Morocco and the Arab World: a tale of Niqab and Islamic face veils

Oh it may be controversial, but there is something {sometimes} beautiful about face veils.

Face veils have been around before the advent of Islam in the seventh century.  For example, sources show that some women in Egypt, Arabia, and Persia veiled their faces long before Islam.  However, in today's world, face veils are most commonly associated with Islam.  

The niqab covers the entire body, head and face, with an opening for the eyes. There are two styles of niqab:  1) the half-niqab that includes a headscarf and facial veil, with the eyes and part of the forehead visible; and 2) the full/Gulf niqab that only has a narrow slit for the eyes. In my travels, I have seen the niqab most commonly in Yemen and the Gulf states.  But I also see some niqab wearers in my own village even in Morocco.  When I am in Egypt, the country where I was born, I can't help but admire the craftsmanship and beauty of the face veils with rows of coins worn by some women in the Sinai desert.  

The issue of niqab has provoked much debate, especially in Europe.  Face veils are banned in France and Belgium.  Some believe the niqab is dangerous for security reasons or inappropriate for certain professions (doctors, for example). In 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 dorms of its affiliate schools. Meanwhile, niqab wearers say that wearing the niqab should be part of their religious freedoms.

Whether the veil is worn for cultural or religious reasons, or required by law, it sends a powerful symbolic message.  For some it is honor, modesty and piety.  For others beauty, mystery and sensuality.  And yet for others, suppression, control and punishment. 

Where do you stand?  


For sources and more information, read here, here, and hereFind an essay on historical perspectives of Islamic dress here.  All photographs sourced from Pinterest.