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What Is the Difference between a Hijab and Jilbab?

The hijab and jilbab are both forms of Islamic dress, yet they serve distinct purposes. A hijab primarily covers the hair and neck, symbolizing modesty and privacy. In contrast, a jilbab is a long, flowing garment that cloaks the entire body, offering a broader shield. Each reflects a commitment to faith, with cultural nuances shaping their use. How do these garments reflect personal identity and cultural diversity? Continue exploring to uncover the layers of meaning behind these traditional attires.
Lainie Petersen
Lainie Petersen

The difference between a hijab and jilbab is primarily that the term “hijab,” as it is commonly used, describes a headscarf, while the term “jilbab” refers to an outer garment that is worn to cover a woman’s body. Hijab and jilbab designs can vary significantly according to cultural standards as well as the tastes and preferences of the women who wear them. Both hijabs and jilbabs are worn in conformance with Islamic standards of modesty. It should also be noted that in Indonesia a headscarf is known as a jilbab, although this is not a common usage of the word in other countries.

While “hijab” technically refers to the Islamic modesty code for both men and women, it is colloquially used to describe a headscarf or head covering used by many women to cover their hair, necks, and in some cases shoulders, chest, and torso. In some cases, the hijab fits relatively tightly around a woman’s head and provides minimal coverage around the neck, where it either tucks into a woman’s blouse or falls around the high neckline of a woman’s shirt or blouse. In other cases, the hijab may provide more coverage by loosely draping over a woman’s upper body. Some women may also wear a face veil, often known as niqab, in addition to their headscarf.

A woman in a niqab, which is often worn with a hijab.
A woman in a niqab, which is often worn with a hijab.

A jilbab is a garment that is designed to conceal a woman’s body. In some cases, the jilbab may be floor length, although some women may prefer to wear a shorter garment. The jibab is typically made from thick cloth and flows away from the body, concealing a woman’s figure. Many jilbabs resemble long coats or shirt-dresses, although some can be caftan-like in appearance. These garments typically do not provide coverage for the head or neck, requiring wearers to don a separate headscarf. Some women choose to wear a jilbab over other clothing, and some may also simply wear a sturdy jilbab over their underwear and either a long skirt or trousers to avoid discomfort in hot weather.

A jilbab is designed to cover the entire body except for the hands, face, and feet.
A jilbab is designed to cover the entire body except for the hands, face, and feet.

Individual women may choose to wear the hijab and jilbab together or, depending on their preference, may wear only one or the other. Women who wear only a headscarf may choose to wear a dress, blouse, or tunic that is relatively loose and that meets the standards of modesty supported by their community. Some women may likewise refrain from wearing a headscarf but will still wear a jilbab.

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Discussion Comments


I'm a Muslim convert and recently started wearing a hijab. I am used to it now and very comfortable in it. It almost feels strange when I don't have it on.

I'm not sure about a jilbab though. I don't think I could wear it. Part of it is also that it would receive a lot of attention, both good and bad. Since Islamic attire is about keeping attention away, I think that in modern times, jilbab and niqab in Western countries may do the opposite and bring negative attention to a woman. So I actually feel that modest loose clothing with hijab is the safest and most acceptable attire for Muslim women in the West.


@burcinc-- That's a good question. I'm not an expert on Islamic customs on attire. As far as I know, covering the bosom is required for all women. There is some controversy among Muslim scholars on whether hair needs to be also covered. Most however agree that it does. Or say that the easiest way to cover the neck and bosom is to use a headscarf. Hence, it is most common to see Muslim women in modest, loose clothing, and a head scarf that covers their head and chest, including the neck.

I'm not sure if jilbab is a requirement. It is enforced in a few countries when women are outside like Saudia Arabia. But aside from this, it seems to vary from culture to culture and family to family. It's not possible to generalize.


Muslim women all dress very differently. I've met some who don't wear a headscarf but wear modest clothing in general. I've met others who wear just a headscarf and modest clothing. And I've seen others wearing the full hijab-jilbab-niqab trio. Why is this the case? Why do Muslim women dress differently? Are some of the Islamic rules on clothing flexible?

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    • A woman in a niqab, which is often worn with a hijab.
      By: Kevin Browne
      A woman in a niqab, which is often worn with a hijab.
    • A jilbab is designed to cover the entire body except for the hands, face, and feet.
      By: Distinctive Images
      A jilbab is designed to cover the entire body except for the hands, face, and feet.
    • A jilbab is often floor length.
      By: Jolanta Mayerberg
      A jilbab is often floor length.