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Hijab is the modern word for the practice of dressing modestly, which all practicing Muslims past the age of puberty are instructed to do in their holy book, the Qur'an. No precise dress code for men or women is set out in the Qur'an (the most specific part being 33:59 mentioning that believers "draw their cloaks close round them (when they go out)"), and various Islamic scholars have interpreted the meaning of hijab in different ways. The basic requirements are that when in the presence of someone of the opposite sex other than a "close family member" (Mahram), a woman should cover her body, and walk and dress in a way which does not draw sexual attention to her, and that a man should be covered from at least the navel to the knees, and similarly not wear figure-hugging clothes that draw sexual attention to him. Generally drawing sexual attention is only allowed between married couples—where it is highly encouraged—and they do not need to cover any part of their body in each other's presence (other Mahrams should hide at least their sexual organs from each other). It is claimed that hijab strengthens the family and therefore improves the children's mental health.

As a rule of Islam, "in the case of necessity, for example for saving lives or avoiding severe hardship, hijab rules are waived".

The way in which Muslims who practice hijab interpret the stated rules varies from country to country and even individual to individual.

The word "hijab" is also frequently used specifically to mean a headscarf worn by a Muslim woman. In this case, it most often refers to a square scarf which is folded diagonally and worn over the head to cover the hair, ears and throat, but not the face. The word used in the Qu'ran for a headscarf is "khimar ", which might be better to use when referring to headscarves in general, as many people argue that this use of "hijab" is incorrect, and it can certainly lead to confusion. See also: veil for a general description of headscarves and veils worn by both Muslim and non-Muslim women; and list of hats and headgear for a list of all kinds of veils.


How do people wear hijab?

Opinions on what exactly constitutes hijab vary among Muslims. Perhaps the most accepted and common practice for women however is the covering of the body except for the face and hands (wrist to fingers), in a simple manner that does not attract sexual attention from men (by avoiding sheer fabrics or figure-hugging clothes for example). Some have said that both sexes should cover their heads, wrists, and ankles; others believe that women should cover their faces as well.

Some liberal Muslims in the West choose to follow hijab by dressing in a way that would be considered modest for the culture in which they find themselves—e.g. western business clothes.

Why do people wear hijab?

Hijab is sometimes controversial: its proponents suggest that it provides higher levels of sexual security, especially for women. They offer as evidence the situation of Islamic countries regarding sex crimes, compared to other countries with same economic situation and GDP per capita. This, of course, is a specious comparison as there are numerous other variables at play which may account for the different rates. Some believe that hijab is unfair and oppressive. On the other hand, many Muslim women, including many in western cultures, state that they prefer to follow hijab as a sign of their faith and submission to Allah (not to men), so that all Muslim women are respected equally rather than for their appearance, and as a matter of social responsibility.

The Taliban practice of forcing Afghan women to wear full burqas (a garment which covers the entire body, except for netting or a grille over the eyes for the women to see out of) was described as cruel and misogynistic, however very few Afghan women chose to take off their burqas after the Taliban fell . Similarly the majority of Pakhtun women in the North Western Frontier Province of Pakistan continue to wear the burqa, even though there are no laws enforcing burqa-wearing in Pakistan.

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Last updated: 10-24-2004 05:10:45