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Beyond the Hijab: the Different Styles of Head Coverings for Muslim Women

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Millions of Muslim women worldwide wear head coverings, some that include face veils, as an expression of their reverence and respect for the Koran, but also as a way to preserve modesty in public.

In the West, we usually refer to these head covering as hijab. A head covering can be simple and worn as a loose scarf over the head or a veil can be part of a whole body cloak that covers every inch of skin including the eyes. Culture of a particular area, and sect of Islam, can also influence what type of veil a woman wears.

The least restrictive type of veils are the shayla and the ameera, and are considered to be what Muslims call hijab veils. The ameera is on average the most commonly worn veil among women in the Muslim world. It is a two piece veil or scarf with a cap or underscarf for the head and a tube like loose scarf to cover around the face and neck. The shayla consists of a rectangular scarf loosely wrapped around the head and securely pinned at the shoulders leaving face and some of the neck exposed. Sometimes a woman may choose to even wear a pashmina scarf as a head covering in the same way a shayla is worn. Many women, no matter what type of veil they wear, will first don a cap or smaller scarf below a hijab; this gives them a chance to personalize the look of their covering.

Muslim women in their niqabs

Muslim women in their niqabs

Woman from Oman in veils with Batula type masks worn with their abayas and head scarfs.

Woman from Oman in veils with Batula type masks worn with their abayas and head scarfs.

Gulf Style: The Niqab

This refers to the types of veils commonly worn in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula like Saudi Arabia and Yemen but these styles can be seen elsewhere like the Middle East and Turkey. Women in urban areas wear different styles than so the Bedouins (desert nomadic groups) as well.

The full niqab is worn by Saudi women and is ubiquitous in their country. This is a highly restrictive veil that basically covers the entire head except for a narrow opening for the eyes. A half niqab offers a larger opening for the eyes and forehead while a closed niqab includes a fabric panel that can be lifted off the eyes and then closed like a garage door. The abaya is the full body cloak worn with the niqab. Most Saudi women wear the niqab and they endure severe consequences from authorities for not being fully covered except for their faces and hands.The boshiya (also bushiyya) is similarly restrictive but in this case is rather a gauzy veil that covers a woman’s face and there is no opening for the eyes. She might likely wear this with the abaya. Among less modern styles, the batula from the eastern Arabian Peninsula is a mask that is worn with an abaya or burqa and is seen in Oman and among the Bedouin like the Badu. The batula is made in different styles but may be constructed of rubbed indigo cloth or metal. The shambar style veil is also worn by Bedouin women and is a two piece veil consisting of a scarf and a headband worn around the head.

Iranian women at the Bazaar wearing their chadors

Iranian women at the Bazaar wearing their chadors

Iran: The Chador

These three veiled cloaks are all the same basic design in different lengths but the chador is most commonly worn in Iran.This is a is full body cloak that wraps a woman from head to toe with just the face exposed. It is almost always black. In essence, the chador is a long version of the khimar, the same type of cloak but only half the length of the chador, hanging just above the waist. Sometimes a secondary scarf is worn underneath the chador. The buknuk is shortened version of the khimar and is shoulder length – it could be worn with a cloak or abaya.

Central Asia: Pakistan and Afghanistan

The Burqa

Also called the chadari or chadri, the burqa is one of the most concealing coverings in the Muslim world worn today and is a garment that covers the head, neck and face in entirety with a mesh panel to allow for vision. They are generally made of a lightweight material like silk or nylon. The Taliban of Afghanistan demand that all women wear the burqa and while they are no longer the overlords of the country, most Afghan women still adhere to this dress code. The Afghan burqa is commonly blue with embroidered detailing. Burqas are also worn in other countries like in the Pushtun region of Pakistan or even in Saudi Arabia where a Badu bedouin style Burqa is worn with a batula mask. Women in some ultra-orthodox Jewish sects in Isreal also wear a type of burqa. The paranja, similar to the burqa, was prevalent with Uzbeks and Tajiks in the past. It is a cloak with a secondary veil attached at front that completely conceals the face like the burqa.

India and Southeast Asia

The dupatta is worn not only by Muslim women for religious reasons but by many non-Muslim women in South Asian countries like India and Bangladesh. The dupatta is a loose fitting, multi-purpose scarf used for modesty, generally draped over the head and let to hang over the shoulders.

The tudung is popular among Islamic women in Malaysia and is a scarf, usually multicolored, drapping the head and shoulder but leaving the face open then pinned in front. Doa Guan, common among Muslim women in Indonesia, consists of a long cotton veil more concealing than the tudong, that are inticratly decorated and tied in back of the head

Other Styles: Turkey, the Middle East and Africa

An esarp is a silk square scarf worn by Turkish women, that is snugly wrapped around the face and neck. The esarp is similar to the shayla. In the Middle East, like Jordan, woman may wear a jilbab, or button up dress with a veil or a simple tunic shirt with loose pants or they might also wear a pull over dress called a thobe or kaftan along with an hijab. In most Islamic nations, many women will wear a version of the hijab, chador or niqab style veil that is customized to be fashionable or acceptable in their own particular culture. Egyptian women, for example, often wear a hijab but in days past, it was common to see Egyptian women wear a bur'a which is a long, rectangular veil hung in front of the lower face from just in front of each ear. North African woman may also wear other styles like the Algerian cloak the haik with a companion veil, a square shaped embroidered aadjar, or the similar Tunisian robe called the sefseri.

Female student in Turkey wearing her esarp.

Female student in Turkey wearing her esarp.

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