Welcome to the Exploring Modesty and the Hijab WikiaEdit

This is a student led research project to explore how veiling and the hijab are influenced by and written into culture and Islam. Our focus on the hijab is viewed through the lens of modesty. Modesty is a driving factor of respect and purity as well as a traditional aspect that needs consideration when examining this aspect of the history of the religion of Islam. This is a topic discussed greatly be Islamic scholars and by current academics, and everyday persons alike.

Describe your topic: Why We Chose the Hijab and ModestyEdit

The ideas of veiling and why women choose to wear or not wear the hijab was of interest to the members of our group. We were pointed to the direction of modesty as a concept that was needing of consideration when considering the choice to veil or not. Additionally, veiling can sometimes not be a choice so much as a compulsion or legal/cultural requirement. Within this wikia page we also explore the Quranic expectations about modesty, seeking to to use quranic verses as evidence for the use of the hijab. Next we looked at reasons for wearing the hijab which includes; Attitudes and cultural expectations as well as the political and legal aspects in regards to Islamic veiling practices throughout the world. Lastly, we explored Islamic feminism, women's choices, and theory in hopes to gain a better understanding of the concept of veiling through the lens of feminism and women's choice.

Qur'anic Expectations About Modesty Edit



The beginning of the Hijab:

"Muslims in their first century at first were relaxed about female dress. When the son of a prominent companion of the Prophet asked his wife Aisha bint Talha to veil her face, she answered, "Since the Almighty hath put on me the stamp of beauty, it is my wish that the public should view the beauty and thereby recognized His grace unto them. On no account, therefore, will I veil myself."

- Women in the Muslim World, ed. Lynn Reese, 1998

As Islam came to different areas, regional work, including the covering of the characteristics of women, were received by the early Muslims. Yet it was just in the second Islamic century that the face cloak got to be regular, initially utilized among the capable and rich as a materialistic trifle.

At the point when the Qur'an initially brought up the idea of hijab, it was not as a cover or headscarf. Hijab was utilized as a part of the setting of a hindrance or screen as in this Qur'anic verse:

"(...) And when ye ask (the Prophet's wives) for anything ye want, ask them from before a screen: that makes for greater purity for your hearts and for theirs."


Taken in recorded setting, this verse appears to have been essentially expected to give the Prophet's wives some assurance against disturbance guests and individuals who were searching for tattle about them. 

Gossip and criticism were an awesome worry at the time the verses identifying with hijab were uncovered. One arrangement of verses (24:1 onwards) came instantly after the Prophet's wife Aisha was blamed and cleared for infidelity.

Qur'anic Evidence of the Hijab:

“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.”


“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, [a list of relatives], [household servants], or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! Turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss.”




Men and women are advised to turn a blind eye when encountering one another and to honor their modesty. To honor modesty, one must conceal their private parts (i.e. women to cover their chests “they should draw their veils over their bosoms”).

Zeenah (ornaments) is another word that has various implications. It is believed that Zeenah deciphered to mean body parts, beauty, fine attire alternately strict adornments such as gems. ("O Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer...")

Jewelry is seen as a Zeenah for women because in the past, women traditionally wore ankle bracelets and stomp their feet to bring attention upon themselves as a way to attract men.

The phrase "what must ordinarily appear thereof" The expression "what should commonly show up thereof" has been deciphered in a wide range of ways. Among Muslims who take the word zeenah (trimmings) to allude to body parts, a prominent translation of this expression is that ladies ought to just demonstrate the body parts that are essential for everyday undertakings. This is normally taken to be the face and the hands.

A few researchers suggest concealing everything except for the eyes. The style of burqa worn by Afghan ladies even conceals the eyes. Muslims who restrict full covering say that if Allah needed women to conceal their whole bodies, there would have been no compelling reason to advise male Muslims to bring down their look.

