Discussions on the burqa, niqab and hijab have become political tools for a number of country leaders as a response to concerns about Islamist fundamentalism, public safety and segregation.
The niqab is a small veil that is worn over the face, generally with an opening for the eyes. The burqa is a long, loose veil that covers a woman’s entire body. The hijab is a veil that covers the head and chest but not the face. The niqab, often mistaken for the burqa, is more common in Europe than the burqa, according to The Washington Post.
A ban on wearing veils (niqab and burka) in public in Austria came into effect on October 1. The ban was seen as an attempt to counter the rise of the far-right Freedom Party.
According to The Conversation, there are only 150 women who fully cover their faces in the country, which is 0.03% of the Muslim population there and less than 0.002% of the overall Austrian population.
In 2011, France became the first European country to implement a ban on full-face veils in public. The president at the time, Nicolas Sarkozy, said veils oppressed women and were “not welcome” in France.
The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) upheld the ban in 2014 in a lawsuit by a French Muslim woman on the grounds of discrimination. The ECHR claimed the ban did not violate religious freedom.
In 2016, the controversial ‘burkini ban’ was implemented in France, causing international uproar. However, France’s highest administrative court later suspended the ban on the full-body covering swimsuit.
An article in the Modern Law Review from 2011 reported that around 1,900 women covered their face in France, or around 0.003% of the general population.
In December 2016, German Chancellor Angela Merkel called for a ban on full-face Muslim veils “wherever legally possible.”
Then in April 2017, a law was drafted to prevent soldiers, civil servants, and judges in Germany from wearing veils at work. A law enacted this month bans face coverings while driving in Germany, according to a DW report.
“As a Muslim, I strongly support the right to ban the veil” – The Spectator
“The right to choose to wear (or not) hijab” – Brookings Institution
“Me, Myself, and My Hijab” – The New York Times (paywall)
“The Islamic veil across Europe” – BBC