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Not all headscarves are burkas: 7 types of Muslim headwear for women

Jun 6, 2011 By Abraham

From the BBC

The word hijab comes from the Arabic for veil and is used to describe the headscarves worn by Muslim women. These scarves come in a myriad of styles and colours. The type most commonly worn in the West is a square scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face clear.

The al-amira is a two-piece veil. It consists of a close fitting cap, usually made from cotton or polyester, and an accompanying tube-like scarf. The shayla is a long, rectangular scarf popular in the Gulf region. It is wrapped around the head and tucked or pinned in place at the shoulders.

The khimar is a long, cape-like veil that hangs down to just above the waist. It covers the hair, neck and shoulders completely, but leaves the face clear. The chador, worn by many Iranian women when outside the house, is a full-body cloak. It is often accompanied by a smaller headscarf underneath.

The niqab is a veil for the face that leaves the area around the eyes clear. However, it may be worn with a separate eye veil. It is worn with an accompanying headscarf. The burka is the most concealing of all Islamic veils. It covers the entire face and body, leaving just a mesh screen to see through.


  1. charity says:

    I like the shayla. I often wish I had something like in winter when it’s raining/snowing/sleeting. I guess I could improvise one though. Or ask my friend who’s from the middle east how to improvise one…

  2. Joe S says:

    Truly interesting. Are these from different cultures within the Islamic world or are they for different situations?

    1. Love2Live says:

      Islamic women wear different scarves depending on how legalistic the government is where they live. For instance, in a place where Sharia law is highly enforced, women wear a niqab, or possibly a burka.

      1. Tom says:

        So Islamic women decide what to wear by being suppressed and dictated by whoever governs the country they live in?

        1. wato says:

          @tom: there is not a place in the world where that does not apply. Try using no clothes at all in public, see what happens.

          1. T-Bru says:

            Not being allowed to go fully naked in public applies to all people, not just women.

        2. Ann says:

          What about Western women who do the same? Jewish women, Christian women, they have dress requirements as well, including head coverings.

          1. Amber says:

            Of course.. and they wear them willingly as part of their faith.. (one hopes anyway) legally speaking, they don’t have to be part of that faith with those specific trappings.. They could choose to be Nudist Pagans of the other end of the spectrum and be naked in specifically allowed areas..

            You asked what about them… What about them indeed? They aren’t forced to wear them by Sharia law, Only the law of a religion they are allowed to leave without pain of death…

            As a fashion choice, I like the hijab and shayla… :)

    2. S.Y. Ali Shah says:

      Where I live, women go from wearing burka to wearing nothing on their heads at all. We wear all of these kinds, though even I didn’t know there was a different name for every one of them.

  3. Nadia says:

    there are two laws one that states the covering of the entire body and the other says the maximum that is allowed to show when wearing hijab are your hands face and feet. unless the women are living in an Islamic state the burka is a choice, hijab though is compulsory for all muslim women,fyi hijab means covering of the body (with the specifics above) its not just the scarf

  4. David says:

    The burka is one of the most repressive and repugnant articles in the world. I would be very interested to know if there are actually women who choose to wear a burka. The vast majority are forced by law. I worked as a contractor in Kabul, and even in sweltering heat, where it would be difficult to breath inside a burka, they were still worn out of fear.

    1. Kirsty says:

      I believe some do choose. I remember hearing an interview with a woman who wore a burka who said it was nice not to have men staring at her all the time.
      Not that I think it’s a good idea. Men and women ought to be able to relate to one another.

    2. Nadia says:

      @david there are many who wear it as a choice! its a spiritual decision for those who are not forced by law there are women all around the world who choose to wear burqa eg. hong kong,south america and canada there are no laws in these countries to wear the burqa they choose to do it themselves in my observations many who opt to wear it are converts therefore no one persuaded or forced to wear burqa.

