What Is an Arab Hijab?

The Arab hijab is worn by many women in the Middle East.
Rules about the hijab are discussed in the hadith.
While the hijab is closely identified with Islam, scholars and others debate its role within the religion.
In the Quran, "hijab" refers to a privacy curtain for women.
Hijabs are head coverings worn by Muslim women.
Article Details
  • Originally Written By: Jessica Hobby
  • Revised By: C. Mitchell
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2015
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An Arab hijab is usually broadly understood to be a traditional head covering worn by Muslim women in Arab countries or women who are of Arab descent and adhering to that culture’s norms and expectation. The word hijab generally refers to the modest and traditional dress of Muslim women, which is to say, female adherents of the Islamic faith. Hijab is sometimes also called veiling, and in certain contexts it can be interpreted as a more overarching dress code for women. Under this definition it can include not only head coverings but also traditional robes, neck coverings, and even footwear. Islam is one of the world's largest religions and includes followers from many different ethnicities. There isn’t usually anything unique about a specifically Arab hijab; in most instances the descriptor is more an indication of style than true tradition. Arab women may wear or tie their head coverings slightly differently, and the patterns and prints may be distinctive of the region, too. In terms of significance, though, it’s usually in line with the garments worn anywhere else in the world or by those of any other background.


Basic Concept

Modesty and piety, particularly among women, are often considered hallmarks of Arab culture. One of the ways that many women live into this expectation is by covering their heads, their hair, and sometimes even their faces when in public places. Some of this is rooted in Islamic faith traditions and teachings, but a lot of it is simply cultural and connected to the region and the sensibilities of its people. The hijab often falls into this category. It’s a covering, usually a long scarf, that can be folded and worn to concel the hair and neck, but almost always leaves the face free.

When hijab is used to refer to a dress code, it usually includes other garments besides a head covering. For example, the jilbab is a traditional robe that covers the whole body. It is often accompanied by a khimār, a cowl that covers the head and neck.

What Sets Arab Examples Apart

The way the hijab is worn by women in the Arab world is not significantly different from the style in most other regions. Traditionally, the headscarf completely covers a woman's hair and neck, as well as the upper chest. There are many different styles of hijab, however, even with in the Arab world. Some women choose to wear a headscarf in which most of the material is behind the head, and, in some cases, may even be tied up or gathered at the nape of the neck. Other Arab hijab styles include letting the scarf fall evenly on both sides of the face or gathering it from one side to wrap around the front of the neck.

Color and print is another point of difference. Some, particularly those in the younger generations, choose coverings with bold prints or fanciful designs, while others favor more muted, solid colors. Different occasions and events may warrant different styles and fabric choices, too.

History and Significance

The Arabian Peninsula, widely recognized as the birth place of Islam, is often mistakenly assumed to be the birthplace of hijab. In fact, the act of veiling is more commonly believed to have originated with women in the Persian and Byzantine empires during the spread of Islam. Traditional Islamic dress occurs throughout the world, but Arab hijab refers to the dress or head-coverings of women who reside in countries on the Arabia Peninsula, such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, and Kuwait.

Arab hijab can be viewed in countries in the Middle East and North Africa that also have been influenced by Arabian culture. Arab Muslim women in Levantine countries such as Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria frequently also practice hijab. While the North African countries of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Morocco have multiple cultural influences, hijab is also practiced.

Role in Religious Adherence

Although hijab is primarily associated with Islam, scholars and followers debate on its role within the religion. This debate remains visible through the adherence of hijab within different Islamic countries. Many Muslim women in Egypt and Jordan do not cover, while the law in Saudi Arabia requires that all women practice hijab. Although Muslim schools in most countries dictate modesty of both men and women, the practice of hijab varies from wearing plain clothes and a head covering to wearing a garment that completely covers the body, including the veiling of the face.

The Quran does not specifically state that women must wear traditional dress and uses the word "hijab" to refer to a privacy curtain between Muhammed and his wives. The interpretation of hijab as a dress code or head covering within Islam only occurs in Islamic fiqh, or jurisprudence, and hadith, which is a collection of traditions that have been recorded to provide guidance to Muslims.


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