Religion has always been a very significant part of people’s lives. Various cultures practice various religions and different branches of the same religion. The issues of beliefs have been argued about for centuries as they are a very sensitive topic for any person, who is ready to stand for their own values. Any religion has many aspects and layers, as it is a complex set of beliefs, norms of behavior, requirements and rules that the believer needs to follow and respect. Religions have various standing out characteristics and signs that make them differ from each other.
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Some religions have changed through the time and generations because people, who practice them, started to think that old customs and norms no longer suit the modern way of living of the society. Some, on the contrary, keep struggling for their original traditions and attempt to adjust the contemporary lifestyle to the rules dictated by their holy books. Islam is one of such religions. Islamic cultures are known for their ability to follow the ancient wisdom of the prophets and stick to these rules even though the modern world has developed its way to contradict with the traditional Islamic lifestyle.
Modern Muslim people are finding their ways to stay contemporary and to live in the globalizing world without betraying or abandoning their religious beliefs in spite of all the difficulties. One of the most significant visual aspects of the Islamic religion is the clothing Muslim people wear. These traditional Islamic garments have caused a lot of interest as well as a lot of arguments and debates all over the world.
The attitude towards various types of Islamic clothing for women is different across all of the Islamic countries and cultures, and since due to the process of globalization many of Muslim immigrants have moved to other countries the subject of the traditional clothing in Islam is currently discussed in almost every corner of the world.
Islam is a complicated set of beliefs and it includes the rules for all aspects of lives of the believers. One of the well known rules that are applied to all true Muslims is modesty. This trait is necessary for both men and women. Various laws and rules have derived from this requirement of Islam. Most of these rules explain, which body parts people of both sexes need to cover, as well as the prohibition of looking at certain body parts of other people. Basically, the rules of Islam say that it is not permitted to the believers to be bare without a necessity.
The only cases of necessity are bathing or responding to the call of nature (Maghiniyyah, n. d, par. 3). The rules also mention that the individuals ought not to expose or look at their own private parts even when there is no one around. The areas people should cover in different circumstances are varied. For example, a modest Muslim woman must cover everything from her navel and down to her knees, when she is surrounded by people of the same sex.
At the same time, when she is alone with her husband, she is required to cover her whole body, but leave her hands and her head unveiled. For Muslim men the minimal area that must always be covered is also the area that is between the navel and the knees.
Of course, these rules and manners have influenced the way people that practice Islam dress in their everyday life. There are traditional garments for men and women. The fashion and culture of the modern globalizing world have made an impact on the way these garments are treated; this is why various styles, colors and ornaments started to appear on the traditional Islamic clothing.
Yet, the basic elements of the dresses for men and women mainly remain the same and stick to the traditional rules. The concept of modesty in Islam is viewed as a notion that consists of two levels. Inner level of modesty is hard to achieve, it consists of the person’s morals, values, behavior, and way of thinking. The outer level of modesty is represented by the way the person is dressed (Hamdan, n. d., par. 2). This is why Muslim believers are used to covering their bodies in order to demonstrate their modest lifestyle, good values and high morals.
There are male and female types of traditional Islamic clothing that are designed to cover the bodies of the believers and provide them with security and comfort. Many Muslim people, especially women, say that they like wearing veils because this helps them feel protected. The contemporary world generates many arguments about the veils worn by Muslim women in different countries. The beliefs and views of Muslim and non-Muslim communities clash massively and this causes big discussions about the garments for women of Islam.
This happens because the contemporary western people see modesty as a demonstration of weakness and insecurity, and in Islamic countries the attitude towards modesty is very different, it is viewed as a sign of nobility, dignity and respect towards others (Stacey, 2013, par. 1). The purpose of veiling in Islam is to guard a woman’s honor.
