Hakim Khatib
Last updated: 15 January, 2017

Morocco bans the burqa

Moroccan authorities have invoked security reasons to prohibit the burqa, rarely worn by Moroccan women who tend to prefer the hijab.

Authorities prohibited the manufacture and sale of burqas for security reasons. The measure appears to be motivated by security concerns, as “bandits have repeatedly used this garment to perpetrate their crimes,” local media reports said.

According to the local press, Le Ministère de l’Intérieur issued a statement to officials dispersed across the country, urging them not to allow the manufacture and marketing of burqas as of last week. No official announcement or public communication on the subject has however been made by the ministry.

On 9 January, interior agents conducted “campaigns to raise awareness among traders” in Casablanca, the country’s economic capital, “to inform them of the new decision of banning the burqa”, according to the website Media 24.

Official documents show that Moroccan authorities ordered traders in the north and south of the country to stop making and selling Afghani burqas and to liquidate their stock within 48 hours.

The burqa remains an extremely marginal phenomenon in Morocco, a country torn between modernity and conservatism, whose king, Mohammed VI, is the champion of so-called “moderate Islam”.

An almost similar piece of cloth, the niqab, remains a traditional garment in Moroccan society. The difference between the niqab and hijab is fundamental: while the niqab almost completely covers the head except for the eyes, hijab is a veil that only covers the hair.

In Morocco, the niqab is worn especially in Salafist circles in conservative regions in the north of the country and small towns. Thus, while responses and reactions to the ban of the burqa have been limited so far, Salafists have been increasingly concerned about the scope of this decision and its probable extension to the niqab.

Ali Anouzla, a Moroccan journalist, said on his Facebook page, as reported by The New York Times: “I am against the culture of banning in principle, but just to be clear, the Interior Ministry didn’t ban the hijab or niqab but banned the burqa, and the burqa isn’t part of Morocco’s culture.”

A representative of the Morocco Observatory for Human Development considered the ban of burqa a “random decision and an assault on women’s freedom of expression.”

Nuzha Saqali, a former minister for Family and Social Development, welcomed the ban and described it as “an important step in the fight against religious extremism.”

This article also appeared in Mashreq Politics and Culture Journal.