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

June 6, 2011 | By Abraham | 35 comments

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. 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?

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