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My mother used to wear a burqa with a net over her face. It reminded me of the meat safes in my grandmother’s house. Meat safe’s net was made of metal, my mother’s net was made of linen. But the objective was the same: keeping the meat safe.
—Taslima Nasreen, likening women to meat whilst dismissing rumours that Islam is in any way misogynistic[1]

A burqa (also spelled "burka" (برقع)) is an outer garment worn by some Muslim women in particular Islamic traditions to cover their body when going outside of the home or other safe areas. A burqa generally must be thick and drapy enough to conceal the body shape of the woman wearing it, as only her husband and family are allowed to see her form. The niqab is a face veil worn with outer garments and hair veil to have the same basic effect as a burqa. A yashmak is another similar garment, consisting of a veil for both the face and head, leaving only the eyes visible. The burqa raises many issues in the tagging of Facebook photos.

The burqa itself is extra-Qur'anic, having its roots in a pre-Islamic Middle Eastern gender-segregating philosophy known as purdah. The Qur'an uses the term "hijab," which Islamic scholars interpret as meaning "modesty" or "privacy"; the Qur'an does mention veils that can be "drawn over bosoms" (24:31), but Islamic scholars differ on what type of veil this must be.

The history of this particular piece of women's fashion is an arcane study filled with much mystery and contradiction. Veiled figures believed to be powerful priestesses are depicted in statues dating back as far as 2,500 BCE,[2] and veils were later worn by Mesopotamian, Byzantine, Greek, and Persian elite women.[3] It's not a fair comparison to equate the hijab to a whale bone corsetWikipedia crushing ribs or foot bindingWikipedia deforming feet, other than being elite practices that could be enforced violently by the literal fashion police.

Conversely, the clothing was either a way for Jewish women to blend in with Greek and Roman society or as a ways for them to stand out from it; if anything like today's fashion world, it could reverse meanings in a generation.[4] Eventually, the fashion of veiling the face lost favor with Jews and Christians and was later embraced by the upper classes of Arabia before then becoming common with the urban poor; like how sports apparel became affordable to chavs, only modest and mandatory.[5]

Muhammad incorporated this traditionally Persian and Byzantine custom after the Verses of the CurtainsWikipedia was produced following his wedding to Zaynab,Wikipedia when guests became rude and wouldn't leave and only the prophet's wives are specifically mentioned as requiring veils and none wore them during his lifetime,[6] and it has been suggested it was done by women to emulate the prophet's wives.[7] It's worth noting the word hijab originally referred to a curtain like the kinds that partitioned houses, showing the importance of translation, which by that reading would have meant only to speak to the prophet's wives from behind a closed door, not an article of clothing that they wore.

Burqa requirements[edit]

Restroom sign, Saudi Arabia. Apparently, in the categories of "Beard" and "No Beard".

In some parts of the Islamic world, a woman is required to wear a burqa at all times in public, and this is enforced by law. Saudi Arabia has a particularly nasty group of police, the Mutaween, who are most famous to non-Saudis for allowing 14 schoolgirls to die in a fire because the girls were not wearing the proper covering. Afghanistan is another country that, until recently, required women to wear a burqa at all times when outside of the home. Women who did not wear the covering could be arrested and/or beaten.

However, across global Islam as a whole, burqa wearing is not particularly common.[8]

Burqa bans[edit]

Banning the burqa has become a popular call for right-wing, populist politicians.[9][10] Proponents say:

  1. A ban encourages integration and communication because seeing people's faces and eyes is important[11]
  2. It is important for security and public safety to prevent people concealing their identity in public (as with bans on wearing a motorcycle helmet in banks)[12]
  3. It protects women who are forced to wear the veil against their will
  4. It enforces equality and secularism both by removing religious symbols and by removing a symbol of female inequality and the subjugation of women[13][12]

However, there are arguments against bans:

  1. It's a basic civil liberty to wear what you like
  2. It infringes on the rights to practice religion and express your religious identity and religious beliefs
  3. A ban is racist/islamophobic because it is intended largely to punish and/or suppress Muslims, even if drafted in a neutral, secular way[13]
  4. Although intended to promote integration in public spaces, it may actually encourage Muslim women to stay at homeWikipedia (or lead to dominant Muslim males forcing their wives and daughters not to go out)
  5. A ban is sexist or misogynistic because it largely targets women
  6. A ban would encourage feelings of victimhood and persecution[note 1] and encourage radicalism[12][14]

