The Burqa’s Hijab Defense

BurqaThere is a lot of debate about the burqa and its links to oppression today.  To state my stance immediately, I dislike the burqa for everything—and I mean everything—that it stands for.  I however, do not say we should ban it, but complete criticism of it should be brought forth.  I have an issue with the current struggle in the debate; I can see where the anti-burqa argument is coming from…  I however, have no clue where the pro-burqa argument seems to get its legs.

For those who wear the burqa “freely” the argument amounts to it being religious tradition.  They’re not oppressed, it’s their religious tradition and heritage and they’re proud of it.  For those not wearing the burqa, the defense is the Qur’an doesn’t actually enforce the burqa (they’re not being forced to wear it, and if they are being forced to wear it—it is the culture).

These arguments aren’t compatible—they’re contradictory.  The fact that they are contradictory is a sign of oppression itself.  Why do these women think that burqas are a part of their religion if they are not?  The banning of the burqa proposal is constantly referred to as an attack on the Islam religion, and yet, at the same time the same people are arguing that the burqa has nothing to do with the Islam religion itself but with oppressive cultures…  The argument contradicts itself even.

Perhaps we should inspect why people think the burqa is commanded by their religion.  I’m sure everybody is aware of commands to lower gazes, cover private parts and so forth.  The main aspect is covering the beauty, and that the traditional khimar would be extended to cover the bosom.  The Qur’an directly calls for a hijab, as Muhammad clarified on these parts and stated their meaning as covering all but the face and hands (although hey, I for one think the face is an incredibly beautiful part of the body).

But hold on now, do not take this into thinking that the Qur’an doesn’t say that women should cover their faces.  The niqab, or burqa, has the impression of being required in a later passage.  It’s a matter of interpretation, which one is it?  Typically the one that comes later as a general rule of all religions is the one that actually matters (which brings up the question why give it in the first place if it was just going to be labeled obsolete).  Even though the niqab rule comes later sequentially in the book (Surah al-Ahzab 59 for the niqab vs Surah an-Nur  31 for the hijab), chronologically it’s argued to be actually before…  There is a bunch more evidence for that as well though.

niqabThe issue here is that the Qur’an does indeed have the burqa as a requirement, even though it is supposedly rendered obsolete.  This rendering obsolete, however, is a matter of interpretation.  Along this, there are interpretations that the clothing is not required at all but rather more suggested by the prophet Muhammad…  This is contradictory, as Muhammad’s words are law under Islam religion, especially considering Muhammad clarified the rule as opposed to creating it anyways—overall it is simply trying to explain away oppressive doctrines by applying what they think is morally right to a book that is supposed to define what morals are.

But just a second here, most conclude that the burqa is not required but the hijab is.  What is the difference?  Is the hijab so much better?  I don’t think it is at all!  Under the common interpretation, the only parts of the body left uncovered are the face and the hands…  I’m sorry if you don’t find that nearly as oppressive as I do.  For that matter, from a book ordering nearly 96% of the body to be covered, is it not safe to assume that the rest should be as well?

Let’s get back to the debate that is occurring.  It is claimed that the anti-burqa movement is simply anti-Islamic (yet again, at the same time they conclude that the Qur’an doesn’t enforce the burqa…).  Is it really so hard to see why women and people in general associate the burqa with this oppressive structure that subjugates and confines women under the name of Islam?

All I see is that they are obscuring the fact that there are indeed pervasive and sexist propaganda in the Muslim communities for favor of these burqas.  Women are murdered for it even in the Western world, and giving a blind eye to that fact is—in my opinion—a completely uncaring and wrong action to do.  Let me ask you, why it is a “choice” to choose whether or not to get murdered and not a guaranteed right.

Do you know the real problem about the burqa is?  Why do so many women hate the burqa?  Can you differentiate between two burqa wearing women, even if you knew them personally?  When women wear the burqa, in a sense, it the most perverse kind of sexual objectification… that woman, is identified by absolutely nothing other than her gender: a shapeless, faceless, nameless woman and nothing more than that at all.

