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New Survey Explores Perceptions of Appropriate Dress for Women in Muslim-Majority Countries

What’s appropriate for women to wear in public? This question is the subject of a new study conducted by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research, which recently surveyed people in seven Muslim-majority countries—Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The study, which is well-summarized by Pew Research Center here, found residents in most countries prefer a woman to Hijabi_in_front_of_mosue_in_Cairocompletely cover her hair, but not necessarily her face. Majorities of respondents from Tunisia (57 percent) and Egypt (52 percent), along with pluralities of respondents in Turkey (46 percent) and Iraq (44 percent), prefer a woman to dress in a hijab covering her hair and ears, but not her face. Respondents in Saudi Arabia are more inclined (63 percent) to prefer the more conservative niqab, which covers a woman’s head and face except for the eyes, while those in Lebanon are most likely (49 percent) to prefer a woman wearing no head covering of any kind. Also expressing a preference for no head covering are nearly one-third (32 percent) of Turkish respondents and 15 percent of Tunisians.

Americans are generally divided in their level of comfort with women wearing clothing that covers their whole body, including their face. Fifty-one percent of the public say they feel somewhat or very comfortable with Muslim women wearing clothing covering the whole body, including their faces, while 48 percent say this makes them feel somewhat or very uncomfortable. There are strong differences by age on this question. Younger Americans (ages 18 to 29) are most likely to report being very or somewhat comfortable (67 percent) with Muslim women wearing clothing covering their bodies and faces, and least likely to report this makes them somewhat or very uncomfortable (33 percent). Senior Americans (ages 65 and older) offer a near mirror image on this question, with roughly one-third (34 percent) reporting their somewhat or very comfortable with this compared to 62 percent who say they’re somewhat or very uncomfortable with it.