Once-exotic forms of Muslim women’s head and body garments have now become both familiar in the West and the source of fractious political and legal disputes.

The hijab (a hair-covering) is ever-more popular in Detroit but has been banned from French public schools, discouraged by the International Football Association Board, and excluded from a court in the U.S. state of Georgia.

The jilbab (a garment that leaves only the face and hands exposed) was, in a case partly argued by Tony Blair’s wife, first allowed, then forbidden in an English school.

Sultaana Freeman wanted her Florida drivers license to show her in a niqab, but an Orlando court said no.
The niqab (a total covering except for the eyes) became a hot topic when Jack Straw, a British Labour politician, wrote that he “felt uncomfortable” talking to women wearing it. If Quebec election authorities disallow the niqab from voting booths and a judge disallowed it from a Florida driver’s license, it is permitted in British courts and a Dutch candidate for municipal office wore one. A British hospital even invented a niqab patients’ gown.

The burqa (a total head and body covering) has been barred from classrooms in the UK, is illegal in public places in five Belgian towns, and the Dutch legislature has attempted to ban it altogether. Italy’s “Charter of Values, Citizenship and Immigration” calls face coverings not acceptable. A courtroom in the United States has expelled a burqa’ed woman.

In brief, no general rules govern Islamic headwear in the West.

Some observers would ban hijabs from public places, but what legal grounds exist for doing so? Following my rule of thumb that Muslims enjoy the same rights and obligations as other citizens, but not special rights or obligations, a woman’s freedom of expression grants her the option to wear a hijab.

In contrast, burqas and niqabs should be banned in all public spaces because they present a security risk. Anyone might lurk under those shrouds

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