The proposed ban – which will mainly affect France's five million Muslim minority – has prompted a last-ditch call for Paris to abandon moves to prevent wearing religious symbols in state schools.

London's mayor, Ken Livingstone, added his voice to those promoting a complete rethink.

“President Jacques Chirac is playing a terribly, terribly dangerous game in the same way that many politicians felt they could pander to Hitler in the 20s.

“The only way to defeat Fascism in Europe is to stand against every demand they make. It is an anti-Muslim measure and will stir up anti-Muslim pressure.”

Unjust?

The bill was passed by the lower house of the French parliament on Tuesday. If, as is a formality, it is carried by the upper house, it could be enforced by the start of the next school year.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of the campaign group Liberty, said: “Unjust and illiberal laws are being used to discriminate.

“Injustice does not help the war against terror. Injustice breeds a sense that democracy and the rule of law has failed.”

“President Jacques Chirac is playing a terribly, terribly dangerous game in the same way that many politicians felt they could pander to Hitler in the 20s"

Ken Livingstone,
Mayor of London

The president of the Muslim Women Society, Abeer Pharaon, predicted the measure would deepen fears among Britain’s Muslim community - particularly as the British Government has not taken a public stand on the issue.

Growing racism

“We remain extremely concerned that this rapid spread of this legislation throughout Europe might encourage extremists and fascists to attack and insult Muslim women in the UK.

“We call on the British Government to make an official statement stating its position on the issue where multi-culture, multi-faith and multi-ethnicity are affirmed as characteristics of British society which we hold dear and treasure.”

She branded the law as “inhumane” because for Muslims the hijab is not a symbol but a duty – a requirement for practising women to undertake.

Mejindarpal Kaur, director of the United Sikhs, said: “We are speechless on this issue. The fact that we are here in the 21st century looking for rights that we thought we had years ago leaves us speechless.

“The turban, like the hijab or skull cap, is something that someone uses to express their faith. It is not something they can take off, as when you enter a building. It stays with you.”