The veil worn by Muslim women all around the world is traditionally called “hijab”. This word originally came from the Arabic language; its initial root was “hajaba”, which means “to conceal” or “to hide from the view of others” (Al-Zain, 2002, 1). Hijab is not only a way of dressing; it is a way of life too (Hijab, 2009, par. 2). Basically, the word hijab is applied to the traditional Islamic long dresses and head scarves that are worn by modest Muslim women. It is a well known fact that veils are common not only in Islam, they can be found in Christian cultures and in Judaism.
Religious people all around the world are used to wearing loose and long clothing that covers most of their bodies, women cover their heads and hair. These days, in most of Muslim countries the women have freedom to form their own attitude towards hijab. They can refuse wearing it, although, there is a certain social pressure that pushes the ladies to follow the traditional rules and cover their bodies and faces. Besides, the family of a woman has a serious power and can dictate or demand certain types of behavior in order to protect the woman’s and the whole family’s dignity.
There are six main requirements for the clothing of Muslim men and women. The clothing must cover specific body parts, be loose, thick and not see-through, its general appearance needs to be modest and dignified, so all the shiny and colorful outfits can be worn underneath the main veil. The fifth requirement enforces people to stay proud of being themselves and not imitating others and their lifestyles. The final requirement dictates that the clothing of a person is always decent, neat and clean in order to put good impression on others (Huda, 2014, par. 6).
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There are several main types of hijabs. Traditionally, hijab is a square piece of fabric that is used to cover a woman’s head, hair and neck, it falls on her chest, but leaves the lady’s face open, and it is fixed under the chin with a pin or a clip. Hijab is the most common type of Islamic clothing all over the world. The next common type of Muslim garment is called niqab. This clothing is designed to cover the woman’s face completely and only leave a thin cut for the eyes. There also is half-niqab that covers only the lower part of the face. Chador is an outer garment that is worn in Iran and in Turkey.
This is a large piece of fabric shaped as a semi-circle, it is intended to wrap the body from the head to the toes, and it has no slits for the woman’s hands. In order to secure the clothing from falling down it is held shut by the woman with the help of her hands or teeth. One more type of Islamic clothing is called burqa. It covers the woman’s body completely; the veil that conceals the face has a small hole in it, which is covered with a grille that allows the woman to see through it. Moreover, these garments vary a lot in Asian countries; Muslims from India, Pakistan, Malaysia or Indonesia wear kerudung, a colorful bright veil, or dupatta.
The variety of these garments for women has different rates of popularity in different Islamic countries. A social research conducted by the experts from the University of Michigan has revealed that the citizens of many Islamic countries tend to follow less conservative norms of dressing for women. The researchers worked with seven Muslim countries and spoke with twenty thousand people in general. The question these people all were asked was about the type of Islamic clothing that citizens of that country found the most appropriate to wear in public areas.
The garment that was chosen the most was hijab made of white fabric that is designed to cover a woman’s hair and head, but not the face. This hijab was preferred by over forty four per cent of the participants of the social research. The least popular dressing was burqa, only two per cent of people named it the most appropriate clothing for a woman to wear in public. At the same time, the option that suggested no head cover at all only gained four per cent across all the participating countries. The countries that voted for this option the most were Tunisia, Turkey and Lebanon (DeNinno, 2014, par. 3).
The arguments about the clothing for women have recently become the parts of the most heated discussions all over the world, mainly because people of other cultures tend to view veils as the demonstration of oppression, based on the gender. Traditional Muslim explanation of the coverings for body and head comes from the desire to protect a woman’s dignity and hide her from the risk of becoming an object of sexual desire from the side of strangers.
Basically, the goal of wearing head scarves is giving women a chance of being appreciated not for the way they look, but for their minds, intelligence or characters. This is the goal that the Western society has been pursuing for centuries ever since men and women were given equal rights. Yet, the approach and the way of achieving this goal is different in Muslim and non-Muslim societies, which causes a major clash.
In the world of nowadays the Muslim society struggles with the laws that prohibit wearing hijabs because they cover women’s faces. There are multiple cases of Muslim women going to the court for having troubles with the law due to the habit of wearing head scarves. Such situations are very common in France, the United States of America, and Australia.
