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Hiding in a Hijab

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Also known as: Anonymous in an Al-Amira, Blending In in a Burqa, Concealing in a Chador, Disguised in a Dupatta, Spying in a Shayla, Nobody in a Niqab, Keeping Secret in a Khimar, Pseudonymous in a Purdah... Ah, the hijab, and its close cousins the niqab and the burqa; these articles of clothing are most associated with Muslim women for religious modesty. They also have the distinctive properties of being 1. Extremely common in certain locations and 2. Face-concealing. This means that if you as a fictional character are on the lam in Qurac, running through the ubiquitous out-door marketplaces in an attempt to dodge your pursuers by leaping over apple-carts, you have a perfect means of evading capture: Simply don one of those big, black outfits the women are wearing, and vanish right into the crowd.

Just how you're supposed to come by one of these is not important. How you find one in your size is even less so. The important thing is that you can hide your face without drawing the kind of attention a mask or hood would bring down on you, and make yourself harder to find than Where's Waldo?. Often overlaps with Disguised in Drag when done by a male character, where it's even more likely to be Played for Laughs than usual. Mysterious Veil may or may not include the full hijab but serves much the same purpose. A nun's habit can fulfill a similar purpose in western settings. Contrast with Bedlah Babe, the other stereotypical clothing for Middle-Eastern women which is anything but modest.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Lupin III: Part II:
    • In episode 17, Lupin and his gang steal burqas to hide from Inspector Zenigata. Zenigata tracks them to a well where women are doing the laundry. Finding the gang's discarded clothes, he forces the women there to remove their veils, and promptly subverts the trope when it's revealed the ladies are actual ladies, who promptly make their displeasure known with wooden laundry mallets. Later in the episode, it's played straight when the gang actually does disguise themselves in burqas. Afraid of getting beaten again, Zenigata lets them go without an inspection.
    • In episode 30, Zenigata himself dons this disguise as he and Lupin are on the run from the local Foreign Legion.

    Comic Books 
  • This was done by Luke Cage and Danny Rand in the 81st issue of Power Man and Iron Fist; part of the gag was that the cover advertised "a bevy of beautiful dancing girls" without mentioning just who two of those "girls" were.
  • Tintin and Captain Haddock sneak past Khemed guards while wrapped up and balancing urns on their heads in The Red Sea Sharks. The captain trips, nearly swears, and manages to keep the urn balanced to the guards' unhidden admiration. Later at a well, they meet another robed woman who questions them in Arabic. When neither answers, she rips off the (bearded) captain's veil, who starts yelling at her as Snowy pops out of the urn and starts barking at her. Fortunately, they escape before the guards can find them, but the alarm is raised, and they're saved only by their pursuers' incompetence.
  • Used in New X-Men: Academy X when X-23 knocks out Dust and "borrows" her niqab, going in her place to what X recognizes as a trap. When a sniper shoots "Dust" and they bring in the body, Laura wakes up and takes them out.
  • This is used a couple of times in Y: The Last Man. A trio of renegade Cuelper ring agents tracking 355 wore burqas until they caught up with her in San Francisco. Later in Australia, 355 decided that Yorick's gas mask & poncho getup was growing too implausible and provided him a... pre-owned one.
    "Is that a bloodstain?"

    Comic Strips 

    Eastern Animation 
  • This is how the Burka Avenger maintains her secret identity. The villains of the show are certainly hoist by their own petards in this instance, as they are the people insisting that women wear burkas in the first place.

    Fan Works 
  • This Gargoyles fic has Demona (in her human guise) attempt to hide from the police disguised as a Muslim housewife calling herself Dema Darwish.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Done in Zero Dark Thirty; a group of soldiers wearing hijabs and hiding machine guns under them was used to capture a member of Al-Qaida for interrogation.
  • The first Battal Gazi have the character Princess Elinora infiltrating a Byzantine prison while disguised as a Muslim woman. Face-veil and hijab included.
  • In White Sun of the Desert, Black Abdullah uses this trick to get the drop on Petrukha (a Red Army soldier and Comrade Sukhov's sidekick) and kill him.
  • Epically done in Jackie Chan's The Accidental Spy. While being pursued by enemy agents, he notices large swathes of cloth hanging from rafters, which he acrobatically wraps around him. See for yourself.
  • Super Cop has Inspector Yang doing this during the stake-out in Malaysia, where Yang disguises herself as a local Malay woman by donning a hijab, before suddenly revealing herself to beat up a few prison guards. It helps that Yang's actress, Michelle Yeoh, is Malaysian and can speak the native language really well.
  • Phryne Fisher is doing this (rather badly) in Jerusalem at the beginning of Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears.
  • The Scorpion King: After Matthayus escapes with the Sorceress from her bath through a drainage pipe, they emerge in a public fountain where Matthayus immediately grabs nearby laundry as disguises for both of them. Cue Matthayus and the sorceress escaping the city dressed in robes and veils.
  • The Battle of Algiers has French soldiers on patrol and pass by two women in hijabs, only to notice that those "women" are wearing men's boots...
    • Another scene features a subversion: The French gendarmerie manning a checkpoint harasses anyone in traditional Algerian garb. The actual FLN agents, however, are a group of women who wore Western-style clothes specifically because they knew the gendarmerie would be operating under this trope.
  • I Am Afraid to Forget Your Face: A young man puts on a burka, and pretends to be a woman, so he can go to the all-female wake for his recently deceased girlfriend.

