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A hijab or ḥijāb (Arabic: حجاب, pronounced [ħiˈdʒæːb]/[ħiˈgæːb]), as commonly understood in the English-speaking world, is the type of head covering traditionally worn by Muslim women, but can also refer to modest Muslim styles of dress in general. Similar head coverings are wimples (or wimpels) worn by Christian nuns and snoods often worn by married Orthodox Jewish women. The Arabic word literally means curtain or cover (noun), based on the root حجب meaning "to cover, to veil, to shelter". Most Islamic legal systems define this type of modest dressing as covering everything except the face and hands in public. According to Islamic scholarship, hijab is given the wider meaning of modesty, privacy, and morality; the word for a headscarf or veil used in the Qur'an is khimār (خمار) and not hijab. Still another definition is metaphysical, where al-hijab "refers to the veil which separates man or the world from God."
Muslims differ as to how "hijab dress" should be enforced, particularly over the role of religious police that are enforcing hijab in Iran and Saudi Arabia. Although some countries have enforced the hijab, others have not because of the varying beliefs that it is not mandatory to wear hijab.
According to the Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World, the meaning of hijab has evolved over time:
The term hijab or veil is not used in the Qur'an to refer to an article of clothing for women or men, rather it refers to a spatial curtain that divides or provides privacy. The Qur'an instructs the male believers (Muslims) to talk to wives of Muhammad behind a hijab. This hijab was the responsibility of the men and not the wives of Muhammad. However, in later Muslim societies this instruction, specific to the wives of Muhammad, was generalized, leading to the segregation of the Muslim men and women. The modesty in Qur'an concerns both men's and women's gaze, gait, garments, and genitalia. The clothing for women involves khumūr over the necklines and jilbab (cloaks) in public so that they may be identified and not harmed. Guidelines for covering of the entire body except for the hands, the feet and the face, are found in texts of fiqh and hadith that are developed later.
In Saudi Arabia, where women have been ordered to be "properly covered" outside their homes, some wear not only head-to-toe black cloaks but also full veils over their faces without even slits for their eyes.
In Indonesia, notably the nation with the largest Muslim population, and some cultures or languages influenced by it namely Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines, the term jilbab is used instead with few exceptions to refer to the hijab, as opposed to its "correct" modern Arabic definition. In some cases, colloquial use of the term Jilbab may refer to any pre-Islamic female traditional head-dress.
The word hijab is an Arabic word. When the Arabic letters are transliterated into English, there are four different spellings that are typically used. The four spellings are: hijab, hejab, hegab, higab (the latter pronunciations, with hard /g/ are representative of Egyptian Arabic). Hijab is the most widely used spelling, but it is helpful to keep the alternate spellings in mind for research purposes.
The Qur'an instructs Muslims to dress in a modest way. The following verses are generally interpreted as applying to all Muslim men and women.
And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss; [...] (Qur'an 24:31)
In the following verse, Muslim women are asked to draw their jilbab over them (when they go out), as a measure to distinguish themselves from others, so that they are not harassed. Whilst in sura 33:59 we read:
Those who harass believing men and believing women undeservedly, bear (on themselves) a calumny and a grievous sin. O Prophet! Enjoin your wives, your daughters, and the wives of true believers that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad) That is most convenient, that they may be distinguished and not be harassed. [...] (Qur'an 33:58–59)
The following verses give special directives to the wives of Muhammad though some commentators believe that all women should imitate their example.
O Wives of the Prophet, ye are not like any of the (other) women. If ye do fear (Allah), be not too complaisant of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire: but speak ye a speak that is just. Abide still in your homes and make not a dazzling display like that of the former times of ignorance: and establish regular prayer, and give regular charity; and obey Allah and His Messenger. And Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you, ye Members of the Family, and to make you pure and spotless.
Another verse in the Qur'an (33:53) talks about the veil as being a separation of two men and spheres of life such as the public and the private, rather than between men and women. This could very well be the definitive verse on hijab as it has been quoted as such by a number of Islamic theologians.
