The burka, a style of dress worn by some Muslim women, covers the entire body, including the face and head. Unlike hijabs (head scarves) or niqabs (facial veils), burkas conceal the eyes with a mesh netting. For this reason, they are generally considered the most conservative form of dress for Muslim women. In Western and Muslim countries alike, lawmakers have sought to ban burkas due to their perceived association with Islamic radicalism and the suppression of women's rights.
Islam and Burqas
Not all Muslim scholars agree about whether the Koran says or implies that women should wear burkas. The term "burqa" does not appear in the Koran. However, the Koran does mention in 24:31 that women should cover their chests. Some Islamic scholars and followers disagree over the meaning of words in this passage, as well as others. Like Christianity and the Bible, different interpretations of the Koran lead to different conclusions and practices.
While no national government in a Muslim country legally enforces the wearing of burkas, radical Islamic groups such as the Taliban within Afghanistan require that women wear this form of dress and religious police in Saudi Arabia, known as Mutawwa, have reportedly harassed women for not wearing niqabs. (Reference 1, Reference 2) According to a State Department report, "the Taliban enforced the wearing of the burka with threats, fines, and on-the-spot beatings." Various media reports and videos circulating on the Internet reveal the violence inflicted by the Taliban on women who do not follow the strict dress-code. Nevertheless, this type of treatment remains the exception rather than the rule, and most women who wear burkas do so for reasons other than public enforcement.
Countries Banning Burqas
In some nations, such as France and Turkey, the burka and other forms of Muslim dress have caused fierce public debates about the presence of religion in secular society. In Turkey, a predominately Muslim country, the government passed a law in the 1980s forbidding headscarves in public buildings and schools. In 2010, the French government passed a controversial law banning the wearing of burkas anywhere in the country. France's burka ban, which followed a law passed in 2004 banning all religious attire in state schools, applies to anyone within French territory, including foreign visitors. (Reference 3) In the future, we can expect the burka to feature prominently in countries where tensions exist between religious and secularist groups.
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