The term Hijab literally means a cover, curtain, or screen , and is generally associated with the Islamic rule regarding women covering certain parts of their body [i]. Considering this matter, one might face many questions and misunderstandings. Perhaps some of the fundamental and mostly asked questions are: “Is the concept of Hijab and the law of covering certain parts of the body for women limited to Islam?” and “Did such a concept make sense in the Abrahamic religions which existed before Islam?” One way of gaining a better understanding and a broader insight into this issue is through a detailed and accurate historical investigation of the characteristics and the treatment of Hijab in the Abrahamic religions of Judaism and Christianity.
It seems that covering certain parts of the body and maintaining a modest demeanor for women in society was of much importance in Judaism. The manner of Shuaib [ii]’s daughters toward Moses, explicitly mentioned in the Holy Quran, can best illustrate the necessity of acting modestly in the society for women:
“When he arrived at the well of Midian, he found there a throng of people watering [their flocks], and he found, besides them, two women holding back [their flock]. He said, ‘What is your business?’ They said, ‘We do not water [our flock] until the shepherds have driven out [their flocks], and our father is an aged man.’ So he watered [their flock] for them. Then he withdrew toward the shade and said, ‘My Lord! I am indeed in need of any good You may send down to me!’ Then one of the two women approached him, walking bashfully [modestly]. She said, ‘Indeed my father invites you to pay you the wages for watering [our flock] for us.’ So when he came to him and recounted the story to him, he said, ‘Do not be afraid. You have been delivered from the wrongdoing lot’” (28:23-25).
Based on this account, it can be argued that at the time of Prophet Moses, women’s modest and demure behavior was regarded as praiseworthy and respectful and a sign of their high status and distinguished personality in the society.
Moreover, there are some verses in Torah that name different kinds of clothing -Burqa or a veil covering one’s face- used by women as a kind of Hijab. In the book of Genesis, for instance, as addressed to Judah’s bride we read:
“And she put off from her the garments of her widowhood, and covered herself with her veil, and wrapped herself, and sat in the entrance of Enaim, which is by the way to Timnah; for she saw that Shelah was grown up, and she was not given unto him to wife. When Judah saw her, he thought her to be a harlot; for she had covered her face” [38:14-15].
As Will Durant [iii] puts, a common tradition for women among Jewish tribes was to attend public places with head-covers. This practice had to be followed as a rule and transgression from it would bring some consequences including divorcing the woman without paying her marriage portion .
Appearing bare-headed and without any cover for women, in some societies -e.g., the Far East and Mesopotamia- was considered as the symbol of inferiority and the characteristics of lower social standings. Moreover, women regarded the act of uncovering their hair in front of public eyes as a huge humiliation, to the extent that this act was performed in punishing the women who were guilty of a crime. Also, according to some Rabbis, women’s attendance without a kind of Hijab in the religious ceremonies and rituals was strictly forbidden .
From the chosen and highly respected women named in Islam, the Holy Quran directly mentions Blessed Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, the messenger of Christianity, as the embodiment of a chaste, modest, pure woman and a true believer in God. Her status is so high in Islam that one of the chapters of the Holy Quran has been given her name.
In addition, in many of the Christian paintings and portraits, the figure of the Virgin Mary has been depicted with a complete head-cover as well as a long loose dress. So, Christian women who follow their prophet’s mother and the laws of Christianity, have attempted to observe modesty and chastity in their social interactions. As Jurji Zaydan [iv] states: “If by Hijab we mean covering body, this practice was common before Islam and even before the emergence of Christianity and its effects still remain in the European societies.”
Furthermore, there is some textual evidence in the Bible that refers to this tradition and its necessity among Christian communities. In the Old Testament, the book of Genesis, it has been said:
“For she had said unto the servant, What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us? And the servant had said, It is my master: therefore she took a veil, and covered herself” [24:65].
And the need for head-covering in religious ceremonies has been emphasized by Saint Paul in the New Testament:
“Every man praying or prophesying with anything down over his head dishonors his head, but every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as if her head were shaven. For if a woman will not be covered, then let her be shorn! But since it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. … Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head uncovered?” [Corinthians 11:2-16].
The rule of celibacy for Christian priests and nuns -approached slightly different in the three main Christian denominations including Catholicism, Protestantism, and Orthodoxy [v]- though not accepted in Islam, is primarily and originally established to avoid worldly temptations and practicing self-restraint and modesty.
