The Muslim Faith & Masks

The Muslim world is diverse, and so are opinions about proper Muslim conduct.
... Hemera Technologies/ Images

Are Muslim women required to cover their faces in public? What does Islam say about masks? Can Muslims celebrate Halloween? Are there any traditions in Islam that involve mask-wearing? Are certain masks allowed and others prohibited? The Quran doesn't mention masks but here are various answers to all of these questions, depending on which Muslim you ask. In fact, the Muslim world has a striking array of opinions on most issues involving the conduct of the faithful.

1 Muslim Women and the Niqab

Some women wear a niqab, a black full-body cover that hides the face.
... Bruno Vincent/Getty Images News/Getty Images

A Westerner might ask, "What is the name of the traditional mask a Muslim woman wears?" This probably refers to one of two types of veils worn by some Muslim women. Neither is a mask. Each is used to strictly enforce standards of modesty. A niqab is usually black, and it includes a full-body cover that hides the face. The niqab is associated with Saudi women, but women in other countries may also wear it such as conservative Salafi women.

2 Muslim Women and the Burka

This woman is wearing a burqa.
... Brand X Pictures/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

A person in the West might refer to any kind of Muslim veil as a burqa; this is incorrect. The burqa is another traditional veil that covers the face. As with the niqab, it is incorrect to refer to a burqa as a mask. Unlike the niqab, which originated with Bedouin women, the burqa is mostly specific to Afghan women. It covers a woman's entire body, with a little mesh screen for the eyes.

3 Can Muslims Wear Halloween Masks?

Halloween has both pagan and Christian origins, and it's not widely celebrated in Muslim countries. But some Muslims in the West, reasoning that Halloween has become a secular celebration in their countries, decide as individuals to participate and let their children participate. In those cases, they might wear Halloween masks.

4 Prohibition on Masks that Depict People or Animals

The Quran does not include any statements about masks as we know them today, though it does prohibit figurines and art, including masks, used as idols to worship other gods. In fact, it consistently orders Muslims to destroy these idols. In the fervor of iconoclasm that characterized early Islamic life, Muslims forbade figural art -- that is, art depicting a person or an animal. The idea was that members of the faith should be careful to avoid the creation of idols. Most of the Muslim world long ago relaxed the ban on figural art, so there is no basis on which to prohibit masks that depict a person or animal. Some conservative Muslims, many of them Salafi, still enforce the ban, reasoning that any figural representation invites idol worship. As such, they do not permit masks -- or any other artistic representation -- that depict people or animals.

5 African Masks and Muslim Conquest

Many African countries have a rich tradition of artisan-crafted masks.
... Comstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images

During the seventh century, during the very beginning of Islam, Muslims migrated to North Africa. They also pushed into territories that eventually became the Republic of Sudan, Chad, Mali, and several others. Many of the African cultures had ancient artistic traditions in mask-making for indigenous celebrations. They made masks that represented spirits and gods. In their native lands, these masks have mostly survived, sometimes losing their pagan significance and sometimes combining traditional animist beliefs with the dominant Islam.

Christina Lee began writing in 2004. Her co-authored essay is included in the edited volume, "Discipline and Punishment in Global Affairs." Lee holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and politics from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, a Master of Arts in global affairs from American University and a Master of Arts in philosophy from Penn State University.