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The Muslim Veil: A Guide

Assimilation's Challenges: From Burqa Bans to Islamophobia


Not a week--not a day, at times--passes without some controversy somewhere having to do with the Muslim veil, the burqa, the niqab, even the keffieh, which men like to wear. France, Turkey, Britain and many other nations are tangling with whether to prohibit garments favored by a minority of Muslim women, while some conservative clerics in the heart of Islam--in Egypt--have declared full-body coverings un-Islamic. Here's a guide to the controversy from many angles.

1. Nicolas Sarkozy, France and Islamic Dress

veil and cell phone
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Salman Rushdie, the author of The Satanic Verses, says "veils suck." He has a point. Veils can be oppressive, sexist, regressive and insulting, whether they're worn by Muslim women or by Christian women in, say, the mountains of Lebanon. But would abrogating individual liberties, including the wearing of the veil, in the name of some nebulous and contradictory notion of liberty or freedom from oppression, not suck more? France's Nicolas Sarkozy doesn't think so.

2. Does the Quran Require Women to Wear the Veil?

Pierre Tristam
The short answer is no. The long answer is no. the Quran has no requirement that women cover their faces with a veil, or cover their bodies with the full-body burqua or chador, as in Iran and Afghanistan. But the Quran does address the matter of veiling in such a way that it has been interpreted historically, if not necessarily correctly, by Muslim clerics as applying to women--keeping in mind that clerics themselves, universally male, disagree.

3. The Muslim Veil and the Law in Europe, the United States and Canada

women burqa france
Scott Barbour/Getty Images
Since Turkey’s military rulers in December 1982 imposed a ban on the wearing of the veil, or hijab, by female students and teachers in state schools and universities, the veil’s place, propriety and meanings have been the subject of heated debate across Europe and, increasingly, North America. But just as the veil means different things in different countries, government policy or accepted customs about the veil vary greatly in the West. Here’s a country-by-country look at the veil and the law in Europe and North America.

4. A Muslim Garb Glossary

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