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what is burqa?
his article is about the Muslim cultural garment. For other uses, see Burka.
For the mask covering the eyebrows and upper lip used in Gulf countries, see Battoulah.
Women wearing burqas
A burqa or burka /ˈbɜːrkə/ (Arabic: برقع ), also known as a chadaree /ˈtʃædəriː/ (Pashto: چادري) in Afghanistan or a paranja /ˈpærənˌdʒɑː/ (Russian: паранджа́; Tatar: пәрәнҗә) in Central Asia, is an enveloping outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions to cover themselves in public, which covers the body and the face. The Arab version of the burqa is called the boshiya, and is usually black in color.
The term burqa is sometimes conflated with niqāb. In more precise usage, niqab is a face veil that leaves the eyes uncovered, while a burqa covers the entire body from the top of the head to the ground, with only a mesh screen allowing the wearer to see in front of her. The burqa is also not to be confused with the hijab, a garment which typically covers the hair, neck and all or part of the chest, but not the face.
The burqa and other types of face veils have been attested since pre-Islamic times, in particular among Pashtun and Arab women. Face veiling has not been regarded as a religious requirement by most Islamic scholars, past or present. However, some scholars, especially those belonging to the Salafi movement, view it as obligatory for women in the presence of non-related (mahram) males. Women may wear the burqa for a number of reasons, including compulsion, as was the case in Afghanistan during Taliban rule.
There are currently 15 nations that have banned the burqa, including Austria, Denmark, France, Belgium, Tajikistan, Latvia, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, the Netherlands, China, and Sri Lanka.
Pre-Islamic relief showing veiled Middle Eastern women, Temple of Baal, Palmyra, Syria, 1st century CE.
The face veil was originally part of women’s dress among certain classes in the Byzantine Empire and was adopted into Muslim culture during the Arab conquest of the Middle East.
However, although Byzantine art before Islam commonly depicts women with veiled heads or covered hair, it does not depict women with veiled faces. In addition, the Greek geographer Strabo, writing in the first century AD, refers to some Median women veiling their faces; and the early third-century Christian writer Tertullian clearly refers in his treatise The Veiling of Virgins to some “pagan” women of “Arabia” wearing a veil that covers not only their head but also the entire face. Clement of Alexandria commends the contemporary use of face coverings. There are also two Biblical references to the employment of covering face veils in Genesis 38.14 and Genesis 24.65, by Tamar and by Rebeccah, Judah and Abraham’s daughters-in-law respectively. These primary sources show that some women in Egypt, Arabia, Canaan and Persia veiled their faces long before Islam. In the case of Tamar, the Biblical text, ‘When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot; because she had covered her face’ indicates customary, if not sacral, use of the face veil to accentuate rather than disguise sexuality.
The Afghan chadaree style of burqa has been worn by Pashtun women since pre-Islamic times and was historically seen as a mark of respectability.
Most Islamic scholars and most contemporary Islamic jurists have agreed that women are not required to cover their face.
Although the Quran commands both men and women to behave modestly and contains no precise prescription for how women should dress, certain Quranic verses have been used in exegetical discussions of face veiling. Coming after a verse which instructs men to lower their gaze and guard their modesty, verse 24:31 instructs women to do the same, providing additional detail:
Tell the believing women to lower their eyes, guard their private parts (furuj), and not display their charms (zina) except what is apparent outwardly, and cover their bosoms with their veils (khumur, sing. khimar) and not to show their finery except to their husbands or their fathers or fathers-in-law […]
The verse goes on to list a number of other types of exempted males. Classical Quranic commentators differed in their interpretation of the phrase “except what is apparent outwardly”. Some argued that it referred to face and hands, implying that these body parts need not be covered, while others disagreed.
Another passage, known as the “mantle verse” (33:59), has been interpreted as establishing women’s security as a rationale for veiling:
O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters, and the women of the faithful, to draw their wraps (jalabib, sing. jilbab) over them. They will thus be recognized and no harm will come to them. God is forgiving and kind.
Based on the context of the verse and early Islamic literature, this verse has been generally understood as establishing a way to protect the Muslim women from a hostile faction who had molested them on the streets of Medina, claiming that they confused them with slave girls.
The exact nature of garments referred to in these verses, khimar and jilbab, has been debated by traditional and modern scholars.
