Burqa ban debate: Countries that proscribe veils, and those who make it compulsory

Days after Sri Lanka decided to ban burqa (also spelt burkha and burka) following the deadly serial blasts that killed more than 250 people on April 21, a debate for a similar ban is gaining traction in India. The Shiv Sena, which is an ally of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has demanded a ban on burqa, a dress worn by Muslim women. “People wearing face masks or burqa could pose a threat to national security,” the Shiv Sena said in Saamna, its mouthpiece.

Though Shiv Sena’s demand hasn’t found resonance with the BJP which has said that the demand for ban is uncalled for, the issue has made headlines. But this is not the first time that the demand for a ban on burqa (or burkha) has been made in India.

Two BJP candidates in Uttar Pradesh recently alleged that the opposition parties were using burqas and asking people (including men) to cast fake votes against the BJP.

In 2010, France barred Muslim women from wearing any form of dress that covers their faces and heads. In October 2018, the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) said that the ban imposed by France on burqa and other full face-covering veils is a violation of human rights.

However, a similar demand is routinely raised in countries like the United Kingdom and Australia among others. Routine reports of Muslim women being harassed for their dress have also been reported in many countries, especially in the West.

World over, people have been divided over the ban on burqa (alternatively spelt as burka and burkha) and other face-covering veils. While opponents of the ban call it an attack on the freedom of an individual to wear a dress of her choice, its proponents cite examples of cases where women are forced to wear the dress against their choice.

Besides this, proponents of the ban also argue that terrorists use the burqa (and other veils) to carry out suicide attacks, among others. The burqa ban debate has also been used by political pressure groups to further their vested interests by propagating Islamophobia on one side and raise the ‘Islam-is-in-danger’ card on the other.

Before we move on to discuss countries that ban burqa and other face-covering veils, here is a brief explainer on the types of veils that Muslim women wear and how they are different from each other.

Burqa (also spelt as burkha and burka)

The burqa is a garment worn by Muslim women that covers the entire body, including the face and head. The burqa generally has net that allows the person to see through. It is a loose-fitting dress that is designed in a manner which makes it difficult to recognise the shape of a woman’s body.

Source: Pew Research Center

(Click on the photo for a zoomed version)


Niqab is often confused with the burqa. However, the difference between the two is that a niqab is a veil that covers the face but leaves the eyes uncovered, while the burqa covers the full face.


Hijab is a scarf worn by Muslim women. Unlike the burqa and niqab, the hijab dos not cover the face. It rather covers the person’s head and neck.

Countries that ban face-covering veils:

( does not claim that these are the only countries where full-face-covering veils are banned. This is snapshot of the status on burqa and face-veils in some countries.)

While these countries have banned burqa, niqab and other full-face-covering veils worn by Muslim women, there are countries that have a diametrically opposite policy for these dresses i.e. they have made it compulsory for Muslim women to wear them, citing socio-religious grounds.

Some Muslim majority countries and rules for wearing veils:

Saudi Arabia: In Saudi Arabia, women are supposed to wear abayas (a loose-fitting dress worn with a hijab, niqab or burkha (burqa/burka) that covers a woman’s body from head to toe. Women have to wear abayas at all places where they can be seen by men who are not related to them.

In 2018, many Muslim women in Saudi Arabia started a campaign by wearing abayas inside out to protest against the practice.

Afghanistan: Under the Taliban rule in Afghanistan that ended in 2001 the country imposed a strict law where women were made to wear burqa and remain under veil in public.

Iran: Wearing hijab is compulsory in Iran since the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Women are expected to wear loose-fitting clothing and headgear that covers the head and neck in public.

Pakistan: Pakistan does not have any law that advocates for compulsory wearing of burqa and other face-covering veils. However, the dress is quite common among Muslim women in the country.

Indonesia: Indonesia is a Muslim majority country where women are allowed to decide whether they want wear hijab and other form of veils or not wear them.

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