Hijab - It's not just for Muslims!

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Hijab is the word used to describe the Muslim style of modesty.  It is sometimes used as a term for the veil or scarf itself, though the scarf is actually called a khimar.  What hijab is, in practice, depends on one's marital status, and the requirements of the family, regional culture, or sect. 

In most rural areas, for instance, a woman will not be expected to wear physically limiting clothing while she is working.  She will likely wear a long dress, and a scarf.  In some remote areas where women have both to work and tend to infants, she may even go topless because she would only be around relatives (mahram), and they don't see this as particularly remarkable.

On the other hand, a wealthy woman from a good family in a metropolitan area may wear the full niqaab, which cloaks everything from head to toe, and even gloves, whenever she is outdoors or outside her family's compound.  Most modern Muslim women, when not engaged in physical labor, will cover all except their hands and faces.  Some will wear skirts to the mid calf or just below the knee.  Some wear pants, and some don't.  It depends on the individual, but generally Muslims women tend to dress modestly.

In some west Asian and African countries that have a Muslim majority, or a culturally strong Muslim population, almost all religious women will dress hijab to some degree.  Sometimes it works the other way, and Muslim women who may not be all that "orthodox", who live in areas with a different religious majority, may decide to wear hijab as a matter of cultural identity, and to indicate to other Christian, Jewish, or Hindu women (and men) that they are also at least somewhat religious.  Sometimes non religious women will wear hijab, though, because in many situations, it just makes sense.

We know that Muslim women wear hijab, in part, because it is supported, though not actually commanded with the wording such as "thou shalt not bare thy shoulders", in the Quran and Hadiths.  It, most likely, wasn't a hard and fast commandment, because in the prophet Muhammad's time, there were already harmful customs that he could see, worked against women.  Not to put words in the great man's mouth, but it is quite easy to assume that he didn't want to put words in God's mouth.  I am sure that he knew the situational nature of modesty, and so things were kept in the context of public display.  The idea was that your body's intimate details were not public domain, and were therefore, not the public's business.

So what was specific is that only a woman's hands and face should be visible to men who aren't close blood relatives.  Whether it means the head and arms or just the hands and face has been debated for centuries and probably will be centuries from now.

In Islamic cultures, non Muslim women often dress hijab out of respect for the majority, and sometimes legal restrictions.

...but why would a non Muslim woman want to dress hijab if she doesn't really have to?

Well, for starters, historically, married, sequestered, or otherwise "off limits" women of all faiths, save for local belief systems in very tropical areas, have had at least one sect or time period in which they covered the hair.  The hair is considered to be a sort of beauty/health marker, and in societies where the hair itself wasn't so important, the shape of the head and neck is.  So it is the practice of not wearing a veil or scarf that is actually stranger, and in the U.S. very likely a political manipulation of the public, to keep people divided.  If all women of faith or practical modesty were veiled, it would be difficult to visibly tell which was which, and which of them were Muslim.

Even for men hair, wearing of hats, headgear, and style of the hair, has always been culturally important.  Kings around the world have worn crowns and headdress, to indicate their status.  In most of the armed services, rank symbols are not only worn on the shoulders, but the hat as well.  At times, the Prophet Muhammad(saas)'s hair style was mentioned.  Sometimes it was short, and sometimes long and neatly braided.  He(saas) was also said to have taken special care not to mess up his turban unless it was necessary.

The second good reason is that if you've looked around lately, revealing clothes aren't just worn on the runway anymore.  It seems that the obsession with thinness, which sprang from obsession with the body, is getting worse every year.  Despite the growing number of activists who are rejecting the "barbie" body standard being attached to self worth, more women, not just teenagers, are getting eating disorders.  The focus has moved from health to looks.

It is very easy to say, "Treat me as an equal," but it is quite another thing to practice, and to demand justice.  Regardless of what ought to be, we live in a world where far too many people believe that what is open to their eyes is open to their hands.  I'm not talking about just imposing come-ons and touching.  I write also of the way that other women demean and degrade each other over physicality.

Hijab takes the body away from the eyes of those one does not choose to reveal it to, and thus, sends a message that, "This is my and/or my God's domain."

So, to all you non Muslim women out there, if you're tired of being seen as your body, the next time you see a cute caftan, thobe or jilbab in a catalogue, don't worry that you're not Muslim.  Order it.  You will not only be helping yourself, but helping others to break the stereotypes about Muslims, and about women of other faiths and belief systems.

You'll also be alot cooler in the summer, and warmer in the winter, and more comfortable year round.  No more chafing from tight clothes, and no more dependence on the details of your body shape for determining how people will perceive you.  You get to be just you, and not just your "sexual market value".  In fact, it may open up totally new markets.

If you're trying to attract or keep a good partner who values you for your personality, then it helps to present your personality before your body.  Honestly, some folks just aren't that concerned about modesty, and that's their choice which should be respected.  However, if you're not one of those people...if you don't like exposing your physique for the sake of trends, or you want to break out of the body obsessed mentality, then why not just do it?  Below are some links to get you started.

Modest Clothing Giveaway - a multifaith community to donate and receive modest clothing.
Haneefa's Closet - a Muslim oriented community (though multifaith in membership) to exchange, donate, and receive modest clothing.

Both communities also have discussion about hijab and other styles of modest attire.

Hijab Art:
Song About Hijab - with lyrics for people of all faiths and traditional styles to consider before mistaking fashion for freedom, rather than exercising the freedom to choose one's fashion.

Thanks to Khadija for contributing the above links :)

More Useful Links:
Tips for Beginning to Wear Hijab - written from a Muslim perspective, but brings to bear the modern situations involved with modesty and strength in the face of societal labeling.
Styles of Hijab - photos and explanations of various styles of Muslim modest attire.
Talk Islam's Hijab Links - a variety of links on hijab, including Christian women's head coverings.
Christian Women's Head covering Directory - alot of links and community for Christian women who wear the scarf, bonnet, or veil.
Al Hannah - stunningly beautiful, yet modest and affordable attire for the whole family.  Very well cut plus sizes too :)  I've ordered 2 salwar kameez sets from them, and they were life savers in the summer heat here in Israel.
Naree.com's Sari page - about the sari, and how it can conceal or reveal, depending on the woman wearing it.
IDC's Exhibition at the Goldstein Gallery - shows various sari styles, two of which include head covering.
A Return to Modesty - a CNN article on Wendy Shalit's book, presenting modesty as the smart fashion and social choice.

How to Wear Hijab Scarves:
Shayla for Long Hair
Half Turban
More Modesty Articles:
Keeping Cool in Modest Clothing
African Head Wraps:
Easy Head Wrap
Long Hair Head Wrap

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