Headscarves scare some people these days. They must think these articles of clothing represent an evil presence, like a ghostly vapor that seeps under doors and poisons or causes death.
Having lived seven years in Afghanistan and traveled in the Middle East, I have no such fears or apprehensions to approaching a veiled woman. There are many headscarves walking around my Kansas town these days.
When asked, many Muslim women will claim a sense of security and expression of modesty when covered. Cultural, family, and religious expectations determine what type of covering a woman might wear. Most little girls do not wear veils and scarves until puberty.
Here is a brief description of various Muslim head coverings:
- Hijab is the common term for the overall Muslim modest dress code but also refers to the scarf which covers only the hair and can be colorful to coordinate with the woman’s outfit
- Burka is a full face and body cover with only a mesh screen to allow visibility for the wearer (this is most often associated with Afghan women) and often is blue, but can be in white, amber, or other colors
- Chador is a full body cloak held at the neck or over the face by the woman’s hand, seen in Iran and other Central Asian countries, is often black but can be other colors
- Khimar covers the hair, neck and shoulders, but not usually the face, in a tight fit
- Niqab covers the full head and face only allowing the eyes to show, often black and accompanied with an abaya, a loose wrap covering the woman to her ankles most often in black and worn in Middle Eastern countries
Headscarves are appearing everywhere in the world. Resist feeling afraid or judging. Western women, don’t shy away from greeting a veiled sister in your path. Smile. Say Salaam (hello).
We must remember – under the covering there is a female human being who is not different than us in her quest to live well.