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Muslims Around The World Do Not Support Full-Face Burqa, Study Finds

09/01/2014 11:22 GMT | Updated 25/01/2014 21:01 GMT

The burqa has little to no support in any Muslim country, with the vast majority believing women should only cover their hair and not their faces, a new study has found.

Only in deeply conservative Saudi Arabia did most people surveyed by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research consider the niqab - the veil where only eyes are shown - the most appropriate form of attire.

The burqa, where even a woman's eyes are covered by a mesh, was favoured by only 11% of Saudis.

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hijab

A rare sight even in Muslim countries, the blue burqa has become synonymous with Taliban-era Afghanistan.

Across the Muslim world, that particularly restrictive mode of dress was panned. Just 1% favoured it in Tunisia and Egypt, just 4% in Iraq, and not one person in Lebanon believed it appropriate.

Participants were shown six different images of women, one in the full-face burqa, one wearing the niqab which has an eye-slit, thirdly, a style of veil where the body is draped in thick, baggy fabrics, but the face visible, favoured by Shi’ia fundamentalists in Iran and Iraq.

Fourth, is a conservative, tightly-fitting headscarf - the most popular choice by far, with 44% on average approving the style.

The other two options were a woman with a scarf lightly wrapped around her head, with hair visible, the last with no head covering at all.

burqa

An Afghan Muslim devotee prays to celebrate Eid al-Adha at the Shah-e Do Shamshira mosque in Kabul

Across the spectrum, 32% of Turkish respondents and 49% of Lebanese respondents said that they considered an uncovered head to be most appropriate.

In Turkey, however, 44% favoured a tightly-fitted hijab. The wearing of the headscarf there has been controversial for decade, with Mustafa Kemal Atatürk banning the wearing of the head-coverings in the early 20th century, but the ban has not been enforced widely, and various exemptions introduced since the 1980s.

Only since 2008 have women been able to wear the headscarf at university.

The study also investigated responses to the question, "Should women be able to choose their own clothing?"

In Egypt, surprisingly, the figure was far lower than in Saudi Arabia. Just 14% believed women should be able to choose their own attire, compared to 47% in Saudi.

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A woman walks past a musician in Istanbul, Turkey

Tunisia and Turkey were the only Muslim nations where more than half of those surveyed believe dress should be a woman's personal choice.

"Based on these findings, it would be hard to connect women’s style of dress on the aggregate level to a country’s level of development and modernity," the report found.

"Saudi Arabia, which is economically more developed, is most conservative in terms of women’s style of dress. Rather, it reflects a country’s orientations toward liberal values as well as the level of freedom people enjoy.

"In Lebanon, Tunisia, and Turkey, where people tend to be less conservative than the other four countries, the preferable style for women also tend to be much less conservative than the other four countries."

Some on Twitter have questioned why the dress of Muslim women is a source of constant investigation and analysis:

The research was part of a wide-ranging study of changing attitudes across the Muslim world, post-Arab Spring, which looked at religious practice, political engagement and tolerance.