Yet, "what must ordinarily appear thereof" could be comprehended as importance the parts of the body that are indicated when wearing typical (humble) dress, with the meaning of ordinary dress intentionally surrendered over to the devotees' specific time and culture. This could clarify why the Qur'an is not more particular: if God had needed to, he could have recorded the adequate body parts in as much detail as the rundown of exemptions to the guideline.

A few researchers decipher "what must ordinarily appear thereof" to imply that if a woman uncovered a portion of her body coincidentally, she will be pardoned. All concur that women won't be rebuffed for breaking the standards if some crisis constrains them to do as such.


Modesty Between Men and Women:

Men  Women 
  • Anything between the navel and the knee may is considered to be awrah and should be consequently covered at all times.
  • Men also must be covered from head to toe by wearing a cotton cloth material called a Dishdasha.
  • Men cover their heads by wearing a checkered cloth (in black and white or red and white) called the Ghutrah (Also known as Keffiyeh, Shemagh,).
  • Must not show her hair or awrah to a man who is not related by blood or her husband.
  • In front of male relatives, the awrah for women is, as well, between the navel and knee.
  • Anything from the navel all the way down, including the knees, is considered awrah in front of other Muslim women.

Important notes:

  1. A number of scholars agree that Muslim women must cover everything except for their faces and hands so that non Muslim women, who do not understand the the concept of the Hijab, from describing the women underneath it to other men.
  2. Some scholars state that if a non Muslim women is trusted enough, then Muslim women can reveal as much skin as they want.




Attitudes and Cultural Expectations that Muslim women face Edit

Fashion (Razan)

Differences between Veils and Coverings:

Hijab: is an Arabic translation for the word barrier. Although, in Islam Hijab has a more extensive importance. It is one of the ideals of modesty. However, the Hijab, in some sense, does not only apply to women but also to men.

Niqab: is a cover for the face that covers everything except for the eyes. Or women can wear a different type of veil for the eyes and is accompanied by another Hijab.

Bukra: Is a clothing article that covers almost everything from head to toe leaving only a thing material cloth screen to see through.

Al-Amira: is a two-piece cloth that includes of a form fitting top that is normally made out of cotton or polyester, and formed into a tube-like scarf.

Shayla: is a long, rectangular scarf that is worn by a majority of women in the Gulf area that is wrapped around the head and tucked in at the shoulders.

Khimar: is a long, cape-like cloak that hangs just a couple of inches above the waist. It usually covers the hair, neck and shoulders fully but exposes the face.

Chador:  Worn by numerous Iranian women when they leave their house. A Chador is a full-body veil that is regularly joined by a smaller headscarf underneath.

(14) (RAZAN)

10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman in Hijab

10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman in Hijab

(SOCCER PHOTO, FLICKR: MidEast Soccer blogspot)

Women in Workplace and Public Spheres (Makenzie)

In the video you can see on the right the woman spends five hours walking around dressed in "normal" clothing. Then she spent the next five hours walking around in her hijab. The two reactions were very different, when she was dressed more modestly in her hijab no one really made any comments. However when she was in "normal" clothing men could not stop making comments.

Disney & Discrimation (MAKENZIE)

Disney seems to have many cases where "cast members" believe they are being discriminated against, despite having accommodated more than 200 religious situations. (10)

One example is Imane vs. Disney, Imane Boudlal had worked for Disney for two years at this time. She is originally from Morocco and recently became a US citizen.
Muslim woman sues Disney for wrongful termination

Muslim woman sues Disney for wrongful termination

In June of 2010 Imane filled a request to wear her Hijab during Ramadan at Disney's Storyteller's Cafe in Grand Hotel California and Spa. She continued to check on the request until August 18th only to learn it was still being processed. This was the first time she requested to wear the hijab in the two years she had been working for Disney. Supposedly, Disney repeatedly sent her home without pay before suspending her for refusing to remove the Hijab. Disney pointed out that policy requires "cast members" to comply with appearance guidelines for their roles. Even though the union representing Imane, UNITE HERE Local 11, assured them that the Hijab would match her required uniform. Once Imane filed a complaint Disney offered her a back room position and suggested she wear a hat instead of her Hijab. The Disney representative assures that Imane was never denied the opportunity to work and Disney has worked very hard to accommodate her request. (10)

