The problem with forcing Naqab

In 2013, Birmingham Metropolitan College told all its students, staff and visitors to remove all hoodies, hats, crowns and veils while on the premises so that they were easily identifiable at all times. But the controversial ban of the Naqab, a veil that leaves only a slot for the eyes, sparked fury among some Muslim girls, who say they are being discriminated against. More than 9000 people signed an online petition set up by Students’ Campaign calling on the college’s principal, to remove the proscription.

David Cameron, the then PM of United Kingdom, backed the decision and said through his spokesperson that he believed educational institutions should be able to set and enforce their own school uniform policies.

But only after three days, the metropolitan college decided to modify its stance to permit individuals to wear specific items of personal clothing to reflect their cultural values. The conclusion came after thousands signed a petition against the ban and just before a planned protest by hundreds of students in Birmingham.

Recently, Morocco has been in the headlines for the same reason. I am more interested because I have spent nearly four years in Marrakech and I am quite familiar with Moroccan culture and King Mohammad’s moderate policy and his strict stand against religious extremism.

I have witnessed tough security all over Morocco, police check posts in cities and on freeways, the army has been posted at the airports and busy places since the Syrian War. Adult females are free to wear whatever they feel like, whether it’s a skirt or a traditional Hijab or Burqa. But Hijab is not admitted on national television. Around two weeks ago I saw the news of ban on production of Burqa in Morocco.

China Lahsini, a freelance journalist, reported from Rabat that the Moroccan Ministry of Interior notified Burqa producers and retailers of the immediate ban on the sale. Traders have disclosed that the decision is motivated by security reasons, as criminals have repeatedly used the garment to commit crimes.

In Judaism, Christianity and Islam the concept of traversing the head is associated with appropriateness and modesty. The veil or Naqab has a cultural background especially in deserts, women and men both cover their heads to avoid heat.

Even nowadays there are parts of Northern and Western Africa, where the veil is part of men’s cultural dress, e.g. men from Taureg tribe residing in the Saharan interior of North West Africa, descendants of Berber ancestors.

A man from Taureg tribe Sahara desert, picture credit Kwekudee
A man from Taureg tribe Sahara desert, picture credit Kwekudee

When I turned towards Holy Quran for guidance on Hijab, veil and Burqa I found the following verse 59 of Surah Al-Ahzab:

“O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the women of the Momineen to draw their outer garments closely round themselves. This makes it more likely that they will be recognised and not be harmed. Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

Aisha Bewley

O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.

Umm Muhammad

O prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers that they should draw down their shawls over them. That will make it more likely that they are recognized, hence not teased. And Allah is Most-Forgiving, Very-Merciful.

Muhammad Taqi Usmani

O Prophet, enjoin your wives and your daughters and the believing women, to draw a part of their outer coverings around them. It is likelier that they will be recognised and not molested. Allah is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.

AbulAala Maududi

O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful


O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Yusuf Ali

O Prophet! say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers that they let down upon them their over-garments; this will be more proper, that they may be known, and thus they will not be given trouble; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.


O Prophet, tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of believers to let down upon them their over-garments. This is more proper, so that they may be known, and not be given trouble. And Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.


Prophet, tell your wives, daughters, and the wives of the believers to cover their bosoms and breasts. This will make them distinguishable from others and protect them from being annoyed. God is All-forgiving and All-merciful.


O Prophet!  tell thy wives and thy daughters, and the women of the believers, that they should pull down upon them of their outer cloaks from their heads over their faces. That is more likely that they may thus be recognized and not molested. And ALLAH is Most Forgiving, Merciful.

Sher Ali

Now there are two identical words used by the people who translated the Ayat to signify Hijab, cloak and outer garments; whether it’s a cloak or outer garment, none of the above scholar including two women scholars translated or pointed out that covering the face is obligatory.

Hijab is one name for a variety of similar headscarves.

Naqab covers the entire head and face; however an opening is left for the eyes.

I am not personally against Naqab as long as it is worn as a personal choice or cultural identity. I differ, where people consider it a religious obligation. Whether it is Middle East or the West, in the light of the Holy Quran, Naqab cannot be coerced.


Above is the image of a Jewish lady from Haredi burqa sect. A Jewish religious group, primarily concentrated in Israel, in which ultra-Orthodox Jewish  women claim that modesty calls for a Burqa style covering of the entire body.

I am not a scholar, but there is another verse of Quran for our guidance Surah Al-Qamar verse 17:

And we have indeed made the Qur’an easy to read and remember; then is there any that will receive admonition?

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  1. Bhatti says

    One claims not be a religious scholar yet feels obligatory to provide a religious narrative. One turns to subject specialist for guidance in a particular field. For example a chemist is not consulted on theory of relativity or considered an authority, a military man can not rule a democracy as he is not a politician, and a singer is not a suitable person to propose a scientific law.
    Religious scholars went into details and specifics of Hijab and/or Burqa. A consensus is developed all accross the sects regarding covering head and body parts for women.
    One may not opt to follow religion, the twisting and turning according to one’s own preferences is another thing, however.

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