The first reference to veiling dates to an Assyrian text in 13 B.C. In the text, the practice of veiling was described as reserved for elite, ‘respectable’ women; prostitutes and women of lower-classes were forbidden from veiling (Hoodfar, 2003). Likewise, elite women in ancient Greco-Roman, pre-Islamic Iranian, and Byzantine societies practiced veiling. It was not until the reign of the Safavids in the Ottoman Empire, an area that extends through the Middle East and North Africa, in the 16th century that the veil emerged as a symbol of social status among Muslims. Since the 19th century Muslims have embraced veiling as a cultural practice rather than simply an Islamic practice (Hood far, 2003).
Where in the Qu’ran does it talk about the hijab?
One of the most frequently cited Qu’ranic verses used to defend the wearing of the hijab is the surah 24:30-31:
The believing men are enjoined to lower their gaze and conceal their genitals and the believing women are enjoined to lower their gaze and conceal their genitals, draw their headdress to cover their cleavage, and not to display their beauty, except that which has to be revealed, except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or their slaves, or eunuchs or children under age; and they should not strike their feet to draw attention to their hidden beauty. O believers, turn to God, that you may know bliss. (Qur’an 24:30-31)
In the following verse, Muslim women are encouraged to draw their jilbab around them in public, as a means of distinguishing them from others and as a way of avoiding harassment:
Those who harass believing men and believing women undeservedly, bear (on themselves) a calumny and a grievous sin. O Prophet! Enjoin your wives, your daughters, and the wives of true believers that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): That is most convenient, that they may be distinguished and not be harassed. (Qur’an 33:58–59)
There are various interpretations applied to the reading of these verses. There are also several hadiths, or narrations describing the words and deeds of the prophet Muhammad, believed to clarify and supplement the Qu’ranic description of the hijab.