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What is a Niqab?

In some regions, wearing the niqab is banned in public.
A woman wearing a niqab.
The Qu'ran bids women to cover their beauty, possibly with a nigab.
A woman in a burqa.
The niqab is commonly worn in many parts of the Middle East.
The niqab has been banned in the Netherlands, which has been met with considerable protest.
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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Images By: Jeanette Dietl, n/a, Egypix, Pimkie, Tritooth, Ruslan Olinchuk
  • Last Modified Date: 08 October 2014
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The niqab is a combination of head covering and scarf, or a one piece scarf that covers everything but the eyes. It usually flows down to the mid-back to cover a woman’s hair, and may flow down to the mid-chest in the front. This head covering can be worn with a burqa, or with other clothing as part of modest dress for Muslim women. It is most often worn in the Arabic countries in the Persian Gulf, some parts of Southeast Asia, Northern African Islamic countries, and in India.

Many Muslim women feel that wearing the niqab is Hijab. Hijab is clothing worn per instruction in the Qu’ran that bids women to cover their beauties. The covering may be obligatory dress in some countries, and other women wear it out of choice. Efforts in some countries, like Turkey, to ban the niqab have been met with protests. In fact, Turkey tends not to enforce this law because some women feel protected by wearing it.

There are two kinds of niqab. In some styles, both the forehead and eyes show and the scarf is attached with seams or elastic. The other type is more closely associated with the burqa style. Only the eyes show, and even the eyebrows may be obscured.

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For some Muslim women, laws enforcing wearing of this head covering are oppressive. Others view it as customary dress and like the freedom of anonymity it gives when the woman is performing errands. Further, wearing the niqab may be of great religious satisfaction to some.

There have been some interesting results when immigrants wear the niqab in a traditionally Western-dressed country. Some Muslim women in the US feel that the covering makes them more visible and more likely to encounter discrimination. In the Netherlands, it is banned, which has been met with considerable protest.

In 2006, one member of the UK Parliament, Jack Straw, requested women not wear the head covering in private meetings. This set off an avalanche of debate, but it remains voluntary and is not banned. In Florida, a woman who insisted on wearing the niqab for a driver’s license picture was not allowed to do so. Officials did offer the woman a private place to have her picture taken and a guarantee that only a female employee would take the picture as a concession to the woman’s privacy and religious feelings.

It would be fairly difficult to look at a driver’s license picture and identify someone from the picture who is wearing a niqab. It tends to render the woman fairly anonymous, especially in countries where it is common. This can be actually helpful when bargaining is allowed in local markets in the Middle East and other Islamic countries. Obscuring facial expressions, many claim, allows women to make better bargains on food and goods purchased.

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