Human RightsRecent

The Ban on Hijabs & the Global Use of Face Masks:

By Qasim Swati (United Kingdom)

A hijab is a head covering worn in public by some Muslim women. The BBC has differentiated between a hijab, niqab and burka/burqa in its News-round (a BBC children’s programme, running continuously since 4 April, 1972), last updated on 7 August, 2018. The hijab, as described by the BBC, is the act of covering up, generally, but is, frequently, used for describing headscarves worn by Muslim women. The most commonly worn type of hijab in the Western countries is the one that leaves the face clear, but covers the neck and head. Usually covering the head and chest, a hijab is a veil worn by some Muslim women in front (in the presence) of any male outside of their immediate family. A veil is another term used for covering certain parts of their bodies among Muslims, which is a piece of fine material worn by women to protect or conceal face, or to cover something, especially the face or body, as women in some societies, including Islam, are expected to be veiled when they go out in public.

Purdah is another word used for a practice in certain Muslim and Hindu societies for screening women from men or strangers, specifically by means of a curtain. A headscarf is a square of fabric worn by women as a covering for the head, often, folded into a triangle and knotted under chin, while a shawl is a piece of fabric worn by women over the shoulders or head or wrapped round a body.

Such other terms, used, almost, for the same purpose of covering certain parts or organs of your body, like headscarves and coverings, include a niqab/niqaab, burka/burqa, chador (a large piece of cloth that is wrapped around the head and upper body leaving only the face exposed, worn especially by Muslim women), khimar (a head covering or veil worn in public by some Muslim women, typically covering the head, neck, and shoulders), shayla/shaylah (an Islamic head gear worn by some Muslim women in the presence of any male outside of their immediate family), and al-amira (any of several cloth head coverings worn by Muslim women or the veiling of women in some Islamic societies, customarily practiced in order to maintain standards of modesty.

However, a burka/burqa and niqab/niqaab are the two main controversial types of veils among head-scarves and coverings and are not accepted and approved of by the majority of people, cultures and laws around the world, as a burqa is a loose garment covering the whole body from head to feet, worn in public by women in some Muslim countries. Also known as a chadaree in Afghanistan or a paranja in Central Asia, a burka is an enveloping outer garment which covers the body and the face. Nevertheless, it has been defined by the BBC in its news-round as a one-piece veil, covering the face and body, often, leaving just a mesh screen to see through, being the most concealing of all Islamic veils.

In the same way, a niqab or niqaab is a veil for the face that leaves the surrounding area of the eyes clear, but may be worn with an accompanying headscarf and a separate eye veil, or it is a garment covering the face, as a part of a particular interpretation of hijab, worn by some Muslim women.

A hijab is the principle of dressing modestly in Islam by Muslim women and girls, sometimes, referred to as a veil. The principal objective of wearing a veil or hijab in Islam is covering the awrah (the intimate or private parts of the human body, to be covered by clothing).

Both Muslim men and women are religiously required to dress in a modest way, when this comes to gender or sex. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) has been instructed in the Holy Qur’an about hijab, as: “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer palms of hands or one eye or dress like veil, gloves, head-cover, apron, etc.), and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e., their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms) and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers, or their sons, or their husband’s sons, or their brothers, or their brother’s sons, or their sister’s sons, or their (Muslim) women, or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, or small children who have no sense of feminine sex. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And all of you beg Allah to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful.” [Qur’an, 24:31]

Similarly, Allah the Almighty commands the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) in surah Al – Ahzab (The Confederates), the 33rd Chapter of the Noble Qur’an, about hijab in these words: “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies (i.e., screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way). That will be better that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed/harassed. And Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [Qur’an, 33:59]

The concept of covering  your head (in human body) is or was linked to modesty and propriety in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, besides other religious beliefs. Having a long history in African, Asian and European societies, veiling or head-covering/face-covering has been a prominent practice, not only in Islam, but also in Judaism and Christianity in various forms.

