Muslim woman in burqa/niqab (illustration)
Muslim woman in burqa/niqab (illustration)Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash 90

Austria will become the fifth European country to ban the wearing of Muslim headscarves in public places when a new law comes into effect this coming Sunday, October 1.

In line with similar laws in Belgium, France, Bulgaria and Switzerland, the law will ban the wearing of all veils which cover facial features in public places such as schools, shopping malls, and public buses.

While the law bans the wearing of Muslim headscarves such as the burqa and the face-covering niqab, it also bans certain scarves, masks and clown paint.

The law drew harsh criticism from European Union leaders and Muslim groups who claimed it discriminates against Austria's Muslim population. In addition, a series of laws will come into force that require Muslim immigrants to take steps to integrate into Austrian society, including a compulsory course to learn the German language as well as a course in Austrian laws and values. Those who do not comply with the new laws and cover their heads publicly or fail in the tests of integration into Austrian society will face a fine of up to $ 175, and possible imprisonment.

The laws were passed by the Austrian parliament in May after a number of Austrian politicians, including Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz, claimed that the burqa prevented Muslim women from integrating into Austrian society. The burqa is "not a religious symbol but a symbol for a counter-society," Kurz told Austrian broadcaster ORF in August. "We want to be able to look into the eyes of people in our society."

The new law has been strongly criticized by Muslim organizations in Austria, who do not consider the burqa coercion, but see the ban as coercion. "This is clear discrimination against Muslim women, who are once again victims of a policy of coercion, and shows that Muslims are not yet part of this country," said Muslim psychologist Yalez Daghdebir, 36, who lives in the city of Lustenau.