Apologetics Index

Muslim Veils — from Hijab to Burqa

Muslim women wearing various style of veils

Muslim women in Amsterdam, wearing different styles of veils

The word hijab comes from the Arabic for ‘veil’ and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women.

These scarves, regarded by many — though certainly not all — Muslims as a symbol of both religion and womanhood, come in a myriad of styles and colours.

The veil covers at the very least the hair and the neck. It is usually worn outside the house, as well as in any place where non-related male adults are present.

Muslims scholars say hijab also has a wider meaning: that of modesty, privacy, and morality.

There is debate among Muslims as to whether or not the Quran, Islam’s holy book, actually requires that women wear a hijab.

In some Muslim countries the hijab may not be worn in public buildings.

Some Western countries forbid certain veils, usually the Burqa and/or the Niqab, from being worn in public buildings and/or other public places. See, for instance,

Hijab: Different Styles of Muslim Veils


Potent symbol

The type most commonly worn in the West is a square scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear.

Al-Amira and Shayla

Popular Styles

The al-amira is a two-piece veil. It consists of a close fitting cap, usually made from cotton or polyester, and an accompanying tube-like scarf.

The shayla is a long, rectangular scarf popular in the Gulf region. It is wrapped around the head and tucked or pinned in place at the shoulders.

Khimar and Chador

Covering up

The khimar is a long, cape-like veil that hangs down to just above the waist. It covers the hair, neck and shoulders completely, but leaves the face clear.

The chador, worn by Iranian women when outside the house, is a full-body cloak. It is often accompanied by a smaller headscarf underneath.

Niqab and Burqa

Conservative choice

The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. However, this may be obscured by a separate eye veil. It is worn with an accompanying headscarf, such as a khimar.

The burqa is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through.

– Source: BBC

Various Muslim head coverings explained

Different Muslim Head Coverings Explained

Muslim Dress Code: Opinions Vary

Opinions among Muslims on what style of dress is appropriate for women in public vary from country to country, a survey by University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research showed.

Regarding the results of that survey, the Pew Research Center writes

A recent survey from the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research conducted in seven Muslim-majority countries (Tunisia, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Turkey), finds that most people prefer that a woman completely cover her hair, but not necessarily her face. Only in Turkey and Lebanon do more than one-in-four think it is appropriate for a woman to not cover her head at all in public.

The survey treated the question of women’s dress as a visual preference. Each respondent was given a card depicting six styles of women’s headdress and asked to choose the woman most appropriately outfitted for a public place. Although no labels were included on the card, the styles ranged from a fully-hooded burqa (woman #1) and niqab (#2) to the less conservative hijab (women #4 and #5). There was also the option of a woman wearing no head covering of any type.
– Source: Pew Research Center, How people in Muslim countries prefer women to dress in public, January 8, 2014

Islamic dress code survey results

Daily Mail article on the results of a Pew Research Center survey regarding Muslim views on appropriate dress

What does the Quran really say about a Muslim woman’s hijab?

What does the Quran really say about a Muslim woman's hijab? | Samina Ali | TEDxUniversityofNevada
In recent times, the resurgence of the hijab along with various countries’ enforcement of it has led many to believe that Muslim women are required by their faith to wear the hijab. In this informative talk, novelist Samina Ali takes us on a journey back to Prophet Muhammad’s time to reveal what the term “hijab” really means — and it’s not the Muslim woman’s veil! So what does “hijab” actually mean, if not the veil, and how have fundamentalists conflated the term to deny women their rights? This surprising and unprecedented idea will not only challenge your assumptions about hijab but will change the way you see Muslim women.
On wearing the hijab | Narjes Jaafar and Sally Beydoun | TEDxLAU
Two young Muslim women talk about the hijab: one explaining why she wears it, the other why she does not.
Anton Hein

This entry is maintained by Anton Hein, founder and team member of Apologetics Index.

He lives and works in Amsterdam, Netherlands, with his wife, Janet.

Anton’s interests vary from Christian apologetics and interfaith dialogue to reading (detective stories and lots of other genres) and listening to music — anything from jazz and oldies from the Sixties and Seventies, and pretty much the entire Radio Paradise playlist. He enjoys street photography, quality coffee, cooking Mexican food (complete with home-made salsas and moles), and working online.

Anton can be contacted via our feedback form, or directly at anton@dutchintouch.com

Article details

Category: Hijab, Islam
Related topic(s): ,

First published (or major update) on Tuesday, April 3, 2007.
Last updated on July 07, 2024.

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