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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], Assyria even laws instead of a high school girl's cruel insults to prevent lower class women from wearing them. It's not a fair comparison to equate the hijab to a whale bone corsetWikipedia's W.svg crushing ribs or foot bindingWikipedia's W.svg 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 Christian and was later embraced by the upper classes of Arabia; before than 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's W.svg was produced following his wedding to ZaynabWikipedia's W.svg, when guests became rude and wouldn't leave and only the prophets 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 into 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]

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 the Netherlands, full face coverings such as the burqa have been outlawed. 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.[9] Nationalist 2017 French presidential candidate Marie Le Pen called for the banning of the hijab and all religious garb. [10] Other countries in Europe have similar legislation, but it is only on a city-by-city basis.

Burqas in Canada[edit]

While Canada itself hasn't banned burqas, a previous (pro-separatist) government 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.[11] 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.[12]

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[13]
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.[14]

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. The deep roots of French secularism, BBC News
  10. "Le Pen's attacks on Islam are no longer veiled.", Thursday 27 September 2012, Aurelien Mondon
  11. Marois believes Quebec will rally behind controversial secular charter, The Globe and Mail
  12. Soft Weapons: Autobiography in Transit by Gillian Whitlock. p.50
  13. Nawaz, Maajid, Mandatory hijab, Twitter, 31 December 2017.
  14. Burkini ban in Nice overturned by French court by Lauren Said-Moorhouse (Updated 10:07 AM ET, Fri September 2, 2016) CNN.