Survey finds support for veil ban

London, England - One in three people would support a ban on the Muslim face-covering veil in public places, a survey suggests.

Asked if the veils should be prohibited in airports and at passport control, six out of 10 agreed. ICM surveyed 1,004 people for the BBC.

Muslim groups say the figures may reflect public unease because of how the media has presented the veil.

In October Leader of the Commons Jack Straw said he asked female constituents to remove their veils for interviews.

This sparked a national debate.

In the survey, a nationally representative sample of people were asked whether they would approve of the government banning Muslim women from wearing veils which cover their faces in public places.

Some 33% of respondents said they would approve of a ban and 56% said they would not. Just under one in 10 said they did not know.

Asked if they would support prohibition in specific circumstances, 61% said they would approve a ban in airports and at passport control, 53% in courtrooms and 53% in schools.

Educating the public

Some 41% said they would support a workplace ban - but 56% said they would oppose such a move for public transport.

Rajnaara Akhtar, of the Assembly for the Protection of the Hijab, said the findings were "positive" because it showed "the vast majority of people... believe women should be allowed to wear what they like".

She told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that there was a common misconception that Muslim women who wore the face-covering veil had been forced to do so, whereas in reality this was true for only a "tiny, tiny minority".

"What we, as Muslims, need to do is to ensure were are educating people on it and making sure that people do understand it is a choice," she said.

'Common sense' approach

"We are living in Britain, which is a democratic society and the vast majority of people in this country promote that and respect that completely."

And British Muslim Forum chief executive Zareen Roohi Ahmed said she was not surprised by the figures given media hype over the veil.

"At the end of the day this is an item of cloth. We need to be taking a common sense view," said Ms Ahmed.

"If security is at stake, such as at an airport, then yes, of course, the veil should be removed.

"If it proves difficult in performing a task such as in a school, then it is up to the individual who is wearing the veil whether they want to work there or not."

Ms Ahmed said she welcomed debate over the veil because it had the potential to break down barriers between Muslims and other people.

But at the same time that debate had become harder, including within Muslim communities, because some parts of the media had blown the issue out of proportion, she said.

International issue

In the UK, Jack Straw sparked the debate after writing an article in his constituency's newspaper saying he had asked Muslim women attending his MP surgeries to remove the veil.

Mr Straw said that while he believed it was an individual's right to choose how they follow their faith, he believed they should also consider how others in turn may react.

Last week, a Muslim classroom assistant suspended by a school in West Yorkshire for wearing a veil in lessons was sacked.

Politicians in Italy have called for a ban on face-covering veils in public places while Dutch ministers have said they will legislate against the all-over burqa.