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A niqab or niqāb (//; Arabic: نِقاب niqāb , "veil" also called a ruband) is a cloth that covers the face as a part of sartorial hijab. It is worn by some Muslim women in public areas and in front of non-mahram men, especially in the Hanbali Muslim faith tradition. The niqab is worn in the Arab countries of the Arabian Peninsula such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates.
It is also worn in Somalia, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh as well as some parts of the Palestinian territories, Southern Iran and other areas with sizeable Muslim populations. Because of the wide variety of hijab worn in the Muslim world, it can be difficult to definitively distinguish between one type of veil and another. The terms niqab and burqa are often incorrectly used interchangeably; a niqab covers the face (but not the eyes) while a burqa covers the whole body from the top of the head to the ground, with a cloth grille in the hood to allow the wearer to see in front of her.
Women who wear the niqab are often called niqābīah ; this word is used both as a noun and as an adjective. However, the correct form منتقبة muntaqabah / muntaqibah (plural muntaqabāt / muntaqibāt ) as niqābīah is used in a derogatory manner (much as with ḥijābīah versus محجبة muḥajjabah ). Colloquially, women in niqab are called منقبة munaqqabah , with the plural منقبات munaqqabāt . The word niqabi is commonly used in English to refer to a woman who wears a niqab.
It is claimed that the face-veil was originally part of women's dress among certain classes in the Byzantine Empire and was adopted into Muslim culture during the Arab conquest of the Middle East.
However, although Byzantine art before Islam commonly depicts women with veiled heads or covered hair, it does not depict women with veiled faces. In addition, the Greek geographer Strabo, writing in the first century AD, refers to some Persian women veiling their faces; and the early third-century Christian writer Tertullian clearly refers in his treatise The Veiling of Virgins to some "pagan" women of "Arabia" wearing a veil that covers not only their head but also the entire face. Clement of Alexandria commends the contemporary use of face coverings. There are also two Biblical references to the employment of covering face veils in Genesis 38.14 and Genesis 24.65, by Tamar and by Rebekah, Jacob and Abraham's daughters-in-law respectively. These primary sources show that some women in Egypt, Arabia, Canaan and Persia veiled their faces long before Islam. In the case of Tamar, the Biblical text, 'When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot; because she had covered her face' indicates customary, if not sacral, use of the face veil to accentuate rather than disguise her sexuality.
There is a difference of opinion amongst scholars in Islam as to the permissibility of covering the face.
The majority of scholarly opinions state that the niqab is optional at most, though even here there are disagreements as to when it becomes forbidden even for those who choose to wear it of their own accord. A minority of scholarly opinions, on the other hand, state it is outright obligatory (fard) to wear niqab at all times (when in the presence of non-mahram males), while other minority scholarly opinions state it is outright prohibited and against Islam to wear niqab at any time (whether in the presence of non-mahram or not).
The niqab has continued to arouse debate between Muslim scholars and jurists both past and present concerning whether it is fard (obligatory), mustahabb (recommended/preferable), or 'urf (cultural).
According to the rulings of mainstream Sunni Islam, nothing at all is mentioned of niqab in the Qur'an. Moreover, even in some Hadith, it is clearly stated that the Prophet Muhammad himself taught women, in the example of his companion Abu Bakr's daughter Asma' bint Abu Bakr, that they need not veil (niqab) neither their face nor their hands:
"O Asma', when a woman reaches the age of puberty, nothing should be seen of her except for this and this; the hands and the face."- Prophet Muhammad, (Narrated by Sunan Abu Dawood)
Although there is no Islamic scripture, neither Quaranic nor Hadith, where females are required to cover their face and hands, there is on the contrary a Hadith where it is narrated that the Prophet himself taught, in accordance to his Sunnah, that it is in fact forbidden (haraam), at least during Hajj and Umrah, for females to veil (niqab) their face, even if at other times the female insists on wearing niqab anyway against Islamic scripture.
