The Malta Independent 15 November 2018, Thursday

In Malta, wearing a burqa while driving is ‘not illegal’ - police

Neil Camilleri Saturday, 11 July 2015, 11:46 Last update: about 4 years ago

Driving around wearing full-face Islamic headwear might raise suspicions and safety concerns but the practice is not illegal, this paper has learnt.

The Malta Independent sent questions to the police force after a photo showing a woman wearing a niqab (incorrectly described as a burqa) went viral on Facebook.

The picture drew many comments and, while some arguments were based on a dislike towards the Islamic culture, others were more concerned about the safety issues related to the practice.

Unlike the burqa, which covers the whole body, the niqab is a type of headdress that leaves a slit open for the eyes.

Many still feel, however, that the garment restricts peripheral vision and could pose a risk to motorists.

Maltese law does not prohibit the use of either the burqa or the niqab. However, police officers might order drivers to remove the garments for identification purposes in some cases. “Wearing the burqa while driving is not prohibited by law.  But anyone wearing a burqa may be asked to remove it following reasonable suspicion that that person is about to commit a crime,” a police spokesperson said.

The wearing of burqas and niqabs has been the subject of hot debate in several western countries, most prominently France, which banned the use of the Islamic face-covering garments in 2010. The burqa and niqab were banned as part of a broader law prohibiting the covering of the entire face, which also bans helmets, balaclavas and full-body costumes.

A few years back a French woman was fined for wearing a burqa while driving with the officers who stopped her telling her that what she was doing was equal to eating a sandwich while driving.

In several countries covering the face while driving is not illegal but the drivers have to show their face for their driving licence photo.

The issue of Islamic headdress has also raised questions about equality, seeing that many EU countries ban the use of balaclavas and masks in public places.

Many European countries, or in some cases regions within a country, have banned the use of the burqa in schools and other public places. Over 65% of the UK population believes the burqa and niqab should be banned. Examples where people (usually males) committed crimes and made use of burqas to escape identification and capture are often cited.

This paper sent questions to the Transport Ministry asking if the ministry and Transport Malta believe that wearing a burqa or niqab while driving could be dangerous because of restricted vision and if there were any plans to ban drivers from wearing burqas/niqabs.

Two weeks down the line, the ministry has still not replied to our questions.

 

Photo caption: This photo of a woman driving while wearing a niqab in Malta went viral on Facebook. The practice is not illegal in Malta, according to the police. 

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