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The word hijab generally refers to the modest and traditional dress of Muslim women, sometimes called veiling. In modern times, the word most often refers to the traditional head covering worn by Muslim women. Islam is one of the world's largest religions, with adherents of many ethnicities. An Arab hijab refers specifically to the traditional dress of Muslim women of Arab descent or the traditional dress of Muslim women who reside in Arab countries.
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.
The Arabian Peninsula, recognized as the birth place of Islam, is often mistakenly assumed to be the birthplace of hijab. In fact, the act of veiling was adopted from 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 also practice hijab. While the North African countries of Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Morocco have multiple cultural influences, hijab is also practiced.
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 all Muslim schools 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.
When Arab hijab is used to refer to a dress code, it 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.
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