A prayer hijab is a head covering used by Muslim women. The hijab is considered a covering for modesty, and, depending on the culture, it may be worn all the time the woman is in public, or only during religious services. The word hijab translates to curtain or cover from the native Arabic.
In some countries, like Iran, all women must wear the hijab in public. In others, such as France, wearing a prayer hijab is specifically banned. Many other countries leave wearing the hijab up to the woman and her family.
Originally, the word hijab referred to a space or curtain, such as the one between God and the world. The meaning was expanded into a physical curtain that Muslim men were expected to use as a shield between themselves and the Prophet Mohammed's wives. Muslim men, not the wives, were responsible for making sure there was a barrier between them and the women.
The prayer hijab has evolved into a simple head covering. It wraps around a woman's neck and over her head to cover everything from the neck up, except for her face. Different segments of the Muslim community have different beliefs about how much skin women should expose. Generally, the face and hands are permitted to be uncovered, and in some areas, the feet as well.
Young girls do not wear the hijab. In most countries, the girl begins wearing the hijab when she goes through puberty. The prayer hijab can be worn with traditional Muslim clothing, or with western style clothing, as long as the clothes are modestly cut, with long sleeves and legs, so that only the hands are exposed. The hijab is different from the more conservative burka, which covers the entire face, leaving only a small space for the eyes visible.
Wearing the prayer hijab is discussed in the Hadith of Sahih Bukhari, rather than the Qur'an. Covering the head during prayer, as well as other times, is to prevent the woman from being a distraction or temptation to men, as well as to protect her from unwanted attention from males. The hijab does not need to be worn in the privacy of the home, except during prayers, as long as the only men present are immediate family members. In the privacy of her home, with her husband, the woman wears whatever her and her husband have agreed makes them both the most comfortable.