Another similar case is Sukhbir vs. Disney. Sukhbir Channa filed a $1 million class-action discrimination suit when he could not wear his turban or grow out his beard. The reasoning in both cases is the same, it breaks the strict appearance guidelines. Channa's position was a toy soldier in the Disney Christmas show so he is seen rather often. Sukhbir was hired on in 2005 and asked to wear a red turban then, without warning, told to shave off his beard and fired three months later. He wrote requesting his job back but received no response from Disney. According to Disney, he did not fit the look they wanted with the character and it had nothing to do with his religion accommodations. Although the character wears a turban Disney rejected Channa's request to wear one for his religious reasons. (19)

Political/Legal Aspects Edit

Throughout much of the world, the practice of wearing the hijab or even all forms of veiling as directed within the Qu'ran and by Islamic law/scholarship thereafter, for that matter is usually up to an individual's choice. However, there are several countries where the practice of some sort of veiling is actually required by law and refusal to do so my lead to punishment or imprisonment of the person. On the other hand, there also countries that have placed restrictions on these practices mainly for the reason of integration, secularization, modernity women's rights, and security concerns. (ALEX)

Countries where you must wear the hijab: Edit

Saudi Arabia: Founded in 1932 by the currently ruling Al Saud family and a group of religious clerics, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was founded on a religious pact stemming from Wahhabism. Many laws in Saudi Arabia are based off a strict interpretation of Sharia law. Within this legal framework, some of these laws focus on modesty and dress code. For instance, all women (local and even foreign) must wear an abaya (full body covering) when going out into public. In addition to the abaya, women must also wear a form of headscarf, many choosing the hijab, but other choices include the burqa and niqab. This is one area where foreign women are exempt from the law. These laws are enforced by religious police as well as volunteers who patrol Saudi cities and towns looking for offenders. (17)
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Although the country has strict laws in regards to modesty, the entire country is not the same in this sense. For instance, the capital of Riyahd is seen as being very conservative and all laws must be strictly observed. On the other hand, on the west coast in the port city of Jeddah, the attitude is a little more liberal, where one may find brightly colored abayas of many different colors, cuts, fabrics, and styles (17). (ALEX)

Iran: In 1979 after the Shah of Iran was ousted from power during the Iranian Revolution, a theocratic/ authoritarian government headed by the once exiled Ayatollah Khomeini took charge (9). Much of anger the towards the Shah came from anti-Western sentiment felt by much of the Iranian population. This new government declared Iran to be an Islamic Republic and created a constitution reflecting Islamic Ideals. In reguards to modesty and dress code, the first law pertaining to this was passed in 1983, making it mandatory for women to wear a headscarf and loose clothing (2). Failure for one to follow these laws would result in punishments ranging from lashings to possible imprisonment (2).

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Women in Iran donning several different types of veils.

Although Iran has rather conservative national dress codes as opposed to other nations in the region, there is a sign of possible change within the Islamic Republic. Recently, the current President of Iran Hassan Rouhani (a moderate) who officially supports the modesty laws, has recently said at a speech, " Is the way to promote chastity through vans?" Referring to how Iranian morality police round up women who break the law and jail them (2). (ALEX)

Countries where the hijab is outlawed: Edit

France: In 2004, the French Parliament passed a law banning symbols or clothes which display "religious affiliation" in schools. France was the first European country in 2011 to ban the use of face veils, including the niqab and burqa. This law also made it illegal to wear anything which may obscure one's identity while in public (burqa, balacavas, and hoods). In addition to security concerns, the stated reason from the French government for the ban was to "help everyone integrate" into French society. In regards to integration, former President Nicholas Sarkosy has said he believes Islamic dress turns "women into a prisoner behind a screen and deprived them of their identity" (16). These statements have caused much controversy among the muslim French community. (ALEX)

