1. Uncovering the veil
The niqab, or full face veil, arouses strong feelings around the world. Wearing one in public was banned in France in 2011. In 2013 a judge ruled that in England and Wales women must remove them to give evidence in court.
The veil has never been limited to one religion, place or time. Veils have played a part in human culture since time immemorial. They are even mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh, written in 2100BC and considered the first great work of literature. Women have been forced to both veil and unveil over the centuries as traditions have changed. For as we will see, a head covering can carry many layers of meaning.
3. A status symbol
The first written laws that mention veiling had nothing to do with religion and everything to do with status.
In 2000BC the Assyrian Empire required married, richer women to wear veils. However, servants or prostitutes who wore them were punished by caning or had pitch poured over their heads.
This is because the veil was also a sign of ownership – Assyrian husbands considered their wives their personal property while prostitutes were considered public property.
4. Leaky vessels
In Ancient Greece women were veiled in public to ensure they were kept under control and subservient to men.
The Greeks thought that women's bodies were wetter and more 'leaky' than men's, which made them vulnerable to sexual passion and irrational emotions.
The philosopher Aristotle (384BC-322BC) said this meant women were incapable of controlling their own natures and had less shame than men. Therefore a woman could only be contained by submitting to a man's control. A veil symbolised this submission as well as literally covering and plugging their leaky bodies or vessels.
5. What's God got to do with it?
While many people today think of veiling as a religious practice, it was actually adopted by different faiths from local customs of the time and then endowed with spiritual meaning.
While there are a few biblical passages that mention women veiling, it was arguably a traditional custom that gained religious meaning later on. Across centuries, Jewish laws on modesty have called for the covering of women's hair. Covering the head could be seen as a way to reflect a woman’s inner soul by drawing attention away from her body.
Today some Orthodox Jewish women, in particular some from a Hasidic denomination of Judaism, practice various forms of veiling, from the use of scarves, wigs, snoods or hats.
Early Christians adopted veiling from Romans and Greeks. St Paul called on women to cover their heads in church to reflect male authority and avoid distracting men from worship.
It was common for married Christian European women to wear veils until the 17th Century. Some Orthodox Christian women and members of sects like the Amish still wear head coverings. Many Western women will wear a veil on their wedding day if marrying in a church. Some nuns still wear them as ‘brides of Christ’.
Mentions of the veil or hijab in the Koran are ambiguous and open to interpretation. In the Verses of the Curtain the wives of the Prophet Muhammed are spoken to from behind a veil or curtain. Some scholars have interpreted this more broadly to include all Muslim women.
The hijab is a symbol of modesty, privacy and morality and thought to draw attention away from a woman’s body to reflect her inner soul. Islamic veils vary from headscarves to full-body coverings, such as the chadari, worn particularly in Afghanistan, which covers the eyes with a crocheted net. In some countries a veil is compulsory but in others it is the woman's choice. About half of American Muslims wear a veil.
6. How do you feel about the full-face veil?
The full-face veil has provoked much controversy in the Western media, with strong views both for and against it. How do you view the niqab?