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Transport Minister John Baird inspects a full-body scanner at a news conference in Ottawa in January. ((Pawel Dwulit/Canadian Press))

An Islamic group is urging Muslim travellers to choose to be patted down by airport security rather than go through airport body scanners, a practice that it says violate religious and privacy rights.

The Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) said the scanners, which produce a three-dimensional outline of a person's naked body, are "against the teachings of Islam, natural law and all religions and cultures that stand for decency and modesty."

"It is a violation of clear Islamic teachings that men or women be seen naked by other men and women," the group said in a statement last week.

"The Qur'an has commanded the believers, both men and women, to cover their private parts. Human beings are urged to be modest in their dress," the group said.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations also issued a statement of support of the FCNA's recommendation.

The United States began using the scanners capable of detecting items hidden underneath clothing at airports as part of new security protocols put in place in the wake of the failed bombing attempt on a Detroit-bound flight on Christmas Day.

Canada installing scanners

Halifax imam Dr. Jamal Badawi, one of 10 Muslim scholars on the council who made the religious ruling, said the only exception to the rules of modesty are medical necessity or another emergency.

"It has to be a clear and compelling case and only to the extent that it is absolutely needed," said Badawi. "And that doesn't seem to apply to these scanning machines."

Canada is also in the process of installing 44 scanners to be used on U.S.-bound passengers selected for secondary screening at Canadian airports.

The Canadian Air Transport Security Authority has said the scanners would protect the privacy of the passenger, and that the officer viewing the image would do so in a separate room and never see the actual traveller.

Only people singled out for extra screening would be scanned, and they would have the option of getting a physical search instead, according to authorities on both sides of the border.

The Fiqh council, which in 2005 issued an Islamic legal ruling, or fatwa, against terrorism and religious extremism, said it appreciated the pat-down search option and recommended Muslims choose this option.

U.S. puts countries on watch list

Canada has not adopted the U.S. approach of requiring additional screening for anyone flying into the U.S. who is a citizen of or is travelling from any of the 14 countries deemed to be state supporters of terrorism or "of interest" to the U.S.

Most of the countries listed are predominantly Muslim, and civil liberties groups say the policy of targeting travellers from specific countries opens the door to discriminatory racial profiling.

Transport Minister John Baird has said that "100 per cent" of Canadian travellers bound for the United States could be subjected to secondary screening.

The focus on security measures stems from the failed attempt by a Nigerian man to set off a bomb on a flight from Amsterdam to Detroit on Christmas Day.

Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, is accused of trying to ignite the bomb on the Northwest Airlines flight. Officials said he has told U.S. investigators he received training and instructions from al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen.