Modern day hijabis

This is a new article on the modern hijabi phenomenon in Egypt:

CAIRO: For those unfamiliar with the Islamic practice of veiling, the many variations of the hijab found on the streets of Cairo can be perplexing. Why are some hijabs bright, fashionable — sometimes downright flashy — while others seem conservative in the extreme — solid black, un-textured, and designed to cover as much of the wearer’s body as possible?

Then comes the full-face veil, or niqab. Why do some women cover every inch of skin, sometimes wearing black gloves and eye-screens, while others sport body-hugging undergarments and designer jeans? Is there any doctrinal difference between the Islam of a woman who wears a niqab and the religion of a young woman whose Italian silk hijab is as much a fashion accessory as a gesture of modesty?

With these questions in mind, I set out for downtown Cairo on Thursday evening, where I spoke with women of all ages, wearing all sorts of different veils. What I found was surprising — I expected to discover a lexicon of terms for all of the different styles of veils, but the lexicon is meager at best. 

There is the niqab, of course, which is always accompanied by a full-length abbaya, the female version of the traditional galabiyah.  And then there is the khemar, which — like the niqab but without covering the face— descends over the shoulders, down to the elbows, and is also accompanied by traditional clothing in subtle colors.  Finally, there is the hijab. 

Simple enough, right?  Except that all veils — indeed, the entire practice of veiling — are part of the concept of hijab, which stipulates that Muslim women should cover their features and hair so as to discourage the lascivious gazes of men, allowing both women and the men to avoid sin.

In common parlance, hijab refers to the trendy veils worn by the younger generation — the ones that come in dozens of textures, dozens of fabrics, and hundreds of colors.  Compared to the niqab and the khemar, these fashionable hijabs, and the tight clothes that sometimes accompany them, seem nothing short of revolutionary. 

But the older generation doesn’t feel terribly threatened. “You can’t obligate the people to wear any particular thing,” said Mona, who wears a niqab, when I asked if she worried about the boisterous colors and tight clothing worn by most of Cairo’s younger women. Read the rest of the article on Daily news Egypt.

What do you guys think?

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3 thoughts on “Modern day hijabis

  1. caraboska says:

    There is a great variety of concepts of hijab, and various motivations for wearing each particular type. There is one motivation that I don’t see mentioned too often, and that is the idea of balancing the amount of coverage with the idea of of not advertising one’s devoutness (you know – ‘look how holy I am’). I think it is possible to be immodest about one’s devotion, depending on the choices one makes about how to do hijab.

    So, I think there are people out there who want to do the right thing and be discreet about it. And these will choose stuff that covers them, but is also pretty enough that it’s not immediately obvious how little flesh you can see (but without also having it be so pretty that everyone is fainiting at the sight of you on the street).

    It’s a very delicate balance, very tough to strike, and all the more so that it can evolve over time as we ourselves evolve.

  2. Sarah says:

    Interesting point caraboska, I know what you mean about people showing off how “holy” they are, although I suspect it’s more in a person’s attitude than in what they are actually wearing.

    One thing I am not sure about is whether there’s any value in covering an adornment (one’s hair) with another adornment (a beautiful scarf). Both can look pretty, and I’m sure the point of hijab is not to look ugly, but is there any real difference? Is a man really less likely to be attracted by you wearing a pretty headscarf? Perhaps it’s that for a woman, covering your hair prevents you using it flirtatiously?

    I’m not talking about loose modest clothing, I understand that that avoids provoking lust, and I generally dress that way myself 🙂 My question is about the purpose of the headscarf which is undeniably beautiful.

    (By the way I think I met you – caraboska – before on Cecilia’s blog… so many interesting comments there… you should make your own blog, I would read it.)

  3. ellarina says:

    hijab is goood bt it better be interesting and catchy

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