Islamic scholars who hold that face veiling is not obligatory also base this on a narration from one of the canonical hadith collections (sayings attributed to Muhammad), in which he tells Asma’, the daughter of Abu Bakr: “O Asmaʿ, when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except this and this”, pointing to her face and hands (Abū Dawūd, Book 32, Number 4092). According to Yusuf al-Qaradawi, traditional hadith scholars have not viewed this narration as providing proof on its own, because its recorded chain of transmission made them uncertain about its authenticity, but those who argued that face veiilng is not required have used it as supporting evidence strengthened by other textual sources, such as those recording customary practice at the time of Muhammad and his companions.
When veiling was discussed in early Islamic jurisprudence beyond the context of prayer, it was generally considered an “issue of social status and physical safety”. Later, during the medieval era, Islamic jurists began to devote more attention to the notion of awra (intimate parts) and the question of whether women should cover their faces. The majority opinion which emerged during that time, predominant among Maliki and Hanafi jurists, held that women should cover everything except their faces in public. In contrast, most medieval Hanbali and Shafi’i jurists counted a woman’s face among the awra, concluding that it should be veiled, except for the eyes. The Hanbali jurist Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 1328 CE) was an influential proponent of the latter view, while the Hanafi scholar Burhan al-Din al-Marghinani (d. 1197 CE) stressed that it was particularly important for a woman to leave her face and hands uncovered during everyday business dealing with men. There was a difference of opinion on this question within the legal schools. Thus, Yusuf al-Qaradawi quotes classical Shafi’i and Hanbali jurists stating that covering the face is not obligatory.
In the Shi’a Ja’fari school of fiqh, covering the face is not obligatory.
According to the Salafi point of view, it is obligatory (fard) for a woman to cover her entire body when in public or in presence of non-mahram men. Some interpretations say that a veil is not compulsory in front of blind, asexual or gay men.
The Salafi scholar Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani wrote a book expounding his view that the face veil is not a binding obligation upon Muslim women, while he was a teacher at Islamic University of Madinah. His opponents within the Saudi establishment ensured that his contract with the university was allowed to lapse without renewal.
There exists no single reason why women may wear the burqa, and this practice must be understood within a particular social context. A woman may wear it to express her piety, her views on sexual modesty, her rejection of Western notions of sexuality, her desire for increased mobility or privacy in a social environment dominated by men, or her membership in a political movement. In the most publicized context, women were required, often against their will, to wear the burqa by the Taliban as a matter of policy during their rule of Afghanistan.
See also: Hijab by country
A map of countries with a Burqa ban. Map current as of 2019
In July 2015, Cameroon banned the face veil including the burqa after two women dressed in the religious garments committed a suicide attack killing 13.
In June 2015, the full face veil was banned in Chad after veiled Boko Haram bombers disguised as women committed multiple suicide attacks.
In May 2015, the Republic of the Congo banned the face veil in order to counter extremism. The decision was announced by El Hadji Djibril Bopaka, the president of the country’s Islamic High Council.
In 2015, Gabon banned the face veil in order to counter extremism in public and places of work.
The Moroccan government distributed letters to businesses on 9 January 2017 declaring a ban on sale, production and import the burka. The letters indicated that businesses were expected to clear their stock within 48 hours. It is not illegal to wear a burka in Morocco
Afghan women wait outside a USAID-supported health care clinic.
Women wearing burqas of different colors Afghanistan in 1975)
The full Afghan chadaree covers the wearer’s entire face except for a small region about the eyes, which is covered by a concealing net or grille.
The chadaree has been worn by Pashtun women since pre-Islamic times and was historically seen as a mark of respectability. Before the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, the chadaree was rarely worn in cities. While they were in power, the Taliban required the wearing of a chadaree in public. Officially, it is not required under the present Afghan regime, but local feudal lords still enforce it in southern Afghanistan. They are usually light blue in the Kabul area, white in the north in Mazar-i-Sharif and brown and green in Kandahar in the south. Chadaree use in the remainder of Afghanistan is variable and is observed to be gradually declining in Kabul. Due to political instability in these areas, women who might not otherwise be inclined to wear the chadaree must do so as a matter of personal safety.
In 2017, China banned the burqa in the Islamic area of Xinjiang.
