Modern Islamic Dress
MODERN ISLAMIC DRESS
Islamic dress, also called hijab, or veiling, is worn by Muslims in modern Islamic countries and by many Muslims who live in countries that are not primarily Islamic. Developed from statements found in the Islamic holy book, the Koran, the rules of Muslim dress mainly call for modesty and simplicity in clothes. In general, Islamic dress consists of loose clothing that covers the body and the head, but there is no one type of clothing for all Muslim people. Some governments, religious leaders, and sects of Islam often have very strict modesty requirements. At the same time, in urban areas, such as Cairo, the capital of Egypt, the standards of modest dress are often looser, allowing for more Western styles of clothing. However, most devout Muslims try to follow some version of the rules of modesty first laid down in the words of the Koran and by the prophet Muhammad (c. 570–632), founder of Islam.
The rules of modesty are somewhat different for women than for men. Both are required to wear loose clothing that does not cling and reveal the shape of the body. However, while it is believed that Muhammad ordered women to cover all of their bodies except the face and hands, men were only commanded to cover the area between their navel and their knees. However, in most modern Islamic societies men are expected to cover their legs and arms, just as women are. Men were also forbidden to wear silk and gold, while women were allowed to wear them. Since part of modesty is not showing off one's wealth, Islamic dress is not ornate or expensively decorated, but clothing is usually simple and little jewelry or makeup is worn. Modesty also means not displaying pride or vanity about one's lack of wealth, so ragged clothes are also frowned upon by the rules of Islamic dress.
In a modern urban society, such as that of many Middle Eastern cities, women's Islamic dress usually consists of a skirt that reaches the ankles, a long-sleeved shirt, and a headscarf, also called a hijab. Some women may wear a Western-style jacket over their blouse, and many wear slacks or jeans with a long-sleeved shirt and hijab. Muslim men in cities also usually wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts, much the same way most Western men do. It is generally considered unacceptable for men to wear shorts or go shirtless. In rural areas, and in some conservative countries like Iran in the 1980s and Afghanistan in the 1990s, dress rules have often been stricter. Women may be required to cover their faces as well as their heads, and men may wear ankle-length, loose robes called galabiyyas. In some areas men also cover their heads with scarves or turbans.
Though some in the West assume that Muslim women must be forced to veil themselves and obey the rules of Islamic dress, many Muslim women see things quite differently. To them, Islamic dress represents an Arab and Muslim identity in which they take great pride. They may feel safer both on the streets and in the work-place because their style of dress, which shows their religious devotion, makes it less likely that men will bother them. In nations like Egypt, which do not have religious governments but do have religious political parties, wearing Islamic dress can also make a political statement. On the other hand, there are women who rebel against the rules of Islamic dress and maintain they have a right to dress as they wish.
In countries that are not primarily Muslim, Muslim women who follow the rules of Islamic dress may be treated differently than non-Muslim women. People of different religions sometimes do not understand the rules of Islam and make assumptions about the political beliefs or lifestyle of women who wear a headscarf or men who wear a turban. Some Muslim women have even removed their headscarf in order to apply for jobs because they feel employers would be less likely to hire them in Islamic dress.