PARIS - Lebanon's most influential Shiite cleric has called on French President Nicolas Sarkozy to reconsider his statements about women who wear the burqa, saying the will of Muslim women who decide to cover their faces should be respected.
Grand Ayatollah Mohammed Hussein Fadlallah's statement came a day after Sarkozy said that the burqa was not welcome in France, branding the face-covering, body-length gown as a symbol of subservience that suppresses women's identities and turns them into "prisoners behind a screen".
Some Muslim religious leaders interpret the Quran as requiring that women wear some type of head covering such as a burqa in the presence of men who are not their husband or close relatives.
Fadlallah said women should not be forced to wear a burqa but if, at the same time, they decide to do so by themselves their will should be respected.
"Freedom is one of the sacred matters for human beings but freedom should come from the will of the person not from laws imposed by people," Fadlallah said.
France is home to Western Europe's largest population of Muslims, estimated at about five million. A small but growing group of French women wear the coverings, which either cloak the entire body or cover everything but the eyes. - Sapa-AP