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What Is the Difference Between a Hijab and a Burqa?

Two women wearing burqas.
A woman in a burqa.
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  • Written By: Lainie Petersen
  • Edited By: Melissa Wiley
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  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2014
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The differences between a hijab and a burqa are significant, as these are two different types of garments. The hijab is a headscarf that covers the hair, neck, and sometimes a woman’s shoulders and chest. The burqa is an enveloping garment that comes in a variety of designs, but typically covers a woman's face and head entirely and may cover most or all of the rest of her body. Both a hijab and a burqa are garments worn by women in observance of Islamic modesty codes. The burqa, however, is more likely to be worn by women living in Afghanistan or Pakistan, while hijabs are worn by women in many different cultures.

The term “hijab” can be used in two different ways. The first is as a description of a Muslim woman's general adherence to modesty standards in dress. The word is also used to describe a specific garment, namely a headscarf or covering that Muslim women use to conceal their head and hair. There are many different styles of hijab available, and these styles vary by culture and the preferences of the women wearing them. Typically, a hijab covers the hair of the woman who wears it as well as her neck. In some cases, a hijab may extend past her shoulders for additional coverage. The hijab generally does not cover a woman’s face, although she may choose to wear a face veil in addition to the headscarf.

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A burqa is a traditional garment that provides significant coverage to its wearer. Unlike the hijab, the burqa completely covers the wearer’s face, including her eyes. A mesh square sewn into the burqa allows a woman to see what is in front of her. Some styles of burqa simply drape over a woman’s head, face, and body, while others have an attached face veil that a woman can lift without exposing the rest of her body if she needs or wants to. The covering of a woman’s face and eyes is an important distinction between the hijab and a burqa.

There is some disagreement among Islamic scholars on the extent to which a woman should be required to cover her head and body when in public or in the presence of men who are not closely related to her. Many of these scholars point out that while modesty in dress is proper in Islam, some of the more rigorous dress codes for women are cultural in nature rather than religiously mandated. When it comes to the differences between a hijab and a burqa, it should be noted that requiring women to cover even their eyes in public is a minority practice within Islam. Wearing a headscarf of some sort, on the other hand, is a common practice within the Islamic world, even among women who wear contemporary fashions without additional body coverings.

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