Burqas in Europe[edit]

Currently, in no small part due to confusions or even fears of the Islamic religion, several Western countries have addressed the issues of veils and women in a variety of ways. Several countries, cities, and regions in Europe have legislation regulating what women can wear in public. Some specifically ban head coverings, others face coverings, and others more generally restrict religious clothing or symbols. Some have bans only for certain groups, e.g. teachers or government workers, while most restrict the ban to specific locations (e.g. public buildings, schools, universities, public transport).


Austria banned headscarves in primary/elementary schools and Burqas nationwide in legislation passed in May 2019. The ban specifies "ideologically or religiously influenced clothing which is associated with the covering of the head", although apparently it will not apply to Sikh patka and Jewish kippa.[15]


In 2011, Belgium banned the wearing of full-face veils in most public spaces. The punishment is up to 7 days in jail or a fine.[10]


Predominantly-Orthodox Bulgaria passed a law in 2016 banning full-face veils in public places.[16]


The Danes introduced a law in 2018 which bans the wearing of veils in public places: police can ask women to remove the veil, fine them, or send them home (the last not necessarily a good way to promote integration).[17]


In France, it is not only illegal to wear the burqa at all places, but all religious headscarves are banned in public offices and schools, and this applies to both teachers and students. It has remained unchallenged since 2004, despite protest from most Muslims and some Liberals over the issue of growing Islamophobia and breaching of individual freedom. The French law is wrapped into a whole "protection from religion" law which bars religious manifestations in schools, including Christian crosses and Jewish skullcaps.[18] Nationalist 2017 French presidential candidate Marie Le Pen called for the banning of the hijab and all religious garb.[19]


States where headscarves are banned in schools (red).

Several German states ban the wearing of headscarves in schools. Hesse also bans civil servants from wearing them, and Bavaria also bans them in universities, government offices, and polling stations.[20]. There is an anti-mask law (Vermummungsverbot), which is basically a burqa ban.


Italy has some local bans but no national legislation; in some cases, old laws against wearing masks in public have been revived.[10][21]


In the Netherlands, full face coverings such as the burqa have been outlawed in some public spaces, including many public buildings and on public transport.[22] On the first day of the ban, 1 August 2019, the police indicated it was not a priority, leaving its enforcement in doubt.[23]


Full-face veils are banned in schools and universities.


Owing to the variations in religion among Russia's republics, Stavropol bans the hijab, but in nearby Chechnya, headscarves are mandatory in public buildings.[20]


There is no national legislation, but there are restrictions in parts of Catalonia, notably Barcelona, which has banned veils in local government offices, markets, and libraries.[20]


There are bans in the regions of Ticino (Tessin) and St Gallen, with a fine as punishment, but proposals for a national ban were rejected in 2018, with the Swiss federal government leaving it up to individual cantons.[24][25] In 2021, the Swiss voted for a burqa ban.


Headscarves were illegal in predominantly-Muslim Turkey until 2013 as part of legislation aimed at secularization, with a 2016 law also legalising headscarves for police officers. It is still illegal to wear them in the armed forces and judiciary, but they are now generally allowed.[10][20]

Burqas in Canada[edit]

While Canada itself hasn't banned burqas, a previous pro-separatist government (led by the Parti Québécois) in Quebec tried to ban religious symbolism worn by public workers, among other restrictions. This "secular charter" was criticized as xenophobic and would have been deemed unconstitutional.[26] Its constitutionality is a moot point for now, given the PQ being tossed from power before it could be tabled.

Some insiders' views[edit]

Afghan women have paradoxically found the Burqa to be useful to resisting the Taliban, in that walking under what is basically a portable personal tent can allow you to hide forbidden objects. Almost all of the images of Afghanistan during the Taliban years (especially images of atrocities) were filmed with cameras underneath burqas and smuggled out of the country the same way.[27]

Other forms of Islamic dress[edit]

Mandatory hijab is a patriarchal & misogynist instrument of control. As a liberal, I support legal choice to wear it, but still intellectually & morally oppose it everywhere for what it represents (just like the Confederate flag).
Maajid Nawaz[28]
British woman wearing a hijab and smoking a fag.
The burkini

Islam requires that both men and women dress modestly. To this end, many styles from simple long-sleeved shirts to full burka and niqab can be found in any mosque.

