The Belgian Parliament almost unanimously approved a ban on the wearing of veils in public places. This decision by the Belgian legislators is the first of its kind in Europe. In this case, the law does not mention Islamic female attire; according to the literal text, the prohibition extends to coverings (including certain caps) that hide most of the face. Thus, the hijab does not fall under the law’s proscription. Anyone who appears in public with their face covered faces a fine of 15 to 25 euros (19.94 to 33.23 USD.)and/or confinement in jail for up to seven days. If local authorities give their consent, the law allows for exceptional easements for holidays, carnivals, and other cultural events.
In response to a personal request of President Nicolas Sarkozy, French legislators are now working on similar legislation. The public authorities in both countries insist that the law does not focus on believers in a particular religion; rather, its raison d’être comes from concerns about public safety, so that police can more effectively determine a person’s identity. However, Muslim organisations, European leftist groups, and human rights activists called the ban on the wearing of the veil a violation of personal freedom. They point up that its implementation would be difficult and that only a small percentage of European Muslim women wear clothing that completely hides the face. In reply, the proponents of the law argue that people who voluntarily choose a certain country as their place of permanent residence should integrate themselves into the local society and respect its customs. The hijab is legal under the new law, it does not hide the wearer’s face. An exception in the law covers the Roman Catholic “third orders” that parade with covered faces.