Tunisia: In recent years, there has been much conflict among the populace and government of Tunisia in regards to the hijab and other religious clothing. In 1981, the government of Tunisia under President Habib Bourguiba decided to implement a series of laws that prevented women from wearing Islamic dress (including headscarfs) in schools and any government building (11). Although this was a federal law it was largely ignored by authorities until a crackdown began in 2006 (16). Several reasons for the ban included the idea that the hijab promoted extremism and also that it was an "imported form of sectarian dress, that did not represent the cultural heritage of Tunisia" as stated by former President Ben Ali (11).

In 2007, a school teacher with the help of a human rights attorney went to Tunisian courts to challenge the hijab ban.The Tunisian court ruled that the ban was in fact unconstitiutional due to the fact it infringed on the freedom of belief and personal freedoms. Even with this ruling from the court, the government still publicly announced that they would continue to enforce the hijab ban (11).

After the fall of former President Ben Ali several Islamic political parties called for the for the repeal of certain constitutional provisions and articles. These parties supported the right for women to wear a veil and /or headscarf and supported the repeal of Law 108 of 1981 and Law 102 of 1986. Many women's groups however fear that due to these party's strict adherence to Islamic Law, many rights that women now enjoy in regards to equality may be evoked (15).(ALEX)

Overall, it can be seen that many of the laws in Saudi Arabia and Iran look at the practice of veiling from a religious perspective. Within this context they see wearing these religous garmets as being necessary to maintain a religious and pious society and focus much on modesty for the reason of wearing the hijab and other Islamic garments. However, countries such as France and Tunisia which have in the past introduced legislation which prohibits the wearing of the hijab and other face covering apparel in certain areas of society, do so on the basis of promoting integration into their societies and also to deter Islamic extremism.

Islamic Feminism, Women's Choices, and Theory Edit

Women's choice is a concern oft-ignored in debates about the hijab and modesty. Critics of the hijab and those who view it as a tool of oppression are likely to call complicit with their own oppressors for veiling. Such radical or secular feminist (or even muslim) feminists often can ignore the role of choice that muslim women have. Below women's choice, and feminist theory explore the intersection of modesty and the hijab and how each informs the other.

Feminisms and the Hijab

Feminist Standpoint Theory and how it pertains to muslims and veiling

Feminist standpoint theory in scholarship refers to how people acquire knowledge to their positions in the world (6). As it relates to islamic feminism and choice there are many academic theories and scholarship on the matter.

Clip of the Month- Mona Eltahawy- A Muslim and a Feminist or Islamic Feminism?

Clip of the Month- Mona Eltahawy- A Muslim and a Feminist or Islamic Feminism?

Mona Eltahawy discusses how she believes muslim women can be feminists to a western audience.

of how women and in this instance, muslim women choose to express ideology through their wearing of the hijab. This theory acts as a good starting point for why western muslim women wear the hijab. "Women are never fully controlled by these discourses but, rather, exercise constrained agency (Hallstein, 1999 ). Women’s shared disadvantage to men in society and, thus, their shared position on the margins, leads them to acquire commonalities of experiences" (6). Such common experiences with the hijab lead muslim women to: have a defined sense of muslim identity in which the hijab acts as a visible construction of said identity, check one another's behavior, and resists sexual objectification and exploitation, afford one another respect (and receive respect from muslim and non-muslim individuals) preserves intimate relationships, AND acts as a source of freedom. (6). (KALEB)

Islamic/Muslim and Secular

As Anna Piela notes, in some schools of thought "Muslim" and "Secular" feminisms are thought of in the same breath, while in others they are different. In other instances, 'Muslim" feminism (Pg 20), which originates "in a muslim state" is differentiated from "Islamic feminism" which is derived from the faith background and doesn't necessarily come from a primarily muslim culture. All types of feminisms have interjected themselves into discussions about the implications of wearing the hijab. (KALEB) (12)

