Many people mistakenly believe “hijab” refers to the Muslim female headwear. In reality, hijab refers to the religious code that dictates the type of clothing one should wear and the behavior associated with it. A female who covers her hair, dresses modestly, and behaves likewise is called a “hijabbi”.
The headscarf is called a “khimar”.
The short piece of cloth some wear across the bottom half of their faces is called a “niqab”.
The loose-fitting, full length, long-sleeved gowns are called “burqas”.
Fun thing about these words is they’re pronounced how you see them. Key-mar, Knee-cob, burr-cah.
The irony of head coverings is that historically they were worn by wealthy, upperclass or noble women. Depending on the society, a scarf of veil was worn by a maiden or signified a woman’s married state. The Queen of England still wears hats with all of her outfits – a remnant of medieval England which was heavily influenced by Fertile Crescent cultures.
While only women wear a full headscarf, the Qur’an urges both men and women to guard their modesty. Then, additionally urges women to drape their headcovers (khimars) over their neck and chest.
“Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do. And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.” (An-Nur 30-31)
Another aspect is that by covering areas that are easily sexualized relationships can be formed on something other than physical features or lust.
So, lowering one’s gaze and covering one’s private parts does not only apply to women. The Qur’an makes it clear that this applies to both genders. Yet, majority of the scrutiny, debate on oppression, and enforcement of coverings is focused on women. (Again, me: -.-)
*Also, note that women are not required to wear any sort of covering until they reach puberty.
Why is modesty important?
This gets a little sticky especially with Western feminism and the current status of women in America. Yes, I agree women shouldn’t have to protect themselves from being raped, that people should be taught not to rape.
That said, the Qur’an is quite clear that the veil is essential for modesty:
“O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” (Al-Ahzab 59)
Essentially it is a form of protection. Living a modest life, dressing modestly, and behaving modestly is supposed to afford a measure of protection. For the most part this works (for me). When I’m out or meeting new people there is a smidgen of respect added to the atmosphere. I’m not being conceited, but I did notice the change in people from when I wasn’t wearing a khimar to when I started wearing it.
Granted, this is not always effective. For example, I was walking home on Monday and a guy in his van, stopped at a red light proceeded to whistle at me, then honk his horn at me. When I ignored him, continuing on my way, he took it upon himself to yell obscenities out his window as he pulled off. (I knew he was talking to me because I was the only one there and he described my outfit.)
But, remembering that Islam holds its women in high regard, the Qur’an prescribes severe punishment for those who falsely accuse a chaste or modest women:
“And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations)- Flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors” (An-Nur 4)
Again, no I am not saying a woman deserves to be raped for dressing or not dressing a certain way. I’m adding this post to the collection to point out that the khimar is not supposed to be a sign of oppression or of male authority. Also, remember men are also supposed to dress modestly and cover their heads. The gown for a man is called a kurta and the hat has different names depending on the country. But, I’ve actually knitted a few for my father and uncle.
Reader Question: Why do you wear the headscarf?
*I* wear it because I want to. I’m not being flippant or even sarcastic. I really do want to. Guyana has all the major religions and celebrates all the holidays. This isn’t a bad thing; however, it has reached the point where everyone celebrates every religion and know little about what their own faith.
It was not until we came to American that my family started practicing Islam more and learning more. (There’s a spoonful of irony for ya.) When I graduated Junior High, I told my mom that I wanted to start wearing the khimar. She said, ok. She didn’t say no or even ask why. She said, ok. I remember it totally threw me off because I was nervous, thinking people would ask me why, and I was afraid I didn’t have a good enough reason. My reason really was: I want to.
But, no one questioned it. My mom took me to the store and we bought a khimar. (I still have it!) However, I did not start wearing it every day after that because I entered a Catholic high school and it was not part of the uniform.
I didn’t start wearing a khimar full-time until I graduated high school. It honestly makes me life easier.
- I don’t have to worry about styling or cutting my hair to keep up with current fashion.
- It works as a sort of security blanket for me. In a weird way, the more controversy surrounding Islam and the “oppression of women,” the more I cling to my khimar.
- Before I started wearing it full-time, if we were out and about, then decided to stop by the local mosque I would feel weird being the only one with my hair out. No one ever said anything to me. But, if I’m wearing it full-time I don’t have to worry about that awkwardness.
- Also, I have tons of pretty scarves I can coordinate with my outfits! Some people dye their hair; I cover mine with colorful scarves.
And why do some girls where the gown?
This question was asked as how come some girls wear the gown, but I don’t, how come I wear “street clothes”.
It’s not functional for me. The gowns are usually made of light, breathable material so it’s not that I would be hot. However, I would end up having to wear a whole outfit underneath it anyway.
Wearing those gowns during a NY winter is definitely a no-no for me. I’d freeze my…parts off.
Personally, if I’m wearing clothes, I don’t see the problem lol.
My question for you:
This is kind of random, but I thought of it when I was visiting my cousin over Fourth of July weekend. In those forensic shows, if they find a body they mention that they can identify where a person lived by testing their hair since the environment and contingents are unique to certain areas. So, what about Muslim girls who cover their hair? Would that process not work or would it just produce filtered or diluted results? (Wonder if Pauley Perrette would know o.O)