A burqa (Arabic pronunciation: [ˈbʊrqʊʕ, ˈbʊrqɑʕ]a; also transliterated burkha, burka or burqu' from Arabic: برقع burquʻ or burqaʻ) is an enveloping outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions to cover their bodies when in public.
In the Muslim world, preventing women from being seen by men is closely linked to the concept of Namus.
Namus is an ethical category, a virtue, in Middle Eastern Muslim patriarchal character. It is a strongly gender-specific category of relations within a family described in terms of honor, attention, respect/respectability, and modesty. The term is often translated as "honor".
Burqas around the world
Afghanistan The full Afghan chadri covers the wearer's entire face except for a small region about the eyes, which is covered by a concealing net or grille. Before the Taliban took power in Afghanistan, the chadri was infrequently worn in cities. While they were in power, the Taliban treatment of women required the wearing of a chadri in public. Officially, it is not required under the present Afghan regime, but local warlords still enforce it in southern Afghanistan. Chadri use in the remainder of Afghanistan is variable and is observed to be gradually declining in Kabul. Due to political instability in these areas, women who might not otherwise be inclined to wear the chadri must do so as a matter of personal safety.
India Among the Muslim population is common in many areas- old Delhi, for example. In the locale of Nizamuddin Basti, the obligation of a woman to wear a burqa is dependent on her age: young, unmarried women or young, married women in their first years of marriage are required to wear the burqa. However, after this the husband usually decides if his wife should continue to wear a burqa.
Pakistan In Pakistan, the use of the burqa has greatly declined over time. The cities of Rawalpindi, Sargodha, Multan, Hyderabad, Peshawar and Quetta were overwhelmingly seen as cities of burqa-clad women at the time of Independence in 1947. However, burqa use, to some extent, persists in rural areas of the Northwest Frontier Province and some adjoining areas of Punjab and Balochistan. Smaller cities like Mianwali in Punjab which have a majority Pashtun population have burqa-observances as part of orthodox traditions. These traditions are independent of religion, and women from minorities such as Christian and Hindu women also observe them. However, the burqa observances remain localized and most women who observe burqa within these areas, do not do so when they travel out of the area.
Israel Some years ago, a group of Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Jewish women in Israel began donning the Burqa as a symbol of piety. Following its adoption by Bruria Keren, an estimated 100 Jewish women have taken to wearing the veil. Keren claims to “follow these rules of modesty to save men from themselves. A man who sees a woman's body parts is sexually aroused, and this might cause him to commit sin. Even if he doesn't actually sin physically, his impure thoughts are sin in themselves”. However, apparently at the insistence of some of their husbands, a rabbinical authority quoted as saying “There is a real danger that by exaggerating, you are doing the opposite of what is intended severe transgressions in sexual matters”, issued an edict declaring burka-wearing a sexual fetish, that is as promiscuous as wearing too little.
According to The Jerusalem Post, a Member of the Knesset is intending to put forward a bill to "prohibit the wearing of a full-body and face covering for women. [The] bill would not differentiate between Muslims and Jews.
Europe Face-covering clothing has become a political issue in Western Europe, and some intellectuals and political groups advocate prohibition, for various reasons.
United Kingdom This outfit is causing debate in the United Kingdom. A senior member of the previous government, Jack Straw, asked Muslim women from his constituency to remove any veils covering their faces during face-to-face meetings with him. He explained to the media that this was a request, not a demand, and that he made sure that a woman staffer remained in the room during the meeting. A media furor followed. Some Muslim groups said that they understood his concerns, but others rejected them as prejudicial. A poll in 2011 indicated that 66 percent of British people supported banning the burqa in all public places. However, a ban on burqas has been ruled out by the current Conservative-Liberal government and previous Labour government, but the UK Independence Party[ suggested it.
France Wearing the burqa has not been allowed in French public schools since 2004 when it was judged to be a religious symbol like the Christian cross. This ruling was the application of an established 1905 law that prohibits students and staff from wearing any clearly visible religious symbols. The law relates to the time where the secular French state took over control of most schools from the Catholic Church. It does not apply to private or religious schools. This was followed on 22 June 2009, when the president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, said that burqas are "not welcome" in France, commenting that "In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity".
Elsewhere in Europe On 29 April 2010, the lower house of parliament in Belgium passed a bill banning any clothing that would obscure the identity of the wearer in places like parks and in the street. The proposal was passed nem con and now goes to the Senate. BBC News estimates that "Only around 30 women wear this kind of veil in Belgium, out of a Muslim population of around half a million."
In Italy, by an anti-terrorism Law passed in 1975, it is forbidden to wear any dress that hides the face of a person. In May 2010, it was reported that a Tunisian woman was fined €500 for this offence.
On 27 January 2012, a law was accepted by the Dutch cabinet, banning any clothing that would hide the wearers identity. Fines for wearing a burqa in public could go up to 380 euros.
Health effects Enveloping outer garments, such as the burqa, are believed to cause or worsen medical conditions in some individuals.
Critics of enveloping outer garments list two main factors that go into these health risks: first, such garments are physically limiting because of their weight and because they limit a wearer's field of vision. Second, such garments lower the Vitamin D production in the skin because they block the UV rays in sunlight necessary for this production. However, many say that the risk of skin cancer from exposure to the sun outweighs the risk of cancers associated with deficiencies in Vitamin D. A sourced, more detailed exposition of this discussion follows.
In particular, they contribute to a predisposition for hypovitaminosis D, which can lead to rickets or osteoporosis and may increase the risk of seizures in infants born to affected mothers.