There are various levels of conservatism in the Kingdom and particularly among the women. I have posted previously on the distinction of different types of head covering and veiling for women but due to the number of search terms about “niqab, veil, and why some women wear black gloves” I realize it may be prudent to do an updated post on this subject.
FYI – yes; the platform which I use for hosting my blog provides me with various statistics to include google search terms used which led viewers to my blog. Repetitive search terms are a useful tool for assisting me in ensuring that I continue to write about topics of interest to readers.
To begin with, covering the head is a choice in the Kingdom for both muslim and non-muslim women. However many muslim women will advise you it is not a choice but decreed of their religion. Given that I know many muslim women from around the world who have chosen not to cover I believe that whether or not to cover is more of cultural mandate that specifically a religious mandate.
How can they cover? They can choose to wear a hijab which is basically a head scarf which covers the hair and leaves the face open to view.
They can wear a niqab which covers the hair and the face with the exception of the eyes.
Or a woman can choose to be fully veiled. Usually in this case she will wear a niqab and then have a sheer black veil overtop that comes down and conceals her eyes from view. However the material is sheer enough that she can continue to see without her eyes being exposed.
Before I continue on with the topic of covering and how much is covered, I am writing this in reference to when a woman is out publicly. This does not apply when she is in the privacy of her own home and surrounded by immediate family (mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter, uncle, aunt). How much or how little she chooses to cover when within her own home is her decision.
The women who choose to cover more rather than less do so because they believe that no one unrelated to them has the right to see them. This is comparable to protecting ones chastity and purity.
In addition to covering of the hair and the face, one may also see women who will wear black gloves as well. Again, this goes back to the belief that no one unrelated has the right to see any part of a woman from not within the immediate family. Therefore, the hands will be gloved as well so no skin is viewed. And in case you were wondering, these same women who choose to wear the black gloves will also wear thick dark opaque socks and shoes so the ankles are not in view either.
As I mentioned at the beginning, the muslim women who will choose to cover in this manner are usually among the more conservative. A lot of these women will come from small rural areas, from the desert and be part of the old traditional beduion tribes. Another segment of these women will be muslim converts from many different nationalities to include Americans and other Westerners. It is not unusual for a muslim convert to take both the rules of Islam and suggestions very seriously to demonstrate their commitment to their chosen faith.
The BBC also has an article from October 2006 which is also an interesting read in regards to Muslim women and their decisions on how much to cover and why: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/5411320.stm
And Apologetics Index which is a site comprised of resources on world religions had the following which is an interesting read as well: http://www.apologeticsindex.org/504-muslim-veils