Islamic Dress

Appearances/ Head coverings

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Young women wearing khimars.
Photo source: flickr: rana ossama

Most often, when people are referring to certain groups of people, whether it be by race, religion, culture, etc., they often pick out certain defining features.  These features are often used to stereotype people but they are not always true.  For example, Muslims are usually referenced by the head coverings some wear such as hijabs or burkas for women and the keffiyeh (more Middle Eastern than Islamic) and the taqiyah (cap) worn by males.  But there are many other kinds of head coverings for women in the Islamic faith.  The khimar, chador, shayla, and the al-amira are just a few examples in addition to the burka and the hijab.  The hijab is a one piece head scarf that covers the hair for Muslim women coming from the Arabic, meaning “veil.”  The al-amira is a two-piece head scarf with a close-fitting cap, and the shayla is similar to the hijab but longer and covers the shoulders.  The khimar is a veil that hangs down to the waist, covering the head to the shoulders but not the face.  The chador is a full-body cloak that often is worn with a scarf underneath.  Unlike the rest of the head coverings, the burka covers the face and body completely.  To those wearing head coverings, they have a wide variety of meanings.  For some they are a symbol of freedom, devotion, or religion.

Rabiya, a young Muslim woman, has her own reasons why she wears a hijab.  She decided to wear the hijab after attending Muslim school to show her obedience to Allah.  She said that the hijab is a way of keeping her beauty for her husband, and that men will be less likely to look at her as a sex symbol instead of as a person.  She also said it keeps your hair nicer and that it helps a lot on bad hair days! Rabiya has many different beautiful scarves to use and sometimes decorates the hijab with special jeweled pins.  Many were purchased in Pakistan, where her parents are from.

She found it difficult to wear at first even though she was a college student when she decided to do it.   Her mother didn’t approve because she felt it would make her less marriageable in this country and also because she was worried since Rabiya made this decision a year after 9/11.  Her mother wears typical American clothing, not related to Islam.  Her father did support her decision however, and that helped Rabiya feel more confident.

Rabiya also keeps her arms and legs covered.  She usually wears slacks.  Her neck is covered by her hijab.  When she wears a dress, it is floor-length.  She mentioned that she had been verbally insulted by passers-by when she wore the hijab, but for the most part, people respected her decision.  She said that once a woman tried to explain to her that in America, she was equal and didn’t need to keep her hair covered. She also said that she enjoys teaching others about the meaning of the hijab and sharing her own story because she wants to demonstrate that all Muslims are not terrorists and that she can set an example for making your own choices.  She appreciates the freedom given to her in this country to make up her own mind.

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Cute young girl in her al-amira
Photo source: flickr: agoolapulapu

Wearing a head covering is not mandatory in the Islamic faith.  Like many things, it is a choice similar to wearing any other piece of clothing.  All clothing essentially has meaning and symbols attached to it.  An example of this is clothing logos; they are symbols of corporations and usually a symbol of having money.  Some of the more expensive companies such as Louis Vuitton, Versace, Armani, Dolce and Gabbana are well-known for their luxurious style and high price.  And companies such as Gap, Victoria’s Secret, American Eagle, Aeropostale, Hollister, etc. are all examples of clothing brands that are well-known for their specific logos and styles.  Just by wearing clothing from one of these stores, you not only advertise for their company; the clothing also helps you to project qualities about yourself, just like you would when wearing a head covering.  Clothing for all people has important personal meaning and is a way of identifying ourselves with groups that are important to us.

Madanpura Muslim
Young Muslim boy wearing his Taqiyah.
Photo source: flickr: Meena Kadri

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A hijab actually means a boundary or barrier.It can also mean “to cover” or “to protect.” In the Quran, there are 16 verses about four different kids of hijabs. There is the ethical hijab, the spatial hijab, the visual hijab, and the spiritual hijab. The visual hijab is perhaps the most common type of hijab people think of. It comes up in two verses, and it is the modest dress for both Muslim men and women. This type of hijab is universal and is used in all kinds of religions. The ethical hijab calls upon men and women to be role models. It is the gateway to piety and modest behavior. Verses on this type of hijab also appear twice in the Quran. The third type is the spatial hijab. This is the divider between private and public life. In 19:17, it is used as a curtain to protect Mary’s privacy while she was giving birth. Lastly, the spiritual hijab is the fourth kind. There are ten verses about this in the Quran. This hijab inhibits consciousness, deafens ears, numbs minds, and prevents Muslims from overcoming ignorance. Humans need free will to overcome this, and this hijab exists to be eclipsed. Therefore, there is no “right interpretation” of reading the Quran and deciphering verses.

Sources:

“Not All Headscarves Are Burkas: 7 Types of Muslim Headwear for Women.June 6, 2011. Accessed December 4, 2014. http://twentytwowords.com/not-all-headscarves-are-burkas-7-types-of-muslim-headwear-for-women/.

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