Italian school bans Muslim woman

A Moroccan trainee teacher has been denied a job in Italy because school authorities feared her headscarf might scare children, local media reported.

"(Children) might have been scared and it was better not to run that risk," official Christina Ferrari said.

Fatima Mouayche, a 40-year-old mother of two, had been assigned to the job in northern Samone after completing a course for nursery teachers.

She said her headscarf was an excuse for the school to exclude Muslims.

But Ms Ferrari denied their decision had anything to do with Islam, according to Italy's La Stampa and La Repubblica newspapers.

"No-one can say how the children would have reacted (to the headscarf)," she was quoted as saying.

Ms Mouayche said she was not convinced.

"My children grew up seeing my headscarf and they are not afraid," she told reporters.

"(The authorities) don't want a Muslim woman working at the nursery."

Ms Mouayche said she had never encountered any criticism for wearing the headscarf since she settled in Italy eight years ago.

An estimated 800,000 Muslims live in Italy.

Europe-wide concerns

The incident comes in the wake of heated arguments on the issue in other European countries.

The French Senate approved legislation banning overt religious symbols - including headscarves - from schools on 3 March.

The bill is now waiting for a final approval from President Jacques Chirac.

In Germany, the supreme court ruled in September that a school was wrong to exclude Muslim teacher Fereshta Ludin because of her headscarf, since there was no law against it.

Several German states are now considering bills to stop teachers wearing the veil.