Countries across Europe 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.
The veil issue is part of a wider debate about multiculturalism in Europe, as many politicians argue that there needs to be a greater effort to assimilate ethnic and religious minorities.
Hijab, niqab, burka: Guide to Muslim headscarves
On 6 December 2016, Chancellor Angela Merkel said the wearing of full-faced veils should be prohibited in Germany “wherever it is legally possible”.
Her comments, made at a CDU party meeting, came after plans to outlaw the burka – or any full-face veil – in public buildings were proposed by Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere in August.
There has been no national law restricting the wearing of veils in Germany prior to these proposals.
In September 2003 the federal Constitutional Court ruled in favour of a teacher who wanted to wear an Islamic scarf to school.
The ruling coalition agreed in January 2017 to prohibit full-face veils (niqab and burka) in public spaces such as courts and schools. It said it was considering a more general ban on state employees wearing the headscarf and other religious symbols.
The measures were seen as an attempt to counter the rise of the far-right Freedom Party, which almost won the presidency in December 2016.
The coalition, made up of the left-wing Social Democrats and the conservative Austrian People’s Party, said that full-face veils in public stood in the way of “open communication”, which it said was fundamental to an “open society”.
On 11 April 2011, France became the first European country to ban the full-face Islamic veil in public places.
Under the ban, no woman, French or foreign, is able to leave their home with their face hidden behind a veil without running the risk of a fine.
As President, Nicolas Sarkozy, whose administration brought in the ban, said that veils oppress women and were “not welcome” in France.
In 2016 France introduced a controversial ban on women’s full-body swimsuits, known as “burkinis”. Prime Minister Manuel Valls called the swimsuits “the affirmation of political Islam in the public space”.
The burkini ban, imposed by French Riviera mayors, was later lifted in seaside resorts after France’s top administrative court overruled the law.
France has about five million Muslims – the largest Muslim minority in Western Europe – but it is thought only about 2,000 women wear full veils.
The penalty for doing so is a 150 euro (£133, $217) fine and instruction in citizenship. Anyone found forcing a woman to cover her face risks a 30,000 euro fine.
Data from 2015 showed that 1,546 fines had been imposed under the law.
The European Court of Human Rights upheld the ban on 2 July 2014 after a case was brought by a 24-year-old French woman who argued that the ban violated her freedom of religion and expression.
Most of the population – including most Muslims – agree with the government when it describes the face-covering veil as an affront to society’s values. Critics – chiefly outside France – say it is a violation of individual liberties.
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.
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