    3. Tamara says:

      I wear a hajib. I wear it out of respect of my religion, respect to myself, and respect to my husband. I wear a Shayla-style headcovering, and it is amazing how many people smile and nod, or stop to ask me how I did my scarf so nicely. It also helps keep me warm in the winter and keeps the sun off of my head in the summer.

      And no, I am not muslim. I am a pagan. Not all pagans are running around naked, not all Muslimahs wear hajib. Even your precious Christianity has women wearing headcovers.

      Burkas can be a relief sometimes. Men can get so disgusting when a woman walks by, like she is meat and not a breathing, thinking, feeling human being. Having to assess who I am by what I say, not by who I wear or what color my hair is, has made me people relate to me in a more personal fashion.

      1. Anon_woman says:

        I am a Christian woman, and I have often thought about using many traditional Muslim styles of clothing for the exact reason you have stated. Sometimes I feel like this would be a much simpler and freeing way to dress. I would be free of stares from the disgusting men of society (of course not all men are like this). It seems like there are so many benefits for a woman who wears these. If everyone dressed this way, men would not have sex on their minds quite as often, but sex is in front of their faces all the time. I would love to start dressing this way, at least when I go to work. I am tired of constant stares at work, even when I’m covered up. I am just not brave enough to not conform. :( and also, I feel like others would think I am Muslim, which means I wouldn’t be representing my own religion, in a way.

        1. Joereen says:

          I, too, am a Christian woman. Having been growing in my faith, I learned that God teaches self-respect. Before my conversion into fully accepting God, I was just as the rest like all young women who never knew what I was doing to attract men. Everything was so tight fitting, short skirts, etc…but guess who’s driving our minds to want to dress attractively? Yeah, the fashion industry! Right. Especially, here in America. But then, come to think of it, it is all over the world. But not to forget the tribal people. I mean they are practically almost nude, yet they do not see each other in the same way as some of us does. No wonder they are so far from the modern societies. Well, there we go, somehow, our minds differs from the others or wherever we are in this world.

          Speaking of my headdress, when I attend mass, it is the only time when I wear it. And guess what…the headdress is such a comfort to me; even more, it helps me not to be glancing around at anyone or behind me most of all because our focus is in front of us. And I dress up my body just the same as when I attend a mass: loose fitting materials that does not show any body figure. Sometimes, it can be a little attach to my body, but at least it is enough to cover everything that I need not keep pulling my pants up. I forgot, I wear long skirts more than pants :-). I guess our societies these days are forgetting the meaning of the word, beauty.

          Thank you so much all for sharing. I only came across this website when all I wanted to learn what the headdress is called because there was a man who approach me so kindly. He had told me what it was called, but I had forgotten. Now, I remember. He said that in his country women wears this headdress called a hajib. But in winter my head becomes cold and it does not feel good. I said to myself, let people think whatever because my intention is not to make myself look like a wanna-be is the term I guess. Or sometimes, I hear people make comments near me, not realizing that, that is not what I am trying to portray myself in public. Low, self-minded people that we are, eh, when we do not understand our very own culture.

          1. Anon says:

            I totally agree with what you women are saying. I’m a Christian woman who grew up as a Christian but still made the choice as an adult to keep my faith for my own reasons, although I respect all faiths. I can remember how in the West I’ve often felt upset at the stares of some men, and would even hold a book or some other item up sometimes to block such stares (such as at a bus stop, etc) and find that the men just found this amusing and made me feel embarrassed for doing so. I’d also feel a little self conscious sometimes when wearing more revealing clothing as an undergraduate university student when trying to follow the fashions. And I hate being pursued by men (even worse in the uni dorms or classes) who don’t see me as a person with my own ideas of what I want and don’t want, to be valued for my intelligence, but only as an attractive object. And yes, although there are respectful men out there as well, these disrespectful ones can be found in every culture (I’ve travelled very extensively).

