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What do Muslim Women Wear?

What do Muslim Women Wear?

Muslim women make a wide range of choices in their dress. We describe here some garments that are specifically Islamic that some women choose to wear as part of their faith.

Hijab or headscarf

The head covering worn by Muslim women is commonly referred to as hijab and is worn outside the home and in front of men who are not closely related. Hijab is the Arabic term for a cover, based on the root hajb meaning 'to veil, to cover, to screen, to shelter'. The word used in the Qur'an for a head covering is khimār and is usually one or two pieces of cloth enabling Muslim women to cover their hair, ears and neck while outside the home. In some countries, the word hijab primarily refers to women's head, face, or body covering but it also has the wider meaning of modesty, privacy, and morality and refers to any separation between men and women such as the partition in the mosque or prayer room.

The hijab is considered a religious requirement for many Muslim women because they believe God has directed them in the Qur'an to cover their bodies, except for the hands and face in order to preserve their modesty. The Qur'an and Hadith stipulate that a woman should not display her personal adornments or physical charms to anyone but her husband (Qur'an 24:31 and 33:59). In private, in front of close relatives and young children, women do not have to cover their heads and can wear any clothing they choose so long as it covers their private parts.

For some, the hijab means much more than female modesty - it has become a symbol of Muslim identity and of the rights and freedoms of Muslims to practice their religion.


In modern day usage, jilbāb refers to a long, loose, flowing over-garment worn by some Muslim women. Some schools of thought consider the jilbāb as a compulsory garment for women to wear in order to preserve their modesty while others do not see it as compulsory, but might view it as recommended. The modern jilbāb covers the entire body, except for hands, feet and face, and the women who choose to wear it often feel comfortable, modest and more religious. Some women may cover their hands, feet, and face while wearing the jilbāb so that no skin is visible when outside the home. The jilbāb as a traditional form of dress may be worn for a variety of reasons including it being a religious observance of modesty, a cultural tradition, social conformity, a personal choice, a religious identity or political statement.

Niqab or veil covering the face

The face veil is known as the niqab in Arabic and is a piece of material that covers the face. The niqab continues to be debated both within the Muslim community and outside of the Muslim community. Some Muslims see covering the face as fard (obligatory) and would insist on women covering their entire body including the face while outside the home. Others view the niqab as mustahab (recommended) so would agree that it is better for a woman to wear niqab, but recognise it is their choice. Many Muslims who do not agree that the niqab is either obligatory or recommended view those that support it as having interpreted Qur'anic and hadith verses on modesty in a particular way that they do not share.

Some women wear niqab because:

  • They believe it is their religious obligation to be modest and cover their entire bodies, including the face when outside the home and in the presence of unrelated men.
  • in some countries there is the social compulsion to wear it as all the women do - to not wear it would make that women stand out and go against the social norm.
  • It is an assertion of their religious identity and their right for their outward appearance to reflect their religious interpretations.
  • By covering their face and body they gain a sense of independence and freedom to be respected for their abilities, character and personality and not their physical 'looks'.
  • They feel empowered as women and protected from unwanted attention of men
  • They don't have a choice due to social, cultural, traditional or familial pressure to wear the veil.
  • It is used as a political statement or as a way of visually defending Islam and rights of Muslims to wear symbols of their religion.

The scholars who oppose the veil view it as unnecessary because if God had intended women to cover themselves completely, men would not have been directed to lower their gaze. With both men and women directed to lower their gaze when in the presence of each other it has been argued that women are therefore able to show the face, hands and feet which are necessary for day-to-day tasks. Others who do not support the wearing of the veil view the justification for the veil as weak because the Qur'anic verses on modesty refer to the khimār rather than the veil, only three hadith mention veiling and veiling was never commanded by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)for all Muslim women.

The niqab and whether women should wear it was propelled into a national debate recently. What's your view?


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