The hijab is the most common form of headdress associated with Muslim women. It is a veil that covers the hair only, and is common throughout most of the Middle East, parts of the India subcontinent (such as Pakistan and Bangladesh), and in the Islamic cultures of Southeast Asia (such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei). Often, in Western or Westernized societies, the hijab is worn with typical everyday western wear.

An Abaya is a long coat that covers the body's form.

Many Americans only think of the long black burqa and niqab when they think of Muslim women, but women can be very fashionable, even in the most modest of clothing. Examples of modern conservative Muslim dress can be found at a number of online Islamic clothing stores.

Modest Islamic swimwear for women is often called a burkini or burqini ("burka" + "bikini"). In 2016, the city of Nice, France attempted to ban the burkini even though it is not much different in appearance than a wetsuit; the ban was overturned by a French court.[29]

See also[edit]


  1. Let’s Burn The Burqa, Freethought Blogs
  2. Kahf, Mohja (2008). From Royal Body the Robe was Removed: The Blessings of the Veil and the Trauma of Forced Unveiling in the Middle East. University of California Press. p. 27.
  3. Ahmed, Leila (1992). Women and Gender in Islam. New Haven: Yale University Press. p. 15.
  4. Richard Freund. "The Veiling of Women in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. A Guide to the Exhibition" (PDF). University of Hartford. Retrieved Aug 22, 2016.
  5. El Guindi, Fadwa; Sherifa Zahur (2009). "Hijab". The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Retrieved August 22, 2016.
  6. "Does the Quran Require Women to Wear the Veil?", ThoughtCo
  7. Aslan, Reza, No God but God, Random House, (2005), p.65–6.
  8. 5 Ridiculous Things You Probably Believe About Islam, Cracked
  9. See the Wikipedia article on Hijab by country.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Burka bans: The countries where Muslim women can't wear veils , The Daily Telegraph (UK), 17 Aug 2017
  11. I felt uneasy talking to someone I couldn't see, Jack Straw, The Guardian, 6 Oct 2006
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Veil Debate, National Secular Society (UK)
  13. 13.0 13.1 The Burqa Ban: An Unreasonable Limitation on Religious Freedom or a Justifiable Restriction?, Shaira Nanwani, Emory International Law Review
  14. Banning Muslim Veils Tends to Backfire—Why Do Countries Keep Doing It?, Sigal Samuel, The Atlantic, 3 August 2018
  15. Austria approves headscarf ban in primary schools, The Guardian, 16 May 2019
  16. Bulgaria bans full-face veils in public places, Reuters, 30 Sep 2016
  17. Protests in Denmark as 'burqa ban' comes into effect, The Guardian, 1 Aug 2018
  18. The deep roots of French secularism, BBC News
  19. "Le Pen's attacks on Islam are no longer veiled.", Thursday 27 September 2012, Aurelien Mondon
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 20.3 The Islamic veil across Europe, BBC, 31 May 2018
  21. Italian region bans women in face veils from entering hospitals, The Local, 8 Mar 2017
  22. The Netherlands introduces burqa ban in some public spaces, CNN, 27 June 2018
  23. Dutch 'burqa ban' rendered largely unworkable on first day, The Guardian, 1 Aug 2019
  24. Swiss government rejects proposed burqa ban, Reuters, 27 Jun 2018
  25. Swiss region of St Gallen votes to ban 'burqa' in public places, Al Jazeera, 23 Sep 2018
  26. Marois believes Quebec will rally behind controversial secular charter, The Globe and Mail
  27. Soft Weapons: Autobiography in Transit by Gillian Whitlock. p.50
  28. Nawaz, Maajid, Mandatory hijab, Twitter, 31 December 2017.
  29. Burkini ban in Nice overturned by French court by Lauren Said-Moorhouse (Updated 10:07 AM ET, Fri September 2, 2016) CNN.


  1. Remember: it's not a persecution complex if the persecution is real!