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Hijaab: What it is, and what it isn’t….  

Mia Ponzo

December 9, 1999  



The first time I saw a picture of a covered woman I was intrigued. She looked so mysterious to me and I wondered why she was dressed like that, and asked. I was informed that this was the way that Muslim women dressed. I then asked why? I was informed that Muslim women dressed that way because in Islam “God” ordered them to do so…      But why?…because they are special.  “Special”…..yes. Well, I basically filed away that information in the back of my mind, but I never forgot it.  

Over the next several months, although I remained a typical red blooded American girl, I though of this “cover” from time to time, and sometimes felt even a bit “jealous” of it. Why did Islam care so much about those women… were they better than us?  Occasionally I would take a sheet, a scarf, or a towel, and put it over my hair and just look at myself in the mirror, intent in my desire to “crack” the mystery of it all. Or at least to feel what they were feeling… those special women who wore the mysterious cover on themselves. I did feel something, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was or what it meant. There was definitely something, though…

Sometimes I would get even emotional about it… I would actually feel a lump in my throat over it. How unusual the whole thing was!

Some time later, after discovering the meaning of Islam, and what it was all about, I embraced Islam in true belief (although that is another story for another time), and began wearing the cover in true, although I had limited understanding of what it meant to cover, based only on the very few little booklets that were available to me at the time. Back then, we felt extremely lucky to have even those!! Believe me! Since I didn’t know any practicing

Muslim women (or non-practicing ones either, for that matter), it was impossible to get a living example of what a real live Muslim woman looked like. So I made do with what I had, as I understood it. I had a scarf, and I sewed my own little Islamic outfit, which consisted of a jumper- type over-dress, a long sleeved blouse underneath, and pants, under it all. They were opaque, and loose, I thought. (At lease they were MUCH looser than my “painted on” jeans that I had always worn up till then)! I still put on makeup… because, unfortunately, that wasn’t one of the points that had been mentioned in my little booklets on hijab.

Later on, through osmosis, basically, I discovered that we should not wear makeup, and that our clothes should be loose enough not to decribe the  outline of our body. That made me graduate up to being totally embarrassed about my dress… I immediately went home and put together a “jilbaab” type overcoat in black. I felt mortifed by the fact that I used to go outside without wearing it up to that point, and cringed at the remembrance, feeling almost as if I had been walking around naked.

Some months later, I heard for the first time in my life about the fact that some women covered their faces too. That was amazing! I had never known that before! But why did they? I was told that it was something they did if they were very religious. That you didn’t HAVE to do it, but that VERY religious women did. Well, I wanted to be “very religious” so, perhaps I should too… when I mentioned this to my husband, he didn’t agree at all. I was confused. I then went on a quest for information. The more I looked, the less I found. They was absolutely NO information on the subject in English…. AT ALL. NONE!!!  I was at a loss. I knew there was something to this, I just felt it in my bones. But I couldn’t prove a thing. A complete blackout of information. Even at the masjid, when I asked a teacher, or sheikh, I would be brushed off, and told that it wasn’t important, and I should simply concentrate on more important things. Although I agreed that there were many subjects that were more basic and important, like prayer, and fasting and the like, I still thought that the subject of covering was equally as important (or nearly so), so why wasn’t there more concentration on it? I remember feeling so frustrated at the time that  I could hardly stand it. Imagine knowing something is true in your deep self, in your bones, but having absolutely no way of proving it, even to yourself!

Some time later, I began to cover my face, but without having even minor evidence to back myself up, other than the fact that I knew that the prophet’s (may peace and blessings be upon him) wives did so. I did it because I simply felt so correct when I did. Whenever I would see a woman all covered up I would get that lump in my throat again, and I knew that there was something to it.

It was like she was special, different. She wasn’t showing even one iota of her body to anyone other than her close male relatives, and her female friends and relatives. She was like a pearl still inside the oyster. Beautiful, lustrous,  and shiny indeed, but wrapped in a very special  cover. Only for those eyes that had express permission from Allah. Eyes belonging to people who had only her best interests at heart, and would never ever hurt her in any way, could behold her in her true and unabridged glory.

I went through debate after debate with individuals who were considered “scholars” either by others, or often by themselves, alone, often coming up less than empty handed with regard to my informational quest.  This was at times extremely frustrating…especially because I knew the information that I wanted was out there, but I was coming up against brick walls time after time!  This was all the more upsetting, since I was absolutely positive about what I was saying and thinking, but I simply couldn’t find a way to prove it in a concrete way! All the books I needed were in the Arabic language, and my command of Arabic then was minimal at best.  Unfortunately, the people (Muslims) that I was coming into contact with at the time were barely even willing to accept a headscarf as a part of Islamic dress, to say nothing about a complete cover from head to toe! In fact, I was ostracized and looked down upon for my views, and at times, if not completely ridiculed, then at least mildly snubbed by the general population of the Islamic community that I was a part of at the time. I was basically an outcast, for those views and others… all based in fact, but not very popular at the time…

Years later I was able to come across some sources of reference that enabled me to do some proper research on the matter of covering. By then, my Arabic had also improved to the point where  I  could, at least, read for meaning and understanding, if not minute details. After many unfruitful searches, I finally found some sources that had just the information that I was looking for. Alhamdulillah, this research became the basis of a book that I began to write more than 10 years ago, that has yet to be published. This book explains , in a fair amount of detail, the whole basis for the covering of women in Islam, with all the appropriate evidence, from both the Qur’an and the traditions of the prophet Mohammed (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him).

