This research is an exploratory study of ancient and modern perceptions with regard to Muslim female clothing practices. A combination of historical-comparative and social-science research methodology is utilised to determine how female clothing practices, specifically modest clothing, developed over millennia. The research belongs under the broad umbrella of qualitative data collection and analysis.
The study has a socio-historical, cultural, and religious focus and departs from the observation that Muslim female clothing practices imply a complex symbol of many meanings. Female clothing practices are analysed from a historical perspective as a cultural phenomenon with its roots in ancient Mediterranean societies (Chapter 2). These ancient cultural practices are re-applied and re-appropriated in Islamic tradition (Chapter 3) and find expression in modern society via Muslim women s choice to follow traditional clothing practices (Chapter 4). This allows the researcher to also study the phenomenon within the context of the social-sciences (Chapter 5). In this way the researcher approaches Muslim female clothing practices as a complex symbol with many meanings by means of a comprehensive research approach.
The ecological systems theory acts as theoretical framework for the study. Individuals interact within environmental systems. It creates a framework from which scholars can study the relationships between individuals and their communities and the wider society. The research develops in four phases. First, it explores the nature, development, meaning, and cultural significance of female clothing in the ancient Mediterranean world, with a specific focus on the origin of the cultural phenomenon. Second, it investigates wearing the hijab as a religious obligation according to Islamic tradition. Third, it investigates the significance of various facets of the hijab as it features in contemporary society. Finally, through a qualitative research approach, it explores women's perceptions of their choice to wear the hijab in a non-Muslim society.
The researcher concludes that an ancient cultural practice has been re-applied on a religious level in the Islamic context. In spite of many misconceptions and negative stereotyping Muslim women agree that they freely choose to wear the hijab because it gives visual expression to their identity as Muslims and protects them against objectification. By using the hijab as an opportunity for dialogue, better understanding of the practice might lead to increased tolerance for diverse cultural and religious practices in contemporary society.