The history of donning veil in Bangladesh

Using veil for women exists within the Hindus as well as the Muslims of the Indian subcontinent. Historians argued that there is no written document about the purdah that when did it come from but there is evidence that Muslim women from Turk and the Mughal emperor did not follow this kind of purdah what exist today; rather they would ride horses, play polo and drink wine. It was not that they were considered equal to men, but also they did not use to wear niqab.

In the 16th century, after Emperor Akbar’s reign, a small middle class had emerged, and the women of that particular economic class started donning veil in the name of a pious life.  A Pakistani Historian Mubarak Ali claims that “the Purdah is a middle-class phenomenon in South Asia. The elite and the working class women didn't bother about wearing a burqa or a niqab. It was impossible for the working class women to wear these garments for the simple reason that it was not practical for them to toil in the fields or perform other kinds of chores.”

Statistics prove that use of veils and Burqas has increased in the past three decades in South Asia. Scholars argue that it has increased as a result of political Islam in countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan and India where the Islamic political parties had so far played a role to convince the people and build fortress of fellow feeling within them. They try to convince people that the purdah and piety are synonymous. The phenomenon is linked to the growth of fundamentalism in this region. If we focus on the Iranian revolution in the year 1979 and Afgan wars in the 1980s, we cannot overlook the foreign influence on South Asian culture.

In the 1960s and 70s, many urban women revolted against religious clothing in the Muslim majority states. But the gradual rise of Saudi-Wahhabi Islam in the 1980s helped to revive the use of the veil and also introduce hijab.

Hijab is a cloth which only cover head and neck. It became popular among the working women who wanted to appear both religious and modern at the same time. Some people said that hijab or burqa is a reaction to the challenges and contradiction of a globalized world. (Shams, 2016). 

In the 1980s, hijab-wearing women were rare and women wearing burqa was not too frequent a scene in Bangladesh. But the number of wearing burqa and hijab had been increasing day by day over last three decades. All sorts of Islamic veils are now evident in the streets- Abaya, niqab, chador, burqa, khimar, hijab etc.

Earlier the purdah was pervasive merely within the adults where they used a long chador, but now it has reached to the young women, teenager and even in some cases to pre-school girls. The minds of Bangladeshi Muslim have been profoundly transformed over the last decades. (Abir, 2018).

Women wearing Arabic kind of cloth, especially hijab has started appearing in the country in the early 1990s which is clearly linked to the liberalization process. In 1980s ethnic grocery dealers of Western Europe and the United States began importing modest fashion clothes and other items to capture the Muslim population. This small initiative ultimately morphed into a competitive Muslim fashion industry. Over time, international designers involved with this Islamic fashion industry. Today many of the Islamic countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Turkey are leading the Islamic fashion industry outside the western world. (Shirazi, 2017).

Every year like other Muslim countries, fashion houses of Bangladesh and buying houses import Islamic cloths from Indonesia, Malaysia and Turkey. It has a significant impact on the Muslim consumers of Bangladesh. But it is noticeable that the transformation of the Bengali traditional way of dressing has been taking place mainly for the middle-class women.

Wearing hijab become a symbol of faith, fashion and modesty for a particular class in Bangladeshi society.


  • 1. Abir, Rahad, 2018, “What the hijab Represents”, Dhaka Tribiune, 
  • 2. Shirazi, Faegheh, 2017, How the hijab has grown into a fashion industry, AEST, 
  • 3. Shams, Shamil, 2016, “Why wearing the burqa is on the rise in South Asia”,

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