French veil ban clears last legal hurdle

A Muslim woman in full face veil holds up her French passport at a conference near Paris, May 2010 Under the law, women wearing the full veil in public will face a fine of 150 euros

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France's constitutional court has approved the law set to ban wearing the Islamic full veil in public.

It approved it almost in its entirety, making one small change: the law will not apply to public places of worship where it may violate religious freedom.

The proposed measure had already been passed by parliament. It is due to come into force next spring.

The ban has strong public support, but critics point out that only a handful of French Muslims wear the full veil.

The law makes it illegal to wear garments such as the niqab or burka, which incorporate a full-face veil, anywhere in public.

Under the ban, persons found wearing a full veil in public will face a fine of 150 euros (£130) and/or a citizenship course.

Those found to force women to wear a full veil will face a 30,000-euro fine and a one-year jail term.

PATH TO VEIL BAN

  • Review: French Constitutional Council studies new law once it is ratified
  • Introduction: Takes effect six months after ratification
  • Ruling: Challenge possible through the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg

A last challenge is possible at the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, where decisions are binding.

Under the law, there is a six-month period of "education" to explain to women already wearing a face veil that they face arrest and a fine if they continue to do so in public spaces.

There are estimated to be only about 2,000 women wearing the full veil in France.

President Nicolas Sarkozy has backed the ban as part of a wider debate on French identity, but opponents say the government is pandering to far-right voters.

Spain and Belgium are debating similar legislation.

Muslim headscarves

The word hijab comes from the Arabic for veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. These scarves come in myriad 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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