Muslim masks

I’m starting with a Marka mask from Mali, a country that is almost entirely Muslim. The second photo is a niqab, something you would expect to see in a Muslim country.

Many African countries have a rich tradition of crafted masks. During the seventh century and the beginning of Islam, Muslims migrated to North Africa. They also pushed into territories further south that eventually became the Republic of Sudan, Chad, Niger, Mali, and several others.

We know that the Islamic religion has always discouraged masquerade. But many of these African cultures had ancient artistic traditions in mask-making for indigenous celebrations. They made masks that represented spirits and gods. In their native lands, these masks have mostly survived, sometimes losing their pagan significance and sometimes combining traditional animist beliefs with the dominant Islam.

Muslim women are often required to cover their faces in public. Some wear a niqab, a black full-body cover that hides the face. The niqab is associated with Saudi women, but women in other countries may also wear it. The Quran does not include any statements about masks as we know them today, though African masks were frequently banned during the Muslim conquest of the continent.

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