Among the Muslim population in India (about 14.2% as of 2011 census), the burqa (Hindi: बुरक़ा, Urdu: بُرقع) is common in many areas Old Delhi, for example. In the locale of Nizamuddin Basti, the obligation of a woman to wear a burqa is dependent on her age, according to a local informant: young, unmarried women or young, married women in their first years of marriage are required to wear the burqa. However, after this the husband usually decides if his wife should continue to wear a burqa. In addition, the Indian burqa is a slim black cloak different from the style worn in Afghanistan.
See also: Haredi burqa sect
A member of the Haredi burqa sect in Meah Shearim, Israel
Some years ago[when?], a group of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish women in Israel began donning the Burqa as a symbol of piety. Following its adoption by Bruria Keren, an estimated 600 Jewish women took to wearing the veil. Keren claims to “follow these rules of modesty to save men from themselves. A man who sees a woman’s body parts is sexually aroused, and this might cause him to commit sin. Even if he doesn’t actually sin physically, his impure thoughts are sin in themselves.” However, a rabbinical authority said “There is a real danger that by exaggerating, you are doing the opposite of what is intended [resulting in] severe transgressions in sexual matters,” and issued an edict declaring burka-wearing a sexual fetish, that is as promiscuous as wearing too little.
According to The Jerusalem Post, in 2010, a Member of the Knesset intended to put forward a bill to “prohibit the wearing of a full-body and face covering for women. [The] bill would not differentiate between Muslims and Jews”.
See also: 2019 Sri Lanka Easter bombings
In April 2019, face-covering clothing was banned in Sri Lanka in the aftermath of the 2019 Easter Sunday bombings by jihadists.
Syria is a Baathist state and discourages the wearing of hijab. Ghiyath Barakat, Syria’s minister of higher education, announced that the government would ban students, teachers or staff from covering faces at universities, stating that the veils ran counter to “secular and academic principles of the country”.
In 2017 the government of Tajikistan passed a law requiring people to “stick to traditional national clothes and culture”, which has been widely seen as an attempt to prevent women from wearing Islamic clothing, in particular the style of headscarf wrapped under the chin, in contrast to the traditional Tajik headscarf tied behind the head.
Further information: Islamic dress in Europe
Burqa bans in Europe. Map current as of 2019.
National ban – country bans women from wearing full-face veils in public
Local ban – cities or regions ban full-face veils
Partial ban – government bans full-face veils in some locations
In 2017, a legal ban on face-covering clothing in public spaces was adopted by the Austrian parliament including Islamic face-covering garments. The government stated that accepting and respecting Austrian values is essential to the peaceful co-existence between the Austrian majority population and immigrants. The ban came into force on 1 October 2017 and carried a fine of 150 euros.
It is reported that there are 150 Austrian women who wear the burqa.
On 29 April 2010, the lower house of parliament in Belgium passed a bill banning any clothing that would obscure the identity of the wearer in places like parks and in the street. The proposal was passed without dissent, and was then also passed by the Senate. BBC News estimates that “Only around 30 women wear this kind of veil in Belgium, out of a Muslim population of around half a million.” The ban came into effect in Belgium in July 2011. On 11 July 2017 the ban in Belgium was upheld by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) after having been challenged by two Muslim women who claimed their rights had been infringed.
The Parliament of Bulgaria outlawed the wearing of any clothing “that partially or completely covers the face” in public places such as government offices, educational and cultural institutions, and places of public recreation, except for health or professional reasons from 30 September 2016. Anyone who violates the law is liable to a fine of up to 1,500 levs ($860 USD). The Muslim community makes up 15% of the Bulgarian population of 7.1 million.
Main article: Islam in Denmark
In Denmark, the garment is often described as oppressing women and incompatible with Danish values.
In autumn 2017, the Danish government agreed to adopt a law prohibiting people to wear “attire and clothing masking the face in such a way that it impairs recognizability”. A full ban on both niqabs and burqas was announced on 31 May 2018. The ban came into force on 1 August 2018 and carries a fine of 1000 DKK, then about 134 euro; repeat offenses are punishable with fines up to 10 000 DKK. The law targets all garments that cover the face, such as fake beards or balaclavas. Supporters of the ban claim that the ban facilitates integration of Muslims into Danish society, while Amnesty International claimed the ban violated women’s rights. On the date the law came into force, a protest numbering 300-400 people was held in Copenhagen’s Nørrebro district organised by Socialist Youth Front, Kvinder i Dialog and Party Rebels, with protesters wearing various head coverings including party masks.