The first incident of hijab discrimination happened in 1989 in France, when students in schools were forbidden to enter the building wearing the scarves (Taylor, 2004, par. 7). The incident immediately caused a clash because there were two very different ways of looking at it. The argument quickly reached the higher political level and became even more significant. The confrontation between Muslims and non-Muslims in France grew rapidly. Non-Muslims saw the ban of veils as the act of liberation supporting equality, and Muslim people felt that their values were disrespected and mistreated, which was the opposite of equality.
Today the laws banning veils that cover the faces completely are being put into practice in the majority of the countries of Europe. In such countries as Germany and the United Kingdom there are no restrictions or official bans of the Muslim clothing for women. Yet, the schools in the UK are allowed to form their own dress code, this is why locally head scarves may be prohibited. Spain mainly does not forbid veils, but the city of Barcelona has a law prohibiting wearing a full face cover to public places such as supermarkets, libraries, state buildings and organizations.
Denmark has a law that does not allow that the court judges wear any symbols or attributes of religion, such as crucifixes, veils, turbans or skull caps. Italian communal decision forbids wearing burkas and niqabs, this prohibition works locally in several cities of the country. Belgium does not allow wearing the garments that hide the identity of an individual in public places such as parks or streets.
The mass protests that happened afterwards resulted in attempts to annul the law, but these attempts were not successful. French government forbids head scarves in schools, but allows them in colleges. Besides, an attempt to force a woman to cover her face is fined (The Islamic Veil across Europe, 2014, par. 8).
The countries, where the majority of citizens are Muslim, have also started to enforce laws prohibiting veils and head scarves. One of such pioneers is Turkey. The first tries to reject the veil started to appear eighty five years ago. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was one of the first people to characterize the habit of wearing veils and covering women’s faces as old-fashioned and non-progressive. Even though the head scarves are prohibited in civic places, the population of Turkey that mainly consists of Muslim people still prefers to follow the traditions.
The wives and daughters of Turkish political leaders always have their heads covered, when they appear in public. Other Muslim countries that have legally banned veils are Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and Trinidad and Tobago. The restrictions are various, they may apply to certain types of scarves, for example tightly tied ones, or they only forbid wearing veils in certain areas and places such as police and military offices. At the same time such countries as Iran and Saudi Arabia have do not allow women to visit public places without having their heads and faces covered.
The opinions and approaches vary across the Muslim world; various political leaders have different beliefs. Some of them consider following the traditional rules as a backward-looking phenomenon that prevents the society from becoming modern and developing, the others think that staying true to the traditional religious values is the noblest way to live because it enforces the correct morals.
In conclusion, it is a well known fact that religion and politics are the two spheres that should stay separated. The issue of veils is the aspect of modern life, where these two spheres overlap, which creates many arguments and misunderstandings. They cannot be resolved due to the fact that people with different religions beliefs, historical development, cultures and ideologies participate in the arguments and create influences.
People with hidden faces may be the source of insecurity for the non-Muslim community today. Besides, the traditional Western idea about the demonstration of equality of genders makes it hard for non-Muslim people to understand Islamic way of living. The attempt of Islamic cultures to preserve their original morals and religious values is definitely a good thing, yet the way it clashes with the non-Muslim views and opinions creates a struggle for both sides.
Al-Zain, O. 2002. Hijab Facts.
DeNinno, N. 2014. Is “Appropriate” Muslim Female Dressing Less Conservative? Survey Shows Countries More Lax on Burqas, Hijabs, Niqabs.
Hamdan, A. n. d. Women’s Issues: Inner Modesty.
Hijab. 2009. BBC.
Huda, B. 2014. Islamic Clothing Requirements.
Maghiniyyah, A. n. d. The Rules of Modesty According to Five Islamic Schools of Law.
Stacey, A. 2013. Dress Code of Muslim Women.
Taylor. P. 2004. Hijab Battles Around the World.
The Islamic Veil across Europe, 2014. BBC News.