Although there have been many kinds of veils, robes, and other garment coverings made to be worn especially by women across history, the burqu‘ (burka) has become one of the most controversial pieces of women's clothing in recent history. While the full-body burqu‘ is not mentioned or mandated by the Qur'an, the primary sacred text of Islam does emphasize modesty in clothing by both men and women. The different interpretations of what should be covered on a woman's body are the reason why such different robes, veils and head-coverings are traditionally worn by Muslim women across the globe.
In the Arab world, both the burqu‘ and the niqāb signify a face veil; in the Pashtun areas of southeastern Afghanistan and northwestern Pakistan, the burqu‘ signifies a full-body garment that includes a headpiece and veils the face, except for a small grill or screen to allow the wearer to see. The burqu‘ is worn outside the home over a woman's other garments. Although its use had sharply declined in urban areas of Afghanistan before the Taliban regime came to power in 1996, the burqu‘ was required under Taliban law, and women who were deemed inadequately covered in public were subjected to harsh corporal punishment. The Taliban also denied women access to schools or careers outside the home or the right to leave the home without a male companion. These policies led to international outrage, and for many human rights activists the burqu‘ came to symbolize Afghan women's oppression and degradation. In reality, this was just the latest episode in a debate that is more than a century old, pitting Westerners and Westernizers, who argue that the veil degrades women, against conservatives, who argue that veils and modest dress grant women honor and protection. After the fall of the Taliban, some women continue to wear the full-body burqu‘, whether out of deference to what they believe to be a religious requirement, or because its use is mandated by local authorities, or because they have become accustomed to its use and feel uncomfortable removing it.
This fashionable "city" burqu‘ was acquired in the 1950s in Afghanistan. It was probably manufactured at an urban burqu‘ shop. This burqu‘ is a light green shade, although blue is a popular color for such full-body burqū in Afghanistan. It is made of synthetic fabric with some silk.
This article was reviewed by Dr. Valerie Hoffman, Associate Professor of Religious Studies.
Learn More: Burqu‘ (Burka) from 1950s Afghanistan 1995.10.0004
- NYTimes: http://www.dpo.uab.edu/~svan/behindburka.html (external link).
- Peace Women: http://www.peacewomen.org/news/Afghanistan/May05/burqa.html (external link).
- U.S. Department of State website: http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/6185.htm (external link).
- Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burqa (external link).
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