"It is forbidden for a woman who is in the state of Ihram to cover her face."- Prophet Muhammad, (Narrated by Sahih al-Bukhari)
Among the majority Islamic legal opinions that hold niqab is not obligatory, there is dispute among Islamic schools of thought and scholar whether or not wearing niqab to cover the face at any time (not just during Hajj and Umrah) is 'urf (a cultural practice) which should be discouraged or if it is bid'ah say'iah (an innovation which opposes the Qur’an and Sunnah) and therefore against Islam which should be prohibited.
Due to the minority legal opinion of some Muslim scholars and the doctrine of at least one Islamic school of thought which rules niqab as being obligatory, most other Muslim scholars and Islamic schools of thought, in deference to that minority opinion, have ruled that the preference is not to outright rule niqab as bid'ah say'iah, but as 'urf.
There are, nevertheless, scholars who have issued fatwas decreeing niqab as being against Islam, including the Grand Mufti of Egypt and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Haji Muhammad Sayyid Tantawy who wrote a 7000-page Exegesis (Tafsir) of Al-Qur'an over a period of 10 years for the Sunni Islamic world against the niqab. A renowned scholar and head of the Islamic world's preeminent religious institute, Tantawy has stated that "the niqab is a cultural tradition and has nothing to do with Islam." His comments followed an incident in which he forced a school girl to remove her niqab during a visit to an Al-Azhar school, when Tantawy reportedly said that he would call for an official ban for the face veil in Islamic schools.
Tantawy's decision stems from his views that younger Muslims have lost touch with traditional Islamic scholarship and have come under the influence of imams from the Salafi (Wahhabi) branch in Saudi Arabia. Islamic Sharia law, according to certain public pundits (e.g., Mudar Zahran) and Islamic scholars, in fact bans women from wearing the niqab in Mecca during worship.
The majority opinion, however, of most Islamic scholar is that a niqab wearer (niqabi) is required only to refrain from criticizing other women (including hijabis) who cover all their body except for their face, with the niqabi also required to refrain from forcing her niqab wearing practice upon others against their will. In exchange, a niqabi who wears the niqab because she thought it was obligatory or because she had been taught it was obligatory shall also not be criticized for wearing the niqab.
The opinions of the four traditional mainstream Sunni schools of jurisprudence are as follows:
According to scholars like Tirmidhī and Ḥārith b. Hishām, however, all of a woman's body is awrah, including her face, hands, and even fingernails. There is a dispensation though that allows a woman to expose her face and hands, e.g. when asking for her hand in marriage, because it is the centre of beauty.
According to the Salafi website IslamQA.info which is banned by the Saudi Arabia's government, it is obligatory (fard) for a woman to cover her entire body when in public or in presence of non-mahram men. Some interpretations say that a veil is not compulsory in front of blind, asexual or gay men.
The Islamic scholar Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani, while a teacher at Islamic University of Madinah, wrote a book supporting his view that the niqab is not a binding obligation upon Muslim women. His opponents within the Saudi establishment ensured that his contract with the university was allowed to lapse without renewal.
In the Shi'a Ja'fari school of fiqh, covering the face is not obligatory. However, the Shia religious leadership is divided on the issue of niqab. For example, Ayatollah Abu al-Qasim al-Khoei was among the learned who, based upon the Quran and the hadith, believed that women should wear the niqab as per "obligatory precaution (Ihtiyat wujubi). Many Shia women living in countries such as Bahrain, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia or Iraq wear it on a daily basis.
The claimed rationale of the niqab comes from Hadith. It was known that the wives of the Prophet Muhammad covered themselves around non-mahram men. However the Quran explicitly states that the wives of the Prophet are held to a different standard. It is claimed that under Islam the niqab is a requirement for the wives of Muhammad.
The following verse from the Qur'an is cited as support for this:
"O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters, and the believing women, to draw their cloaks (veils) over their bodies. That will be better that they should be known (as respectable woman) so as not to be annoyed. And Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful."
This verse was in response to harassment on the part of the "hypocrites", although it does not clearly refer to covering the face itself.
It is also argued by some Muslims that the reasons for the niqab are to keep Muslim women from worrying about their appearances and to conceal their looks.
