A law has come into force in Belgium banning women from wearing the full Islamic veil in public.
As of Saturday, any woman wearing the face-covering burqa or niqab in public risks a fine of 137 euros ($197)Â or up to seven days in jail.
Belgium joined France as the second European Union nation to enforce such a ban.
The Belgian law, which prohibits people from wearing anything that hides their face in public places, was approved unanimously by the parliament in April.
Offenders will face a fine of 137.50 euros ($197) and up to seven days behind bars.
Many Europeans are opposed to the veils because they believe that those who wear them are separating themselves from the society they live in.
The full veils — and, often, also the simpler head scarfs — are often seen by non-Muslims to be a political rather than a religious statement. Others view the dress code as a sign of Islamic extremism.
While many Muslim women wear the veils more of less voluntarily, wearing a veil is often expected — and sometimes forcibly imposed. Many non-Muslims view the veil as a sign of religious oppression — and a foreboding of things to come should the number of Muslims in their communities increase to the point where they gain more political power. Most Muslim countries discriminate against non-Muslims.
Belgium’s law bans any clothing that obscures the identity of the wearer in places like parks and on the street.
It was passed almost unanimously by the lower house of parliament in April 2010.
MPs voted with only two abstentions to back the legislation on the grounds of security, to allow police to identify people. […]
But critics of the law say it could end up excluding women, leaving those who do wear the full veil trapped in their homes.
There are only 270 women who wear the veil in Belgium, which has a Muslim population of 400,000. Mustafa Kastit, an imam at the main mosque in Brussels, questions whether its makes sense to legislate against such a rare practice.
“You can go walk in our Muslim neighborhoods here and hardly see any women wearing a niqab,” Kastit told Deutsche Welle. “It’s so rare here. So is it really worth legislating against them?”
Kastit worries that the law could alienate Muslims who already feel like they are being singled out on religious grounds.
“It risks stigmatizing the Muslim community even more, and it risks heightening this climate of fear, of Islamophobia that we see spreading across Europe and in all Western civilizations,” he said.
Challenged in court
Last Friday DPA reported that two women who wear full veils launched an immediate court challenge, saying the law is discriminatory.
“We consider the law as a disproportionate intrusion into fundamental rights such as the freedom of religion and expression,” Ines Wouters, the women’s lawyer, was quoted as saying in the newspaper La Libre.
“This measure is discriminatory,” Wouters said.
But, says the Deutsche Welle,
even if there is a legal challenge here, the trend is spreading across Europe. A burqa ban is now being prepared in the Netherlands and similar legislation is in the pipeline in Italy and Spain.