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
As a New Muslim woman, I find the Islamic lifestyle fully responsive in every aspect of my life. Here, Salam Islam deals with different issues regarding women in Islam. Salam Islam is a platform to make those who convert to Islam, more familiar with the benefits that the Islamic life can offer them.
Islam pays specific attention to women’s rights in life. The important role of women in the family, in society and their huge influence in the world, has not been neglected in Islam, as well as their personal and spiritual life is strongly protected based on Islamic lifestyle.
Let’s quickly monitor what Salam Islam provides about women in Islam;
Muslim women’s life might sound boring for those who have not chosen the Islamic lifestyle. A new convert to Islam may find herself confused in different aspects of her life. Salam Islam explains that Muslim women, better than all other women, can enjoy their lives by having lawful fun.
The issue of the Islamic dress code or Muslim women’s Hijab is also discussed from different standpoints in Salam Islam. What does Hijab mean? Is there a history of Hijab in Abrahamic religions? Why at all should they wear Hijab and cover their hair? Is there a chance that one converts to Islam without wearing Hijab? Does the Islamic dress code change from time to time and place to place, based on the conditions of time and place?
Salam Islam also covers the important issue of women’s marriage. It tries to clarify women’s rights in the family, and their rights in choosing the right spouse. Since women’s dignity and respect is very important in Islam, therefore women are free to choose a spouse based on Islamic guidelines. It is explained why Islam will allow women to marry a non-Muslim man and live under his demand.
The issues of women in Islam are sometimes wrongly described and understood in the west. Some western people based on their shallow understanding of Islam, undermine the high status of women in the whole system of Islamic life.
Salam Islam tries to answer most of the misconceptions regarding the aspect of women’s lives in society. Are women in Islam inferior to men? Can they have a career? Why should they cover themselves in society? What about feminism and women’s rights in society?
Is there any practical and tangible model for the life of women in Islam? To answer this question, Salam Islam studies the life of prominent women mentioned in the Holy Quran and the history. By studying their life stories and events, one will be inspired to follow the lifestyle of such great role models to have a successful life like them.
Role models such as Saint Mary, Hagar; the Wife of Prophet Abraham, Fatimah; Daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUHHP), and Zainab; the granddaughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUHHP).
If you have any questions about Mulsim women’s issues, you are welcome to send us your questions.
There are always great people in history who successfully move through the stages of spiritual development, reach the top, and become role models for human generations. One of the shiniest examples of such people is undoubtedly Lady Zainab (AS), the daughter of Imam Ali (AS) and Lady Fatimah (AS). The life of Zainab (AS) was full of story.
She was born to a family formed by the Prophet (PBUH&HP), the most outstanding figure in history. Her parents were also great figures from whom the principle of Imamate originated . So Zainab (AS) shared with her brothers and sister the extraordinary position of having such examples to look up to, emulate, and learn from .
She had barely attained the age of seven when her beloved mother passed away. Her mother's death had closely followed her cherished grandfather's passing away. Sometime later Imam Ali (AS) married Umm ul-Banin (AS), whose devotion and pledge encouraged Zainab (AS) in her learning.
After receiving her father’s consent, Zainab (AS) married her first cousin, Abdullah, the eldest son of Imam Ali (AS)’s elder brother Ja'far al-Tayyar.
Although Abdullah was a man of means, she lived a modest life, avoiding luxury. Having been brought up under the direct care of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) and Imam Ali (AS), Abdullah was a man of pleasing manners and was known for his sincere hospitality to guests and selfless generosity to the poor and needy .
He never prevented his wife from accompanying her father, and two brothers, Imam Hassan (AS) and Imam Hussain (AS). It has been narrated that Zainab (AS) asked Abdullah, as a marriage stipulation, to always let her accompany Imam Hussain (AS); Abdullah accepted it wholeheartedly and some years later, also sent their two sons with her to support Imam Hussain (AS) at the battle of Karbala.
While still a young girl she was fully able to care for and be responsible for the comforts and ease of her husband, children, father, brothers, and sister. However, in her own wants, she was frugal and unstintingly generous to the poor, homeless, and parentless .
She found little of interest in worldly adornments, always preferring the bliss and comfort of the Next World over that of this world. Being Humble and of high morals, her main concern was to strive to please Allah, and in doing so, she avoided anything which was the least bit doubtful .
In fact, her character reflected the best attributes of those who raised her. In sobriety and serenity she was likened to her grandmother, Khadija (AS), in chastity and modesty to her mother Fatimah Zahra (AS), in eloquence to her father Imam Ali (AS), in forbearance and patience to her brother Imam Hasan (AS), and in bravery and tranquility of the heart to Imam Hussain (AS). Her face reflected her father's awe and her grandfather's reverence .
In the pure environment where she was raised, Zainab (AS) absorbed the Islamic teachings that the Prophet (PBUH&HP) imparted. Accordingly, she was endowed with an abundant amount of knowledge she shared with women in regular meetings in Medina and later in Kufa.
In her well-attended gatherings, Zainab (AS) conveyed the precepts of the religion of Islam as explained in the Holy Quran with absolute clarity, eloquence, and fluency. She has also narrated many quotes (hadiths) from her grandfather Muhammad (PBUH), her mother Fatimah Zahra (AS), and her father Imam Ali (AS).
Women’s modesty is of great importance in the religion of Islam. There are some verses in the Holy Quran that explain the necessity of the Hijab and modesty and warn people about it. Zainab (AS) always appeared in modest clothes in society and spoke firmly in a non-provocative way.
In observing such rules and principles about Hijab, she was exemplary, and so she became a role model for all Muslim women.
The life of Zainab (AS) was always laden with hardship, but she never feared to cope with difficulties. As a young and a six or seven- year- old girl, she lost her beloved mother, only a few months after her grandfather’s passing away.
Some years later in Kufa, she had to bear her father’s loss after he was martyred by a stroke from a poisoned sword on his head in the mosque while he was praying. Then she was faced with another hardship when her older brother Imam Hassan (AS) was killed by poison under the order of the Caliph of that time.
And the hardest suffering she went through was when she witnessed her younger brother’s and his companions’ martyrdom in the battle of Karbala. Zainab (AS)’s conscious patience made her endure all such difficulties just for God’s satisfaction. This kind of patience is achieved only through a strong faith in Allah.
Zainab (AS) had heard from her father say: “one cannot fully understand the truth of faith unless they have three features: awareness of the religion, patience through sufferings and good life strategies” .
Being raised in the Prophet Muhammad’s family, Zainab (AS) was fully familiar with the truth of religion. So she could not bear it when she saw the religion was being distorted and the insurgents, evildoers, and breakers of covenants defy the true Islam of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), promoted by Imam Hussain (AS).
She found out that the people of the time were absolutely ignorant about religion. Accordingly, nothing of the religion would remain except the surface if she had not informed the people of those oppressions and tyrannies. Zainab (AS), therefore, obediently accompanied Imam Hussain (AS) to wipe such improprieties and falsehood from Islam.
She would follow her vocation by revealing the tyranny of the oppressors courageously in her thought-provoking sermons in the court of Yazid. This would soothe the inconsolable women and children and help them realize that their sacrifices and devotions were not in vain. Certainly, if it were not for Lady Zainab (AS)’s dedications, the truth of religion would fade away.