BRAZZAVILLE (Reuters) - Authorities in Congo Republic will impose a ban on wearing the full-face Islamic veil in public in order to tackle a security threat from people using it to conceal their identity, the head of the Congo’s Islamic Council said on Saturday.
Many of the Muslims in the oil-producing central African country come from French-speaking West Africa or Arab nations, Bopaka said. Less than 10 percent of Congo’s 5 million citizens are believed to be Muslim.
Neighbor Cameroon has been plagued by attacks by Islamist militant group Boko Haram in its northern region. Thousands of refugees have also fled to Congo from neighboring Central African Republic, where Christian militia have targeted Muslims in the south of the country.
Islamic Council head Djibril Abdoulaye Bopaka said Congo’s Islamic community, which he estimated at some 800,000 people, was in agreement with the measure after what he said were reports of individuals using this kind of veil to carry out illegal acts.
“The government took this step based on what was happening in the neighboring countries and the rest of the world,” Bopaka said. “We regard this as a legitimate step for the security of the country.”
“Together with authorities, we recognized that there were non-Muslims and badly intentioned people making use of the veil to carry out unauthorized acts,” he told Radio France International.
Bopaka said he met with imams on Saturday to discuss the ban, but there had been no resistance to it. The government notified him on April 23 of its decision and he asked for a two week delay to inform the Muslim community.
Women will be able to wear the full-face veil in their homes or in mosques, but not in public places like the market, he said. The wearing of veils that do not cover the face was not restricted, he said.
Reporting by Philon Severin Bondenga; editing by Ralph Boulton