The niqab is controversial in Europe. In France specifically, although the niqab is not individually targeted, it falls within the scope of legislation which bans the wearing of any religious items (Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or other) in certain public areas.
In 2004, the French Parliament passed a law to regulate "the wearing of symbols indicating religious affiliation in public educational establishments". This law forbids all emblems that outwardly express a specific religious belief to be worn in French public schools. This law was proposed because the Stasi Commission, a committee that is supposed to enforce secularity in French society, was forced to deal with frequent disputes about headscarves in French public schools, as outsiders of the practice did not understand the scarves’ purpose and therefore felt uncomfortable.
Although the French law addresses other religious symbols – not just Islamic headscarves and face coverings – the international debate has been centered around the impact it has on Muslims because of the growing population in Europe, especially France, and the increase in Islamophobia.
In July 2010, the National Assembly in France passed Loi Interdisant La Dissimulation Du Visage Dans L'espace Public, (Act Prohibiting Concealment of the Face in Public Space). This act outlawed the wearing of clothing that covers one's face in any public space. Violators of the ban on veils and coverings are liable to fines of up to 150 Euros and mandatory classes on French citizenship. Anyone found to have forced a woman to wear a religious covering faces up to two years in prison as well as a 60,000 Euro fine.
The French laws have been extremely controversial. The then president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy publicly stated "The burqa is not welcome in France because it is contrary to our values and the ideals we have of a woman's dignity". Sarkozy further explained that the French government sees these enactments as a way to successfully ease Muslims into French society and to promote gender equality.
There are many styles of niqab and other facial veils worn by Muslim women around the world. The two most common forms are the half niqab and the gulf-style or full niqab.
The half niqab is a simple length of fabric with elastic or ties and is worn around the face. This garment typically leaves the eyes and part of the forehead visible.
The gulf-style or full niqab completely covers the face. It consists of an upper band that is tied around the forehead, together with a long wide piece of fabric which covers the face, leaving an opening for the eyes. Many full niqab have two or more sheer layers attached to the upper band, which can be worn flipped down to cover the eyes or left over the top of the head. While a person looking at a woman wearing a niqab with an eyeveil would not be able to see her eyes, the woman wearing the niqab would be able to see out through the thin fabric.
Other less common and more cultural or national forms of niqab include the Afghan style burqa, a long pleated gown that extends from the head to the feet with a small crocheted grille over the face. The Pak Chador is a relatively new style from Pakistan, which consists of a large triangular scarf with two additional pieces. A thin band on one edge is tied behind the head so as to keep the chador on, and then another larger rectangular piece is attached to one end of the triangle and is worn over the face, and the simple hijāb wrapped, pinned or tied in a certain way so as to cover the wearer's face.
Other common styles of clothing popularly worn with a niqab in Western countries include the khimar, a semi-circular flare of fabric with an opening for the face and a small triangular underscarf. A khimar is usually bust-level or longer, and can also be worn without the niqab. It is considered a fairly easy form of headscarf to wear, as there are no pins or fasteners; it is simply pulled over the head. Gloves are also sometimes worn with the niqab, because many munaqqabāt believe no part of the skin should be visible other than the area immediately around the eyes or because they do not want to be put in a position where they would touch the hand of an unrelated man (for instance, when accepting change from a cashier). Most munaqqabāt also wear an overgarment (jilbab, abaya etc.) over their clothing, though some munaqabat in Western countries wear a long, loose tunic and skirt instead of a one-piece overgarment.
The niqab in Egypt has a complex and long history. On 8 October 2009, Egypt's top Islamic school and the world's leading school of Sunni Islam, Al-Azhar, banned the wearing of the niqab in classrooms and dormitories of all its affiliate schools and educational institutes.
The niqab was traditionally worn in Southern Iran from the arrival of Islam until the end of the Qajar era. There were many regional variations of niqab, which were also called ruband or pushiye. Traditionally, Iranian women wore chadors long before Islam arrived.
