Mădălina-Elena Grumezescu

A survey conducted in several Muslim countries by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research reveals interesting views on Muslim women’s dress code. This can mark the beginning of a shift in attitudes toward what women in the Muslim world should wear in public.

People from seven countries in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia – were surveyed between 2011 and 2013, the newly-released results showing significant variation in public perception about covered women. The respondents were shown six different images from which they had to choose the most appropriate style of dress for a Muslim woman in a public space. The styles presented in the pictures varied from the conservative burqa (as seen on woman no. 1) to hijab which does not cover as much (as seen on woman no. 5), and also included the option of no headscarf at all.

PEW Research Center Poll on Women's Dress Code in Public

PEW Research Center Poll on Women’s Dress Code in Public

Across all seven countries, the majority consider the white al-Amira to be the most appropriate style, while they favor the fully-hooded burka least. In Saudi Arabia, most (63%) prefer a conservative dark niqab which covers everything but the eyes, while most respondents in Lebanon (49%) opt for no headscarf at all. Surprisingly, the rest of Saudi Arabia believe that women should choose how to dress themselves, reports CBS News, which also indicates a strong divide regarding women’s dress code in conservative Saudi Arabia.

Interestingly, the dress style of Muslim women has been an on-going debate especially in the Western world, where headscarves are not even obligatory. Some Muslims have even added that they do not consider these styles a must for women anyway, while some Muslim women claim that it is their own choice to wear such headscarves.

Regardless, whether a black burqa or a less conservative hijab covering only the woman’s hair, these styles of dress have posed different struggles for those who wear them, as a global Islamic website declares. Perhaps most importantly, it often becomes difficult for Muslim women wearing headscarves to integrate into Western, non-Muslim society, especially since people tend to associate their image with terrorism. However, even for more banal reasons, it may not be such a bad idea to open up to adopting less conservative and… impractical styles.

Not to underestimate the importance of one’s freedom to practice any religion or wear anything they wish, in the torrid climates of some countries in the Middle East, headscarves might not always be the best choice of dress. “On the most basic level, come summer, if you aren’t careful with the material of your hijab, it’s not exactly the most comfortable thing to wear,” states OnIslam.net. That is why the recent poll results in the seven Muslim countries can indicate a meaningful change of attitude toward women’s dress code, if not for other reasons, at least for those of practicality and comfort.