France’s ban on full face veils, a first in Europe, went into force Monday, exposing anyone who wears the Muslim niqab or burqa in public to fines of 150 euros (£131.90). France’s five-million-strong Muslim minority is Western Europe’s largest, but fewer than 2,000 women are believed actually to wear a full face veil. Many Muslim leaders have said they support neither the veil nor the law banning it.
The timing is sensitive after France’s ruling political party, President Nicolas Sarkozy’s UMP, called a debate on the place of Islam in France, a move that some say risked stigmatising a portion of the population.
Police received a guide last week to help implement the ban. It tells them not to remove veils by force. It also notes that the ban does not apply inside private cars but reminds policemen such cases can be dealt with under road safety rules.
A Muslim property dealer, who is urging women to keep wearing the veil if they want to, has urged supporters to meet outside Notre Dame cathedral in central Paris for a silent prayer during the day. He has also pledged to auction off a house near Paris to raise one million euros for a fund to pay the fees for any woman fined for wearing a full face veil in public.