The 20th century ruler, Reza Shah, banned all variations of face veil in 1936, as incompatible with his modernistic ambitions. Reza Shah ordered the police to arrest women who wore the niqab and to remove their face veils by force. This policy outraged the clerics who believed it was obligatory for women to cover their faces. Many women gathered at the Goharshad Mosque in Mashhad with their faces covered to show their objection to the niqab ban.
Between 1941 and 1979 wearing the niqab was no longer against the law, but it was considered by the government to be a "badge of backwardness." During these years, wearing the niqab and chador became much less common and instead most religious women wore headscarves only. Fashionable hotels and restaurants refused to admit women wearing niqabs. High schools and universities actively discouraged or even banned the niqab, though the headscarf was tolerated.
After the new government of 'Islamic Republic' was established, the niqab ban was not enforced by officials.
In modern Iran, the wearing of niqab is not common and is only worn by certain ethnic minorities and a minority of Arab Muslims in the southern Iranian coastal cities, such as Bandar Abbas, Minab and Bushehr. Some women in the Arab-populated province of Khuzestan still wear niqab.
In 2015, the constitutional Council of Islamic Ideology issued the fatwa that women are not required to wear niqab or cover their hands or feet under Shariah.
Saudi women are not required by a secular law to wear the niqab. However, the niqab is an important part of Saudi culture and in most Saudi cities (including Riyadh, Mecca, Medina, Abha, etc.) the vast majority of women cover their faces. The Saudi niqab usually leaves a long open slot for the eyes; the slot is held together by a string or narrow strip of cloth. In 2008, the Mohammad Habadan, a religious authority in Mecca, reportedly called on women to wear veils that reveal only one eye, so that women would not be encouraged to use eye make-up.
1,200 niqab-wearing teachers were transferred to administrative duties in the summer of 2010 in Syria because the face veil was undermining the secular policies followed by the state as far as education is concerned. In the summer of 2010, students wearing the niqab were prohibited from registering for university classes. The ban was associated with a move by the Syrian government to re-affirm Syria's traditional secular atmosphere.
On 6 April 2011 it was reported that teachers would be allowed to once again wear the niqab.
Since antiquity, the Arab tradition of wearing the niqab has been practiced by women living in Yemen. Traditionally, girls begin wearing veils in their teenage years.
Acceptance of the niqab is not universal in Yemen. Senior member of the Al-Islah political party, Tawakel Karman, removed her niqab at a human rights conference in 2004 and since then has called for "other women and female activists to take theirs off".
Covering the face was enforced by the Taliban regime with the traditional Afghan face veil called the burka.
The niqab is outlawed in Azerbaijan, where the overwhelming majority of the population is Muslim. Niqabi women, just like women wearing hijab, cannot work as public servants, neither can they continue studies at schools, including the private schools. Although there is no single law banning niqab at private companies, it would be nearly impossible for a niqabi woman to find work.
In February 2010, an Arab country's unnamed ambassador to Dubai had his marriage annulled after discovering that his bride was cross-eyed and had facial hair. The woman had worn a niqab on the occasions that the couple had met prior to the wedding. The ambassador informed the Sharia court that he had been deliberately deceived by the bride's mother, who had shown him photographs of the bride's sister. He only discovered this when he lifted the niqab to kiss his bride. The court annulled the marriage, but refused a claim for compensation.
Sultaana Freeman gained national attention in 2003 when she sued the US state of Florida for the right to wear a niqab for her driver's license photo. However, a Florida appellate court ruled there was no violation in the state requiring her to show her face to a camera in a private room with only a female employee to take the picture, in exchange for the privilege of driving.
One female non-Muslim student at Eastern Michigan University spent a semester in 2005 wearing a niqab for a class project (she referred to the face veil as a "burqa"). Her stated experiences, such as her own feeling as if no one wanted to be near her, led her to assert that conservative Muslim dress is disapproved of in the United States.
Some Muslim Palestinian women, particularly students, have worn white niqabs during Arab protest activities relating to the Arab–Israeli conflict. These women have reportedly worn green banners with Arabic messages in them.
