What is Hijab & Why do women wear hijab?
Hijab is an Arabic word meaning barrier or partition.
In Islam, however, it has a broader meaning. It is the principle of modesty and includes behaviour as well as dress for both males and females.
The most visible form of hijab is the head covering that many Muslim women wear. Hijab however goes beyond the head scarf. In one popular school of Islamic thought, hijab refers to the complete covering of everything except the hands, face and feet in long, loose and non see-through garments. A woman who wears hijab is called Muhaajaba.
Muslim women are required to observe the hijab in front of any man they could theoretically marry. This means that hijab is not obligatory in front of the father, brothers, grandfathers, uncles or young children.
Hijab in Scripture & History
What the Qur'an says about the veil and modesty
The Qur'an makes a few references to Muslim clothing, but prefers to point out more general principles of modest dress.
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; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, [a list of relatives], [household servants], or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss.
Both men and women are commanded to lower their gaze and "guard their modesty".
O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful.
This verse is directed to all Muslim women. An alternative translation is "they should lengthen their garments".
The word translated here as "outer garments" is jalabib, the plural of jilbab. But it does not necessarily refer to the present day garment known as jilbab. Translators usually represent the word jalabib with general terms like cloaks or outer garments.
The two most common scholarly interpretations of jilbab are a travelling coat or cloak and a sheet-like full body garment.
The Qur'an gives these general rules, which may help in understanding how to interpret dress and other rules in modern times.
O ye Children of Adam! We have bestowed raiment upon you to cover your shame, as well as to be an adornment to you. But the raiment of righteousness,- that is the best. Such are among the Signs of Allah, that they may receive admonition!
So clothing does not have to be drab: it is all right for both sexes to use clothing to enhance beauty as well as to cover nakedness. The most important thing is to be modest and righteous.