Veils, Headscarves and Muslim Women
Why do some Muslim women wear a veil while others do not? Why cover the head at all with a headscarf? What does it all mean? And it is a symbol of oppression as some non-Muslims assert?
Here are some answers from Muslim women around the world (with thanks to River Garden Arts):
A Muslim Woman’s Perspective
Many people ask me about Islam and what it is like to be a Muslim woman. The question most often asked is: “Why do you wear that headscarf on your head?”
The whole stereotype that all Muslims are forced to dress like this is completely false. There are some Muslim women who do not choose to cover up and this is their decision. There are, however, many successful Muslim women who do cover up and have managed to become absolutely wonderful in their fields and still maintain the modesty that they chose to uphold.
Q: Why do you dress the way you do?
A: First and foremost, because Allah commands us to do so. In the Qur’an, Allah tells the believers to “lower their gaze and be modest.” Specifically, it says: “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them; and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; and that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their chests and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers…” [continuing list of family members and others in front of whom women are exempt from covering] (Qur’an 24:30-31)
Of course, Muslims believe that Allah has full wisdom and knows what is best for us, so we strive to follow His guidance in every aspect of our lives. Muslims have also discovered other advantages to dressing modestly, including: being known for who you really are; not being judged by your beauty or lack thereof; being able to conduct business in an atmosphere of respect; being readily known as a Muslim; liberation; comfort.
Q: Aren’t you hot?
A: In many ways, covering the body protects it from the heat of direct sunlight. In loose, flowing clothing, the air around the body flows freely and cools more readily. The choice of fabric covering the body is more important than the square inches/centimeters exposed or covered. On severely hot days, we might be uncomfortable as is everyone else. During those times, we find comfort knowing that we are following the commands of Allah, and “the fire of hell is hotter.”
Q: Do the different colors mean anything?
A: Muslims are to dress in modest clothing, without attracting attention to oneself. For this reason, many Muslims choose earth-tone colors such as green, blue, gray, as well as the usual black and white. Beyond this, there are no specific meanings behind the choice of color. Some colors are more common in certain parts of the world, based on local tradition.
Q: Why are there differences in the specific styles of dress?
A: While Islam outlines a code of modesty, it does not command a certain style, color, or fabric. The range of clothing you find among Muslims is a sign of the great diversity among the Muslim community.
As a Muslim woman, I like knowing when I put on the Jilbab (a dress like an overcoat which covers from the neck down to the feet) that I am totally covered and no one can see what my body looks like. This was a personal decision that I made to cover and I am proud to have made such an important choice for my well being and myself.
Most Muslim women today do not wear a full face veil. It is more common to see women in hijab, loose clothing topped by a type of scarf worn around the head and under the chin. Women don’t share a common style nor have the same reasons for wearing hijab. For many it reflects the belief that they are following God’s commandments, are dressing according to “the correct standard of modesty,” or simply are wearing the type of traditional clothes they feel comfortable in.
Q: Do men have a dress code as well?
A: Absolutely. Both men and women are commanded in the Qur’an to “lower their gaze and be modest.” It is generally understood that men are not to expose the area of their body from the navel to the knee. However, many Muslim men would feel shy to expose a bare chest or bare legs in public. As with women, men are not to wear clothing that is tight or see-through. Indeed, in many Muslim societies the traditional clothing for men includes long, flowing robes, or long tunics that fully cover the body.
Q: What about the legal issue?
A: Regarding the question as to whether countries (examples include France and England) should ban head scarves or not, it is interesting to note how TIME magazine portrayed this issue. Time wrote, “Though the proposed law, which is expected to pass easily, would forbid students from wearing Jewish yarmulkes and large crucifixes, its main purpose is to stop the increasing use of the hijab, or head scarf, among Muslim schoolgirls.”
Well okay and fine, but does any born-again Christian who really reads the Bible honestly believe that Satan wants to ban Muslims from wearing head scarves? Could it be that Satan, who hates God, wants much more to ban Jewish yarmulkes and any signs of the cross he can? The cross and especially the Jewish people are the points of his greatest hatred and animosity. If he can hid it all with something like banning head scarves anywhere, is that not his wisest plan? Let us wake up – Satan does not hate Moslems more than he hates himself, but his fight is against God, not against Muslims. He simply uses everyone as tools of hatred.
Q: What do these Islamic clothing terms mean? Hijab, khimar, niqab, abaya, jilbab, burqa, shalwar khamis…
A: Different terms reflect different styles of dress. Often the same clothing has various names depending on what area of the world it is worn. Here is a list and description of typical clothing worn by many Moslems:
* Hijab – clothing that follows the laws of Allah
* Khimar – triangular or circular head-scarf
* Niqab – facial veil
* Abaya – cloak over garment which covers body
* Jilbab – robe or coat that cover the whole body except head and hands
* Burqa – a garment that covers body from head to toes
* Shalwar khamis – roomy pants with a dress
* Chador – similar to a burqa
* Dupalta – a large shawl