History of Hijab or Head covering


In this section we will be pondering over the history of Head covering or Hijab as general, particularly looking at the ancient times. Our focus would be:

  1. Whether in past history of civilizations Hijab used to exists or not?

 2.Whether the concept of Head covering or Hijab is purely coming from Islam Prospective?

  1. Whether in past history of civilizations Hijab used to exists or not?


Hijab in Past civilizations Before Islam:

According to Ancient civilizations, Head covering or Hijab used to be part of their customs. This custom can be found both in Ancient Iran, Jew and Hindus.

According to a famous American Historian Will Durant:

“If a Jew lady lacks in following the rules like for example she would go without covering her head in street or in front of other men, or even her voice get heard by other men or neighbours. In this case her husband has the right to divorce her without giving her dowry.”

From above text it is apparent that the head covering rules in Jew was rather HARD comparing to that of Islam.

Will Durant further refers to the ancient Persian Civilization, Volume 1 History of Civilization pg 552:

“After Daruish the status of woman particularly women from high social background, decline in their freedom came into existence. The women from lower social background somehow could manage to keep their freedom. This was mainly because they had to leave their homes to be in society to earn money and to survive. But women in other economical or financial level were not allowed to leave their homes while in the state of menstrual.”

These types of customs took continuation and became more and tougher for women. The women from high social background couldn’t dare to go out except in the stretcher (special carrier made out of wood, with four men, each man holding one side of the stretcher) which was totally covered from all four sides with curtains. The women didn’t have even the permission to openly talk to any man. Ladies who were married were not allowed to see any man, even their own father and brothers.Here we can conclude that past civilization before Islam had hijab concept and practice.

2. Whether the concept of Head covering or Hijab is purely coming from Islam Prospective?

Will Durant Further states: The Hijab during Ancient Persian times brought the concept of Hijab to Arab world and in particularly in Muslim nation.

We know that Hijab in Islam has nothing to do with the customs and rules of Hijab during Ancient Persian or in Jew. For example, one of the practice ancient civilization use to do was that woman was not allowed to leave the house during her menstrual time where else in Islam woman are free to go out in public the only things she is not allowed to do are, her obligatory prayers, fasting and she is not allowed to sleep with her legal partner during the time of her menstrual other than this she is completely free to go out in the society or associate with public. The concept of “prison yourself at home” during menstrual time doesn’t exist in Islam at all.

Arab society according to Will Durant:

“Arabs women during the first century didn’t use to were Hijab, Men and women used to see and talked to each other, in street they used to walk side by side. In Mosques they use to pray together. Prophet though had made wearing of loose clothes prohibited but the Arab would take this rule as unseen. Arab women use to wear colorful loose clothes mostly half covered. They use to put a shining belt around the waist. The hair used to be opened and not covered.”

Will Durant Explanation about an Arab woman before Islam is no doubt true, but his opinion about the end of first century and beginning of the second century after Islam is doubtful. He talks as if during prophet time there wasn’t a smallest concept of Hijab in Arab and an Arab woman would freely go around with no Hijab or head covering. The History proof this is wrong to us, Islam did brought a lot of changes to the dress code of a woman. Most of Arab ladies used to dress according to the Islamic dress code as explained in the Quranic verses. This fact can be verified by the tradition of Prophet’s Wife like Ayesha.

In one of the writing by Jawahir Lal Nehru the first minister of India, also believed that emergence of Hijab in an Arab nation is from other non Muslim civilization like Iran and Rome. In his book “A look into the history of world” Vol1 pg 328: after praising the Islamic civilization, He talks about the afterward changes in Islam by other civilization.

“One big change that slowly took place in Arab society was in woman sect. In Arabia for woman there was no custom of head covering or Hijab. Arab women wouldn’t be separated in society from men. Rather an Arab woman would have public appearance, attend speeches etc. Arab nation after Islam copied different customs from empire like ancient Iran and Rome. Arab conquered empire Rome and Iran but adopt their customs and etiquettes. Therefore, the custom of Hijab has come from other civilizations.”

What Jawahir says doesn’t match with history of Islam. We can say that the relationship between Arab Muslim and Non Arab Muslim did add some different types of customs in practising Hijab or made it more strict comparing to Prophet Mohammad time, but saying that Hijab was a concept totally introduce in Islamic world by other civilizations, is incorrect.


At the end what is apparent is that Hijab as a custom and practice was present in other civilizations. Islam didn’t bring this concept of Hijab as a whole new practice. Islam did make the concept of Hijab easier and took the harsh law which used to be practice by other culture and traditions. For example customs like: woman not associating with man in society, woman get prisoner at homes while in the state of menstrual, women voice couldn’t be heard by any man, woman not allowed even to see their own brothers and father and many more.

Of course we can prove this by the history, Prophet Mohammad daughter like Hazrat Fatima and granddaughter Like Hazrat Zainab had gone in front of public and had given hard speeches to the ruler of that time. 


History of civilization by Will durant.

Hijab by Motahari