Muslim Women and the Veil

The debate about Islamic dress such as hijab and head scarfs has fascinated political and fashion publications alike. Popular culture and political magazine Slate published a piece called “Hijab Chic” by Asra Nomani.* Nomani writes about American interpretations of hijab fashion (as does videoblogger Baba Ali and Tariq Ramadan). Her experience at a retail store for so-called “conservative religious women” reveals retailers as reinterpreting the veil to mean an important commercial opportunity. In presenting the view from a non-religious setting (at a fashion show) Nomani points out that in understanding the veil, what is revealed is insight into the people doing the interpreting.

Just as stories from Muslim women vary by age, country, and individual, there similarly are many ways to approach a discussion on the veil. There is no one Muslim woman who can represent the face of Islam. Nor is there a singular “true” insight into veiling to completely understand the faith of Muslim women. In one story that sticks out from Asra Nomani, she coins the term “ghetto hijab.” She uses the phrase to describe turning a hooded sweatshirt into a makeshift hijab when she’s in a hurry or unexpectedly visits mosque. Combining this single story with myriad other perspectives will hopefully open the way to a complete understanding of what veiling means to women.

Whether women choose to veil all the time, not veil, or improvise like Nomani, the point of posting stories is to keep an open-mind and listen. I’d like to do that here for Inside Islam’s discussion of veiling. It seems that sharing thoughts and stories about the the veil are equally (if not more) significant for understanding women’s experiences of Islam than focusing on just one perspective, be it that of feminism or of the mainstream media, for example. There are plenty of other Muslim women who speak out about the hijab and veiling as an expression of their faith, humor, and passion.

Inside Islam also posted portraits of Muslim women and the veil and additional resources below. Here are articles of interest to start and an opportunity to leave a comment. The article and glossy list will be updated and suggestions are welcome.

Article List:

A bit of black cloth” by Karen Estes (altmuslim)

Hijab Chic” by Asra Q. Nomani. (Slate)

I wear a hijab because I believe in non-conformity” by Hadeel al Shalchi (The National)

How to Bully a Muslim Woman” by Sobia (Muslimah Media Watch)

Spare Me the Sermon On Muslim Women” by Mohja Kahf (The Washington Post)

That Veil Thing” by Sumbul Ali-Karamali (The American Muslim)

The Veil” by Xaalen on reviews the book The Veil: Women Writers on Its History, Lore and Politics ed by Jennifer Heath

Article list was updated on January 9, 2009.

*Asra Q. Nomani is also author of Standing Alone in Mecca: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam in which she talks about her personal journey to Mecca and her rediscovery of Islam on the Hajj.


Burqa (also burkha, burka or burqua from ???? in Arabic) is an enveloping outer garment worn by women in some Islamic traditions for the purpose of cloaking the entire body. It is worn over the usual daily clothing and removed when the woman returns to the sanctuary of the household.

Hijab:is the Arabic term for “cover” (noun), based on the root ??? meaning “to veil, to cover (verb), to screen, to shelter.” In some Arabic-speaking countries and Western countries, the common meaning of hijab currently is of “modest dress for women,” which most Islamic legal systems define as covering everything except the face and hands in public.

The keffiyeh (Arabic: ??????, k?fiyyah, plural ??????, k?fiyy?t)), also known as a (ya)shmagh (from Turkish: ya?mak “tied thing”), ghutrah (????), ?a??ah (????) or mashadah (????) is a traditional headdress for Arab men made of a square of cloth, usually cotton, folded and wrapped in various styles around the head.

A veils an article of clothing, worn almost exclusively by women, that is intended to cover some part of the head or face. As a religious item, it is intended to show honor to an object or space.

Source: Wikipedia

2 thoughts on “Muslim Women and the Veil

  1. Great photos, they really serve to illustrate your points well. It just goes to show that fashion is in the eye of the beholder. Whilst I liked certain aspects on the design, some I would not wear.

  2. Nice post Kaitlin. I apparently have been wrong in referring to more than one keffiyeh as keffiyehs. I will be sure to address them as kufiyyat in the future. Thanks.