O Ye who believe! Enter not the dwellings of the Prophet for a meal without waiting for the proper time, unless permission be granted you. But if ye are invited, enter, and, when your meal is ended, then disperse. Linger not for conversation. Lo! That would cause annoyance to the Prophet, and he would be shy of (asking) you (to go); but Allah is not shy of the truth. And when ye ask of them (the wives of the Prophet) anything, ask it of them from behind a curtain. That is purer for your hearts and for their hearts. And it is not for you to cause annoyance to the messenger of Allah, nor that ye should ever marry his wives after him. Lo! That in Allah's sight would be an enormity. (Qur'an 33:53)
Other Muslims take a relativist approach to ħijāb. They believe that the commandment to maintain modesty must be interpreted with regard to the surrounding society. What is considered modest or daring in one society may not be considered so in another. It is important, they say, for believers to wear clothing that communicates modesty and reserve in the situations in which they find themselves.
Along with scriptural arguments, Leila Ahmed argues that head covering should not be compulsory in Islam because the veil predates the revelation of the Qur'an. Head-covering was introduced into Arabia long before Muhammad, primarily through Arab contacts with Syria and Iran, where the hijab was a sign of social status. After all, only a woman who need not work in the fields could afford to remain secluded and veiled.
Leila Ahmed argues for a more liberal approach to hijab. Among her arguments is that while some Qur'anic verses enjoin women in general to Qur'an 33:58–59. “draw their Jilbabs (overgarment or cloak) around them to be recognized as believers and so that no harm will come to them.” and Qur'an 24:31. “guard their private parts... and drape down khimar over their breasts [when in the presence of unrelated men]”, they urge modesty but do not mention the word hijab or the covering of the head, neck, etc.
However according to the vast majority of Muslims Sunni and Shia, al-Mawrid al-Qawrid Arabic dictionary, Hans-Wehr Dictionary of Arabic into English, and the exhaustive ancient Arabic dictionary "Lisan al-arab", (literally the tongue of the arabs) the word 'Khimar' means and was used to refer to a piece of cloth that covers the head, or headscarf today called 'hijab'.
Other verses do mention separation of men and women but they refer specifically to the wives of the prophet:
According to at least two authors, (Reza Aslam and Leila Ahmed) the stipulations of the hijab were originally meant only for Muhammad's wives, and were intended to maintain their inviolability. This was because Muhammad conducted all religious and civic affairs in the mosque adjacent to his home:
People were constantly coming in and out of this compound at all hours of the day. When delegations from other tribes come to speak with Muhammad, they would set up their tents for days at a time inside the open courtyard, just a few feet away from the apartments in which Muhammad's wives slept. And new emigrants who arrived in Yatrib would often stay within the mosque's walls until they could find suitable homes.
According to Ahmed:
By instituting seclusion Muhammad was creating a distance between his wives and this thronging community on their doorstep.
They argue that the term darabat al-hijab ("taking the veil"), was used synonymously and interchangeably with "becoming Muhammad's wife", and that during Muhammad's life, no other Muslim woman wore the hijab. Aslam suggests that Muslim women started to wear the hijab to emulate Muhammad's wives, who are revered as "Mothers of the Believers" in Islam, and states "there was no tradition of veiling until around 627 C.E." in the Muslim community.
The hadith (Arabic plural ahādīth) are traditions concerning the practices of the early Muslim community. They were transmitted orally for more than two centuries before the first collections were written down. The hadith, accepted as canonical by Sunni Muslims, took their final form some three centuries after Muhammad's death. The Arabic word jilbab is translated as "cloak" in the following passage. Contemporary salafis insist that the jilbab (which is worn over the Kimaar and covers from the head to the toe) worn today is the same garment mentioned in the Qur'an and the hadith; other translators have chosen to use less specific terms:
Traditionally, Muslims have recognized many different forms of clothing as satisfying the demands of hijab. Debate focused on how much of the male or female body should be covered. Different scholars adopted different interpretations of the original texts.
The four major Sunni schools of thought (Hanafi, Shafi'i, Maliki and Hanbali) hold that entire body of the woman, except her face and hands- though many say face, hands, and feet-, is part of her awrah, that is the parts of her body that must be covered during prayer and in public settings.
