Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Syria bans veils at universities

Syria has forbidden the country's students and teachers from wearing the Islamic veil

Syria has forbidden the country's students and teachers from wearing the niqab - the full Islamic veil that reveals only a woman's eyes - taking aim at a garment many see as political.

The ban shows a rare point of agreement between Syria's secular, authoritarian government and the democracies of Europe: Both view the niqab as a potentially destabilising threat.

"We have given directives to all universities to ban niqab-wearing women from registering," a government official said on Monday.

The order affects both public and private universities and aims to protect Syria's secular identity, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak publicly about the issue.

Hundreds of primary school teachers who were wearing the niqab at government-run schools were transferred last month to administrative jobs, he added.

The ban, issued on Sunday by the Education Ministry, does not affect the hijab, or headscarf, which is far more common in Syria than the niqab's billowing black robes.

Syria is the latest in a string of nations from Europe to the Middle East to weigh in on the veil, perhaps the most visible symbol of conservative Islam. Veils have spread in other secular-leaning Arab countries, such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon, with Jordan's government trying to discourage them by playing up reports of robbers who wear veils as masks.

Turkey bans Muslim headscarves in universities, with many saying attempts to allow them in schools amount to an attack on modern Turkey's secular laws. The issue has been debated across Europe, where France, Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands are considering banning the niqab on the grounds it is degrading to women.

Last week, France's lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a ban on both the niqab and the burka, which covers even a woman's eyes, in an effort to define and protect French values - a move that angered many in the country's large Muslim community.

Opponents say such bans violate freedom of religion and personal choice, and will stigmatise all Muslims.

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