Muslim women can respect veil bans: Saudi cleric

Says French secular system must assure religious freedom


A leading Saudi cleric hit out at France for moving to ban Muslim face-veils, but approved Muslim women foregoing veils when visiting a country which outlaws them, a Saudi paper reported on Saturday.

"It is illogical and unreasonable that the French government undertakes such a thing, which is condemned by neutral people, not just Muslims, because the secular state assures freedom of religion," Sheikh Aed al-Qarni told Al-Hayat.

"The state has to respect religious rituals and beliefs, including those of Muslims," he said in an interview.

However, he added, if Muslim women are in a country that has banned the niqab, or full-face veil, or if they face harassment in such a place, "it is better that the Muslim woman uncovers her face."

Numerous scholars of various Islamic schools of thought agree on this point, Qarni said.

"For Saudi tourists who face such a decision, there is a point in Islamic law where God says: 'So fear Allah as much as you can.'

"We must not confront people in their own country or other countries, or bring hardship on ourselves."

His comments followed France's parliament voting on July 13 to ban the niqab.

The French senate will vote on the measure in September, after which it could still be challenged on constitutional grounds.

Several other European countries are also debating possible bans on the face veil.

Nearly all women in Saudi Arabia, one of the most conservative Muslim countries, don the face covering in public, although an increasingly large minority are daring to go without it.