VIENNA – In a decision protested as discriminatory, Austria’s parliament has approved on Thursday, May 17, a new law banning burqa in public places, and imposing a €150 fine on Muslim women who challenge the decision.
A draft text of the law said all state representatives must appear to be “religiously neutral”.
“Those who are not prepared to accept Enlightenment values will have to leave our country and society,” it added.
Legal body the Austrian Bar Board said the law ran counter to the country’s constitutional democracy and “the fundamental rights of the freedom of conscience and the freedom of private life,” The Independent reported.
The prohibition, which will come into force in October, was protested by opponents as both discriminatory and unnecessary as a tiny number of women in Austria are thought to wear veils.
Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Vienna to demonstrate against the proposals earlier this year.
“Every woman must be able to move freely in public without harassment and discrimination – no matter what she does or does not wear,” organizers declared.
Austria’s own President, Alexander Van der Bellen, has publicly opposed the policy.
“It is every woman’s right to always dress how she wants,” he told school pupils earlier this year.
“And it is not only Muslim women, all women can wear a headscarf, and if this real and rampant Islamaphobia continues, there will come a day where we must ask all women to wear a headscarf – all – out of solidarity to those who do it for religious reasons.”
Austrian Muslims are estimated at about nearly 6 percent of the European country’s 8 million population.
In Vienna, Islam is the second-largest religious grouping, after Roman Catholicism.
Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.
A niqab (burqa) is a veil which covers part or most of the wearer’s face, leaving the eyes visible.
Yet, Muslim scholars believe that a woman is not obliged to cover her face or hands. Scholars, however, believe that it is up to women to decide whether to take on the veil.