  • One of the short stories in Young Warriors by Tamora Pierce features a nation governed by a religion that is an Expy of Islam, in which women are forced to wear garments similar to niqabs or burkas, and are not permitted education. The female protagonists organise at night to spread education amongst their people, and the government can't identify who is behind the movement because — shockingly — they're all wearing face-concealing clothing.
  • In Things Not Seen, an American woman named Sheila regularly wears a burka when out in public, not to hide weapons or stolen items but to conceal a more dangerous secret: she's actually invisible. Since she can't turn visible again and the only other alternative is going naked...
  • In Pygmy, this is how Trevor Stonefield smuggles guns into the Model United Nations meeting.
  • In Richard Scarry's Busy, Busy World, Couscous, the (male) Algerian detective disguises himself as a female Belly Dancer, covering his face with a Niqab, to infiltrate Pepe the Gangster's hideout.
  • In Artemis Jazz wears a niqab for her false identity as a Saudi tourist, which has the additional effect of hiding her face from the many people she knows in Artemis. Of course it helps that she actually is from Saudi Arabia, even if she hasn't set foot on Earth since she was six.
  • In The Red Vixen Adventures Marty and Ali use this disguise while trying to move around unobserved on a space station.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Reese does this in an episode of Malcolm in the Middle after he's joined the army and is lost in Afghanistan.
  • Done in an early episode of Community where Shirley's two children hide in a burqa so that Abed's cousin can get in the bouncy castle without Abed's disapproving father noticing that she's gone.
  • Top Gear (UK)'s Middle East Christmas Special had the presenters take a meandering journey from Iraq to Bethlehem. Driving through Syria, the guys unexpectedly discovered that Top Gear is extremely popular in Syria. Which posed a problem, because Israel doesn't allow entry to people who have been in Syria.note  After their attempt to pass through the empty Syrian desert ended with James being hospitalised with a serious head injury, they then decided to don burqas instead to pass unnoticed. This cunning plan didn't work all that well, as three people in burqas driving bizarrely modified convertible sports coupes still tend to draw attention.note 
    James: [after finding out it didn't work] I've appeared on television in drag for nothing!
  • A variation of this trope occurs in the Party Down episode "Not On Your Wife Opening Night". The titular catering team is catering an opening night party at a community theatre, and at one point, Henry and Casey go backstage, and Casey puts on a burqa costume from the play. When she and Henry kiss shortly afterward, Lydia walks in on them, and Casey attempts to re-adjust the costume to hide her face from Lydia (as she knows that Lydia will tell everyone about Casey and Henry kissing if she finds out the truth).

    Puppet Shows 
  • Done in a sketch from Les Guignols de l'Info, where American soldiers (always played by the Sylvester Stallone puppet) disguise themselves with burqas while in Afghanistan. Of course, not only are they way too tall and unable to mask their male voices, they also have no idea how to act like Muslim women. Notably, when asked where they're going by a male Afghan, one say they'll be hitting the gym and spa.

    Video Games 
  • In Syphon Filter: The Omega Strain, the female version of Cobra dresses in a burqa for the Arms Bazaar mission in Yemen. As usual, certain guards can see through the player's disguise, although the others don't seem to notice when you're carrying a weapon and wearing night-vision goggles on the outside of the veil. Just don't walk around with the gun drawn.

    Western Animation 
  • Parodied on Family Guy, where two cops end up chasing Brian through an inexplicable marketplace and find what seems to be Brian in a burqa, only to discover it's actually just an ugly woman.
  • On The Wild Thornberrys, although Eliza isn't actually running from anyone, she does use a veil in order to switch places with a friend in one episode. The disguise is impenetrable until said friend confesses to the ruse.
  • Roger, being an alien, has done this a few times on American Dad!.
  • The titular Alfred does this in the second season of Alfred J. Kwak, concealing his identity and species (the locals appear to all be goats, while Alfred is a duck) while escorting a middle-eastern prince in a hostile country.

    Real Life 
  • Mustaf Jama was said to have been caught attempting to flee the UK in a Muslim veil after being involved in the murder of a policewoman in a robbery.
  • BBC journalist John Simpson reportedly sneaked into Afghanistan in 2001 wearing a burkha. After this, a colleague got a call from his editor asking, "Why aren't you in there too, dressed up as a tent?"
  • In France, the debates around interdiction of wearing burkha in the streets is partly inspired by concerns related to the old French secularism principle, and partly by this trope, to avoid thieves, burglars or terrorists to hide their identity under this practical disguise.
  • Michael Jackson once wore traditional Islamic women's garb to hide from paparazzi. He was found out when he used the ladies' restroom and someone walked in on him.
  • During The War on Terror, this has been a legitimate strategy done by various military units to infiltrate terror groups by disguising soldiers as women in burkhas and attacking once they're deep within enemy territory. After a few successful attacks, some of the terror groups have gotten wise to this and have forbidden fully-cloaked people from getting close to their bases; making this strategy harder to do successfully today.
  • On December 1, 2017, three terrorists disguised in burqas attacked an agricultural college in Peshawar, Pakistan, killing 9 people.
  • The Revolutionary Association of the Women in Afghanistan (RAWA for short) is known for using the burqa to keep their members' identities and operations secret, even using them to hide cameras to document abuses during Taliban rule.
  • In 2015, supermodel Gisele Bündchen and one of her sisters were photographed leaving a plastic surgeon's office in Paris wearing niqabs to hide.
  • In 2021, an Indonesian man with COVID-19 used a niqab while (unsuccessfully) attempting to disguise himself as his wife when boarding a domestic flight.