Also, the special kind of dress worn by nuns in churches which covers most parts of their body shows the emphasis of Christianity on the necessity of appearing with appropriate and non-provocative clothing in society.
Moreover, considering the paintings that portray western aristocratic females, as well as the literature of the pre-twentieth-century, it can be realized that wearing a suitable and modest dress by women represented their higher social standing and evoked the respect of other members of the society.
Up until the end of the nineteenth century, wearing hats and using long and decent clothing was common for women. However, with the passage of time, this tradition went through changes, and gradually the religious beliefs, and divine teachings of Jesus Christ faded away from their lives .
Nevertheless, in some eastern catholic and orthodox churches such as the Russian Orthodox Church, women are required to wear a head-cover when entering the church for attending religious ceremonies . In addition, in Continental Europe and North America, most women of the Christian denominations including Anglican , Baptist , Methodist , and Roman Catholic  use a kind of head-cover when participating the religious rituals inside the church.
With a brief look at what has been said so far, it becomes evident that the religion of Islam was not the inventor of the Hijab, rather this tradition had existed and practiced in different forms among the followers of the two Abrahamic religions of Judaism and Christianity.
The parallels that one can find in the characteristics of the Hijab and the philosophy behind it in these three religions reveal the fact that in a way Islam has only modified and continued this tradition. According to Islam, also, the practice of wearing a Hijab is essentially aimed to preserve the human value and dignity of women when interacting with men outside the family circle and to provide a secure environment where everyone, man or woman, can perform their tasks effectively and morally.
Moreover, the kind of Hijab that Islam defines for women is covering all parts of their body except their faces and hands [from wrists to fingers] through wearing a modest dress, similarly, as we have seen in the previous paragraphs, Jewish and Christian women covered their head and were encouraged to wear non-provocative clothes. So, Islam, the last and most perfect religion, revised the rules of the preceding religions and completed the teachings of the previous prophets by providing thorough and applicable instructions.
[i] Originally, the Quranic term used for this rule is “satr or satir—الستر، الساتر”
[ii] An ancient Midianite Prophet, sometimes identified with the Biblical Jethro. His name is mentioned in the Quran a total of 11 times.
[iii] William James Durant (November 5, 1885 – November 7, 1981) was an American writer, historian, and philosopher. He is best known for The Story of Civilization.
[iv] Jurji Zaydan was a prolific Lebanese novelist, journalist, editor, and teacher most noted for his creation of the magazine al-Hilal, which he used to serialize his 23 historical novels.
[v] In Orthodox Christianity “Priests and deacons may marry before ordination but not after. Bishops, on the other hand, must be celibate. While “the majority of Protestants do not require celibacy as a condition of election to the clergy.” Catholics, on the other hand, believe that “Priests and Bishops must be celibate, with the exception of Eastern Rite Catholics and Anglican married clergy who subsequently convert to Catholicism. These groups are allowed to have married priests” .
- Rizvi, Sayyid Muhammad. n.d. Hijab, The Muslim Women's Dress, Islamic or Cultural? Ja‘fari Islamic Centre (Tabligh Committee) Canada.
- Durant, Will. n.d. The History of Civilization. Vol. XII.
- HIjab in Abrahamic religion
- for more information about the changes in British women’s costume through ages visit: link
- Gdaniec, Cordula Cultural Diversity in Russian Cities: The Urban Landscape in the Post-Soviet Era.
- Muir, Edward (18 August 2005). Ritual in Early Modern Europe. Cambridge University Press. p. 31.
- Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches 2012. Abingdon Press. 2012-04-01. p. 131
- Morgan, Sue (2010-06-23). Women, Gender and Religious Cultures in Britain, 1800-1940.
- Henold, Mary J. 2008. Catholic and Feminist: The Surprising History of the American Catholic Feminist
The status of Fatimah, the most beloved daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) and Khadijah, is so great within the religion of Islam that our last prophet has said: “Fatimah (AS) is part of me, whoever annoys her, annoys me and whoever pleases her, in fact, he/she pleases me”  He has also said: “Fatimah (AS) is the leader of the women of the worlds and a role model for all Muslim women” .