What I found out, and what I had known all along in my heart of hearts was the following, which is the law of Islamic dress, for ALL Muslim women, not just the wives of the prophet (may Allah’ peace and blessings be upon him).


Hijaab: The Muslim Woman’s Dress

 1) Covers the complete body from head to toe, leaving nothing  at all, except perhaps one eye (to be able to see the way).

2) The fabric of which the covering is made is not of such a quality or thickness that any of the body (it’s form or colors included) show in any way under normal conditions.

3) The cover should be necessarily wide and long enough to comply with the aforementioned conditions, ie. Not to describe any part of the body, in any way. (Dear sisters, this includes any and all of the “coat-style” jilbaabs out there if they are going to be worn on their own with no other long garment (like an abaya or very long scarf) on top).

4) The covering itself should not be overly decorative or intrinsically attractive in and of itself.  (This is referring to particularly bright, loud colors, dark colors with loud spangly, sparkly additions, unusually attractive designs or accents, etc.)

5)The manner of the woman wearing the cover should necessarily remain relatively subdued and not flirtatious or sexy. Although she may speak with no problem, she should avoid overly loud displays, long arguments (for example, here in the Middle East how they do over the prices of items to be purchased in the marketplace, done generally either while laughing loudly or screaming loudly), or other forms of unecessary banter with non-mahrem men.

These injunctions are all based on authentic evidence taken from the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him).  

1)The final verse referring to the covering of women that was revealed before the death of the prophet (peace and blesings be upon him):

Which means:(33:59)

  "Oh prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believeing women, that they should cast their outer garments (jilbaab) over themselves, that they would be known (as such) and not harmed…..”

 2)  The various verses from the Qur’an that refer to the other aspects of the dress and manner of women in Islam:

Which mean: (33 : 32)

"Be not too complaisent of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease shall be moved with desire; But speak ye a speech (that is) just.”


"And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty, that they should not display their besuty and ornaments except what must appear thereof: that they should draw their “khimaars” over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, or their husband’s sons, their brothers, or their brothers son’s, or their sister’s sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servant free from physical needs,  or small children who have no sense of the difference of the sexes, and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. O ye believers! Turn ye altogether towards Allah, that ye may attain bliss.”


“And stay quietly in your houses, and make not a dazzling display, like that of the former times of ignorance…”

(Althgh this verse was specifically for the wives of the prophet, it is generally understood, by the scholars to refer to all Muslim women as well, as is the following verse….)


“… and when you ask for anything you want, ask them from before a screen, that makes for greater purity for your hearts and theirs….”

3) Various ahadith (traditions of the prophet (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him):

**Narrated Ayesha: “the wives of the prophet (may Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) used to go to Al-Manaasi; a vast open place (near Baqia at Medina) to answer the call of nature at night. ‘Umar used to say to the prophet (may Allah’s peace and blessings be on him): “Let your wives be veiled”, but Allah’s apostle did not do so. One nught Sauda’ bint Zam’a, the wife of the prophet, went out at ‘Isha time and she was a tall lady. ‘Umar addressed her and said, “I have recognized you O Sauda.” He said so as he desired eagerly that the verses of Al-hijaab may be revealed. So Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) revealed the verses of Al-hijaab.” (Bukhari)


** Um Salama said: “when the Ayat Al Hijaab descended, the Ansar women went outside as if they had crows on their heads (of their clothes), and they used to wear black coverings.” (Bukhari, Muslim)


**Ibn Abbas (a companion) has said; “Allah (subhanahu wa ta’ala) has commanded the women that when they move out of their homes for an outside duty, they should conceal their faces by drawing or letting over themselves a part of their sheets, keeping only one eye uncovered.”  (Sahih)


**Dihya al-Kalbi said: “Once a length of fine Egyptian muslin was presented to the prophet (peace and blessings be upon him). He gave a piece of it to me and said: Use one part of it for your shirt, and give the rest of it to your wife for a wrapper, but tell her that she should stitch another pece of cloth on the iner side so that the body may not be displayed through it.” Abu Da’ud


Even during the Hajj and ‘Umra women should remain covered…..

**Ayesha said: “Riders would pass among us when we were performing the rites of pilgimage along with Allah’s messenger (may peace and blessings be upon him), when they came by us we would let down our outer garment from our heads over our faces, and when they passed on we would uncover our faces.” (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Da’ud, Ibn Majah,  and Baihaqi)

 **Asma’ Bint Abi Bakr said: “We used to cover our faces from the men and we used to comb our hair before ihram.” (Muslim, Haakim)

**Fatima bint al-Mundhir said: “We used to cover our faces while we were “muhrim” (in ‘Ihram) with Asma’ bint Abi Bakr.” (Maalik)

 With all this evidence and more, it it clear what Islam has ordained for Muslim women to do in the case of dress and manner….

With all these conditions satisfied, the Muslim woman has completed her “hijaab”, according to the Qur’an and the Sunnah, and has taken one more step toward success in this life and that of  the Hereafter.

It is for every individual Muslimah to decide what course of action to take after that. (inshaAllah, my book  Hijaab- Muslim Woman’s Attitude and Dress: A Comprehensive Study will shed more light on this subject).


I would like to thank my dear sister and friend, Sister Mia, for submitting this article to our site.  I count it a privilege to call her a friend, even though we have only met on the Net.  I only hope that one day her life story will be published because, from what I know of it, it will make fascinating and highly rewarding reading for all sisters.Once more, I would like to thank her from the depths of my heart for allowing me to publish this article on our site.