            When I lived for some time just recently in the Middle East, I was very happy for several reasons. First, it was considered a positive thing to respect oneself as a woman by not revealing too much of one’s figure (my mother as a Christian had always taught me to do this but I’d felt a bit torn in the uni when I felt pressure to fit into social fashions, not to be revealing but just to “fit in” with trends). It was actually a relief in the Middle East to buy some very beautiful clothing, albeit usually in a “Westernized Arabic style”, much more beautiful, feminine, yet affordable than anything I’d seen in the anglo West, which made me look very attractive, was not overly baggy, but was not revealing either. (I’d actually found the same situation before this when living in parts of east and southeast Asia where women were also more modest but dressed much more beautifully and femininely than the anglo country where I grew up).

            The other thing I really appreciated was the scarf or hijab. I was not required to wear it in any Middle Eastern country I lived or travelled in except Iran, but I chose to wear it in mid summer in the Gulf countries where I also lived (and over my face as well) to protect my skin from the very burning sun which I could feel tingling on and damaging my skin even when using more than 100 spf sunblock. I worse long sleeves and long skirts or baggy trousers for the same reason. Contrary to how Westerners feel, these long clothes do not make one feel more hot. Clothes like this made in the Arab countries and especially in the much hotter Gulf countries are actually of a very fine and cooling material. So I felt much cooler in them and protected my skin from the sun at the same time. I also felt a relief to be respecting myself much more in this way. Not to mention the additional relief of being able to show openly that I’m spiritual without being abused for it as I was in the West (so that I felt nearly pressured to give up my personal beliefs and that I had to hide them so as to “fit in” — when who cares what I believe? If I respect others and don’t push my beliefs onto them they can do the same for me. I felt this respect all over Asia, including in atheist China, and in the Middle East. As a result, back in the West I no longer try to hide the fact that my beliefs are different from the majority; I even tell people deliberately to shock them).

            In the Middle East I also took to carrying my scarf with me even in less hot seasons so that if ever I saw a man staring at me (in the Gulf, it was not normally Arab men who did this but some Pakistanis, for instance), I could just take my scarf out of my bag and put it over my face. it was great to not have to put up with the stares and also not be made to feel silly for trying to block those stares as had happened in the West earlier on. Too bad we are led to believe that it would look strange to do this in the West. However, I no longer have a problem, back in the West, with doing whatever it takes to deliberately block a man’s stares.

            I wanted to add that in addition to the cover, as Arabs call it in English, protecting a woman from some idiots’ stares, and being a way that we can respect ourselves, it is originally a much needed cultural device, as is the long loose clothing worn traditionally in the Middle East and other Islamic countries by both men and women. It is needed to protect one’s face, hair and body from the glaring and damaging sun’s rays, the heat and the sand (sand storms can be pretty big in that part of the world too, and if you open your mouth in one to talk to someone, the sand will go in immediately; I have had this experience. So a face cover is definitely needed for this as well. And traditionally the men also have their own head and face covers which also resemble scarfs, along with their own flowing dishdashes and other long, flowing wear.

            Once when on a ferry from Egypt to Italy, a German man told his Syrian business partner that my having lived and travelled alone as a Western woman in and through many Moslem countries for a few years was an extremely positive thing, since it is only those of us who have had this first hand experience as women in the Middle East who can truly tell the truth of many things about these cultures to the non-Moslem world, including especially the Western world, which holds so many misunderstandings about these cultures. Who cares, someone asked? Since it is by knowing what is really going on that we can dispel prejudice, resentments on the part of those who feel so much prejudice directed against them, and the excuses Western governments need to make war on these countries.

            The bottom line is also that we have no right to try to change someone else’s culture. If certain things are not liked in the West, then Westerners don’t have to do them, but they’ve no right to expect others to do the same when the West is not their culture.

      2. Kate says:

        Hi Tamara,

        I would just like to say how refreshing it was to read your post. I have always found these types of head coverings to be a thing of beauty for just the reasons you described; getting to know someone’s soul rather than just the superficial outward appearance. I have met some wonderfully warm women who wear such articles of clothing. There is something privately beautiful about concealing our bodies. A far cry from some of the trash we see walking around the street! Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences. I appreciated it.

