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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 khimÄr 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, jilbÄb refers to a long, loose, flowing over-garment worn by some Muslim women. Some schools of thought consider the jilbÄb 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 jilbÄb 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 jilbÄb so that no skin is visible when outside the home. The jilbÄb 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:
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 khimÄr 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?