In 2006, Female candidates from the Hamas party campaigned during the Palestinian Authority parliamentary elections, wearing niqabs. Since Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah during the Battle of Gaza (2007), Muslim women in Gaza have been wearing, or were mandated to wear, niqabs in increasingly large numbers
In July 2015, Cameroon banned the face veil including the burqa after two women dressed in the religious garments completed a suicide attack killing 13.
In June 2015, the full face veil was banned in Chad after veiled Boko Haram bombers disguised as women completed multiple suicide attacks.
In May 2015, the Republic of the Congo banned the face veil in order to counter extremism. The decision was announced by El Hadji Djibril Bopaka, the president of the country's Islamic High Council.
The Moroccan government distributed letters to businesses on 9 January 2017 declaring a ban on the burka. The letters indicated the "sale, production and import" or the garment were prohibited and businesses were expected to clear their stock within 48 hours.
Although the hijab is sometimes worn by Muslims in Japan the niqab is rare.
In May 2010, an armed robbery committed by a man wearing a face veil and sunglasses raised calls to ban the Islamic veil; a request for new legislation was dismissed by both Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Liberal leader Tony Abbott.
Although the burqa is a more emphatic symbol, the niqab has also been prominent in political controversies on Islamic dress in Europe.
In Yugoslavia wearing the niqab or forcing women to wear it were forbidden in order to prevent the subjugation of women to men.
In 2007, the government of the Netherlands planned a legal ban on face-covering Islamic clothing, popularly described as the 'burqa ban', which included the niqab. In 2015, a partial ban of the niqab and burqa were approved by the Dutch government. The parliament still had to approve the measure. In November 2016, the legal ban on face-covering was approved by parliament.
On 29 April 2010, the Belgian Chamber of Representatives adopted a law prohibiting people to wear "attire and clothing masking the face in such a way that it impairs recognizability". The penalty for violating this directive can run from up to 14 days imprisonment and a 250 euro fine.
In August 2014, the Chief of Protocol for the city of Brussels Jean-Marie Pire tore the niqab off a Qatari princess who had asked him for directions in Brussels.
In the United Kingdom, comments by Jack Straw, MP started a national debate over the wearing of the "veil" (niqab), in October 2006. Around that time there was media coverage of the case of Aishah Azmi, a teaching assistant in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, who lost her appeal against suspension from her job for wearing the niqab while teaching English to young children. It was decided that being unable to see her face prevented the children from learning effectively. Azmi, who had been interviewed and hired for the position without the niqab, allegedly on her husband's advice, argued it was helping the children understand different people's beliefs. In 2010, a man committed a bank robbery wearing a niqab as a disguise.
On 13 July 2010 France's lower house of parliament overwhelmingly approved a ban on wearing burqa-style Islamic veils. The legislation forbids face-covering Muslim veils in all public places in France and calls for fines or citizenship classes, or both. The bill also is aimed at husbands and fathers - anyone convicted of forcing someone else to wear the garb risks a year of prison and a fine, with both penalties doubled if the victim is a minor. In Italy, a law issued in 1975 strictly forbids wearing of any attire that could hide the face of a person. Penalties (fines and imprisonment) are provided for such behaviour.
In 2012 in Norway, a professor at the University of Tromsø denied a student's use of niqab in the classroom. The professor claimed Norway's parliament granted each teacher the right to deny the use of niqab in his/her classroom. Clothing that covers the face, such as a niqab, is prohibited in some schools and municipalities.
In 2016, a legal ban on face-covering Islamic clothing were adopted by the Latvian parliament. In 2016, a legal ban on face-covering Islamic clothing were adopted by the Bulgarian parliament.
