Hijab, burka, chador. How are these different from each other? Why do women wear them? With so many variations in shape, style and meaning behind each head covering that it’s easy for non-Muslims to group them into one giant stereotype. That’s why I asked Heba Jay, a New York City-based hijabi fashion blogger, to explain.
According to Heba, wearing a head covering is a symbol of faith and cultural identity, and abides by the Muslim law of modesty. Here are the most common variations of headdresses:
Hijab: The hijab is the most common type of head covering worn by Muslim women, especially in the West. The headscarf covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear. “In the Quran, God asks women to cover but it’s not specific, interpretations of it come from religious history and historic background,” explains Heba. “So when you wear the hijab you kind of get to choose to wear it whichever way you want, it’s supposed to be a connection between you and God.”
Khimar: The khimar is a long, cape-like scarf that wraps around a woman’s head and hangs down to about the middle of her back. It masks the head, neck, and shoulders but leaves the face clear.
Niqab: The niqab is a combination of a headdress and a scarf that covers all of a woman’s face except for her eyes. It typically covers all the way down to mid-back and is most often worn in Arab countries where it has become more of a cultural standard, rather than religious. The hijab is obligatory according to Islam, but covering the entire face (like wearing the niqab) is not. Heba is quick to denounce the idea that wearing any head covering is a form of oppression. “The one and only reason I wear a hijab is because I believe that God asks me to,” says Heba. “There’s this stigma that men make us wear these, but that’s not true.”
Burqa: The burqa and the niqab are very similar and are often confused. No only does the burqa cover the entire face, including the eyes, it also covers the entire body. This is the most concealing of all of the headwear since it extends from the top of a woman’s head to the ground. Women can still see when wearing burqas because the portion that covers the eyes is made up of a mesh screen. While that may seem a lot to cover up, remember that Heba says how much a woman decides to conceal is a personal decision. Muslims are and should be against forcing someone to wear a head covering. “Your family, your dad or your mom can’t make you wear one if you don’t want to wear it,” explains Heba. “You only wear it if you want to. And if you are wearing it against your will then that doesn’t count as modesty in God’s eyes.”
Chador: The chador is most commonly seen on women in Iran; it’s is a long cloak, rather than a veil, that conceals the woman’s entire body. Similar to the khimar, it wraps around the head but instead of hanging just to the middle of the back, the chador drapes to a woman’s feet. It is not clamped or pinned so women have to hold it closed themselves.
What are some other ground rules for wearing a headdress? Women can’t remove it in front of anyone they could theoretically marry, and they should begin wearing one once they hit puberty. And what do they do if they want to go swimming? Yep, they still have to wear a headscarf.
Yes, it is one more piece to worry about matching to the rest of your outfit, like shoes or a purse, but Heba tells me that she loves shopping for hijabs just as much as any other item of clothing. “I have over one hundred hijabs in all sorts of materials and pattern,” she says, giggling.
Top photo courtesy Heba Jay.
Published April 13, 2017
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