Perhaps a ban is needed, maybe just a temporary one though—one that enables women to escape if they need to from their oppression.  To allow them to get their voices and give them back their right to be human.  Have no mistake, many need help, and to ignore those pleas is perhaps the worst action to do by those who are free.


  1. As a Mid East studies major, I has a lot of Muslima friends. It cracked me up how *tight* they would wear their jeans. Sure, nothing but their hands and faces were exposed (and frankly, I usually thought their western-style hijabs were beautiful accessories). Yet they would wear the skin-tight-iest jeans and long t-shirts you could imagine. So, they pretty much looked Western in their dress style, with a hijab added at the hair.

    Another friend Khadija wears the burqa. She was born in the US and raised Baptist. She honestly does not see herself as a "better Muslima" than girls who wear hijab, or leave their hair uncovered. (She's also got a great sense of humor, and cracks up when neighborhood kids call her "the ninja".)

    Remember also that women covering their hair is commanded in the Bible; Orthodox Judaism (and Kabala) require it; and pre-Vatican 2 Catholic churches in the US still required it (at church services at least). If you look at images of women in the Middle East you'll see Palestinian Christian women with veils, orthodox Israeli Jews with extremely modest clothes (read: mumus) and head coverings, and Muslim women in a range from no covering to Burqa (Iran, for example, is a theocracy where hijab is *required* to be in public)

    I agree that banning the burqa is not the solution; this has to be an internally-motivated change to have the desired psychological and social outcomes (instead of just fashion police). Also, make friends with Middle Eastern women; everyone I've been privileged to be friends with was awesome, fiery, and a generous friend.

    Angie the Anti-Theist

  2. Thanks so much for your perspective, Angie. :) It's definitely food for thought on this touchy subject. I don't think laws are really the way to go for most issues that don't involve harm to a person. But I don't think countries should bow down to islamic bullying and enact pro-islamic laws to satisfy them either. Keep religion entirely out of politics! But I guess in a lot of countries that must sound like crazy talk.

  3. Well in the US sixty years ago, it wasn't illegal for women to wear pants, but no one did it. I think over time as more Muslima move away from hijab, the burqa will fade to just a few fundamentalists. I think it's important to bear in mind that Islam is a much younger religion than either Christianity or Judaism. They're still having "growth spurts" and they haven't yet had a reformation. The Jewish Reformation synagogue is radically different from Orthodox Judaism. Likewise there is a huge difference between Latin High Mass and a Community Bible Church. They also have some really unfortunate dogma, like the idealization of martyrs.

    What a lot of people don't know is that Muslim women had certain property rights centuries before women in the US. His first wife, Khadija, was orphan daughter of a very wealthy merchant, and throughout their marriage she retained full ownership of her possessions and her business - and Mohammad was COOL with that. He also didn't start polygamy until after she died, and some of his wives were actually old women widows of men he knew, giving them certain social and economic protections. I *don't* think Islam is a good way to live (or any other religion) but I know a lot of people who are very reasonable Muslim apologists, and they aren't inherently crazier or more prone to violence than an American Christian, and I think that's important for atheists to understand. Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens both have such superficial and strident voices on the subject of Islam. It's like watching a Pat Condell video - sometimes they go too far, and I don't want to be represented by an ignorant (male) voice on the burqa or abortion, whether he's an atheist or not.

    Wow - longest. comment. EVER.

  4. This article is about the burqa, not the hijab.

    And for that matter, I think they are atrocious and ugly, not to mention the crime against humanity part. They need some fashion advice from some of the decorative robes in the world, and scarfs.

  5. I own a few hijab, from Turkey and Iran. They are beautiful dyed silks. I appreciate them because they are nothing other than a pretty scarf to me, but if I was pressured to wear it or lived in a country with different rules for men or women, I might see it instead as a shackle, not a scarf.

  6. Yes, I agree. They are shackles.