Despite the unique significance of hijab and its several benefits and advantages in the society, there are many political, cultural, social and religious issues, in connection with using head coverings and face coverings, particularly, the use of full-face veils by Muslim women in certain countries of the world, with France, Denmark, Belgium having a ban on full-face veils, niqab and burka/burqa; in several cities and towns of Spain, including Barcelona; and a ban on hijab in government schools in Stavropol region of Russia. However, wearing head-scarves has become a controversial and contentious political issue in other countries, such as the United Kingdom and Quebec in Canada, while the EU has given permission to its member states for banning full-face veils.

In Europe, France was followed by Belgium, Latvia, Bulgaria, Denmark, Austria and some cantons of Switzerland for banning wearing the Islamic full-face veil in public after the Lower House of French Parliament did approve a bill for such a ban on 13 July, 2010.

But these are not the only countries that put a ban on the application of hijabs, as there are some Muslim countries, like Turkey, Tunisia and Tajikistan, where the use of hijab has been banned in various forms as well.

For instance, Turkey had a ban on headscarves at universities till December 2010 when the Turkish government lifted the ban on headscarves in schools, government buildings and universities. Tunisia is another Muslim country where women were not allowed to wear a hijab in state offices in 1981 and more restrictions were put in place on hijab in 1980s and 1990s. In the same way, Tajikistan has also banned hijabs since 2017.

Likewise, hijabophobia is the act of discrimination against women wearing Islamic veils, such as burqa, niqab, chador or hijab in educational institutions, working and public places, but also in brands and sports, which exists in various parts of the world in some form. This is a cultural and religious discrimination against those Muslim women who wear the different Islamic veils.

But as it is said that ‘Man Proposes, God Disposes’, thus, those who never wanted to see people wearing hijabs, they are now forced to cover several parts of their own faces (like nose, mouth, chin, etc.,) with face masks, as COVID – 19 has forced billions of people around the world to use face masks (willy-nilly) for protecting themselves from Coronavirus or stopping the pandemic from spreading any further in the world.

As a result of the ongoing Coronavirus Pandemic, the majority of people have to use face masks in order to combat the disease, that has resulted in the huge usage and an extreme shortage of face masks globally. As published by Emily Feng (NPR’s Beijing correspondent) on March 16, 2020, in an article on the website of National Public Radio (a publicly and privately funded American non-profit membership organisation, based in Washington, D.C., USA, and founded on 26 February, 1970), that 200 million face masks are made in China on a daily basis, as COVID – 19 has created a shortage of face masks.

Similarly, it was reported in the Financial Times by Sam Fleming, Michael Peel and Mehreen Khan in Brussels on March 20, 2020, that the European Union was planning to airlift face masks, as demand for the use of face masks increased due to Coronavirus. In order to deal with the shortage of supplies, the Commission announced on Wednesday that it would receive 50,000 testing kits and more than 2 million face masks from China, as emerged in the same report.

On the other hand, the USA is in a dire need of face masks as a result of Coronavirus cases and fatalities in the country. Thus, it has been reported in The Guardian on April 3, 2020 that the US has been accused by authorities in Berlin of ‘modern piracy’, while around 200,000 N95 masks were diverted to the US, as they were being transferred between planes in Thailand, which had been ordered for the police force, as claimed by the Berlin authorities. The same report says that on Friday, the Trump administration had asked the American 3M Company (responsible for making the N95 masks) to increase shipments to the US from its factories overseas, and it had secured an agreement from China to ship 10m masks from 3M Plants.

In the same way, a report by Aljazeera, published on 3 April, 2020, said that the Trump administration in the US was formalising new guidance for recommendations where the majority (if not all) of those living in US Coronavirus hotspots, would be required to wear face covering while leaving home, in a bid to cope with the swift spread of the new Coronavirus. Similarly, the mayor of Los Angeles (Eric Garcetti) urged the four million residents of his city on Wednesday to wear face masks when in public.


Qasim Swati is a freelance journalist, writer and human rights activist, based in the UK, and can be reached at or mailto:

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