Secular: "Articulate their feminism outside of the religious discourse." (12)

Secular feminists in muslim thought are often depicted as "radical feminists." In some instances, these feminists claim that women still are oppressed and though they believe they have choice, their decision to veil is just a manifestation of this oppression. As such, male domination would shift moral obligations in muslim women into a "false consciousness and become accomplices in their own suppression. (7) (KALEB)

Muslim feminists: Call for gender equality and re-reading of Islamic sources. (12) When it comes to understanding Muslim women in America and other "liberal democratic states" and their decision to don the hijab, it often comes down to how these women seek to express an identity, and to make a statement about one's self. (12). Early arab feminism stemmed in "the muslim world" from "indigenous and appropriated sources." It stemmed largely due to a "double struggle" internally against the established order and externally against colonization from European powers (10). (Kaleb)

"In contrast to Western norms of ‘‘appropriate’’ women’s dress, hijab covers most of a woman’s upper body, including the head, ears, neck, and chest. While hijab clearly symbolizes a woman’s religious affiliation, it also shapes Muslim women’s independent identities, often acting as an element of resistance to patriarchal norms and standards." (6)Some women feel that "modernization" is a hollow word when it comes to portraying Arabic and muslim women as oppressed. The hijab can be a marker of such patriarchal resistance. (Kaleb)

FULL VIDEO - Feminism, Identity, and Being a Muslim Woman - IlmSummit 2015

FULL VIDEO - Feminism, Identity, and Being a Muslim Woman - IlmSummit 2015

Women discuss their takes on feminism, with some parts of the conversation pertaining to choice, modesty, and the choice to veil

In "liberal democratic states," "feminist contexts their decision to wear the hijab is a matter of faith and identity and a political act of solidarity, but not one that alienates them from their kin and communities. Hence hijab becomes part of the fluid identity that is inclusive rather than one that delineates boundaries between Muslims and non-Muslims." (4) The hijab thus may bring together a litany of diverse muslim women under a common identity.

Islamic feminism:

Islamic feminism rejects western debates on equality for genders and works within Islamic frameworks. (2 Pg 20). New scholarship emerged in the 1960's and 1970's that stemmed from Islamic reformism. These new understandings of the Qu'ran implicated that time could have an effect on the meanings of the Qu'ran and sought to modernize their societies. "To them, Islam does not oppose human rights, gender equality, and respect for different beliefs, it is in fact the champion of human rights and human dignity. Proponents of this movement argued that the problem resided with the conservative interpretation of the Qu'ran." (4) Further, Ali Shariati in Iran helped lead this way of thinking on the basis that Mohammed's daughter (Fatima) and granddaughter (Zeynab) were shining examples of pious women who fought for social justice (2). None of these are clear-cut as Piela notes in her studies from Karam. Instead, these feminisms are in a "state of flux." (12) With "modernization" came new and complex understandings of modesty and what "equality meant." (KALEB)
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Women participating in protest refute the claim of veiled women being silent and oppressed. (Photo, Flickr) Gigi Ibrahim: Anti Sexual Harasment March to Tahrir

Trends in choice: Decline and Resurgence

Leila Ahmed makes note of, in her her book "A Quiet Revolution," about the scholarship of Oxford historian Albert Hourani. Hourani described Arab societies as "backward" in some of his writing. She goes expounds upon this, writing, "the notion that the presence or absence of the veil was a mark of the level of advancement or backwardness in a society--a notion that is assumed to be true in Hourani's text--was an idea that appeared in Arab societies in the late 19th century in the very book The Liberation of Women, that Hourani cites as having launched the unveiling trend in Egypt and other Arab countries" (pg 20-21). Qasim Amin's The Liberation of Women suggested Europe was superior for abandoning its older veiling practices and that Arab and muslim societies were backwards and oppressive for continuing them. Ahmed suggests that there were already influential grassroots movements that were leading the way towards unveiling, notably in Egypt (3).These grassroots movements were based mostly upon the workings of women, who exercised choice and utilized feminism to attain broader cultural goals. (KALEB)

Concluding Claims

Through feminist theory and different approaches to women's choice, there is a complexity in women's choices to veil, not veil, support, or not support the practice of veiling. While many women choose to express their faith as an identity marker such as the veil, others veil strictly on the belief that the Qu'ran requires their modesty. Others still like the ability to go about their day without the leering eyes of men around them, and the loose fitting conservative style helps them to go about their business without being hounded by what they believe to be impure eyes.

