Burqa and the Bible

A burqa is an enveloping outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions to cover themselves in public, which covers the body and the face. It is more of a middle-eastern tradition rather than anything religious. Whether it was Jacob’s bride or Judah’s identification of a prostitute, they all wore burqa. In this post, we will explore what the Bible had to say about burqa or it’s equivalent in other cultures.

Judah and Tamar

Marriage tradition in Syria

Now it came to pass in the evening, that he took Leah his daughter and brought her to Jacob; and he went in to her. And Laban gave his maid Zilpah to his daughter Leah as a maid. So it came to pass in the morning, that behold, it was Leah. And he said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? Was it not for Rachel that I served you? Why then have you deceived me?”

Gen 29:23-25

When Jacob married Leah, we notice that the bride was covering her face fully. There is no mention of Laban putting the veil purposefully, which shows that the full face covering was a custom in ancient Syria.

for she had said to the servant, “Who is this man walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took a veil and covered herself.

Gen 24:65

We notice the same custom when Rebecca met Isaac. Here, the bride from Haran in Syria took a veil and covered herself before meeting her bridegroom in Canaan.

Behold, you are fair, my love! Behold, you are fair! You have dove’s eyes behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats, Going down from Mount Gilead.

Song 4:1

Similar veil descriptions were also mentioned in Song of Solomon referring to brides. Hence, it seems burqa like clothing with full face covering was an ancient Syrian and Israelite custom for brides.

Identity of harlots in Canaan

So she took off her widow’s garments, covered herself with a veil and wrapped herself, and sat in an open place which was on the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown, and she was not given to him as a wife. When Judah saw her, he thought she was a harlot, because she had covered her face.

Gen 38:14-15

While burqa equivalent clothing of ancient Syria is identified with brides, things are very different in Canaan. According to Judah, face covered women in ancient Canaan were identified as harlots.

God’s view of Burqa

Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them.

Gen 3:21

When God created dress for Eve, He did not create burqa or anything that covers the face. This is obvious because having a tunic of skin covering the face will make Eve unable to see.

I clothed you in embroidered cloth and gave you sandals of badger skin; I clothed you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your wrists, and a chain on your neck. And I put a jewel in your nose, earrings in your ears, and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen, silk, and embroidered cloth. You ate pastry of fine flour, honey, and oil. You were exceedingly beautiful, and succeeded to royalty.

Ezek 16:10-13

We can also see how He adorns Jerusalem when portraying it as a woman. Interestingly, we see no veils in the list. The list even describes jewels for noses and earrings which becomes hidden if veil is included. Hence, the above passages show that it is not God’s intention for women to cover their faces.

Conclusion

Burqa or Niqab or it’s equivalent of covering the face are simply traditions on different cultures. While Scripture does not condemn burqa, God never wants women to cover their faces. He gave dresses to hide their shame, not hide themselves.