|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
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
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.