What is a Burqa?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

The burqa is a piece of clothing that covers a woman from head to foot. There is an opening for the eyes, but the rest of the body, except the hands, are covered. The garment is usually made of light cloth, and is essentially outerwear for some Muslim women in some regions. It is worn when women leave their homes, over their indoor clothes, but it's not worn indoors in the presence of family.

Woman wearing a black niqab -- a different type of facial covering for Muslim women.
Woman wearing a black niqab -- a different type of facial covering for Muslim women.

Most people typically associate the burqa, often blue in color, with the Taliban reign in Afghanistan. Women under the Taliban’s rule were required to wear this garment, while previously, many Muslim women in Afghanistan wore western-style clothing. For some, having to don the garment again was oppressive.

Afghan women sitting on the side of the road wearing blue burqas.
Afghan women sitting on the side of the road wearing blue burqas.

This is not to say that all Muslim women find the garment oppressive. Many women in India and Pakistan, where it's not required by law, wear one by choice. Some women in Afghanistan, prior to the Taliban, chose to wear them as well, and they were pleased by the new regulations that required them.

A woman in a burqa.
A woman in a burqa.

Even after the Taliban was replaced, many women still chose to wear this garment. In Afghanistan, continued control of certain factions in some regions has forced women who do not voluntarily wear one to don it again, even though they would choose not to wear it otherwise. Not wearing the burqa can be a threat to personal safety due to the possibility of punishment.

A woman in a khimar.
A woman in a khimar.

The principle behind the burqa is that it is clothing that maintains personal modesty. Clothing that is worn as recommended by the Qur’an is called Hijab. In certain portions of the Qur’an, Allah’s words as stated by Muhammad are that women should cover their "beauties": their chests, hair, legs, and arms. These should only be viewed by husbands and family. Not all Islamic scholars feel that these passages describing Hijab mean the same thing, however.

A burqa follows the instruction of the Qur'an, which says a woman should cover her beauty.
A burqa follows the instruction of the Qur'an, which says a woman should cover her beauty.

Some Muslim women feel that the command is kept by covering the hair only by wearing a headscarf called khimar. Others may wear a headscarf and veil, called the niqab. Some wear the chador, which is very similar in construction to the burqa. Others feel that no women should have their clothing dictated to them by an oppressive “male led” government. Dressing modestly is usually a large part of following Islamic law for Hijab, however, and modest dress is imparted upon men as well.

Some countries with large Muslim immigrant populations have tried to outlaw the niqab. This has often led to protests by women, who feel that covering the body or the face is a direct commandment from Allah. The burqa is not worn much outside of Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan, but some women feel a sense of freedom wearing it that they would not have otherwise. They cite that they don’t have to be concerned with personal appearance when they need to run quick errands, and they don’t have to worry about being scrutinized or getting unwanted attention from men. Their personal expressions, except for in the eyes, are hidden, which can also promote better bargaining at certain shops.

Many women in India wear burqas by choice.
Many women in India wear burqas by choice.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments


While I personally feel the burqa is a remnant of an ancient culture and that attempts to define it as a part of Islam are a little retrograde, I am surprised at the number of westerners who seem to think it is appropriate to tell another individual woman what she may or may not wear. You either support the right to individual freedoms to wear what you like or you don't. If you think you should be able to dictate to someone else what they may or may not wear, maybe you are living in the wrong society.


@anon354747: I respect the rights of any woman to dress according to her culture. However, to pretty much say that rape is a crime that occurs solely in Western countries, or in those countries where women do not normally wear the burqa is ludicrous.

If every woman in a Western country had been raped, you might have some basis for your assertion, but that is in no way the truth. A burqa is not a fortress against rape. This crime occurs in every country in the world, regardless of the prevailing religious beliefs.

In some countries where the burqa is worn, a woman is imprisoned or executed if she is raped, since, obviously, she must have done something to "invite" it, and is therefore, guilty. So it follows that most women are too afraid to report they have been raped. Therefore, no accurate statistics are available on how often rape occurs. I suspect if more rape kits were done on women who commit suicide in these countries, a more accurate picture would emerge.

People need to understand that rape is *not* about sex, lust or sexual desire. It is about power and control. It is about completely dominating and possessing the victim. Therefore, a burqa is no protection. A man bent on raping a woman will rape, whether that woman is covered from head to toe or wearing a bikini. Rape is a crime of violence, not of lust.

Really, the "necessity" for a burqa says much more about men's inability to control themselves than it does about a woman being some kind of temptation. If a man cannot control his thoughts concerning women if he sees one not in a burqa, then clearly, he has a serious problem, and it is not the woman's job to deal with it. It's his responsibility to get help for his issue, and learn a little self-discipline.


A burqa is a very important garment to save your sister, your mother, your wife and otherwise. You can check all western or any other country. Why are people doing rape?


In my clan there is a "custom" that I found very comfortable for myself but incredibly hard to impose. If someone contradicts an elder, the younger person is decapitated. Can I come with all my "traditions" and "customs" in other countries and expect those to be respected? No. When you go to another country or another house, you have to respect the local law, not yours.

A burqa was necessary for the desert climate. More than that, from a medical point of view, it generates migraines and many health problems. Since Islam is an ideology defined and controlled by men, the women are indoctrinated and terrorized at the family level to obey what men say.


A burqa is one of the types of clothing which is famous among Muslim people. This burqa is important to wear when they go outside the home.


