Ankara: Turkey's parliament voted on Saturday to lift a ban on female students wearing the Muslim headscarf at university, a landmark decision that some Turks say will undermine the foundations of the secular state.

Parliament, where the ruling centre-right AK Party has a big majority, approved the constitutional amendments.

"I hope this will be for the best for Turkey and hope it is done in a spirit of tolerance and reconciliation," parliamentary speaker Koksal Toptan told lawmakers after the vote.

But underlining the powerful emotions the headscarf evokes, tens of thousands of people waving Turkish flags and chanting secularist slogans staged a protest rally against the changes just a few kilometres from the parliament in central Ankara.

The main opposition CHP opposed the changes, saying they presage a slow slide towards an Islamic state.

Parliament voted 403-107 in favour of a first amendment, which will insert a paragraph into the constitution stating that everyone has the right to equal treatment from state institutions, Toptan said.

The government must now prepare legislation to change parts of the higher education law for the ban to be lifted.

The opposition Republican people's party has vowed to go to the constitutional court in an attempt to block the changes.

As voting took place, thousands of protesters demonstrated against the changes near parliament. "We are against lifting this ban, we do not want to live in a religious state," said Ebru Okay, a protester.

The ban on female students wearing head scarves has sparked protests at universities in predominantly Muslim Turkey.

Female students have been forced to remove their head scarves when entering campuses. Some have resorted to wearing wigs instead.

At a glance

Policiesin Europe
The wearing of face veils and headscarves is a sensitive topic across Europe. Here is a summaryof policy in some key countries:

The Netherlands
The Dutch government is set to retreat from a plan for a general ban on Muslim face veils but stop women wearing them in schools and government offices, media reported.
The Cabinet has decided against a broad ban on the burqa or niqab in public as that would violate the principle of freedom of religion.

The Muslim community says only about 50 women wear the head-to-toe burqa or the niqab, a face veil that conceals everything but the eyes. They said a general ban would heighten alienation among the country's about 1 million Muslims.

France, with Europe's largest Muslim minority, banned headscarves from its state primary and secondary schools in 2004 under a law against conspicuous religious symbols. The government argued that wearing religious garb in state schools violated the legal separation of church and state.

Supporters of the law also argued that impressionable young girls were forced to wear headscarves and the ban would help them decide for themselves if they wanted to cover their hair. Women at university can wear headscarves, since they are adults. Teachers and other civil servants may not wear any religious symbols at work at all.

There were protests and warnings of unrest before the anti- headscarf law was passed, but it went into effect smoothly with very few girls being expelled from school for refusing to take off their headscarves.

Britain has no official policy on headscarves or veils. Schools are allowed to set their own dress codes, which have sometimes been challenged by girls unhappy with the rules. Solicitors and legal advisers have been told they can wear headscarves in court providing they do not interfere with proceedings.

Most observers agree more and more British Muslim woman are wearing veils or headscarves. In 2006, Jack Straw caused controversy by saying he would rather Muslim women did not wear veils and that he asked those who visited him in his constituency office to remove them.

Policy on face veils and headscarves is a matter for individual states in Germany, not the federal government. Seven of Germany's 16 states have banned teachers in state schools from wearing Islamic headscarves.

Hesse's conservative premier Roland Koch called for a ban on pupils wearing a burqa in schools a few weeks ago. But his idea backfired when he discovered the state had no pupils who wore a burqa.

- Reuters

Have your say
Should women be given the choice to wear Islamic head scarves?

Your comments

Wearing scarves is right of all women, specially Muslim women. Putting ban on this is violation of basic freedom of rights.
Farhan Khan
Posted: February 10, 2008, 15:45

It is just a matter of respect to arrive at peaceful conclusion. It is neither to be feared nor to be received nonchalantly.
Posted: February 10, 2008, 15:20

Women should be the decision makers and they should be allowed to do whatever they want.
Dr.Shahzad Khalil
Stoke on Trent,UK
Posted: February 10, 2008, 14:02

The definition of freedom according to the western world says everyone has the freedom to live and act as they want. So why are Muslim women not allowed to wear what they want?
Muhammad Farhan Khan
Posted: February 10, 2008, 10:46

Its not the death of secularism, but the freedom of practice in the secularism. In this advanced 21st century, everybody is discussing freedom. Freedom also means to live and practice their beliefs regardless of religion/belief which includes dress code.
Posted: February 10, 2008, 09:00

Why simply interfere in every woman's right to choose something she is comfortable with? We should respect every individual's choice!
Cebu City,Philippines
Posted: February 10, 2008, 08:38

Turkish protestors have to learn the value of basic human rights and examples in civlized countries. If they have to join civlized communities, they have to learn and open their minds to respect individual freedom.
A. Malik
Posted: February 10, 2008, 08:22

People should have the freedom to act upon their beliefs, just like how many non-muslims in Middle-East wear un-Islamic clothing.
Posted: February 10, 2008, 07:10

Claims by secularists that Turkey is going back to its Islamic era is completely absurd.
Posted: February 10, 2008, 05:12

This is the downfall of Turkey. This clearly shows us the ruling government is a religious government and would pave the way for a religious state in the future.
Posted: February 10, 2008, 02:45

Women should not be forced to remove their head scarves if it is against their will.
Posted: February 09, 2008, 13:07

Women have the right to exercise their religious beliefs and customs but the government should stay away from mixing politics with religion to avoid abuse of power.
Posted: February 09, 2008, 12:43

No need to applaud and cherish! It is only in the universities. After they graduate, they have to take off their head scarf if they want to work.
Posted: February 09, 2008, 12:29

How can a predominantly Muslim country put a ban on head scarves, while many non-Muslim countries allow the wearing of head scarves? Surprising!
Posted: February 09, 2008, 12:08

At least they are asking to wear something on their body and not hurting anyone. So what's the big deal?
Posted: February 09, 2008, 11:58

It's a late reaction but a positive one. The ban should be lifted with immediate effect.
Posted: February 09, 2008, 11:48

Women should be allowed to wear what they want, provided it be under the religious rules. Where are the women liberals in the West who cry for women's liberties? Why do they not cry for women's rights in Turkey ? the right to wear what they want.
Posted: February 09, 2008, 11:15

The ban on wearing the headscarf will only indicate the pressing of undemocratic exercise. Every human being should have freedom to wear his or her traditional attire.
Posted: February 09, 2008, 10:58

Why surpress modesty?
Posted: February 09, 2008, 09:26

Absolutely. It is simply an exercise of their tradition and beliefs.
Posted: February 09, 2008, 09:18

Women should be given the choice to wear head scarves, but governments should also remember that "one can compromise on anything but not on religion".
Posted: February 09, 2008, 09:16