PARIS A French imam active in Muslim dialogue with Jews has backed a law against full face veils, parting ways with most Muslim leaders in France urging parliamentarians not to vote for a planned "burqa ban."
Hassen Chalghoumi, whose mosque stands in a northern Paris suburb where many Muslims live, said women who wanted to cover their faces should move to Saudi Arabia or other Muslim countries where that was a tradition.
France's National Assembly is likely to pass a resolution soon denouncing full veils and to try in coming months to hammer out a law forbidding them, deputies say.
President Nicolas Sarkozy calls the veils an affront to women's dignity unwelcome in France, home to about five million Muslims. Fewer than 2,000 women wear the veils, known here as burqas although most are Middle Eastern niqabs showing the eyes.
"Yes, I am for a legal ban of the burqa, which has no place in France, a country where women have been voting since 1945," Hassen Chalghoumi, 36, told the daily Le Parisien.
Chalghoumi, who has received death threats for his promotion of dialogue with Jews, said that full face veils had no basis in Islam and "belong to a tiny minority tradition reflecting an ideology that scuttles the Muslim religion."
"The burqa is a prison for women, a tool of sexist domination and Islamist indoctrination," said Chalghoumi, whose mosque stands in Drancy, site of a wartime camp where Jews were detained before transport to Nazi concentration camps.
Chalghoumi criticized some of the tougher measures proposed by conservative politicians, such as imposing fines or cutting off child support payments for veiled women.
But the Tunisian-born imam, who is a naturalized French citizen, agreed France should not grant citizenship to immigrant women who cover their faces.
"Having French nationality means wanting to take part in society, at school, at work," he said.
"But with a bit of cloth over their faces, what can these women share with us? If they want to wear the veil, they can go to a country where it's the tradition, like Saudi Arabia."
A parliamentary commission studying the issue, which has been discussed alongside a wider public debate about national identity, is due to publish its recommendations next Tuesday.
French Muslim leaders and many opposition politicians oppose any ban, saying it would alienate Muslims and possibly violate civil rights laws.
(Reporting by Sophie Taylor, editing by Tom Heneghan)