Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 9/5/2010 (2541 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Islamic dress codes for Muslim women are currently a source of discourse among Muslims in western countries due to the forthcoming ban on wearing of the burka and niqab in some European countries.
Dress codes for Muslim women are based on verses in the Qur'an and the narrated traditions of Prophet Muhammad. Verses in the Qur'an that relate to women's clothing are Surah Al-Noor (24:30,31) and Surah Al-Ahzaab (33:59).
The first verse tells the believing Muslim women to cast down their look and guard their private parts, not to display their ornaments and turn to God in order to succeed. Whereas in second verse, God tells the prophet to advise his wives, daughters and believing women to draw their outer garments around themselves when they go out so that they will be recognized and not annoyed.
The requirement for outer garments seems to be mandatory by the interpretation of Qur'anic verses, but it does not imply that the entire female body be veiled, keeping one eye open as some Muslims interpret the verse. The outer garment may be designed as a loose garment, having the same degree of body coverage and modesty as required by Islamic perception in order to comply with the divine message.
None of the above verses in the Qur'an, however, categorically describes the covering of women's face, hair or entire body as is being advocated by some Muslims.
Wearing of the hijab, niqab or burka by Muslim women in various Muslim countries relates to the interpretation of divine messages by some scholars during last few centuries, or narrations supposedly originating from Prophet Muhammad and his wife Aisah, as mentioned in some historical books. These narrations are based on prevailing traditions and can't be regarded as quotations from the Qur'an. During Muhammad's time, Muslim women were not wearing the hijab or cloak with the exception of his immediate family. The hijab is not mentioned in the Qur'an as an article of clothing for women or men; rather it is a curtain that was used for a man to stand behind when he wanted to talk to the prophet's wives. This curtain was there to divide the two parties and provide privacy. Similarly, the niqab or burka is full-face veiling custom or cultural tradition that has nothing to do with the Islamic faith.
Arguing on the basis of religious freedom and comparing the miniskirt or jeans with the niqab may not prove the point. All Muslim women who are strong proponents of wearing the niqab and burka in public places are entitled to their perception of the faith, but they should also comply with the law of the land. If the two are not compatible, then they should opt to move to an Islamic country where they can exercise their freedom of religion.
I understand, wearing of the niqab is not a religious requirement that is mentioned in the Qur'an. Wearing the burka and keeping one eye open deprives a woman of her basic rights and may not be acceptable at this day and time.