Some Muslims recommend that women wear clothing that is not form fitting to the body: either modest forms of western clothing (long shirts and skirts), or the more traditional jilbāb, a high-necked, loose robe that covers the arms and legs. A khimār or shaylah, a scarf or cowl that covers all but the face, is also worn in many different styles. Some Salafi scholars encourage covering the face, while some follow the opinion that it is only not obligatory to cover the face and the hands but mustahab (Highly recommended). Many of them say it is mandatory to cover the face. Other scholars oppose face covering, particularly in the west where the woman may draw more attention as a result. These garments are very different in cut than most of the traditional forms of ħijāb, and they are worn worldwide by Muslims.
Detailed scholarly attention has been focused on prescribing female dress. Most scholars agree that the basic requirements are that when in the presence of someone of the opposite sex (other than a close family member - see mahram), a woman should cover her body, and walk and dress in a way which does not draw sexual attention to her. Some scholars go so far as to specify exactly which areas of the body must be covered. In some cases, this is everything save the eyes but most require everything save the face and hands to be covered. In nearly all Muslim cultures, young girls are not required to wear a ħijāb. There is not a single agreed age when a woman should begin wearing a ħijāb; however, in many Muslim countries, puberty is the dividing line.
In private, and in the presence of mahrams, the rules on dress are relaxed. However, in the presence of husband, most scholars stress the importance of mutual freedom and pleasure of the husband and wife.
The burqa (also spelled burka) is the garment that covers women most completely: either only the eyes are visible, or nothing at all. Originating in what is now Pakistan, it is more commonly associated with the Afghan chadri. Typically, a burqa is composed of many yards of light material pleated around a cap that fits over the top of the head, or a scarf over the face (save the eyes). This type of veil is cultural as well as religious.
It has become tradition that Muslims in general, and Salafis in particular, believe the Qur'ān demands women wear the garments known today as jilbāb and khumūr (the khumūr must be worn underneath the jilbāb). However, Qur'ān translators and commentators translate the Arabic into English words with a general meaning, such as veils, head-coverings and shawls. Ghamidi argues that verses [Qur'an 24:30] teach etiquette for male and female interactions, where khumūr is mentioned in reference to the clothing of Arab women in the 7th century, but there is no command to actually wear them in any specific way. Hence he considers head-covering a preferable practice but not a directive of the sharia (law).
Although certain general standards are widely accepted, there has been little interest in narrowly prescribing what constitutes modest dress for Muslim men. Most mainstream scholars say that men should cover themselves from the navel to the knees; a minority say that the hadith that are held to require this are weak and possibly inauthentic. They argue that there are hadith indicating that the Islamic prophet Muħammad wore clothing that uncovered his thigh when riding camels, and hold that if Muħammad believed that this was permissible, then it is surely permissible for other Muslim males.
As a practical matter, however, the opinion that Muslim men must cover themselves between the navel and the knees is predominant, and most Muslims believe that a man who fails to observe this requirement during salah must perform the prayer again , properly covered, in order for it to be valid. Three of the four Sunni Madh'hab, or schools of law, require that the knees be covered; the Maliki school recommends but does not require knee covering.
According to some hadith, Muslim men are asked not to wear gold jewellery, silk clothing, or other adornments that are considered feminine. Some scholars say that these prohibitions should be generalized to prohibit the lavish display of wealth on one's person.
In more secular Muslim nations, such as Turkey or Tunisia, many women are choosing to wear the Hijab, Burqa, Niqab, etc. because of the widespread growth of the Islamic revival in those areas. Similarly, increasing numbers of men are abandoning the Western dress of jeans and t-shirts, that dominated places like Egypt 20 to 30 years ago, in favour of more traditional Islamic clothing such as the Galabiyya.
In Iran many women, especially younger ones, have taken to wearing transparent Hijabs instead of Chadors to protest but keep within the law of the state.
The colors of this clothing varies. It is mostly black, but in many African countries women wear cloths of many different colours depending on their tribe, area, or family. In Turkey, where the hijab is banned in private and state universities and schools, 60% of women wear it.
In many of the western Nations, there has been a general rise of hijab-wearing women. They are especially common in Muslim Student Associations at college campuses.
Some Muslims have criticized strict dress codes that they believe go beyond the demands of hijab, using Qur'an 66:1 to apply to dress codes as well; the verse suggests that it is wrong to refrain from what is permitted by God.
