From the BBC: German parliament moves to partially ban the burka.

Proposals or measures in France, Netherlands, UK, and elsewhere, have also focussed on a ban of the burqa. Although I have certainly seen women in niqābs in Amsterdam, Birmingham, and elsewhere, but I have never¹ seen a person in a burqa.

The niqāb is commonly worn in Arab countries, whereas the burqa is more associated with Afghanistan. Both cover the face, yet somehow the debate is always about the burqa. I don't recall ever seeing a proposal to ban the niqāb.

Regardless of whether one supports such a move: what is the rationale for banning the (extremely rare) burqa, but not the (rare but not as rare) niqāb?

(Edit: some commentators point out some supporters might even want to ban the hijab, but I've never seen that being proposed by established parties; my question is purely about burqa vs. niqāb)

¹Two months after writing the question, I saw a woman (presumably) in a burqa for the first time.

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    AFAIK most of these bans cover both Burkas and Niqābs; it's just that "Burka" is typically used for face-covering veils in general in many European countries (just like people use "Hoover" to mean "vacuum cleaner"; strictly speaking, "Hoover" is just one brand of vacuum cleaner).
    – user11249
    Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 13:48
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    Niqāb would not have an immediately obvious pronunciation for English speakers, which is probably part of why it is less recognizable than burka. As well, "ban the burka" happens to work well as a slogan. Commented Apr 28, 2017 at 13:57
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    The proposed german law specifically includes the niqāb (also the german ban would only affect civil servants and certain state employees during the execution of their duty, which is at least marginally less annoying than a total ban).
    – user10415
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 12:29
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    @Bregalad I'm not aware of any proposal on a complete hijab ban getting beyond the programmes of anti-islam parties. Hijab does not even cover the face.
    – gerrit
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 14:37
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    The BBC defines 7 different kinds of head coverings commonly worn by Muslim women, most of which people don't know the name of. So, the English version comes to be more broad. The broad usage is common in conversation even if dictionaries try to hold to a narrow meaning.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 17:34

3 Answers 3


The french "ban on burka" is actually a ban on covering one's face in public spaces. It applies equally to burkas, niqabs, masks, scooter helmets etc ... Its application is a different topic. In France, most of the religious veils used fully covering the face are niqabs.

The german "ban on burkas" also forbids to cover one's face to people working in some civil services, and applies equally to niqabs and burkas.

On a different note, to ban a specific piece of clothing is likely to be considered an infringement on individual freedom. The burkini ban was issued by a few town mayors as a local decree, and then declared unconstitutional by the courts for this reason.

Laws are usually more abstract and general than "no more burkas!", even though the reporting about them, as well as the corresponding debates, are often done this way.


I think most of it is simply tactics to drum up popular support.

By calling it a ban of a Burqa, it can be promoted with pictures of people in a burqa, which looks more oppressive than a niqab (in my opinion).

A law that specifically bans a piece of clothing that's worn for cultural-religious reasons would risk being struck down when challenged in the ECHR. So while the law is advertised as banning the Burqa, the text is usually quite different, which leads me to believe this is simply about gaining popular support by misleading the population.

  • Agree on the misleading: By labeling it a "ban on burqa" instead of "ban on covering one's face", the opposition of this ban tries to gain popular support.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 12:50
  • @Sjoerd Focusing the discussion to the burqa benefits the pro crowd, because that way they get the 25% racist votes by default, and only have to get 25% more among the moderate voters for a majority. I fail to see how it could benefit the opponents.
    – Peter
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 19:52
  • Focusing the discussion to the burqa and religion benefits the anti-ban crows, because that way they get the 25% PC votes by default, and only have to get 25% more among the moderate voters for a majority.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 23:54

As a person living in western Europe, why should I care what's the technical difference between a Burqa and a Niqab? Both are face-covering things that are associated with Islamic culture.

A single word should be enough to describe them. As it turns out in practice, that word has become "Burka."

As a result, the western definition of "Burka" has become different than the original definition. That's not uncommon for imported words.

Why are (proposals for) islamic garment bans focussed on the burqa, when the niqāb is far more common?

Both are burkas, according to the above definition. Note that the broader definition frequently is written with a 'k' instead of a 'q'.

Links to support his definition - thanks to @ohwilleke :

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    Is there any dictionary or other source that supports this broader usage of the word “burqa”?
    – gerrit
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 14:47
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    Examples of broader usage: the German Interior Minister telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/30/… Angela Merkel express.co.uk/news/world/798615/… The UK newspaper called "The Sun" thesun.co.uk/news/3409088/… The Guardian newspaper theguardian.com/politics/2017/apr/23/…
    – ohwilleke
    Commented May 2, 2017 at 17:42
  • One reason to care: You're talking about cultural phenomena, it makes sense to care about the terminology used in the relevant cultures. That's where the words come from and the usage is not so old that they could be considered an established part of English, French, or German lexicon. There is certainly many examples of people making the distinction when speaking French. Incidentally, you seem to take some pride in deliberately ignoring the distinction that but how does that explain anything or address the question?
    – Relaxed
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 21:38
  • @Relaxed I can't possibly care about every cultural phenomena - there are just too many of them - , and learning about those difference is pretty low on my list of priorities. Your priorities clearly differ from mine, but that's doesn't make them better or worse - just different.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 21:41
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    @Sjoerd I already guessed that learning about other cultures wasn't very high on your list of priorities, no need to explain that. But that particular distinction isn't particularly esoteric and you choose to talk about it. You're right you don't have to care about it but if you do (and judging by your activity on these questions, it seems you care a great deal in fact), it seems reasonable to make the difference. In fact, it seems you do understand it just fine and deliberately make a point of ignoring it, which is something else entirely.
    – Relaxed
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 21:47

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