Sri Lankan Muslim women wait in a queue for the COVID-19 blood test in Colombo, Sri Lanka, May 4. On Friday the Sri Lankan government moved to ban the wearing of burqas, like the one being worn by the woman on the right, and to close Muslim schools in the country. Photo by Chamila Karunarathne/EPA-EFE
March 13 (UPI) -- Sri Lanka's public security minister signed a cabinet order Friday seeking approval to ban burqas and other face coverings in public places.
Sarath Weerasekara told the BBC the order needs parliamentary approval to go into effect, but officials say they expect the ban to be implemented very soon.
Burqas are garments worn by some Muslim women. They cover the body and face.
Weerasekara cited national security concerns when announcing the proposed ban.
"In our early days, Muslim women and girls never wore the burqa," Weerasekara said at a news conference. "It is a sign of religious extremism that came about recently. We are definitely going to ban it."
Sri Lanka temporarily banned burqas in 2019 after the Easter Sunday bomb attacks that killed more than 250 people at six locations, including three churches and three hotels.
The Islamic State claimed credit for the attacks shortly after they happened.
Weerasekara also said the government plans to close more than 1,000 Islamic schools in the country.
The proposals follow an order last year mandating the cremation of COVID-19 victims, over the objection of Muslims, who bury their dead.
The United States and international rights groups criticized the order, which was lifted earlier this year.
Muslims make up about 9 percent of the 22 million people in Sri Lanka, where Buddhists make up the majority -- 75% -- of residents.