Saudi high clerics slam French veil ban

27th January 2004, Comments 0 comments

MECCA, Saudi Arabia, Jan 27 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority called France's plan to pass a law banning the Islamic headscarf in schools an "infringement on human rights" and said the country was more concerned with the rights of nudists than Muslims.

MECCA, Saudi Arabia, Jan 27 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia's highest religious authority called France's plan to pass a law banning the Islamic headscarf in schools an "infringement on human rights" and said the country was more concerned with the rights of nudists than Muslims.

"Interfering in the affairs of Muslims regarding the headscarf is an infringement on the human rights that they (French) say they are defending," grand mufti Sheikh Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh said Monday night during a meeting with Saudi academics in Mecca, west of Saudi Arabia.

The mufti attacked what he saw as France's double standards, saying the country is more willing to defend the rights of "nudists" than those individuals wanting to wear the headscarf.

He also said efforts to relax strict Islamic norms in Saudi Arabia to allow women to mix more freely with men were "satanic and dangerous."

The outspoken mufti poured scorn one week ago on women who appeared unveiled at a recent economic conference in the western port city of Jeddah, warning of the "dire consequences" of such behaviour.

Women have long been marginalised in the conservative kingdom and are still expected to cover from head to toe and many wear in public the so-called niqab, a stricter version of the headscarf or hijab, which only permits a slim slit at the eye-level.

French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin reaffirmed on Sunday his government's determination to pass a law which bans "signs and clothing which conspicuously display a pupil's religious affiliation" in public schools.

He said the law would be submitted to the National Assembly on February 3 after it was backed by President Jacques Chirac last month with the aim of enforcing France's strict secularism in the classroom.

The proposed law has provoked an angry backlash from many Muslims - both within France's five million-strong Muslim community and abroad - who believe they are being singled out for discrimination, although it would also outlaw the Jewish skullcap and large Christian crosses.

© AFP

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