The history of Islam has witnessed the immense respect that the Prophet (PBUH&HP) had for Fatimah Zahra (AS) which also reflects the importance of women in society. In pre-Islamic times when Arabs would bury their daughters alive, Allah revealed the Chapters of al-Kawthar, and Dahr with the birth of Fatimah (AS) to praise her .
According to some Quran commentaries, when the Quraysh tribe [i] said that the Prophet (PBUH) had no offspring, the chapter of al-Kawthar was revealed:
“Indeed We have given you abundance (al-Kawthar);
So pray to your Lord and sacrifice,
Indeed it is your enemy who is without posterity” (108:1-3).
Al-Kawthar means the abundant good, i.e., the abundant offspring that the Prophet (PBUH) would have through his daughter Fatimah Zahra (AS) especially after the death of his son (Qasim), which made the Quraysh men say he was cut off from male children. In fact, this was a reply to those people and their effort to weaken the Prophet's spirits just because he did not have a son .
Fatimah (AS), the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) was born on the 20th of Jumada al-Thani (the sixth month of the Islamic Lunar calendar), five years after Muhammad (PBUH)’s prophetic mission (Be’that).
After losing her mother as a young child, she looked after her father so devotedly that Muhammad (PBUH&HP) used to call her “Umme Abiha”, i.e., the mother of her father. This was a really hard time for the family because Abu Talib (the leader of Banu Hashim [ii] and the prophet’s uncle) who was the protector of Muhammad (PBUH&HP) from the animosity of the Quraysh also died in the same year as Khadijah.
So in Fatimah’s (AS) early childhood, there was no place for leisure and playing childish games. Rather, she fulfilled an important role accompanied by motherhood characteristics in her father’s life with all the suffering, mockery, and humiliation he was facing. She would comfort him, empathize with him, relieve his pain, and take care of him with kindness .
When it was the right time for the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), Fatimah (AS), to get married, and after her cousin, Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS) proposed to marry her, the Prophet (PBUH&HP) consulted with her and asked if she would accept his marriage proposal. In fact, Muhammad (PBUH&HP) wanted to encourage Muslims to also seek their daughters’ opinions and avoid wrong pre-Islamic beliefs about girls.
When Fatimah (AS) was asked about this (Ali (AS)’s proposal), she respectfully sought her father’s advice and the Prophet (PBUH&HP) said: “God has authorized this marriage”. Fatimah (AS) then replied that she was satisfied with what Allah and His Prophet (PBUH&HP) were pleased with.
Fatimah (AS) was the model of Prophet’s teaching among women just as Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS) was the best embodiment of his instructions and manly qualities among men; they were the most suitable couple to be married. So after receiving Fatimah’s (AS) consent, their marriage took place in the simplest possible manner .
A few days later, the Prophet (PBUH&HP) called on his daughter and asked her how she had found her husband. She said that he was the best companion in devotion and obedience to God. Later, he asked Ali (AS) how he had found his wife, and he said that he found her the best companion in giving service to the Creator.
Fatimah Zahra (AS) aided her husband in his worldly and religious affairs and cooperated with him in achieving his exalted goals. She was responsible for the household work; made dough, baked bread, and cleaned the house; in return, Ali (AS) vouched to take care of the outside work .
It has been narrated that once Imam Ali (AS) saw that Fatimah (AS) had been working so hard that she got blisters on her hands. He decided to ask the Prophet (PBUH&HP) for a housekeeper. But Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) said that he would teach them something instead that would do them better than having a housemaid. He told them to recite the Tasbih of Fatimah Zahra before sleeping; that is 34 times “Allahu akbar,” 33 times “al-hamdu lillah,” and 33 times “Subhan Allah.”
It is strongly recommended to say this Tasbih [iii] as a devotional act after each prayer.
God bestowed upon Fatimah (AS) and Ali (AS) four children; two sons, Hassan (AS) and Hussain (AS), who were the second and the third Infallible Imams; and two daughters, Zainab (AS) and Umme Kulthum (AS).
Fatimah (AS) portrays excellence in her role as a mother and displays a model for all the God-fearing parents in the upbringing of her four children. It has been narrated by a companion of the Holy Prophet (PBUH&HP) that one day the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) was busy grinding some grain when her older son Imam Hassan (AS) started crying. The companion offered to help her with comforting the child, but Fatimah (AS) preferred to take care of her son herself. This shows how important it is for a child to have her/his mother around her/him as much as possible since only a mother can truly soothe her child and no one else can be as much of comfort as a mother .
