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jilbabJilbab (Arabic جلباب) is an outer garment worn by Muslim women over their clothing when in public. It consists of an Abaya or Abbayeh, which is a full length long sleeved body dress that must reach to the ground, and a Hijab that covers the head and much of the face. In Iran, the equivalent of this garment is called the chador The jilbab is worn based on the Quranic (35:59) verse:

Ya ayyuha an-Nabiyy qul li azwajika wa banatika wa nisa al-mu'minin yudnina alayhinna min jalabib hinna; dhalika adna an yu'rafna fa laa yu'dhayn. Wa kana Allahu Ghafur Rahim

O Prophet! Say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the faithful to draw their JALABIB* close around them; that is better that they will be recognized and not annoyed. And God is ever Forgiving, Gentle.


*Jalabib = plural of Jilbab.

However, the precise nature of this garment in the time of Muhammad is  not known. Wearing of the Jilbab as a sign of affiliation with Islamism became popular in the latter part of the 20th century. There are some Muslim women who interpret the verse as meaning that the Jilbab (or Abaya) is not Fard (obligatory):ref 

VERSE 33:59
This verse talks about the idea that Muslim women should wear their outergarments when going outside. Now, there is some difference of opinion about what this means. The Arabic word used in this verse comes from the word “jilbab” which today is seen as a specific dress for Muslim women (similar to an abaya). However, again, we cannot infer that jilbab is a specific dress rather than just the Arabic word for “outer garment”.

So in verse 33:59, Allah is talking about any garment that covers you when you’re outside (or around those you must be covered in front of). Again, we cannot assume that new Muslim women back in Prophet Muhammad’s time were forced to buy a new wardrobe of “a new Muslim garment” called a Jilbab or an Abaya. They were just instructed by Allah on how to wear the clothes that they already had in a manner that was befitting a Muslim. And the purpose of this was so that Muslim women could be distinguished from other women.

That is not the majority opinion of scholars.

Bukhari states, "My Lord agreed with me ('Umar) in three things... (2) And as regards the veiling of women, I said 'O Allah's Apostle!  I wish you ordered your wives to cover themselves from the men because good and bad ones talk to them.' So the verse of the veiling of the women was revealed" (Bukhari, v1, bk 8, sunnah 395).

This can be taken as supporting the wearing of the Hijab, Niqab, but not necessarily However,  the exact nature of the Jilbab is controversial: ref 

I have provided above evidence from the Quran and Sunna that it is fard for the Muslim sister to wear the garment called "jilbab" when she goes out from her house. This is not just my opinion but the opinion of most of the scholars (ulama). The next question is: what type of garment is the jilbab? There are two opinions among the scholars on this matter:

1) That it is a loose outergarment like a coat or cloak.

2) That it is a sheet covering the entire body except for the eyes.

Notice that neither of these opinions mentions "conservative clothing" or "loose clothing" nor does either opinion say "shalwar kameez are OK".

Some well-known modern scholars who support the first opinion:

1) Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi (Shafi'i) - see Women's Awrah - Qaradawi describes the jilbab as "a loose outergarment"

2) Shaykh Muhammad Nasir ad-Din Albani (Salafi) - Shaykh Albani had written an essay called "Women's Dress"... He describes the jilbab as "an outergarment that is thick and opaque and covers the clothing under it and the woman's form".

Some well-known modern scholars who support the second opinion:
1) Syed Abu-Ala' Maududi (Hanafi) - see Introduction to Surah al-Ahzab - Maududi describes the jilbab as an "outergarment covering the face".

2) Shaykh Abdul-Aziz ibn Baz, Chief Mufti of Saudi Arabia (Salafi) - see The Danger of Women at Work - Ibn Baz describes the jilbab as "covering all of the body except the eyes".

Jilbab in Gaza worn by pupilsThe Jilbab is required dress for women in Saudi Arabia, and wearing of it is enforced by modesty police. Hamas rulers of Gaza recently attracted attention by requiring that high school girls wear this garment rather than jeans or other dress. ref

The informal name for Jilbab is Jalabiya, but the latter is also a male garment. 

Ami Isseroff

August 30, 2009

Synonyms and alternate spellings:

Further Information:    See also Hijab, Niqab, Burqa, Chador, Abaya, Jalabiya


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Encyclopedia of the Middle East

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The "Gh" combination, and sometimes the "G," designate a deep guttural sound that Westerners may hear approximately as "r." The "r" sound is always formed with the back of the tongue, and is not like the English "r."

More information: Hebrew, Arabic

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