Muslims across Europe face discrimination in the workplace and society in general if they choose to demonstrate their faith, Amnesty International has claimed.

A new report by the human rights organisation says that European governments must do more to challenge the negative stereotypes and prejudices held against Muslims across the continent.

Called Choice and prejudice: discrimination against Muslims in Europe, the report claims that Muslims who express their religion, such as through dress or prayer, face discrimination in several aspects of their lives, including employment and education.

“Muslim women are being denied jobs and girls prevented from attending regular classes just because they wear traditional forms of dress, such as the headscarf. Men can be dismissed for wearing beards associated with Islam,” said Marco Perolini, Amnesty International’s expert on discrimination.

The report looked at five European countries in particular – Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland.

It claims that employers in these countries have been allowed to discriminate against Muslims on the grounds that religious or cultural symbols will clash with a company’s corporate image or its ‘neutrality’.

Factors such as these are partly responsible for low employment rates among Muslims in Europe, it says.

“EU legislation prohibiting discrimination on the ground of religion or belief in the area of employment seems to be toothless across Europe, as we observe a higher rate of unemployment among Muslims, and especially Muslim women of foreign origin,” said Mr Perolini.

In France, for example, the employment rate of women holding French citizenship was 60.9 per cent in 2009, but just 25.6 per cent for those of Moroccan origin and 14.7 per cent for Turkish women.

“Wearing religious and cultural symbols and dress is part of the right of freedom of expression. It is part of the right to freedom of religion or belief – and these rights must be enjoyed by all faiths equally,” Mr Perolini added.