Main article: Islamic scarf controversy in France
Wearing the burqa has not been allowed in French public schools since 2004 when it was judged to be a religious symbol like the Christian cross. This ruling was the application of an established 1905 law that prohibits students and staff from wearing any clearly visible religious symbols. The law relates to the time where the secular French state took over control of most schools from the Catholic Church. It does not apply to private or religious schools. This was followed on 22 June 2009, when the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, said that burqas are “not welcome” in France, commenting that “In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity”. The French National Assembly appointed 32 lawmakers from right- and left-wing parties to a six-month fact-finding mission to look at ways of restricting its use. On 26 January 2010, the commission reported that access to public services and public transport should be barred to those wearing the burqa. On Tuesday 13 July 2010 the Assembly overwhelmingly approved a bill banning burqas and niqabs.
On 14 September 2010, the French Senate overwhelmingly approved a ban on burqas in public, with the law becoming effective beginning on 11 April 2011. When the measure was sent in May to the parliament they said “Given the damage it produces on those rules which allow the life in community, ensure the dignity of the person and equality between sexes, this practice, even if it is voluntary, cannot be tolerated in any public place”.
The ban is officially called “The bill to forbid concealing one’s face in public”. “It refers neither to Islam nor to veils. Officials insist the law against face-covering is not discriminatory because it would apply to everyone, not just Muslims. They cite a host of exceptions, including motorcycle helmets, or masks for health reasons, fencing, skiing or carnivals”.
In 2014, the European Court of Human Rights upheld the French ban on burqa, accepting the argument of the French government that the law was based on “a certain idea of living together”.
In a 2016 speech, accepting her nomination for reelection, the German chancellor Angela Merkel called for banning the burqa in Germany “wherever legally possible”, which was interpreted as support for the earlier proposal by Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière to outlaw full-face veils in public buildings. The announcement was seen as an attempt to counter public anger at Merkel’s handling of the migrant crisis and electoral gains by the anti-immigration AfD party. In 2017, a legal ban on face-covering clothing for soldiers and state workers during work was approved by the German parliament. Also in 2017, a legal ban on face-covering clothing for car and truck drivers was approved by the German Ministry of Traffic. In July 2017 the state of Bavaria approved a ban on face-covering clothing for teachers, state workers and students at university and schools.
In August 2017, the state of Lower Saxony banned the burqa along with the niqab in public schools. This change in the law was prompted by a Muslim pupil in Osnabrück who wore the garment to school for years and refused to take it off. Since she has completed her schooling, the law was instituted to prevent similar cases in the future.
In Italy, by an anti-terrorism Law passed in 1975, it is forbidden to wear any dress that hides the face of a person. At that time, Italy was facing domestic (not Islam-related) terrorism. In May 2010, it was reported that a Tunisian woman was fined €500 for this offence.
A legal ban of face-covering Islamic clothing was adopted by the Latvian parliament.
Malta has no restrictions on Islamic dressing such as the veil (hijab) nor the full face veil (burqa and/or niqab) but strictly speaking face covering is illegal. An official ban on face covering for religious reasons is ambiguous. It is guaranteed that individuals are allowed to wear as they wish at their private homes and at the Mosque. Imam El Sadi, without quoting anyone and speaking from his own beliefs, as a spiritual guidance, that banning of the niqab and the burka “offends Muslim women”. Elsadi said that the Maltese’s “attitude towards Muslim women” is positive and, despite cultural clashes, they tolerate the dressing. Some Muslim women share the belief that it is sinful to be seen in public without veiling themselves; however, they are legally required to remove it when needed.
On 27 January 2012, a bill was agreed upon by the Dutch cabinet, banning any clothing that would hide the wearer’s identity. Fines for wearing a burqa in public could go up to 380 euros. However, it did not pass in Parliament. In October 2012, this law was mitigated by the succeeding cabinet to pertain only to public transport, health care, education and government buildings, rather than all public spaces.