She always read passages from Quran when she put her children to sleep in the crib and so they all grew up hearing Quran from their infancy, and the words of God became etched upon their young hearts. Through such osmosis, the Quran and the children of Fatimah (AS) became inseparable for all time .
It has been said that this blessed family vowed to fast for three days if their sons recovered from an illness. They became well, and the family fasted for three consecutive days without eating any food giving away their Iftar (breakfast) [iv] to a beggar, an orphan, and a prisoner who arrived at their door and asked for food. The 76th chapter of the Quran (Dahr) was revealed in praise of this family and their extremely charitable act in the way of Allah .
“They fulfill their vows and fear a day whose ill will be widespread. They give food, for the love of Him, to the needy, the orphan and the prisoner, saying, ‘We feed you only for the sake of Allah. We do not want any reward from you nor any thanks.’ Indeed we fear from our Lord a day, frowning and fateful. So Allah saved them from the ills of that day and granted them freshness and joy. And He rewarded them for their patience with a garden and garments of silk” (76:8-12).
Fatimah (AS) actually showed such generosity and compassion for the poor that no destitute or beggar ever returned from her door unattended.
As well as being an exemplary daughter, a loving and supportive wife, and a caring mother, she played an active part as a very powerful, intellectual, and aware member of the society.
Along with all her feminine qualities, she was well-aware of her rights and whenever necessary stood up for them, instead of suffering like a helpless victim. She would make herself available for people who needed answers or clarifications on complicated issues. Her sermons and sayings are evidence of her strong character and noble mind.
She was also a very courageous lady who accompanied the Prophet (PBUH&HP) in many wars. Her genius, wisdom, determination, will-power, piety, patience, knowledge, and nobility, both in words and deeds, were inherited from her illustrious father.
In short, the existence of Fatimah Zahra (AS), the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), along with her skills of eloquence, her political and social expertise, and powerful foresight, demonstrates how a Muslim woman can attain high spiritual and mystical positions and how a woman can play different roles powerfully, and positively influence the course of history by her social contribution .
[i] A powerful merchant tribe that controlled Mecca and its Kaaba and that according to Islamic tradition descended from Ishmael. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) was born into the Banu Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe.
[ii] A clan of the Quraysh tribe
[iii] The repetitive utterances of short sentences in the praise and glorification of Allah.
[iv] The evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset.
A very significant aspect of Islamic life is “modesty.” According to the Islamic application of the term, modesty is a state of self-restraint which helps us check our manners and appearance, and correct them when necessary.
This general principle is also the main source of Islamic dress code or “Hijab” in Islam which has nowadays caused a lot of questions and contradictions both among Muslims and non-Muslims.
When talking about hijab in Islam, maybe the first thing that comes to your mind is women’s wearing a headscarf. But is it all that the word refers to? Does hijab also have something to do with our manner and behavior? Does it concern Muslim men as well as women?
You can read this article to find out what hijab in Islam is really all about.
Well, hijab is an Islamic ruling which is also mentioned in the Quran [i]. And submission to God, of course, means that we should follow His advice even if –or especially when—it is not really easy for us to do so!
Still, if a woman, for example, thinks that she can preserve her modesty without wearing a headscarf and is not quite convinced to conform to the Islamic cover limits –we all have our failures or our personal ideas, don’t we?—it doesn't mean that she cannot be a Muslim, or that she will not receive God’s mercy!
You can read this article to find out if wearing hijab in Islam is actually a matter of choice!
Islam has stressed on cleanness and tidiness maybe more than any other religion in the world. But does Islamic dress code or hijab place any restrictions on wearing makeup or jewelry? Are there special occasions where Muslims are prohibited from or, to the contrary, prompted to make themselves up?
This article tries to answer your questions with regards to wearing make-up and jewelry.
Some people think that Hijab and its implications are only related to Islam and Muslims. Well, it’s not. It may be the case that the special form of Hijab which is used by Muslims has some differences with other religions.
Have a look at this article, If you want to know more about the history of Hijab and modesty in the Abrahamic religions before Islam.
Really, why would women cover their hair? Why don’t men do this? What is that they are hiding beneath this Hijab? What is the philosophy behind it?
Is it useful for Muslim women or men? Is it only related to appearance and observing some religious etiquette? This article provides answers to this questions based on Islamic sources.
[i] Quran 24:30,31