Veiling Dictionary

An explanation of terms used in this website



The world of veiling can be difficult for the novice to understand as it is full of confusing and exotic terms such as jilbab, niqab, awrah and purdah that the average Westerner does not have a clue about. Therefore, to help you enjoy this site better, I have compiled this quick dictionary of commonly used terms. If there are any not included, that you feel should be, please let me know.

Dave Potter


The most commonly worn overgarment is the 'classic' or 'Saudi' abaya, which is an entirely black dress. But there is a wide variety of designs and styles from the classic dress with added decoration, and even colored basic fabric, to over-head types with sleeves reduced to openings in the basic sheet of fabric. The abaya is most often closed at the front with buttons or similar, but can be sewn closed, or not closed at all to be held closed by the hands.

abaya1    abaya2

To understand the word 'awrah', it is perhaps best to think of the English word 'aura' which has the same route. Awrah is the Arabic term that describes when something conjures up emotions (inveiling, usually negative) in something else. So we hear of 'voice awrah' in women. This is the idea that when women speak, their feminine tones tempt and incite men to sin. Consequently, they should be kept silent. In our stories, a gag tends to do the trick.

Can be spelt 'burka', 'bourka', 'burqua' or 'burkha'. This term is slightly confusing as it can be used for two very different garments. The first, and most prominent is the full body veil garment that is common in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and is famous because the Taliban enforced its wearing during their reign. The burqa is notably because it sits atop the head with a skull cap and then cascades down and around the body of the wearer. Vision is limited, usually through a small grille or on occasions two separate eye openings. The grille is generally embroidered and more often than not, beautiful embroidery covers the front which can be of varying lengths. Burqas come in a range of colours, though sky blue seems to be the 'in' shade at the moment. The backs of Afghan burqas are generally pleated, whilst Kashmiri ones are not. Kashmiri burqas are nearly all black and with two eye openings.

burqa afghan    burqa kashmir

The other burqa is the face mask of the Arabian peninsula and Iranian Gulf coast. The Arabian burqa masks are fabric dyed to look shiny black or gold, the latter often with eye openings so wide it is rather an ornament than a covering. The Iranian masks are of black or red fabric often with colorful stitchings.

burqa arab    burqa iran

(also called a boshiya, bushiyyah or ghatwa) is essentially a large square of sheer material with ties at the top and is worn from the top of the forehead (either under or over the wearers headscarf) and simply drapes down over the entire face and when flipped up exposes the wearers face in its entirety, if not worn on top of other veiling.



The all-encompassing black garment worn by women in Iran. Alas, the face is usually left free, but in old days it was nicely complemented by a RUBAND.

Also spelt 'chaderi' is another name for the beautiful full body-veils of Afghanistan. See BURQA.


A unique Indian long scarf made of soft cotton which compliments a salwar (loose trousers). It is most common to North Indian cultures, but has become common to virtually every South Asian culture. The most typical style of wearing a dupatta is to simply drape it over the chest and shoulders, however many also use it to wrap it around their heads as a face veil. Alternative names for dupatta include 'odhni', 'orna', 'churni', 'chunni' or 'chaadar'.


Arabic for 'required'.

(also spelt fitnah) comes from an Arabic verb which means to "seduce, tempt, or lure." In modern usage, it is used to describe forces that cause controversy, fragmentation, scandal, chaos, or discord within the Muslim community, disturbing social peace and order.

(also spelt ghoonghat) is a Hindi word for veil. A ghunghat is typically worn by married women of the household in Northern and Western India, and involves veiling the face by covering the whole head with the pallu (the loose end) of the sari. The ghunghat is compulsorily worn by new brides during their marriage. A DUPATTA can also be used as a ghunghat and this is particularly seen in Haryana where village women wrap the dupatta to cover their eyes as well.

ghunghat1      ghunghat2

An all-encompassing body-veil from North Africa usually made of white cotton. Only held close by the hands, but in some areas in such a way only one eye is seen. If not held to cover the face a scarf beneath can reduce the failure.

haik1    haik2

Arabic for lawful or allowed, especially used about food that may be eaten by Muslims. Opposite of HARAM.

Arabic for prohibited or shameful, and specifically refers to items prohibited by the Muslim religion, especially food. Opposite of HALAL.

Turkish from Arabic harim 'forbidden place'. This word is more often used to mean the women's quarters in a house or palace, which in most of these tales are full of unwilling veilees (called the harem as well) waiting to be taken advantage of.


Islamic clothing for women, though usually used when referring to a simple head-covering, such as a scarf alone, as opposed to full veil.


A baggy coat-like garment similar to an abaya that is worn in conjuction with veils.


Also known as a 'carsaff', this is a circular head covering with a hole cut out for the face, varying in length from waist to lower leg. Some differentiate between a Khimar and a Carsaff saying that the latter is the knee-length version of the former.

khimar yemen    khimar egypt

In Islamic sharia legal terminology a mahram is an unmarriageable kin with whom sexual intercourse would be considered incestuous. In relation to veiling mahram people are those a woman is allowed to show to unveiled.

The full face veil, any type, although this includes leaving the eyes free. But most often used to describe the veils with a strap to tie across the forehead from where a piece of opaque fabric hangs down attached in two or three points to leave a slit for the eyes. Often one or more layers of sheer material is attached to the top of the forehead band to cover both the inner opaque layer and the eyes. Flipping these layers back over the head selectively makes the wearer choose between having her eyes more or less covered and how much she is able to see herself. In stories covering the eyes with three layers often makes her almost blind, but unfortunately the layers of most real niqabs are so thin that is not the case.

niqab1    niqab2

Opposite of MAHRAM. In relation to veiling the people to whom a woman has to be veiled.

(or pak-chadar) is as the name says an innovation from Pakistan. It is basically a khimar with a niqab attached at one side and to be held across the face with a pin at the other.

pak chador

Literally Persian for 'curtain', this term is used to describe a way of life where women live in their own quarters separate from men, and are usually veiled when outside such quarters.

This was worn in Turkey up until the 1920s, and in Persia (Iran) until banned in 1936. It is the inspiration behind the burqa. Essentially it's a full faceveil with a tiny mesh for the wearer to see through, and long to cover where the CHADOR is held close.




validator logo