CAIRO - Igniting fresh debates about Muslim women personal freedoms, a UK judge decision to oblige a Muslim woman to uncover her face during testimony is getting mixed reactions from British Muslims and civil rights groups.
"Every time we discuss the niqab, it usually comes with a diet of bigoted commentary about our faith and the place of Islam in Britain, Talat Ahmed, chair of the council's social and family affairs committee told the Independent.
There are few people who wear the niqab, and they should be allowed to wear this veil if they freely decide to do so.
The debate started last August when the woman, from Hackney in East London, who cannot be named for legal reasons, appeared in court after facing an allegation of intimidating a witness in Finsbury Park in June.
At the court, she refused to remove her niqab and told the court that it was against her religious beliefs to allow any male other than her husband to see her face.
In a ruling issued last Monday, September 16, the court judge said that the Muslim woman could attend court wearing face-veil, but she will be asked to remove it while giving evidence.
"In general, the defendant is free to wear the niqab during trialâ¦ If the defendant gives evidence she must remove the niqab throughout her evidence, Judge Peter Murphy at London's Blackfriars Crown Court was quoted by the Huffington Post.
"If she refuses the judge should not allow her to give evidence and must give the jury a clear direction, he added.
He also stated that the woman must remove Niqab in front of a female officer or other witness to guarantee identification', also a live TV link will be offered during the testimony.
"I accept for the purposes of this judgment that D sincerely takes the view that as a Muslim woman, she is either not permitted or chooses not to uncover her face in the presence of men who are not members of her close family,
"I have been given no reason to doubt the sincerity of her belief."
While a screen will be used to shield her from attendants in the court hall, the woman must be seen by the judge, jury, and legal counsel.
"The ability of the jury to see the defendant for the purposes of evaluating her evidence is crucial," the judge added.
Acknowledges the judge trial to make a compromise between woman's religious rights with the needs of the court, Muslim leaders said that the decision could deter women donning niqab from giving testimony in other courts.
Forcing her to take it off might deter other people from coming forward and giving evidence at other trials, Palha Ahmad, a spokesman for the Muslim Council told The Christian Science Monitor.
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.
Despite Muslim criticism, the judge decision was praised by Shami Chakrabarti, director of civil rights group Liberty.
"He has shown a sensitivity and clarity that can only further build confidence in our courts in Britain's diverse communities and around the world, he said.
On the other hand, Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, condemned the rule, announcing that the Organization will raise the matter with the Office of Judicial Complaints to ask all participants in a trial can be clearly seen.
"It is vital that defendants' faces are visible at all times, including while others are giving evidence, so we regret the judge's decision not to require this."
Reproduced with permission from OnIslam.net