to wearing a simple scarf let alone a face veil.
It seems interesting how the leaders of the world take turns in finding faults with Islamic practices. I reckon that respected leaders should start seeing the brighter side of the religion, the wisdom in its teaching. The burka is our woman's 'Identity'. Failing to recognize this, you have deprived our women of their 'identity'. I hope that the perception of people towards Islam and its women in particular improves over time and that they be accepted as they are.
Farhan Fyzee, Hong Kong
I am not a Muslim but a Sikh and Sikhs have had to deal with this since it affects Sikh headcovering as well which is a religious one instead of cultural. Sikh women also wear turbans and head scarves similar to the Chador in the illustration but don't cover faces since our Gurus were also against Islamic veil. I would think it would also affect the Jewish headcoverings as well. I don't live in France, but I thought France was a multireligious and multicultural society. Anyways, he should make distinctions between religion and culture and make exceptions based on religious requirements. If a woman feels free in whatever she wears, nobody should have problem. I don't think a bikini or jeans wearing women has any more freedom than the hijab or niqab or burka or sari or a skirt wearing wearing one. Actually a skirt is demeaning and seems like s sign of sexual exploitation of women than a religious headcovering. Christians are also supposed to wear turbans according to the Bible because that was one of the command from God, I guess they chose not to follow the Bible. I know the laws should apply equally to all and can not be selective but I pray and hope France would make exception to Sikh head covering. Interesting, I have not seen many complaints from Jews.
Manjit Singh Khalsa, San Francisco, US
This is absolutely absurd; we women wear the burka as an act of modesty, not because we are oppressed. We wear our garment with pride and dignity, while they are forced and oppressed to reveal and show their nakedness. I would rather live in a society that honours and respects themselves, holding modesty as a valuable asset rather than depicting women as mere sex OBJECTS, they are the truly oppressed women, not the burka women.
Sofina, East London
And Orthodox Jewish women wearing wigs, rather than reveal their hair, as demanded by their husbands and the Jewish male dominated religion, that's OK? I have to ask the Jewish Mr Sarkozy if he respects the religious practices of, not just gender segregation, but that women are forced to worship separately from inferior positions in Synagogues.
Ali Hassam, Paris, France
The whole debate sickens me to the core. It reinforces the stereotype, quite wrongly, that most, if not all, Muslim women are coerced into wearing a form of veil by their menfolk. As a Muslim woman who has seen life on both sides of the fence, and having chosen for myself to cover according to Islamic requirements, I am enraged to hear the argument that Muslim women are subservient. To who? To Allah, yes. To men, no. We are different but equal to men. And all the while, Western women forced to starve themselves thin and look appealing for other men are liberated and non-subservient. Get real Mr Sarkozy. Look at your own wife and her career for a start if you want to see female subservience!!
Sabia Ali, Stockton on Tees, England
I am a Muslim, and frankly, I find the notion of wearing a Burka in a Western (or any other) country completely absurd. It would render difficult social integration and impair the development of the women.
Khalid Al-Khalili, Marseille, France