This work explores how Muslim women in Egypt and Yemen understand the hijab, or head scarf. Based on data (N = 100) from a self-administered questionnaire written in Arabic, differences about the meaning of hijab are examined from the perspective of women who wear or are expected to wear the head scarf. When asked what the hijab means, Egyptian women focus on religious reasons and Yemeni women emphasize a cultural (or modesty) understanding. When probed further about their understanding of hijab, Egyptian women split between religious and gendered explanations. Significant numbers of women in our Egyptian sample report the hijab to be a symbol of oppression. On the other hand, Yemeni women rarely offer a gendered understanding of the hijab; instead, they focus on religious, domestic, and psychological reasons for wearing the head scarf.

Author Biography

Kenneth E. Jackson is a PhD student in the Department of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. His research interests include the sociology of culture, identity, criminology, deviance, immigration and Middle Eastern studies. He received his BA in Sociology with a concentration in African Area Studies from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, MA in Applied Sociology from Old Dominion University and has also studied at the American University in Cairo and Yemen College of Middle Eastern Studies.

Elizabeth Monk-Turner is Professor of Sociology and Criminal Justice at Old Dominion University. Her early research focuses on gender inequalities as well as higher education. This work appears in The American Sociological Review, Feminist Economics, The Sociological Quarterly, Justice Quarterly, and Social Indicators Research among others. Current research explores health and subjective well-being.