Muslim views on how women should dress in public

by Lisa Anderson | | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Monday, 13 January 2014 10:12 GMT
Covered hair and ears, with uncovered face rates the most popular style overall in seven Muslim countries surveyed

NEW YORK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – A significant number of people in seven Muslim-majority nations favour public attire that completely covers a woman’s hair and ears but not her face, according to a survey by the University of Michigan.

Conducted by the university’s Middle Eastern Values Study in 2011 and 2013, the survey found that of six possible styles of dress for women offered to respondents, the most popular in Tunisia (57 percent), Egypt (52 percent), Turkey (46 percent) and Iraq (44 percent) was a tight-fitting scarf that completely covered the hair but left a woman’s face fully visible. Factoring in the responses from Lebanon (32 percent), Pakistan (24 percent) and Saudi Arabia (10 percent), the style also emerged as the most popular overall with a median of 44 percent approving it.

The survey - which polled about 3,000 men and women in each country except Saudi Arabia, where the number was 2,005 - offered respondents a chart of six illustrated styles of dress from which to choose. They included an all-covering burqa with a fabric grille masking the eyes; a niqab in which a slit revealed only the eyes; an abaya that fully covered the hair and ears and cloaked much of the face; a tight-fitting hijab that covered the hair but not the face; a loose-fitting hijab that revealed glimpses of hair; and finally, the absence of any head covering.

The niqab proved most popular in Saudi Arabia, garnering 63 percent approval, followed by Pakistan at 32 percent. However, 31 percent of Pakistanis also favoured the voluminous abaya, as did 32 percent of Iraqis.

The absence of any head covering was deemed most appropriate by 49 percent of Lebanese, 32 percent of Turks and 15 percent of Tunisians.

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