Footnotes/Bibliography Edit

1) Afshar, Haleh. "Can I See Your Hair? Choice, Agency and Attitudes: The Dilemma of Faith and Feminism for Muslim Women Who Cover."Ethnic and Racial Studies 31.2 (2008): 411-27. Web. 21 Oct. 2015. 

2) Aman, Fatemeh. "Iran's Headscarf Politics." Middle East Institute. 3 Nov. 2014. Web. 11 Oct. 2015. <>. 

3) Ahmed, Leila. A Quiet Revolution: The Veil's Resurgence, from the Middle East to America. New Haven: Yale UP, 2011. Print. 

4) Amjad, Mohammed. "Islamic Feminism and the Future of Women Rights in Moslem World." Northeast Political Science Association (n.d.): n. pag. Web. 20 Oct. 2015. 

5) BBC News

5a 9) Hijab by BBC (2009).

6) Droogsma, Rachel Anderson. "Redefining Hijab: American Muslim Women's Standpoints on Veiling." Journal of Applied Communication Research 35.3 (2007): 294-319. Web. 15 Oct. 2015. 

7) Grima, Nathalie. ""An Affair of the Heart": Hijab Narratives of Arab Muslim Women in Malta." ResearchGate. University of Malta, 2013. Web. 10 Oct. 2015. 

8) Heath, Jennifer. The Veil Women Writers on Its History, Lore, and Politics. Berkeley: U of California, 2008. Print. 

9) Iran Chamber Society "Islamic Revolution of 1979." Web. 9 Oct. 2015. <>. 

10) Moore, Lindsey. Arab, Muslim, Woman: Voice and Vision in Postcolonial Literature and Film. London: Routledge, 2008. Print. 

11) Perkins, T. (n.d.). UNVEILING MUSLIM WOMEN: THE CONSTITUTIONALITY OF HIJAB RESTRICTIONS IN TURKEY, TUNISIA AND KOSOVO. Boston University International Law Journal, Volume 30(529), 543-556. Retrieved October 28, 2015, from

12) Piela, Anna. Muslim Women Online: Faith and Identity in Virtual Space. Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge, 2012. Print.

13) Pritchard, J. (2013). Hijab. Salem Press Encyclopedia

14) Robinson, Robert K, Geralyn McClure Franklin, and R. H. Hamilton. "The Hijab And The Kufi: Employer Rights To Convey Their Business Image Versus Employee Rights To Religious Expression." Southern Law Journal 22.1 (2012): 79-88. Legal Collection. Web. 2 Nov. 2015 

15) Sadek, George. "The Role of Islamic Law in Tunisia’s Constitution and Legislation Post-Arab Spring." Library of Congress. 1 May 2013. Web. 29 Oct. 2015. 

16) Shorten, Kristin. "Burqa Bans Already in Place in Many Countries." 3 Oct. 2014. Web. 18 Oct. 2015. 

17) S.B. "Saudi Arabia's Dress Code for Women." The Economist. The Economist Newspaper, 28 Jan. 2015. Web. 21 Oct. 2015.

18) "Women's Dress." Muslim Women's League, 1 Dec. 1997. Web. 25 Sept. 2015.

19) Harper, Jennifer. "Sikh sues Disney over right to wear turban" The Washington Times. Web. 18 June 2008.

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Marching women

For many women, the hijab represents a way of choosing to express an identity. It is a point of personal pride for many. For others, it is viewed as an oppressive tool.