History of the Hijab – Exploring Muslim traditional dress

The hijab is a type of head covering worn by Muslim women. The word ‘hijab’ is also used in a more generic way to describe modest Muslim dress as a whole. According to Islamic scholarship it has a wider meaning of modesty, privacy and morality. It means curtain in Arabic and a meta-physical definition of ‘al-hijab’ is a veil which separates man or the world from God.

Hijabs have been a prominent part of Islamic tradition since the 1970s. Opinions as to how the garment should be worn vary from person to person within the Muslim faith.

In the Qur’an the hijab is not referred to as an article of islamic clothing for women or men, rather as a spiritual curtain providing it’s wearer with privacy. The Qur’an instructs male Muslims to talk to the wives of Muhammed only behind a hijab. The issue of modesty within the Qur’an applies to men and women’s gazes, gaits, garments and genitalia. Women are expected to wear jilbabs (cloaks) in public to prevent them from harm. Muslim women are required to wear the hijab in front of any man whom they could theoretically marry. Therefore it does not have to be worn in front of fathers, brothers, grandfathers, uncles or young children. It is also not compulsory to wear the garment in front of another Muslim woman.

Islamic modesty is interpreted uniquely by each practicing individual depending on their specific beliefs. Some women wear full body garments leaving only their eyes visible; whilst others only feel it necessary to cover their hair and cleavage.

The rules of concealment are generally relaxed for elderly women. It is commonly viewed that they are past the prospect of marriage and therefore may lay aside their outer garments. However, they still must not make a wanton display of their beauty.

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