Cult BBC motoring programme Top Gear has found itself under fire - and not for the first time - after sparking religious outrage over its Boxing Day episode in which presenters Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond donned burkas during their Middle Eastern adventure special.

The pair - along with sidekick James May - drove in specially-modified open-top sportscars from Iraq through Turkey, Syria and Jordan to Israel in mock recreation of the voyage of the Three Wise Men to bring gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the Baby Jesus in Bethlehem, or in this case gold, shampoo and a Nintendo DS to the Baby Stig, in typical tongue-in-cheek fashion.

However, after May found himself knocked out and subsequently hospitalised with a head wound as a result of being sent flying to the ground in the Syrian desert as Clarkson attempted to tow a stuck Hammond out of the sand, his co-presenters motored on - and greeted 'Captain Slow' upon his release from hospital disguised head-to-toe as women wearing niqabs, a form of the burka in which the only part of the body that remains visible are the eyes.

The joke was a ploy not to be recognised after leaving the desert to continue by road - for fear that the Israelis would not permit them access to their country should they learn that the trio had first been in Syria - but it has not gone down well in some quarters. Last summer, Clarkson had also quipped that he had seen a Muslim woman wearing a provocative 'red g-string and stockings' underneath her burka.

"The burka is a symbol of our religion, and people should not make jokes about it in any way," high-profile and controversial Islamic extremist Anjem Choudary told the Daily Mail. "It would have been equally bad even if they'd not been in a country mainly populated by Muslims."

Whilst the BBC has refused to comment - revealing that it has still to fully assess viewer feedback - it seems some of the 6.6 million fans who tuned into the show were equally unimpressed, with arguments that mocking burkas is 'ugly' and 'not funny' and one Twitter user exclaiming: 'This is probably the worst top gear special. Y the f*** r they wearing burkas!!?'

Others, however, have sprung to Clarkson and co.'s defence, with one supporter questioning: 'Why are so many people offended? it's just a piece a clothing. the Burka is not in the Quaran at all. if people are so offended why dont they switch over the TV?'

'Top gear was one of the best bits of tv this Christmas,' added a like-minded Twitter-user. 'if you don't like it, TURN IT OFF!!! Don't go on tv and moan about it.'



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