On 22 May 2015, a bill was agreed upon by the Dutch cabinet, banning wearing a burqa in public places. Public places would have included public transportation, educational institutes, public health institutes, and government buildings. In the courtroom a burqa or a nikab could not be worn. In the public space a burqa and nikab would have been allowed. Police officers could have requested one to remove face-covering clothing for identification purposes. There were exceptions, such as during carneval or other festivities, and when face-covering clothing was necessary as a sports or job requirement. Opposition party D66 commented on the burqa abolishment as tokenism, while PVV labelled the ban unsatisfactory. Minister of Internal Affairs, Plasterk, has stated that setting a norm is important.
The May 2015 bill did not pass either, but a new bill was proposed in November 2015, which was eventually made into law. On 26 June 2018, a partial ban on face covering (including burqas) on public transport and in buildings and associated yards of educational institutions, governmental institutions and healthcare institutions was enacted, with a number of exceptions. From 1 August 2019 a national burka ban was introduced in the Netherlands.
As of August 2019, 200-400 Dutch women are believed to wear a burqa or niqab.
In Autumn 2017, Norway government proposed a law prohibiting people to wear “attire and clothing masking the face in such a way that it impairs recognizability” in schools and in universities. In June 2018, the parliament of Norway passed a bill banning clothing covering the face at educational institutions as well as daycare centres, which included face-covering Islamic veils. The prohibition applies to pupils and staff alike.
In 2012, a poll by Uppsala University found that Swedes responded that face-covering Islamic veils are either completely unacceptable or fairly unacceptable, 85% for the burqa and 81% for the niqab. The researchers noted these figures represented a compact resistance to the face-covering veil by the population of Sweden.
In December 2019, the municipality of Skurup banned Islamic veils in educational institutions. Earlier, the municipality of Staffanstorp approved a similar ban.
The burka was outlawed in the canton of Ticino after a citizen initiative to hold a referendum. With 65% in favour of a ban and it was ruled that the ban was constitutional, the ban took effect in July 2016. Those who violate the law face a fine of up to CHF 10,000.
In September 2018, a ban on face-covering veils was approved with a 67% vote in favour in the canton of St Gallen. The largest Islamic community organisation in Switzerland, the Islamic Central Council, recommended that Muslim women continue to cover their faces.
Main article: United Kingdom debate over veils
Face veils caused debate in the United Kingdom. A senior member of the previous government, Jack Straw, asked Muslim women from his constituency to remove any veils covering their faces during face-to-face meetings with him. He explained to the media that this was a request, not a demand, and that he made sure that a woman staffer remained in the room during the meeting. A media outcry followed. Some Muslim groups said that they understood his concerns, but others rejected them as prejudicial. A poll in 2011 indicated that 66 percent of British people supported banning the burqa in all public places. However, a ban on burqas was ruled out by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat government, and in 2018 Theresa May stated “we do not support a ban on the wearing of the veil in public”.
In 2010, Australian Liberal Senator Cory Bernardi called for the burqa to be banned in Australia, branding it “un-Australian”. The ban did not go ahead but the debate about the burqa continues.
In 2011, Carnita Matthews of Sydney was sentenced to six months jail for making a statement accusing a police officer of attempting to forcibly lift her niqab, which news sources initially referred to incorrectly as a burqa. The officer had pulled her over for a random breath test and then ticketed her for a licence infringement. Matthews allegedly then submitted a signed complaint to a police station while wearing a niqab. Judge Clive Jeffreys overturned the conviction in June 2011, citing what he thought were differences between the signature on her license and that on the complaint. She then proceeded to seek legal costs. Matthews was subsequently revealed to have a considerable record of unpaid fines and licence revocations that cast doubt on her character. On 4 July 2011, New South Wales became the first Australian state to pass laws allowing police to demand that burqas (and other head gear such as motorcycle helmets) be removed when asking for identification.
In October 2014, the Speaker of the House and President of the Senate at Parliament House in Canberra decreed that female visitors wearing a face covering would have to sit in the separated glassed-in areas of the public gallery normally reserved for schoolchildren. This was in response to a planned disruptive action by a political activist group. Prime Minister Tony Abbott stated that he opposed this restriction. The decision was subsequently reversed.
In August 2017, Senator Pauline Hanson arrived at the Senate wearing a burqa in protest, calling for the garment to be banned. Following the incident, ReachTEL polled 2,832 Australians and found that the majority supported banning the wearing of the burqa in public places.
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