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Both the niqab and burqa are traditional types of facial coverings worn by those who wish to adhere to Islamic modesty standards. There are significant differences between a niqab and burqa. A niqab is a face veil that is often tied to a woman’s head through the use of laces or is clipped to her head covering. A burqa, on the other hand, is draped over the head and covers not only a woman’s face and head, but most of her body as well.
The niqab and burqa are worn by Muslim women as a way of conforming to some Islamic teachings on women’s modesty or local customs. In addition, non-Muslim women may wear a niqab or a burqa in countries where all women are required by law to do so. The decision to wear a niqab and burqa are sometimes dictated by cultural practices. In Pakistan and Afghanistan, for example, burqas are more commonly worn, whereas in Saudi Arabia, women are more likely to cover their faces with a niqab.
An important distinction between the niqab and burqa is the coverage of a woman’s eyes. A niqab typically leaves a woman’s eyes uncovered. A woman may choose to wear a half niqab, which covers the lower half of her face but leaves her eyes and forehead uncovered, or a full niqab, which covers her entire face but has slits for her eyes. Some niqabs do, however, include a separate veil that covers a woman’s eyes, though she may be able to lift this veil so that she can enjoy better vision when needed and appropriate. A burqa, on the other hand, completely covers the eyes and is designed with a woven mesh panel at eye level so that a woman can see out.
The other distinction between a niqab and a burqa is the amount of coverage each garment provides. A niqab typically covers only the face or part of the face, though it may extend to also provide some coverage of the neck and chest. The burqa is a long garment that covers the head, face, and torso. It may even extend down past a woman’s knees. Under the burqa a woman would wear trousers or a long skirt so as to keep her legs covered.
There is some question among Muslim scholars as to the necessity of the facial coverage provided by niqab and burqa. Some argue that covering the face is not required by Islam and reflects pre-Islamic cultural practices. Others argue that this level of modesty is required of women or is at the very least a desirable practice.