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A Glossary of Islamic Clothing

A woman wearing a hijab holds a baby
Yasser Chalid / Getty Images

Muslims generally observe modest dress, but the variety of styles and colors have various names depending on the country. Here is a glossary of the most common names of Islamic clothing for both men and women, along with photos and descriptions.

Hijab

A woman wearing a hijab looks through her mail
Blend Images / Getty Images

The word Hijab is sometimes used to generally describe a Muslim women’s modest dress. More specifically, it refers to a square or rectangular piece of fabric which is folded, placed over the head and fastened under the chin as a headscarf. Depending on the style and location, this may also be called a shaylah or tarhah.

Khimar

A woman wearing a khimar
Juanmonino / Getty Images

A general term for a woman’s head and/or face veil. This word is sometimes used to describe a particular style of scarf that drapes over the entire top half of a woman’s body, down to the waist.

Abaya

A woman wearing an abaya with colorful sleeves
Rich-Joseph Facun / Getty Images

Common in the Arab Gulf countries, this a cloak for women that is worn over other clothing when in public. The abaya is usually made of black synthetic fiber, sometimes decorated with colored embroidery or sequins. The abaya may be worn from the top of the head to the ground (like the chador described below), or over the shoulders. It is usually fastened so that it is closed. It may be combined with a headscarf or face veil.

Chador

Woman in black chador in mosque in Shiraz, Iran.
Chekyong / Getty Images

An enveloping cloak was worn by women, from the top of the head to the ground. Usually worn in Iran without a face veil. Unlike the abaya described above, the chador is sometimes not fastened in the front.

Jilbab

Woman wearing a jilbab and hijab.
Think Stock Images / Getty Images

Sometimes used as a general term, quoted from the Qur’an 33:59, for an over-garment or cloak worn by Muslim women when in public. Sometimes refers to a specific style of cloak, similar to the abaya but more fitted, and in a wider variety of fabrics and colors. It looks more similar to a long tailored coat.

Niqab

A woman wearing an abaya, hijab, and niqab.
Katarina Premfors / Getty Images

face veil worn by some Muslim women which may or may not leave the eyes uncovered.

Burqa

A woman wearing a blue burqa common in Afghanistan.
Juanmonino / Getty Images

This type of veil and body covering conceals all of a woman’s body, including the eyes, which are covered with a mesh screen. Common in Afghanistan; sometimes refers to the “niqab” face veil described above.

Shalwar Kameez

A woman wearing a colorful shalwar kameez
Rhapsode / Getty Images

Worn by both men and women primarily in the Indian subcontinent, this is a pair of loose trousers that are worn with a long tunic.

Thobe

Men wearing thobes in a marketplace
Moritz Wolf / Getty Images

A long robe worn by Muslim men. The top is usually tailored like a shirt, but it is ankle-length and loose. The thobe is usually white but may be found in other colors, especially in winter. The term may also be used to describe any type of loose dress worn by men or women.

Ghutra and Egal

A man wearing a ghutra and egal
MajedHD / Getty Images

A square or rectangular headscarf is worn by men, along with a rope band (usually black) to fasten it in place. The ghutra (headscarf) is usually white, or checkered red/white or black/white. In some countries, this is called a shemagh or kuffiyeh.

Bisht

A man wearing a bisht over his thobe
Image Source / Getty Images

Islamic Clothing Requirements

A Muslim mother and daughter laughing in the park
Mireya Acierto/Getty Images

The manner of dress of Muslims has drawn great attention in recent years, with some groups suggesting that restrictions on the dress are demeaning or controlling, especially to women. Some European countries have even attempted to outlaw certain aspects of Islamic dress customs, such as covering the face in public. This controversy stems largely from a misconception regarding the reasons behind Islamic dress rules. In reality, the way in which Muslims dress is really driven out of simple modesty and a desire to not draw individual attention in any way. Muslims generally do not resent the restrictions placed on their dress by their religion and most regard it as a proud statement of their faith.

Islam gives guidance about all aspects of life, including matters of public decency. Although Islam has no fixed standard as to the style of dress or type of clothing that Muslims must wear, there are some minimum requirements that must be met.

Islam has two sources for guidance and rulings: the Quran, which is considered to be the revealed word of Allah, and the Hadith—the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, who serves as a human role model and guide.

It should be noted, too, that codes for conduct when it comes to dressing are greatly relaxed when individuals are home and with their families. The following requirements are followed by Muslims when they appear in public, not in the privacy of their own homes.

1st Requirement: Parts of the Body to Be Covered

The first bit of guidance given in Islam describes the parts of the body which must be covered in public.

For Women: In general, standards of modesty call for a woman to cover her body, particularly her chest. The Quran calls for women to “draw their head-coverings over their chests” (24:30-31), and the Prophet Muhammad instructed that women should cover their bodies except for their face and hands. Most Muslims interpret this to require head coverings for women, although some Muslim women, especially those of more conservative branches of Islam, cover the entire body, including the face and/or hands, with a full body chador.

For Men: The minimum amount to be covered on the body is between the navel and the knee. It should be noted, though, that a bare chest would be frowned upon in situations where it draws attention.

2nd Requirement: Looseness

Islam also guides that clothing must be loose enough so as not to outline or distinguish the shape of the body. Skin-tight, body-hugging clothes are discouraged for both men and women. When in public, some women wear a light cloak over their personal clothing as a convenient way to hide the curves of the body. In many predominantly Muslim countries, men’s traditional dress is somewhat like a loose robe, covering the body from the neck to the ankles.

3rd Requirement: Thickness

The Prophet Muhammad once warned that in later generations, there would be people “who are dressed yet naked.” See-through clothing is not modest, for either men or women. The clothing must be thick enough so that the color of the skin it covers is not visible, nor the shape of the body underneath.

4th Requirement: Overall Appearance

The overall appearance of a person should be dignified and modest. Shiny, flashy clothing may technically meet the above requirements for exposure of the body, but it defeats the purpose of overall modesty and is therefore discouraged.

5th Requirement: Not Imitating Other Faiths

Islam encourages people to be proud of who they are. Muslims should look like Muslims and not like mere imitations of people of other faiths around them. Women should be proud of their femininity and not dress like men. And men should be proud of their masculinity and not try to imitate women in their dress. For this reason, Muslim men are forbidden from wearing gold or silk, as these are considered feminine accessories.

6th Requirement: Decent But Not Flashy

The Quran instructs that clothing is meant to cover our private areas and be an adornment (Quran 7:26). Clothing worn by Muslims should be clean and decent, neither excessively fancy nor ragged. One should not dress in a manner intended to gain the admiration or sympathy of others.

Beyond the Clothing: Behaviors and Manners

Islamic clothing is but one aspect of modesty. More importantly, one must be modest in behavior, manners, speech, and appearance in public. The dress is only one aspect of the total being and one that merely reflects what is present on the inside of a person’s heart.

Is Islamic Clothing Restrictive?

Islamic dress sometimes draws criticism from non-Muslims; however, dress requirements are not meant to be restrictive for either men or women. Most Muslims who wear a modest dress do not find it impractical in any way, and they are able to easily continue with their activities in all levels and walks of life

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