John Esposito, professor of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, writes that the customs of veiling and seclusion of women in early Islam were assimilated from the conquered Persian and Byzantine societies and then later on they were viewed as appropriate expressions of Quranic norms and values. The Qur'an does not stipulate veiling or seclusion; on the contrary, it tends to emphasize the participation of religious responsibility of both men and women in society. He claims that "in the midst of rapid social and economic change when traditional security and support systems are increasingly eroded and replaced by the state, (...) hijab maintains that the state has failed to provide equal rights for men and women because the debate has been conducted within the Islamic framework, which provides women with equivalent rather than equal rights within the family."
Bloom and Blair also write that the Qur'an doesn't require women to wear veils; rather, it was a social habit picked up with the expansion of Islam. In fact, since it was impractical for working women to wear veils, "A veiled woman silently announced that her husband was rich enough to keep her idle."
Some governments encourage and even oblige women to wear the hijab, whilst others have banned it in at least some public settings.
Some Muslims believe hijab covering for women should be compulsory as part of sharia, i.e. Muslim law. Wearing of the hijab was enforced by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan, and is enforced in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Taliban's Islamic Emirate required women to cover not only their head but their face as well, because "the face of a woman is a source of corruption" for men not related to them. While some women wholeheartedly embrace the rules, others protest by observing the rules in slipshod or inconsistent fashion, or flouting them whenever possible. Sudan's criminal code allows the flogging or fining of anyone who “violates public morality or wears indecent clothing”, albeit without defining "indecent clothing",
Turkey and Tunisia are the only Muslim countries where the law prohibits the wearing of hijab in government buildings, schools, and universities. In Tunisia, women were banned from wearing hijab in state offices in 1981 and in the 1980s and 1990s more restrictions were put in place. The Turkish government recently attempted to lift a ban on Muslim headscarves at universities, but were overturned by the country's Constitutional Court.
On March 15, 2004, France passed a law banning "symbols or clothes through which students conspicuously display their religious affiliation" in public primary schools, middle schools, and secondary schools. In the Belgian city of Maaseik, Niqāb has been banned. (2006)
Non-governmental enforcement of hijab is found in many parts of the Muslim world.
Successful informal coercion of women by sectors of society to wear hijab has been reported in Gaza where Mujama' al-Islami, the predecessor of HAMAS, reportedly used "a mixture of consent and coercion" to "`restore` hijab" on urban educated women in Gaza in the late 1970s and 1980s.
Similar behavior was displayed by Hamas itself during the first intifada in Palestine. Though a relatively small movement at this time, Hamas exploited the political vacuum left by perceived failures in strategy by the Palestinian factions to call for a 'return' to Islam as a path to success, a campaign that focused on the role of women. Hamas campaigned for the wearing of the hijab alongside other measures, including insisting women stay at home, segregation from men and the promoting of polygamy. In the course of this campaign women who chose not to wear the hijab were verbally and physically harassed, including stonings, with the result that the hijab was being worn 'just to avoid problems on the streets'.
In France, according to journalist Jane Kramer, veiling among school girls became increasingly common following the 9/11 Attack of 2001, due to coercion by "fathers and uncles and brothers and even their male classmates" of the school girls. "Girls who did not conform were excoriated, or chased, or beaten by fanatical young men meting out Islamic justice." According to the American magazine The Weekly Standard, a survey conducted in France in May 2003 reportedly "found that 77% of girls wearing the hijab said they did so because of physical threats from Islamist groups."
In India a 2001 "acid attack on four young Muslim women in Srinagar ... by an unknown militant outfit, [was followed by] swift compliance by women of all ages on the issue of wearing the chadar (head-dress) in public."
In Basra Iraq, "more than 100 women who didn't adhere to strict Islamic dress code" were killed between the summer of 2007 and spring of 2008 by Islamist militias (primarily the Mahdi Army) who controlled the police there, according to the CBS news program 60 Minutes.
Islamists in other countries have been accused of attacking or threatening to attack the faces of women in an effort to intimidate them from wearing of makeup or allegedly immodest dress.  
