Muslim women wear the veil to help them integrate into modern society, a new study argues.

The veil may help young, educated Muslim women to mix with non-Muslim friends, work outside the home and speak to strangers.

This is because it provides a 'strategic response' to the temptations and threats of modern western life into which they are integrating, according to research by Oxford University professors.

Sociologists Ozan Aksoy and Diego Gambetta wanted to find out why modernisation does not always cause a decrease in Islamic religious behaviour.

Their study found that education, occupation, higher income, urban living, and contacts with non-Muslims has decreased veiling among averagely religious women.

But among highly religious women, those same modernising forces have increased the use of the veil.

The authors speculate that this is because women use the veil to as a 'strategic response' to threats to their modesty.

They conclude: 'We find that among highly religious women the modernizing forces - education, occupation and higher income, urban living, and contacts with non-Muslims - increase veiling.

'We conjecture that for highly religious women modernizing factors raise the risk and temptation in women's environments that imperil their reputation for modesty: veiling would then be a strategic response, a form either of to prevent the breach of religious norms or women’s piety to their communities.' 

One of the co-authors of the report, Professor Gambetta of Oxford University, said: 'Highly religious women who have more native friends and live in areas dominated by natives use the veil to keep their pious reputation while being integrated,' reports The Guardian.

'Banning or shunning veiling would deprive them of a means that allow them more opportunity for integration rather than marking their differences.'

The conclusion is that banning the veil will not help Muslim women integrate but will prevent them from doing so.

The study by Ozan Aksoy and Diego Gambetta called Behind the Veil: The Strategic Use of Religious Garb was published in the European Sociological Review.