“Truth inside a Burqa”

Sara Assefi afghan women Afghanistan afghans Burqa chadari Chador Culture history muslims the burqa the truth behind the burqa

Understanding the head coverings play a significant role in many religions, including Orthodox Judaism and Catholicism. Islam began as a small faith community in the Arabian Peninsula. The community was established in Medina by the prophet Mohammed (c. 570–632 CE). From there it spread through the Middle East to Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa, to Central Asia, and to many societies around the Arabian Sea. After Islam was established in the Middle East and North Africa, it made significant inroads into Europe, as well.

The Burqa is not a part of Islam but an element of Muslim culture and the distinction of the truth. Since the first Talibans regime it is generally looked upon as an integral part of Islam, but it’s not. The truth about the Burqa garment is a part of the Muslim culture and not a part of the Islamic teaching. We have to understand there is a big difference between Muslims and Islam. Claims about the Burqa a part of the Muslim culture is correct. Claims about the Burqa a part of the Islamic teaching is incorrect. The main source of Islam is the Quran not the Muslim culture. We have to understand that the Muslim Culture is a social phenomenon and the Quran is the book of Allah as revealed to the prophet of Islam. The word Burqa is used in Arabia before the advent of Islam in the seventh century. During the seventh century the meaning of the word Burqa meant a piece of clothing that was used and worn to protection during the winters. Village women used the Burqa as a covering Chadar to keep warm during the cold winters. The word Burqa does exist in the Arabic vocabulary. The Quran does not mention the word Burqa for women’s purdah. Historically the Burqa veil first came into Vogue in Persia when Islam entered Persia. Many things were introduced to Islamic culture from the Persian culture. Under the influence of Iranian culture the Burqa was adopted by the Muslims. Gradually it was Islamized and became a part of the Muslim Culture. Muslims use the word ‘hijab’ as equivalent to the ‘burqa’ the word ‘hijab’ is likewise not used in the Quran in this sense. ‘Hijab’ literally means curtain. ‘Hijab’ is used in the Quran several times, but not in the sense that is prevalent among the Muslims today. It is used in it’s literal sense of ‘curtain’ . Regarding women’s purdah, two words have been used in the Quran: jilbab (33:59) and khimar (24:31). But again these words are not used in their present connotation. Both words have a similar meaning, a chadar or duppatta covers the body of a women not her face. Clear understanding that the present ‘burqa’ or ‘hijab’ are not Quranic terms; both are part of the Muslim culture and not part of the Quranic commandments.

Scarves and veils of different colors and shapes were customary in countless cultures long before Islam came into being in the seventh century in the Arabian Peninsula (which includes present-day Saudi Arabia). Since the seventh century, Islam has grown to be one of the major world religions.  As it spread through the Middle East to Saharan and sub-Saharan Africa, to Central Asia, and to many different societies around the Arabian Sea, it incorporated some local veiling customs and influenced others. But it is only recently that some Islamic states, such as Iran, have begun to require all women to wear the veil (in Iran it is called the chador, which covers the entire body). The Burqa we see today in Afghanistan actually migrated from India. Critics of the Muslim veiling tradition argue that women do not wear the veil by choice, and they are often forced to cover their heads and bodies. In contrast, many daughters of Muslim immigrants in the West argue that the veil symbolizes devotion and piety and that veiling is their own choice. To them it is a question of religious identity and self-expression.

The burqa is a full-body veil. The wearer’s entire face and body are covered, and one sees through a mesh screen over the eyes. It is most commonly worn in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan (1996–2001), its use was mandated by law. The numerous styles of Islamic dress throughout the world today reflect local traditions and different interpretations of Islamic requirements. Muslim women in France, therefore, exhibit a wide range of dress and head coverings. Many wear nothing that distinguishes them as Muslims. A number of immigrant women practice modesty, not by donning traditional dress (i.e., the North African ), but rather by wearing long-sleeved shirts and skirts that reach the ankles. For those who do veil, some simply wear brightly colored scarves on their heads, sometimes even allowing hair to show; others pin unicolor veils tightly around the face; and still others adopt long, flowing Islamic dress and occasionally cover the entire face except for the eyes. The girls at the center of the controversy usually wear Western clothing with a veil pinned around the face to cover their hair. The struggle over women’s dress began long before their immigration to France in the 1970s. French and British colonizers encouraged Muslim women to remove the veil and emulate European women. Consequently, in Algeria and other North African and Middle Eastern countries, the veil became a symbol of national identity and opposition to the West during independence and movements. In such a situation Muslim tradition will be judged in the light of the original teaching of Islam instead of culture as Islam itself.

-Sara Assefi