In 2002, Sultaana Freeman (formerly Sandra Keller, who converted to Islam in 1997 when marrying a Muslim man), sued the U.S. state of Florida for the right to wear a niqab for her driver's license photo. However, a Florida appellate court ruled that there was no violation in the state requiring her to show her face to a camera in a private room with only a female employee to take the picture, in exchange for the privilege of driving. The prevailing view in Florida is currently that hiding one's face on a form of photo identification defeats the purpose of having the picture taken, although 15 other states (including Arkansas, California, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, and Louisiana) have provisions that allow for driver's licenses absent of an identifying photograph in order to accommodate individuals who may have a religious reason to not have a photograph taken. In 2012, a string of armed robberies in Philadelphia were committed by people disguised in traditional Islamic woman's garb; Muslim leaders were concerned that the use of the disguises could put Muslim women in danger of hate crimes and inflame ethnic tensions.
On 16 November 2015 the first act of Canada's newly appointed Minister of Justice and Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould was to assure women who chose to wear the niqāb during the Oath of Allegiance of their right to do so. In December 2011 then-Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney announced a policy directive from the Federal Government under then-Prime Minister Stephen Harper that Muslim women must remove niqābs throughout the citizenship ceremony where they declare their Oath of Allegiance. Zunera Ishaq, a Sunni Muslim woman living in Mississauga, Ontario challenged and won the niqāb ban in the case of Canada v Ishaq on 05 October 2015. The Federal Court of Appeal decision in her favour was seen by some as "an opportunity to revisit the rules governing the somewhat difficult relationship between law and policy." In October 2015 Harper had appealed the Supreme Court of Canada to take up the case. With the election of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on 19 October 2015, the niqāb debate was settled as the Liberal government chose to not "politicize the issue any further." Minister Wilson-Raybould, who is the first Indigenous person to be named as Justice Minister, explained as she withdrew Harper's appeal to the Supreme Court, "In all of our policy as a government we will ensure that we respect the values that make us Canadians, those of diversity, inclusion and respect for those fundamental values." The Justice Minister spoke with Zunera by telephone to tell her the news prior to making her official announcement.
Elections Canada, the agency responsible for elections and referenda, stated that Muslim women can cover their faces while voting. The decision was criticized by the Conservative Party of Canada, Bloc Québécois, and Liberal Party of Canada. The New Democrats were not opposed to the decision. The Conservative federal Cabinet had introduced legislation to parliament that would bar citizens from voting if they arrived at polling stations with a veiled face.
The niqāb became an issue in the 2007 election in Quebec after it became public knowledge that women wearing the niqāb were allowed to vote under the same rules as electors who did not present photo identification (ID); namely, by sworn oath in the presence of a third party who could vouch for their identity. The chief electoral officer received complaints that this policy was too accommodating of cultural minorities (a major theme in the election) and thereafter required accompaniment by bodyguards due to threatening telephone calls. All three major Quebec political parties were against the policy, with the Parti Québécois and Action démocratique du Québec vying for position as most opposed. The policy was soon changed to require all voters to show their face, even if they did not carry photo ID. However, Quebec residents who wear the niqāb stated they were not opposed to showing their faces for official purposes, such as voting. Salam Elmenyawi of the Muslim Council of Montreal estimated that only 10 to 15 Muslim voters in the province wear the niqāb and, since their veils have become controversial, most would probably not vote.
In October 2009, the Muslim Canadian Congress called for a ban on burqa and niqāb, saying that they have "no basis in Islam". Spokesperson Farzana Hassan cited public safety issues, such as identity concealment, as well as gender equality, stating that wearing the burqa and niqāb is "a practice that marginalizes women."
In December 2012, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that Muslim women who wear the niqāb must remove it in some cases when testifying in court. As of 2015, Quebec Liberal Party Premier Philippe Couillard intends to ban niqāb in the provincial public service. Former Liberal Quebec premier Jean Charest made a similar move (which died on the order paper) to "ban the burqa" when giving and receiving public services.
Woman and man are to go to church decently attired, with natural step, embracing silence, possessing unfeigned love, pure in body, pure in heart, fit to pray to God. Let the woman observe this, further. Let her be entirely covered, unless she happen to be at home. For that style of dress is grave, and protects from being gazed at. And she will never fall, who puts before her eyes modesty, and her shawl; nor will she invite another to fall into sin by uncovering her face.
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