The Foreign Office (FCO) is facing a backlash after inviting staff to wear Islamic headscarves for the day in an event to mark World Hijab Day. Officials claimed the headscarves symbolised "liberation, respect and security".

The walk-in event, during which taxpayer-funded headscarves were given away, was criticised as being supportive of the "institutional oppression of women".

The event took place as women in Iran burned their headscarves in protest to ultra-conservative laws that forces them to wear them or face punishment.

Maajid Nawaz, who leads the counter-extremism think-tank the Quilliam Foundation, criticised the FCO for "supporting World Hijab Day and the institutional oppression of women through modesty culture, while brave Iranian women risk all to remove the hijab tyranny".

Tory MP Andrew Bridgen also slammed the department. "I'd like to know whose bright idea this was. It is ridiculous, a complete waste of taxpayers' money and not the business of a Government department.

"I can't see the Foreign Office promoting Christianity or the handing out of crosses."

The event took place on 1 February inside the department's headquarters at Whitehall an internal email to Foreign Office staff revealed.

It said: "Would you like to try on a hijab or learn why Muslim women wear the headscarf? Come along to our walk-in event. Free scarves for all those that choose to wear it for the day or part of the day.

"Muslim women, along with followers of many other religions, choose to wear the hijab. Many find liberation, respect and security through wearing it. #StrongInHijab. Just us for #WorldHijabDay."

World Hijab Day was also marked in the Scottish Parliament, the Daily Mail reported.

The hijab is commonly worn by Muslim girls after they hit puberty. The headscarf has been criticised as a symbol of male oppression, with women burning the hijab in videos posted on social media.

On Friday (2 February), Tehran police arrested 29 women for appearing in public without a hijab, Iranian media reported. The ultra-conservative dress code has been in place since the 1979 revolution.