Balancing the burqaSome readers will be aware of the mass-debate in Europe concerning the veil worn by some Muslim women. What few are aware of is that this issue has been debated by Muslims themselves over the centuries. Canadian TV viewers have already received a taste of this debate. No doubt Australian TV viewers will also be treated to similar debates.
Only a small minority of Muslim women actually wear what has become known as the burqa, a tent-like single piece of cloth that covers women from head to tail. This is traditionally worn in Afghanistan and some parts of the Indian sub-Continent.
The burqa should be distinguished from the niqab which consists of a cloth to cover the hair and a separate cloth to cover the face except eyes. Only a minority of Muslim religious scholars have regarded the niqab as religiously mandated. The niqab is worn by a minority of Muslim women. Its historical origins arise from it being a symbol of female aristocracy as well as by reports that the wives of the Prophet Muhammad used to speak with men (other than the Prophet and men they would not marry such as their male relatives) from behind a curtain.
A larger minority of women wear the hijab which is of varying sizes and fashions and which covers only a woman’s hair. The hijab is commonly worn by Muslim woman in different styles and colours across the world, and can be adapted for climate and uniform requirements. Victorian policewoman Maha Sukkar was the first to wear the hijab as part of her uniform. In fact, some Western writers have coined the term muhajababes to describe women in the Muslim world who wear the hijab as a fashion symbol.
Although there is no empirical evidence to back this up, anecdotal evidence suggests most Muslim women do not cover their heads with anything other than an umbrella to protect against rain. However, many are upset by the insistence on some (usually male) politicians telling them how to dress. They also feel resentful at attempts to marginalise the few Muslim women who choose to wear any one of three forms of Muslim head dress.
Personally, I prefer not to wear a veil of any form. Though my partner often says I should wear a face veil if I haven’t shaved for a few days …
© Irfan Yusuf 2006