Walking around Istanbul I have often seen women dressed in a variety of different looks, including some women who wear the traditional and more conservative hijab and burka (robe). A hijab, which translates as "screen or curtain," is veil that covers the head and face. This symbolic veil is worn by some Islamic women to show separation from man and God; the veil is thought to separate these two worlds. Most Islamic women wear this style of dress to show modesty, humility and privacy, and while modesty is acknowledged as an important value in Islam, the whole text does not require women to veil themselves. Some girls begin to wear the veil after reaching puberty.
When entering a mosque there are different customs for men women. In general, more men frequent the mosque than women to worship. Women tend to worship more at home, while men often return to the mosques to pray, which is required of all Muslims five times a day. When women do enter the mosque, including myself, its necessary to cover your head with a scarf. I learned after forgetting my scarf, that they will even provide one for you if you are forgetful. It's also customary for Muslims to cleanse their hands and feet in the ablution areas, which are located outside the mosque. To further represent the idea of purity and cleanliness, you must remove your shoes before entering a mosque.
Once you enter mosque there are often divided areas for men and women to worship in, and while these areas are relatively new gender division in Islam. I was happy to visit the area where women pray. As I sat, I heard a mother chanting from the Qur'an to her children, and I was even fortunate enough to see her teaching her young children how to read these scriptures.
While Islam continues to adapt to the modern world, the Qur'an has become the basis for these types of interpretations. For example, the rationale behind women wearing the more conservative hijab likely stems from this Qur'ranic verse:
"...And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their khimār (scarf) over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husband, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. (Quran 24:31)"