The veil has become the subject of lively contemporary debate, in Muslim countries as well as within Western countries with Muslim populations. For example, British government minister Jack Straw was recently drawn into the debate after he suggested that communication with some of the Muslim members of his constituency would be made significantly easier if they ceased covering their faces. In broader terms, the sweep of the debate is captured by Bodman and Tohidi, stating that 'the meaning of the hijab ranges from a form of empowerment for the woman choosing to wear it to a means of seclusion and containment imposed by others'. The subject has also become highly politicized. There is a diverse range of views on the wearing of the hijab in general. Sadiki interviews a woman who views it as 'submission to God's commandments'. Rubenberg illustrates how even secular women in Muslim countries can be made to wear the veil due to a social or political context. Some criticise the hijab in its own right as a regressive device, such as Polly Toynbee stating that it 'turns women into things'. Faisal al Yafai meanwhile argues that the veil should be debated, but that more pressing issues like political and legal rights of women should be a greater priority. It is this diversity of opinion that continues to make the hijab the subject of debate.
Writers such as Leila Ahmed and Karen Armstrong have highlighted how the veil became a symbol of resistance to colonialism, particularly in Egypt in the latter part of the 19th Century, and again today in the post-colonial period. In The Battle for God, Armstrong writes:
“The veiled woman has, over the years, become a symbol of Islamic self-assertion and a rejection of Western cultural hegemony.”
While in Women and Gender, Ahmed states:
“...it was the discourses of the West, and specifically the discourse of colonial domination, that in the first place determined the meaning of the veil in geopolitical discourses and thereby set the terms for its emergence as a symbol of resistance.”
The issue of the veil has thus been “hijacked” to a degree by cultural essentialists on both sides of the divide. Arguments against veiling have been co-opted, along with wider “feminist” discourse, to create a colonial “feminism” that uses questions of Muslim women’s dress amongst others to justify “patriarchal colonialism in the service of particular political ends.” Thus, efforts to improve the situation of women in Muslim (and other non-Western) societies are judged purely on what they wear. Meanwhile, for Islamists, rejection of “Western” modes of dress is not enough: resistance and independence can only be demonstrated by the “wholesale affirmation of indigenous culture”—a prime example being the wearing of the veil.
Tracing the Victorian law of coverture, Legal Scholar L. Ali Khan provides a critique of the British male elite that wishes to impose its own "comfort views" to unveil Muslim women from Asia, Africa, and Middle East.
In her discussion of findings from interviews of university-educated Moroccan Muslim women who choose to wear the Hijab, Hessini argues that wearing the Hijab is used as a method of separation of women from men when women work and therefore step into what is perceived to be the men’s public space, so in this case, when women have the right and are able to work, a method has been found to maintain the traditional societal arrangements.
Critics of conservative interpretations of the hijab point out that while many claim wearing it does not necessarily signify oppression, those for whom it does are not always free to state their true views on the matter.
Academic Rema Hammai quotes a Palestinian woman reflective of an "activist" resistance to "hijabization" in Gaza saying that "in my community it's natural to wear" hijab. "The problem is when little boys, including my son, feel they have the right to tell me to wear it." Similarly Iranian-American novelist Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, Marjane Satrapi, author of the graphic novel Persepolis, and Parvin Darabi, who wrote Rage Against the Veil are some of the famous opponents of compulsory hijab, which was protested when first imposed.
Cheryl Benard, writing an opinion piece in Rand Corporation, criticized those who used fear to enforce the hijab and stated that "in Pakistan, Kashmir, and Afghanistan, hundreds of women have been blinded or maimed when acid was thrown on their unveiled faces by male fanatics who considered them improperly dressed."
Hijab or ħijāb (حجاب) is the Arabic term for "cover" (noun), based on the root حجب meaning "to veil, to cover (verb), to screen, to shelter." It is chiefly a reference for Islamic covering for women.
Hijab (حجاب) is the Arabic word for "to cover", and in general, means to be modest.
Sometimes, the word is used in particular to mean the "covering" of a woman's head and hair in Islam. The Arabic word used to specifically mean this, is "khimār" (خمار). This "veil" can come in several different types, such as just an ordinary veil (which only covers the head), and a Burka, which covers the entire body. There are many styles to do.