Covering the head is a cultural norm throughout most of the Middle East and Maghrib - for both men and women of all religions. However, in some Muslim societies this has been extended to veiling the face and even the body as well - usually just for women. For example pre-pubescent girls are usually exempt and Tuareg men, but not women veil. In Palestine village and bedouin women did not veil - while the urban women did. (Whether or not the Quran requires the face to be covered - or only the head is subject to different interpretations).

The degree to which the veiling occurs varies widely. In some cases the existing head cover is drawn over the face when needed. At the other extreme the Afghan burqa covers the whole body from the top of the head to ankles even covering the face completely with a mesh panel.

Iran, 1921.
Women using their
chadors as veils
Iran 1921
Algeria, 1967.
Algerian woman pulls her
melia across her face as
a veil. 1967
Iran 1960.
Woman in khimar
Iran 1960
Oman, 1956.
Young girls can go
unveiled. Their servant
cannot. Oman 1956
Palestine, 1926.
Bedouin in shambar
bound by `asbeh
Palestine 1926


A face veil is known as a burqa (or bur`a in Egypt). There are a number of variations. The boushiya is sheer and has no holes for the eyes. The full niqab does have eye holes. The half niqab falls from the bridge of the nose (this is called a bur`a in Egypt). There is also a horse hair niqab that hinges open. And Bedouin women often wear elaborate masks - whose style depends on geographical location.
boushiya Iran 1921.
Iran 1921
full niqab, Yemen 1932.
Full niqab
Yemen 1932
half niqab Tunisia 1943.
Half niqab,
Tunisia 1943
bur`a, Egypt 1920.
Egypt 1920
Burqa, Tunisia 1910.
Tunisia 1910
niqab closed, Iran 1939.
Niqab closed,
Iran 1939
niqab open, Iran 1939.
Niqab open,
Iran 1939
burqa bedouin, Oman 1981.
Bedouin burqa
Sinai 1937
burqa bedouin, Oman 1981.
Bedouin burqa
Oman 1981
burqa bedouin, Oman 1995.
Bedouin burqa
Oman 1995
Bedouin burqa Palestine.
Bedouin burqa
milfa, Oman 1981.
Oman 1981

Al-Muhajabah, Kennet

Khimar Variations

Khimar can be used as the general word for a woman's headscarf or specifically for a circular headcovering with a hole cut for the face reaching the waist (see above).

A chador can also be thought of as a type of long khimar.

khimar Iran 1921.
khimar pinned under chin
and covering hair, Iran 1921
khimar Turkey.
khimar over skullcap
khimar Palestine 1926.
khimar left open
Palestine 1926
khimar Palestine.
buknuk - short khimar


Chador versus Afghan Burqa

Iran 1957.
Iran 1957
Afghan burqa, 1957.
Afghan burqa,

The chador is a long rectangular length of fabric wrapped about the body from head to calf (or ankle) leaving the face free.

Reza Shah forbade women to veil their faces or wear the chador in Iran during the 1920s. By the 1950s the chador began to return.

The Afghan burqa is a full body garment with a built in skullcap and face mesh. This is most commonly worn in Afghanistan and Northern Pakistan. While the Taliban were in control they made the wearing of this a requirement on all women.

Al-Muhajabah, Goldschmidt, National


Tuareg man, 1958.
Tuareg woman, 1967.
The Tuareg are Berbers who live in the Maghrib. They are sometimes called the "blue people" as the blue indigo dye from their clothing rubs off onto their skin.

Men are veiled but women never are.


Also see women's headwear

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