Hijab primarily refers to head covering, veil or modest religious dressing used by Muslim women. Hijab is an Arabic word which means a cover or a curtain. In present times the term refers to an article of clothing used by women. The Quran has used this word to refer to a dividing curtain that provides privacy. The Holy Book instructed Muslims to address the wives of the Holy Prophet (SAW) from behind a hijab, hence giving the term the status of a curtain or a divider. The concept of hijab as an article of clothing developed later through fiqh and hadith.
The Quran has used other words synonymous to hijab such askhimar andjilbab. Muslim women must not reveal their beauty in public and must dress up modestly. According to the Quran they must “draw their khimar over their bosoms” and keep themselves covered. The concept of wearing hijab however, has evolved with time, and its importance, style and use varies according to the cultural variations in different parts of the world. In some parts of the world hijab retains its religious importance while in others people have restricted the practice of wearing hijab to a few selected situations. For instance, Hijab is strictly required for women in public in Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, in Turkey and France it is banned in educational institutions.
Muslim women must wear loose dresses that cover their body completely so that they do not draw sexual attention. They must cover their heads with a scarf, khimar or shaylah. Many scholars differ on how much of the clothing is required to fulfill the needs of hijab. Some agree at covering all parts of the body including face, hands and feet, others allow women to expose their face and hands while keeping the rest of the body covered. The laws for hijab are flexible for young girls as in many regions they must practice wearing it from puberty onwards.
There are different styles of hijab. Differences mainly are due to the differences of region and culture. Muslim women in the subcontinent, India and Pakistan, wear Burqa which is a two piece veil consisting of a head covering and a gown. Burqa is primarily black in colour but women use other colours to suit their taste and style. Women in that region also wear Niqaab – a veil covering head and face and falls down to bosom. Another kind of hijab is Abaya – an outer garment that covers women from head to toe and is usually made from black caftan. Abaya worn in the Persian Gulf region and the Middle East is often embroidered and bedazzled. Another two piece veil for women is Bushiyya – a well-fitting cap prepared from cotton with a tube-like scarf. Bukhnuk is another veil which is shaped like a raincoat but falls down to the bosom only. Its edges are often embroidered to look beautiful. Afghan Burqa covers women from head to toe and has a grille over the face to help women look through. Iranian traditional hijab is Chador – a large semicircle of full-length fabric to cover women from head to toe.
Like women, men are also advised to dress up modestly and keep their heads covered. Muslim men cover their heads with scarves or turbans. Kuffiyya or Ghutra is one such checkered head scarf. Taqiyah a crochet cap is also worn by many Arab men.
Modern trends have changed the approach of many men and women towards Hijab. Men dress up modestly and a majority of them refrain from covering their heads except for prayer times. Many women have taken up more trendy ways of observing hijab. Some do not wear traditional robes but cover just their head and face with nicely printed Shayla or scarf, others enjoy wearing embroidered and beautifully designed Abaya to the traditional black robe.