There was no shortage of controversy surrounding Muslims around the world in 2016.
Countries in Europe and North America wrestled with the mass exodus of Muslim refugees from the Middle East’s many conflicts, as deadly terror attacks in France, Belgium, Germany, and the United States occurred.
Amid the political debates over these complex issues, a symbol of the Muslim religion became, perhaps, the most contested item of clothing in political history: the burqa.
Across the world, political leaders and judicial courts are wrestling with the question of whether it it is legal, possible, and wise to ban the Muslim face covering. In general, the term hijab describes a head-covering, while burqa and niqab cover the face as well.
In places as far-reaching as Nigeria and Switzerland, Russia and Sudan, the full-face covering has become a cultural flashpoint. Here, Global Citizen takes a look back at the year of the fight over the burqa.
Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel surprised many observers by calling for a ban on full-face veils in December. Around the time she announced she was running for a fourth term, Merkel said publicly that she thought “the full-face veil must be banned, wherever legally possible.”
Merkel’s sudden announcement on the veil was seen by many as an attempt to look tough on immigration after Germany was flooded with immigrants in 2016.
Netherlands: A bill that would partially ban the burqa being worn in public spaces passed the Dutch parliament with 132 out 150 votes in November. The bill is expected to pass the Senate and become law throughout the Netherlands, which would prohibit Muslim women from covering their faces in Islamic veils in schools, hospitals, public transportation, and government buildings.
France: France was the first European country to ban the full-face Islamic veil in public places in 2011 but was embroiled in another fight over Muslim clothing this year, as the “burkini” arrived on the beaches of southern France.
Several mayors banned women from wearing the burqa-like bathing suit on beaches, and two higher courts disagreed over the legality of the bans. Some French politicians running for president said they would support a national ban going forward.
UK: The United Kingdom’s Independence Party’s leader, Paul Nuttall, called for a burqa ban on the first day after he won election as leader of the UKIP party, and a majority of the British public said they backed a burqa ban in one poll.
Norway: The country’s education minister said in October the national government was considering a burqa ban for schools and universities.
Bulgaria: Women wearing a burqa or niqab in Bulgaria can face a fine up to $800 for breaking a new Bulgarian law banning it in public.
Nigeria: A court of appeals in the capital of Lagos overruled an earlier ban on students in primary and secondary schools wearing a hijab with their school uniforms. The court’s decision was unanimous.
Switzerland: The country’s conservative Swiss People’s Party (SVP) proposed a national burqa ban that has not yet passed into law, while the region of Ticino has begun issuing fines to those who violated its own law that bans burqas in public places.
United States: A state legislator in Georgia proposed and then withdrew a bill that would have banned Muslim women from wearing burqas while driving.