Hijab is an Islamic concept of modesty and privacy. This concept is not unique to Islam, but embraced by other religions, such as Judaism (where the concept of modesty is called Tzuniut) and Christianity. The Islamic concept of hijab is most often expressed in women’s clothing. Hijab garments range from simple head scarves (called khimaar or simply hijab) to head-to-toe cloaks such as abayas and burqas. This photo gallery illustrates some of the many types of hijab clothing.
Although firmly rooted in Islamic tradition, hijab is not strictly defined in the Muslim holy book, the Quran. It is often a personal and cultural concept, not a religious one. Expression of hijab varies within the Muslim world and beyond. These verses of the Quran offer insight into hijab and relevant ideas about modesty, respect, privacy, and humility: Chapter 24, verses 30
; Chapter 33, verses 32
; and Chapter 33, verses 53
Public expression of hijab is a very controversial issue. It is, first and foremost, an act of worship among Muslim women. In the United States, wearing hijab clothing is a right guaranteed by the First Amendment—as freedom of speech and freedom of religion. However, hijab clothing has also become a potent indicator of identity, with many non-Muslims viewing it as a political statement. Some communities interpret hijab as a sign of Islamic fundamentalism, the refusal of immigrants to integrate into mainstream society, or the oppression of women.
Governments address hijab coverings in different ways. Some restrict wearing any religious clothing, including hijab, in public. Two nations (Saudi Arabia and Iran) require women to wear hijab coverings. Most nations do not have either restrictions or requirements concerning hijab clothing.
Consult the Fast Facts in the following tab for five examples of how nations try to address the expression of hijab.
Teaching about religion can be challenging. Charles Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the First Amendment Center, encourages educators to remember the “Three Rs of religious liberty”.
- Rights: “Religious liberty, or freedom of conscience, is a basic and inalienable right founded on the inviolable dignity of the person. In a society as religiously diverse as the United States, it is essential that schools emphasize that the rights guaranteed by the Constitution are for citizens of all faiths and none.”
- Responsibilities: “Religious liberty is not only a universal right, but it also depends upon a universal responsibility to respect that right for others, treating others as we ourselves desire to be treated. All citizens must recognize the inseparable link between the preservation of their own constitutional rights and their responsibility as citizens to defend those rights for all others.”
- Respect: “Debate and disagreement are vital to classroom discussion and a key element of preparation for citizenship in a democracy. Yet, if we are to live with our differences, particularly our religious differences, how we debate, and not only what we debate, is critical. At the heart of good citizenship is a strong commitment to the civic values that enable people with diverse religious and philosophical perspectives to treat one another with respect and civility.”
These “Three Rs” can be useful when teaching about hijab, clothing, and civil rights:
- Is there a dress code at your school?
- If there is a dress code, how does it balance the rights of individuals with their responsibilities to civic society?
- Hijab is a very visible expression of religious conviction. What are some other public expressions of religious or atheistic identity? (Answers might include: jewelry with religious significance, such as crosses; restricted diets, such as kosher or halal; or celebratory prayers at sporting events.)
- Do you think hijab or other expressions of religious identity are discussed with respect in your community? How could community members increase respect in the discussion? (Answers may include: a suggestion to spend informal time, such as meals, with members of a different faith or atheists; classroom education about public expressions of faith or atheism; or engaging in an art, such as a style of music, associated with a religion or spiritual movement.)