        Katie in Aus.

    1. Justin says:

      People who like to learn about different cultures, maybe? You can very easily just not click on the link if you don’t want to read or know about the subject at hand.

  5. schoolteacher001 says:

    Very informative! I teach many young Muslim women at an urban high school in the USA. I appreciate knowing the different names to appreciate how they dress. Thank you!

  6. Linda says:

    We have even more to choose from here in Niger. Many wear the chador, but such a wide variety!

  7. r says:

    This is actually incorrect. No one actually knows what a “Khimar” was as referred to in the Qur’an. The modern adoption of the term “Khimar” for a hijab-like covering was perpetuated by the Wahabis/Salafis/Conservatives as an attempt to justify their attempts to force women to wear a hijab.

  8. Joereen says:

    So how does one acquire friendship with the burka? I understand that it is a must due to their faith considering all women to be beautiful including her face, her hands and feet. Does not the burka take something away from the woman or person?

    Besides the head gear, men too, need to respect themselves. I admire the traditional men because to me, wearing those long white robes is how they should also be dressed. It is so disturbing for a woman like myself to be sitting across a man with jeans, especially, with their legs open. Or men walking around in public, especially, those young ones with their pants almost falling off their hips. It’s terrible! My goodness! What’s wrong with some of our parenting values? I know this is taking out of the subject, but it does lead to men’s modesty as well. At least for me it does.

  9. Paige says:

    I’m in high school and I have a friend who wears a Hijab. People constantly ask her if she wears it because she feels oppressed, or they tell her that she doesn’t *have* to wear it because she’s in America. She told me that her parents actually gave her the choice when she hit the age that women would generally start wearing the headscarves. She chose to wear it not only because she felt it right because of her religion, but she loves the fact that she *can* express her religion in the States.

    I’m glad the diagram was made. :)

  10. Maryann says:

    Removing head and face coverings from religion and legality completely, from the 1940’s to the present time, i have worn all of these styles. In the earlier years the square scarf wrapped around the head, crossed under the chin, wrapped around the neck and tied at the back protected one’s hair while horseback, bicycle, or riding in a convertable. Later years the full-face covering was a face saver from skin burning sun. Everything inbetween has been used for warmth, style, or accessory. It is the less evolved, less aware, and perhaps the less educated who even think to pidgin-hole another. To be really free means we extend to others what we give ourselves. Maybe everyone, myself included, needs to broaden our horizons?

  11. Anon says:

    Just wanted to add too that if you have long hair, as I do (I’m female), it actually prevents drying and breakage when out in the elements to at least tie it back and/or braid it. So it’s healthier for the hair to cover it from the wind, sand and hot sun (or other extremes). The desert and night also becomes very cold (just as it is so scorchingly hot in the day). And yeh, long loose hair flying in your face when on a bike or horseback or when swimming can also cause accidents. I remember when as a teen growing up in anglo North America (I’m from another Western country) having kids constantly tell me that I should not have my long hair in braids or other styles but only worn loose. Why? Who cares how I wear it anyway: suit yourself with your own hair. And the same goes for covering it.

    One more thing you guys may not realize is that one Moslem country (Tunisia) actually made the woman’s head cover illegal (don’t know the current situation; it was illegal a couple of years ago when I lived in Islamic countries), which creates its own problems. It also ironically means that if I as a Western woman were there and were to cover my head with a scarf even just for fashion purposes (decorative scarf, etc), I’d be breaking the law. Obviously, this has caused much debate. Just so as to break the stereotype that “all” Islamic countries’ women generally wear head covers. They don’t. Some do, some don’t and they wear a wide variety of them, as someone said. And in one country, at least a couple of years ago, they couldn’t.

  12. They is damn ugly says:

    I don’t like basic head scarfs as it is so things like the nicab and the burka just freak me out. They should be banned in Western countries. Women don’t need this oppressive garbage. Why aren’t the males wearing them? Very suss. Hiding your face is a security risk as well.

    No goody-goody replies required thanks.

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