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What Is a Moroccan Jilbab?

By Richard Chippers
Updated May 21, 2024
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A jilaabah is any long and loose-fitting garment worn by some Muslim women. The plural of this is jilbab, and is also known as a manteau or jubbah. A modern jilbab is designed to cover the entire body except the head, face, hands and feet, and a Moroccan jilbab falls mainly under this description. The head then is covered by either a wrap called a khimar or a scarf.

The wearing of the jilbab is part of the practice of hijab, which means that a woman must keep the essential form of her womanhood covered. A Moroccan jilbab takes on many forms, because the essence of the jilbab is to provide modesty, and there is not one type of robe that is the only way. The women of Morocco, for instance, will often wear djellaba, which are long loose robes, or kafkans, which are button-up blouse which reach to the ankles, as well as khimar to complete the practice of hijab. The kafkan is also worn in a knee-length version, with trousers or jeans worn underneath, thus still covering the body. Therefore, these are all considered forms of Moroccan jilbab, because the body has been covered to preserve modesty.

Young girls in Morocco are exempt from the practice of hijab until they reach puberty, at which point they also must begin to adopt this practice. Although the wearing of the jilbab is highly thought of in Moroccan society, it is not compulsory for women to dress this way, and some will go out without headscarves or long sleeves and will wear western-style clothing. All formal occasions, however, demand the adherence to the principles of hijab, so at these events, some type of Moroccan jilbab would be worn.

The principal item of clothing in Morocco tends to be the djellaba, which is worn by both men and women. A traditional djellaba conforms to the principles of hijab and can be regarded as a jilbab. A djellaba has a hood called a cob, whereas a kafkan does not.

The kafkan, or kaftan, is another piece of clothing that is very popular in morocco. Essentially, it is a very long shirt, which could be considered a Moroccan jilbab if it reaches to the ankles. They probably are of Turkish origin and are worn throughout the Muslim world by both men and women, although in Morocco, they are worn only by women. During the 1980s and '90s, there was a move away from traditional dress in Morocco, but that trend turned in the opposite direction in the early 21st century, and the wearing of the jilbab and following the practice of hijab once again became the norm.

The Qur’an, which is the scripture used by Muslims, refers to the jilbab in Surah Al-Ahzab, explaining that women should wear jilbabs to preserve their modesty. There are no illustrations of a seventh-century jilbab and no surviving garments to refer to, so it is not clear whether a modern jilbab is the same as the jilbab mentioned in the Qur’an. Many modern Muslims believe that the garment worn today is the same as that described in the Qur’an, so it must be worn. There also is an argument that the style of jilbab worn today dates from as recently as the 1970s, when some Egyptian women adopted them as Islamic dress.

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Discussion Comments

By ysmina — On Dec 22, 2014

I'm not one hundred percent sure, I could be wrong. But I think jilbab just means "outer garment" or "outer cloth" as the article mentioned. It doesn't refer to a specific style. That's why different Muslim countries have made their versions, suited for their cultural tastes and preferences. I think this is totally fine. As long as it fulfills the purpose of the garment, that is to hide the shape of the body, then any design is acceptable. The rest are details and depend on personal preferences.

Aside from jilbabs, I think kaftans are also very beautiful. I believe Muslim women in North African countries wear both from time to time.

By turquoise — On Dec 22, 2014

@ddljohn-- But don't you think that some Moroccan jilbabs are too showy? It would be fine for a special event or holiday celebration among family at home. But I can't imagine wearing a bright colored jilbab with lots of decor and design in the street. It would attract a lot of attention which is exactly what a jilbab is meant to avoid.

Some Moroccan jilbabs now actually look like Western dresses. Some others remind me of Indian traditional clothing. They're best suited for special events like I said. My friend is wearing one for her henna night for example. It's very showy but it's just going to be women at the event so it's okay.

By ddljohn — On Dec 21, 2014

Moroccan jilbabs are gorgeous. Every time I see one, I'm amazed with the lovely cuts, designs and colors. For those wondering whether it's possible to be stylish in modest clothing, the Moroccan jilbab is your answer. It's a loose clothing that follows the modest dress code of Islam but it's also very beautiful and neat. Although I never considered wearing a jilbab before, I'd happily wear Moroccan jilbabs everyday!

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