O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the women of the believers to draw their outer garments (jilbab) closely round themselves. This makes it more likely that they will be recognized [as free righteous women] and not be harmed. God is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Qur'an, 33:59)
The meaning of the Arabic word in the verse, “jilbab,” is a sheet or garment that covers the body from top to bottom. This verse from Surat al-Ahzab is therefore very clearly describing a garment that covers the head and the entire body. There is one reason cited for the wearing of such a garment, and that is for Muslim women to be recognized as free and chaste.
This means that some environments are not suitable for women to be able to move round in or dress freely. The structure of a society and the moral level of the people within it may sometimes lag behind that of the civilization. Some communities condemn women who walk around not completely covered and may even go so far as to inflict verbal or physical abuse on them. Under normal conditions, Muslim women will not go to such places unless they have no choice. Yet when they have to, it is essential for Muslim women to show that they are Muslims and chaste if they are to avoid unwelcome consequences. The jilbab worn by Muslim women in such environments is just such a measure.
This is of course something a woman will decide on for herself. The democratic and modern societies today generally do not meet this description of “unsafe places.” Therefore, women in Western societies do not generally feel the need to cover themselves up; that being said, there may also be people in such societies that do indeed pose a threat to women. So if a woman does not think she is safe she may well choose to cover herself up, even in a Western society because the essential condition mentioned in the verse is to prevent Muslim woman from being misjudged according to the way she dresses and oppressed.
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Surat an-Nur Verse 31, 1st Part
Misleading or Incorrect Translations Based on Fabricated Hadiths
What Needs to Be Known about the Meanings of the Arabic Versions of Verses and Accuracy of Interpretations
Surat an-Nur Verse 31, 2nd Part
The Error of Making Adornments and Accessories Unlawful
How Is the Word “Ornament” Used in the Qur'an?
The Region Referred to in Verse 31 of Surat an-Nur
Fabricated Hadiths on the Subject of the Head-Covering and Their Internal Inconsistencies
Forbidden Things Are Not Left Obscure in the Qur'an
The Desire to Shut Only Women and Their Bodies Away
Surat al-Ahzab Verse 59
Espousing the Head-Covering but Never Mentioning the “Jilbab”
A Muslim Woman Knows How to Dress in Accordance with the Qur'an