From Academic Kids

Note: The word "Hijab" is often used in news reports and common use, by both Muslims and non-Muslims, to refer to a form of headscarf. This specific use is also discussed below, and this article discusses the more general concept of modesty in Islam.
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Iraqi girl

Hijab is the word used in the Islamic context for the practice of dressing modestly, which all practicing Muslims past the age of puberty are instructed to do in their holy book, the Qur'an.

No precise dress code for men or women is set out in the Qur'an. However, the Qur'an gives some guidelines as to how Muslim women should behave. Verse 33:59 mentions that believers "draw their cloaks close round them (when they go out)"and (024.031) "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 (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, 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 God, that ye may attain Bliss." Various Islamic scholars have interpreted the meaning of hijab in different ways. The basic requirements are that when in the presence of someone of the opposite sex other than a "close family member" (Mahram), a woman should cover her body, and walk and dress in a way which does not draw sexual attention to her.

Some scholars say that men should cover from at least the navel to the knees; however, all the reports suggesting this are weak in its chain of transmission and thus inauthentic. Furthermore, there are authenic reports indicating that the Prophet Muhammad wore clothing that uncovered his thigh whilst riding his camel. Generally drawing sexual attention is only allowed between married couples—where it is highly encouraged—and they do not need to cover any part of their body in each other's presence (other Mahrams should hide at least their sexual organs from each other).

As a rule of Islam, "in the case of necessity, for example for saving lives or avoiding severe hardship, hijab rules are waived". (Severe hardship, i.e. death or physical harm that could possibly result in death - see Ikrah, "physical compulsion")

The way in which Muslims who practice hijab interpret the stated rules varies from country to country and even individual to individual. Specific cultural interpretations/practices include Purdah which is an Urdu/Persian word, and Chadar aur Chaardhiwaaree ("the sheet and the four walls", supposedly the protectors of women), and so on. Coverings associated with these practices include the Burqah, Chador, Khimar, Niqab, etc. See below and the article on External Hijab for more.


Current use of the word "hijab" in media and activism

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A group of women wearing khimars

The word "hijab" is frequently used specifically to mean a headscarf worn today (c. 2004) by many Muslim women around the world with various forms of dress, from jeans-and-shirts to shalwar-qameez and business suits. In this case, it most often refers to a square scarf which is folded diagonally and worn over the head to cover the hair, ears and throat, but not the face. The word used in the Qu'ran for a headscarf is "khimar", which might be better to use when referring to headscarves in general, as many people argue that this use of "hijab" is incorrect, and it can certainly lead to confusion. When used in news reports, for example the controversy over the French law on secularity and conspicuous religious symbols in schools, this is the meaning in which the word is being used.

See also: veil for a general description of headscarves and veils worn by both Muslim and non-Muslim women; and list of hats and headgear for a list of all kinds of veils.

How do people wear hijab?

Opinions on what exactly constitutes hijab vary among Muslims, and even in Islamic countries the laws regulating hijab differ. Perhaps the most accepted and common practice for women however is the covering of the body except for the face and hands (wrist to fingers), in a simple manner that does not attract sexual attention from men (by avoiding sheer fabrics or figure-hugging clothes for example). Some have said that both sexes should cover their heads, wrists, and ankles; others believe that women should cover their faces as well.

Some liberal Muslims in the West choose to follow hijab by dressing in a way that would be considered modest for the culture in which they find themselves—e.g. western business clothes. Quoting Al-A'raf:26, An-Nur:31 and As-Sajda:59 "God alone" Muslims, or those following only the Qur'an, argue that the best garment is that of righteousness, dress must cover your bosom and it was commanded to Muhammad that his people lengthen their garments[1] (http://www.free-minds.org/women/scarf.htm).

See the external hijab page for some typical examples of the type of dress typically associated with hijab.

Why do women wear hijab?

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Afghan woman wearing "Afghan burqa"

Many women who maintain hijab feel that it has been ordained by Allah. In the Qur'an 33:59, Allah says,

  • "O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies. That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as to not be annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful." [33:59]

as well in 24:30-31,

  • "Tell the believing men to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts, etc.). That is purer for them. Verily, Allah is All-Aware of what they do." [24:30]
  • "And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts, etc.) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like palms of hands or one eye or both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer dress like veil, gloves, head-cover, apron, etc.), and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms, etc.) and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husband's sons, their brothers or their brother's sons, or their sister's sons, or their (Muslim) women (i.e. their sisters in Islām), or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And all of you beg Allāh to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful." [24:31]

"…when a girl reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except this and this" and he pointed to her face and hands. This report was recorded by Abu Dawud but it should be noted that this particular saying cannot be attributed to Muhammad as the chain of transmission is untrustworthy.

Hijab, say its supporters, provides women higher levels of sexual security and protection. Consequently, it encourages men to respect women for their chastity, modesty and obedience to God.

Many non-Muslims and some Islamic reformers believe that hijab is unfair and oppressive. On the other hand, many Muslim women, including many in western cultures, state that they prefer to follow hijab as a sign of their faith and submission to Allah (not to men), and so that all Muslim women are respected equally rather than for their appearance, and as a matter of social responsibility. Critics point to family and community pressure on Western Muslim women as undermining the ideal of hijab as personal choice. Some feminists have argued that the veiling of women to bring them respect undermines the sexual and personal freedoms of all women, regardless of religion or culture.


  1. Template:Anb The word 'veil' is originally in Arabic word 'khimar' (خمار), other translation is head-covering, head-scarf in general as written in previous section.

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