Veiling in Africa

Veiling in Africa

Veiling in Africa

Veiling in Africa


The tradition of the veil, which refers to various cloth coverings of the head, face, and body, has been little studied in Africa, where Islam has been present for more than a thousand years. These lively essays raise questions about what is distinctive about veiling in Africa, what religious histories or practices are reflected in particular uses of the veil, and how styles of veils have changed in response to contemporary events. Together, they explore the diversity of meanings and experiences with the veil, revealing it as both an object of Muslim piety and an expression of glamorous fashion.


Elisha P. Renne

The little white gauze veil clung to the oval of a face full of contours.
Samba Diallo had been fascinated by this countenance the first time
he had beheld it: it was like a living page from the history of the
Diallobé country. All the features were in long lines, on the axis of
a slightly aquiline nose. the mouth was large and strong, without
exaggeration. An extraordinary luminous gaze bestowed a kind of
imperious luster upon this face. All the rest disappeared under the
gauze, which, more than a coiffure would have done, took on here a
distinct significance. Islam restrained the formidable turbulence of
those features, in the same way that the little veil hemmed them in

—CHEIKH hamidou kane, Ambiguous Adventure

Much has been made of the practice of veiling in Europe, particularly in France and Great Britain (Asad 2006; Bowen 2007; dwyer 1999; Scott 2005; Tarlo 2010; Werbner 2007), and to a lesser extent in Canada, Egypt, Turkey, and Indonesia (Atasoy 2006; Brenner 1996; Çınar 2008; MacLeod 1991; Mahmood 2005). There is also a considerable art historical literature on veiling related to Islamic dress and textiles in the Middle East (Lombard 1978; Stillman 2000; Vogelsang-Eastwood and Vogelsang 2008). Yet as the Senegalese author Cheikh Hamidou Kane’s description of the framing of the face of the Most Royal Lady, an older sister of a diallobé chief, by a “little white gauze veil” suggests, veiling has a long and complex history which, nonetheless, has infrequently been examined in sub-Saharan Africa. This lack of discussion of veiling, an ambiguous term which refers to a range of cloth coverings of the head, face, and body—including the hijab and nikab . . .

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