Hijab in Yemen Traditions [Archives:1998/20/Culture]

May 18 1998

By Abdulkarim Hashem Nasr
Hijab means the whole black covering including the head scarf and veil.
Costumes are considered to be a part of the cultural heritage of the people, handed down by one generation to another as other forms of heritage such as folk literature.
Yemeni costumes vary from one area to another in terms of the colors and the various designs.
Folk costumes are the product of a number of interacting factors, which greatly influence the human life. These factors are as follows:
1- Religion
2- Weather
3- Topography
4- Social function
5- Type of the social relations among the people
6- Degree of adhering to traditions.
These factors together, determine the type of clothes worn by the people in a certain area. Islam does not determine specific attire, but it rather imposes some limitations on the form of clothing. Every nation has the right to interpret these limitations with due consideration to the other factors. It is important to give some examples to explain these interacting factors.
Yemen has high mountains and coastal plains. Costumes in coastal areas, where the weather is generally hot, are similar. For example the Adeni dress “Shedar” which consists of a soft-textured, one-piece cloth. This kind of cloth helps to reduce the effect of the hot weather.
On the other hand, women in mountainous areas of temperate climate and uneven roads wear flowing trousers and dresses covering the legs to ease their movements and to make them feel warm. Costumes in Saber, Taiz are a good example.
Costumes in the cities and towns are different from those in the countryside. Rural women cling to their heritage, unlike their more urban sisters who nowadays wear “Sharshaf,” which consists of two pieces of cloth.
Therefore, it has become clear that the Sharshaf or Hijab has nothing to do with the ancient Yemeni heritage. Most probably, Hijab entered Yemen during the Turkish rule, as mentioned in Al-Baradoni’s book: “A Journey into Yemeni Poetry”.
In order to get more information on this subject, I asked a number of female students in the Faculty of Arts at Sanaa University the following questions:
1- When did you start wearing the Hijab?
2- Do you wear the Hijab of your own free will?
3- Is the Hijab imposed as a form of heritage?
4- Is the Hijab considered to be the cheapest of the women’s clothes?
5- For you, is the Hijab related to a religious reason?
6- What about the Hijab’s color, is it suitable or not?
7- Do you wish to stop wearing the Hijab?
8- Can you go without the Hijab?
9- When can you do that, in case of marriage or financial independence or traveling abroad?
10- Does the Hijab reflect a woman’s beauty?
11- Have you worn the Hijab gradually?
12- Which models of the Hijab do you like?
13- Does the Hijab reflect women as weak human beings?
After collecting the answers and classifying them we found the following:
Justifications for Using to the Hijab %
Personal choice       20%
Religious reasons       9%
Force of Habit         14%
Family Pressure       31%
Aesthetics               26%
What about Hijab needs to be changed %
Color                     35%
Shape                    45%
The whole thing      20%
It was noted that 70% of the interviewed female students started wearing the Hijab between 13 and 15 years of age, and 80% of them changed from the two-piece Sharshaf to the one-piece Balto. Some 20% of the female students believe that the Hijab reflects a weak image of women, so 20% of them decided that they would go without the Hijab when they get jobs or in case of traveling abroad.
In view of the above, the following can be concluded:
– Female students wearing the Hijab are mainly motivated by their free will and religious beliefs. Economy and the aesthetics are not that important to them. They consider Hijab rather expensive, compared to other female costumes.
– There are few female students who wish to get along without the Hijab, but at the same time they take it upon themselves to comply with the Islamic rules.
– Many female students are dissatisfied with the black color of the Hijab and they believe that it is not suitable and should be changed.
– Although these female students comply with the Islamic rules, nevertheless, they wish to get rid of Hijab.
– taking into consideration that gradually started wearing the Hijab. They first wore the two-piece Sharshaf and then changed to the one-piece Hijab.