The Oxford Dictionary of Islam
- Traditional Muslim women's head, face, or body covering, of numerous varieties across time and space, often referred to as the “veil.” Hijab is a symbol of modesty, privacy, and morality. The practice was borrowed from elite women of the Byzantine, Greek, and Persian empires, where it was a sign of respectability and high status, during the Arab conquests of these empires. It gradually spread among urban populations, becoming more pervasive under Turkish rule as a mark of rank and exclusive lifestyle. Hijab became a central topic of feminist/nationalist discourse during the nineteenth-century British colonial occupation of Egypt. Western feminists view hijab as a symbol of the subordination and inferiority of women in Islam. Since the 1970s it has emerged as a symbol of Islamic consciousness and the voluntary and active participation of young women in the Islamist movement, a symbol of public modesty that reaffirms Islamic identity and morality and rejects Western materialism, commercialism, and values. In the 1980s hijab became an assertion of Islamic nationalism and resistance to Western culture.
- In Islam, men and women are moral equals in God's sight and are expected to fulfill the same duties of worship, prayer, faith, almsgiving, fasting, and pilgrimage to Mecca. Islam generally improved the status of women compared to earlier Arab cultures, prohibiting female infanticide and recognizing women's full personhood. Islamic law emphasizes the contractual nature of marriage, requiring that a dowry be paid to the woman rather than to her family, and guaranteeing women's rights of inheritance and to own and manage property. Women were also granted the right to live in the matrimonial home and receive financial maintainance during marriage and a waiting period following death and divorce.