The practice of hijab among Muslim women is one based on religious doctrine, although the Qur'an does not mandate it. Instead, it comes from the Hadith of Sahih Bukhari. The Hadith, the "tradition of Mohammed," reveals the teachings of the Prophet to believers. Bukhari's version of this text is generally regarded as the standard one, although numerous versions exist. In a very broad sense, the relation the Hadith has to the Qur'an resembles the New Testament's to the Old in Christian scriptures.
According to the Hadith, "My Lord agreed with me ('Umar) in three things... (2) And as regards the veiling of women, I said 'O Allah's Apostle! I wish you ordered your wives to cover themselves from the men because good and bad ones talk to them.' So the verse of the veiling of the women was revealled" (Bukhari, v1, bk 8, sunnah 395).
Surah XXXIII, Verse 59 of the Qur'an is most often cited in support of veiling. It states "O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close around them. that will be better, so that they may be recognized and not annoyed. Allah is ever forgiving, merciful...." (from A.Yusef Ali's translation of the Qur'an; other versions translate the original Arabic as "veils" where Ali uses "cloaks").
The veil is not a uniquely Islamic convention; the practice has a long history in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Catholic nuns engage in the practice, of course, and there are several references to the practice in both the Old and New Testaments (King James Version). Ironically, the representation of veiling in the Bible is much more problematic than those in the Qur'an or the Hadith, because the Judeo-Christian sources imply that women should be covered because of their inherent inferiority. I Corinthians 11 (3-10) offers one example:
- But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying having his head covered, dishonoreth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn or shaven; but if it be a hame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.