I would like to know if the burqa was originally designed to protect women from sand storms in the desert.


A burkha is just wonderful, but one must wear it willingly, but not forcefully. My experience of four years wearing it as a student is wonderful. No one will sweat to death by wearing it. It's all crap, but it protects you from unwanted teasing.


But are burqas worn for religious/muslim reasons?


It sure does a great job of hiding physical abuse. Why not just tattoo a "property of" bar-code as well?


In our secular democracy, only criminals cover their face in public to avoid detection - it is ingrained culturally, to not trust covered faces! All face coverings should be banned in all public places in 'Western' society.


I am in grade 11 at a high school where a number of girls wear the hijab/burqa to school. I have blonde hair, blue eyes and have fair skin. For my english project I chose to do a presentation on the hijab which was from the book we were reading. I wore the hijab/burqa and veil. All day i wore the hijab/burqa as an experiment so i could share my experience with the class.

I must admit I was surprised at the results. I felt very alone all day, no one looked at me, only past me. Someone yelled paki at me, when clearly if they had taken notice of my face it is very obvious I am not of that culture. People whom I normally interact with on a daily basis were different with me, some avoided me, many laughed thinking i was going out of my way to poke fun and they wanted to join in. One instance that was strange was a girl who wears the burqa and hijab who is normally rude to me said I looked pretty. At first i thought that was nice, then it made me think she must judge me the same as I am probably accused of as judging her, simply by the clothing.

It was probably one of the best experiences I have ever had. It certainly has taught me to look beyond the clothes, look at the face, learn who the person really is before you make any judgments on them.


Modest dress is a concept common to Islam, Judaism and Christianity, as has been pointed out, and here in the United States is a religious practice protected under the First Amendment. There are many American Christian sects in which women wear "double coverings" over their chests and caps or scarves on their heads, long sleeves and long skirts at all times of the year.

The hysteria about Islam and terrorism is frankly tiresome. Terrorists, extremists and abusers exist in every tradition and culture. Just because Islam is more prominent in the East rather than the West does not give us ground to prohibit Constitutionally protected religious expressions (admirable expressions, I might add, in the context of American sexual liberation) on the part of Muslim women.

In this country, our Constitution dictates that no one should be compelled to wear or not to wear religious garb. It's that simple.


Burqa is stupid clothing! and its not in Islam. There is evidence that this type of dress was worn by some Arab and Persian women long before Islam. For example, the Roman African Christian Tertullian.


Burkas are pretty comfortable, the only thing is the small veil, where you see from. You can buy some and take a look at a bunch of different colors online.


"custom" - yes a "custom" set up by men to be imposed on women. The words custom and religion are often used as justification for the oppression of women by men.

The world has gone mad trying to be PC by accepting other cultures even if they're morally wrong. Well, keep your culture to yourself. I don't want to see it in Australia.


This is a custom and should be treated with respect. I do not know the full reasons for the garment, but it should not be ruled on just because it is different and it should be worn at all times by the person it is intended.


Very simple to address: forget where you have come from, and (most importantly) remember where you are. A very good rule to follow when traveling internationally.


A woman can be sure she's not styling in one of these.


Considering the burqa's origins in the arid lands, it quite likely came about as a means of protection from the hot desert winds and sand storms, well before mankind had invented religion. Most likely it was adopted by men of the cloth, as a means of more easily suppressing their sexual desires for women. after all, religion is all about men.


The Burka/Burqa to me is a piece of garment which muslim women wear in attempt to hide their identity and/ or the shabby dressing that is underneath the burqa.

If we accept the burqa as within the legal way of dressing in public then all men and women can wear it since we already have men putting on female dresses.

We should insist on the old saying: "If you're in Rome, do as the Romans do." Abide by the western dress code while in the west. Our security is being threatened by the wearing of the burqa.


There is nothing modest about the burqa etc. It is a sign of respect for Islam as of the teachings of Mohammed where Mohammed was a pedophile. The covering is worn by women so Mohammed did not have to look at women and could only see little girls like Aisha, his 6 year old wife.


@3: Actually as the garments are very loosely fitting, the air beneath the garment cools the body. You see many garments for males that utilize this effect in very hot countries, i.e. in Algeria, the Arab countries, etc.

One thing you should not forget: the faiths prominent in Western countries, be it the Christian or Jewish faith, also had a time where a woman had to cover her head and dress modestly. It is not as exotic as we are lead to believe by the media.

The most important thing to me is that a woman can choose what she wants to wear. I think it is wrong what is happening in Europe where covering the face is made illegal. After all, for some it is a part of their faith, so who do we think we are to intervene? I am sure Christians would not appreciate if someone told them they could not wear white for a wedding dress.


It is not correct what is said here: What is spoken here about is the niqab, which gives the wearer an opening for the eyes. A Burqa is a piece of clothing which covers the whole body with only a net in front of the eyes. As an observer, you don't even see the eyes.


That sounds really hot. I think I would sweat to death. I read somewhere the other day that the government is handing out skirts and fining female citizens for wearing jeans in Indonesia. What a culture shock compared to the U.S.!


In addition to the burqa (or burka), and the niqab, there are the abaya and jilbab. These two pieces of Islamic clothing are used interchangeably but technically the abaya is worn over other clothes and usually comes only in black, while the jilbab is an outfit in and of itself and comes in other colors. Both garments cover the woman from head to toe with holes for the eyes.

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