US President Barack Obama on Thursday defended the choice of some Muslim women to don the headscarf, during a keynote speech in Cairo aimed at healing a deep rift with the Islamic world.
"Freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion... That is why the US government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it," Obama told a packed auditorium at Cairo University.
The US president said the focus on women's rights should be education.
"I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality.
"And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well-educated are far more likely to be prosperous," Obama said.