Muslim women wear a variety of coverings over their faces.
Muslim women wear a variety of coverings over their faces.

Islamic (Muslim) clothing is a product of comments in the Koran about how men and women should cover themselves and is also derived from the practices and quotes from the prophet Mohammad. In general, clothing will vary based on the climates and cultures of different countries. The Koran does not say what, exactly, should be worn, only the impression that should result from it. This has left dress open to interpretation. Nonetheless, generalized traditions of dress have emerged, especially for women.

History

Middle Eastern woman wearing a headscarf
Middle Eastern woman wearing a headscarf

While women in the West show their arms, legs and body shape with their clothes, some devout Islamic women choose to cover their limbs, torsos and faces. The origins of this practice are not clear but the history of Islamic dress is typically told in a way that centers around the dress of Islamic women. Veils were used by women in ancient Greece and Egypt, in the Byzantine Christian world, Persia and India, predating Islam, with the purpose of covering women of status from the view of "lesser" people. By the second Islamic century, veils began to be worn, more as symbols of status. Eventually, Islamic culture adopted the use of veils as an interpretation of the Koran. By the 10th century, Middle Eastern countries had made laws enforcing the use of veils. Today, some countries such as Turkey have outlawed the use of the most dramatic form of Islamic dress for women, the burka. What a women wears today is a combination of her choice, community traditions and the level of adherence to tradition.

General Islamic Rules About Clothing

Muslim man praying
Muslim man praying

The Koran and Hadith (narrations from the words and deeds of Mohammad) have very general rules about how men and women should present themselves. Both men and women are told to be modest in their appearance. Men should not wear silk or gold jewelry. Clothing should not attract attention or be worn to show off. Clothing must cover the entire body with only the hands and face remaining visible. There should be no see-through material used. While praying, clothing should be plain and not distracting. Men's robes or shirts should extend over the ankles but there should be no trains to trail behind on the ground.

Hijab

Close up of a veiled young woman
Close up of a veiled young woman

The word "hijab" essentially means to veil or to cover. In addition to a veil, a woman also wears a loose robe that extends down to her feet. This robe is called an "abaya." There is more than one word (depending on the country) to describe this robe that is worn by women. Another word for abaya is "jilbab" or the plural "jalabib." In the Koran, it is specifically stated that women should draw their cloaks (jalabib) over their bodies when they go out.

Types of Hijab

Young muslim woman typing at the computer
Young muslim woman typing at the computer

The most basic type of hijab is simply a scarf that is wrapped around the head and neck and leaves the entire face exposed. These scarves come in any number of colors and patterns. The "niquab" is a veil that covers the entire head and face with the exception of the eyes and eyebrows. The "burka" is the most conservative choice for the hijab. The burka overs the entire face and head showing nothing of the women. A mesh screen is placed in the burka for the women to see out of. Some European countries have banned the burka; it is worn commonly in Afghanistan. Another way to cover up is by using a "khimar" or "chador," common in Iran. The khimar is a cape-like veil that leaves the face exposed, is wrapped over the head and extends down to the waist. The chador is a full-body cloak, worn with a smaller head scarf underneath. This too leaves the face exposed.

Styles of Hijab

Young woman wearing a shayla which is pinned at the shoulders
Young woman wearing a shayla which is pinned at the shoulders

Beyond the types of hijab, there are different styles of wear. For example, the "al-amira" is a two-piece veil. There is a close fitting cap made of cotton and a tube-like scarf that accompanies it. The style exposes the entire face, as does another style, the "shayla." The shayla is a long, rectangular scarf popular in the Gulf region. This scarf is wrapped about the head and is pinned in place at the shoulders.

Muslim Men's Dress

Muslim man standing outside drinking coffee
Muslim man standing outside drinking coffee

Muslim men have not imposed the same restrictions on themselves as they have for women. However, men too must also be modest and have adopted the use of loose, long robes. They are not expected to wear veils or cover their faces. Many Muslim men living in countries that have modernized their customs and practices have adopted the Western dress of button-down shirts and pants, despite the fact that many women still adhere to traditional Muslim garb.