The meaning of the word hijab is the head covering worn by some Muslims in public. It may also mean the religious code that governs the wearing of the hijab, and while this may seem fairly straight forward, it is far from it. But before we jump into the world of translations and transliterations, let's learn how to pronounce the word hijab.
The word hijab is written in Arabic as الحجابwhich is pronounced as “huhjab” with the first Haa’ sound from the throat rather than the lungs. This may be difficult for a native English speaker as the Haa’ is uncommon to them.
What Does the Hijab Symbolize?
Across the world, in different Muslim cultures, the hijab symbolizes different things. There are a traditionalist view and a contemporary view on the importance and significance of the hijab across cultures but the theme that is common across the world, however, is the association of modesty and the hijab. Many Muslims view the hijab as a sign that they have given the choice of how much body to show to God, while others believe it is fundamental to living a pious life with no temptations.
Many women also cover their heads to mimic the lifestyle of the Prophet (PBUH)’s wives. As Reza Aslan notes in his book, the hijab was not a common practice in the 8th-century Muslim world, and women started practicsing it as it was practiced by Umm-e-Moimineen or the Prophet’s wives.
What is the Meaning Behind the Hijab?
If one was to translate the word hijab, it would mean to veil, and this is the simplest translation of the word. However across the Quran and Hadith, the word Khimar is used for head covering, and the word Hijab is used to denote a curtain or separation and is seen more than the head covering and as a blueprint for the modest lifestyle most Muslims adapt, especially in clothing. The word modest is an umbrella term, and is subjective, and applies to both genders. For example, some Muslims may wear loose shirts and skirts, or they may wear a jalabiya, a high neck long dress that extends from the neck to the feet; both are considered modest.
The four major Sunni schools of thought deem it obligatory for women to cover the whole body, except for face and hands (and feet for Hanafi Scholars). For men, it is designated to cover their belly button down to their knees. Whether to cover their knees and their belly button is unclear.
What Does the Quran Say About Wearing a Hijab?
The Quran has said the following about the hijab:
And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their private parts; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their khimār over their breasts and not display their beauty except to their husband, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. (24:31)
O Prophet! Enjoin your wives, your daughters, and the wives of true believers that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): That is most convenient, that they may be distinguished and not be harassed. (33:59)
Whether one chooses to practise Hijab, and how they choose to wear it is a very personal choice. But if one chooses to practice hijab, and are worried about giving up on fashion, there are many solutions. For example, modest formal dresses, modest dress pants, modest skirts, etc. Whatever one chooses to wear will look good when worn with confidence.