Doha: A prominent Islamic scholar said here on Friday the wearing of the niqab, a veil used by Muslim women to fully cover their face, is not mandatory in Islam.

Doha-based Yousuf Al Qaradawi, an influential Islamic figure and president of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, said the Quran advises women to cover their head and to dress modestly, but not to completely cover their face.

"The veil, as ordained in the Holy Quran, is the dress which covers the hair, neck and shoulders, but leaves the face and hands clear," said Al Qaradawi, addressing worshippers at a mosque here.

"The majority of Muslim scholars and I do not support the 'niqab' in which women cover their faces also...nevertheless, we respect a Muslim woman opting to wear it, if she thinks that this brings her closer to Allah."

"I am of the view that women should be empowered to play an integral role in society along with men and should be given the right to choose between the niqab and the veil," he said.

Local English daily Gulf Times yesterday reported parts of the speech of Al Qaradawi, who also slammed the Tunisian authorities for banning the veil and punishing women who breach the law.

"The Tunisian government's position is a glaring violation of both Islamic teachings and relevant international charters of human rights which regard clothing as a matter of one's personal freedom," he added.