CAIRO - Amid increasing controversy about a proposed hijab ban in UK, Prime Minister David Cameron has announced his government's full support to schools, courts and immigration centers that ask Muslims to remove their veils.
We are a free country and people should be free to wear whatever clothes they like in public or in private, Cameron said in an interview with the BBC's Andrew Marr program cited by The Telegraph.
But we should support those institutions that need to put in place rules so that those institutions can work properly. So for instance in a school, if they want that particular dress code, I believe the Government should back them.
The same for courts, the same for immigration, he added.
Cameron added that he may strengthen national guidance to back up schools and courts that ask people to remove Muslim veils.
However, he stressed that he does not believe there should be a ban on wearing the niqab in all public places.
His comments followed a recent political row earlier this month over a decision by Birmingham Metropolitan College to ban veils.
The college was accused of discriminating against Muslims when it ordered all students, staff and visitors to remove face coverings.
Despite Cameron's support, the college backed down after a petition attracted thousands of signatures.
A similar controversy erupted when a London judge ordered a Muslim defendant to remove her veil, but asked politicians for clearer instructions on veils in court.
The judge suggested that there should be national guidelines on the wearing of the niqab in court.
Britain is home to a Muslim community of nearly 2.7 million.
While hijab is an obligatory code of dress for Muslim women, the majority of Muslim scholars agree that a woman is not obliged to wear the face veil.
Scholars believe it is up to women to decide whether to take on the veil or burqa, a loose outfit covering the whole body from head to toe and wore by some Muslim women.
Responding to the judge's suggestion, Cameron said he would consider issuing new guidelines to judges, teachers and immigration officers telling them when they can ask people to remove their veils.
I'm very happy to look at that. Obviously, in court the jury needs to be able to look at someone's face. I've sat on a jury, that's part of what you do, the British Premier said.
When someone is coming into the country, an immigration officer needs to see someone's face. In a school, it's very difficult to teach unless you can look at your pupils in the eye.
It's a free country and I think a free country should have free and independent institutions.
No plans for anything on the street, but if the Government needs to do more to back up institutions, then I would be happy to look at that.
Schools and colleges are currently given the freedom to set their own policies on uniform.
Guidance from the Department for Education states that it should be possible for various religious beliefs to be accommodated within individual institutions' policies.
The right to a particular religious dress code is safeguarded by the Human Rights Act and must be followed by schools and colleges, it is claimed.
But the guidance says that teachers can lawfully impose policies that restrict the freedom of pupils to manifest their religion - for example, by covering their face or carrying the traditional Sikh kirpan dagger - on various grounds.
Niqab is already at the center of a heated debate raging across Britain, which is home to a sizable Muslim minority of nearly 2.7 million.
Cameron's comments come as proposals to ban face coverings in public places are being debated in parliament.
A private members bill proposed by Philip Hollobone, the Conservative MP for Kettering, would make it an offence for someone to wear a garment or other object intended primarily to obscure their face, in public.
Jack Straw, the Labour former foreign secretary, has first sparked the niqab controversy in 2006 after asking Muslim constituents to show their faces if they wanted to meet him.
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net