On my post about the religious discrimination Shabina Begum was faced with when her school would not allow her to wear jilbab http://ilovehishmatheblog.blogspot.com/2009/05/girl-i-admire-shabina-begum.html I realized that alot of people are mixing up cultural terms with Islamic ones. The way they do when they don't realize that hijab isn't just a headscarf. Jilbab isn't an abaya, though it may consist of one. Jilbab IS indeed an obligation on the Muslim woman and must be worn over her clothing when she leaves her home.
In the Quran, Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 (33:59) says:
Ya ayyuha an-Nabiyy qul li azwajika wa banatika wa nisa al-mu'minin yudnina alayhinna min jalabib hinna; dhalika adna an yu'rafna fa laa yu'dhayn. Wa kana Allahu Ghafur Rahim
O Prophet! Say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the faithful to draw their JALABIB close around them; that is better that they will be recognized and not annoyed. And God is ever Forgiving, Gentle.
The word "jalabib" is the plural of "jilbab". Clearly, this ayah states a command for Muslim women to wear a garment which Allah subhanhu wa ta'ala has called "jilbab". It was never revoked as a commandment, and a great number of ahadith help back that up, and make clearer what jilbab is and how it covers http://www.muhajabah.com/jilbab.htm#sharia. Since it is a commandment in the Qu'ran from Allah the Most High, if you told me I could not have a job or go to school if I wore it (whether you provided me with a plaid school skirt or a shalwar kameez) you would be asking my to disobey my Creator and the Qu'ran to forgo the jilbab, so obviously that it discriminating against my religion.
Alot of people seem to have the image of this in mind when they think of the word "jilbab":
They think "abaya". Well, an abaya can certainly be worn as jilbab (it makes an amazingly practical one and is often stylish too) but the word "jilbab" in classical Arabic, and in the usage of the scholars, is a very general term that may be translated into English simply as "outergarment". Key: all the sisters who posted on my Shabina Begum post listed the criteria of a jilbab that the scholar's have given for it, but they neglected the fact that all the four madhabs are unanimous that the jilbab is firstly, an overgarment.
Any outergarment that meets the criteria given above is a jilbab. There are many styles that are possible, and there are many outergarments in many Muslim cultures that can be used for what the Quran means by jilbab. These may be called "abaya", "chador", "khimar +skirt", "djellaba", "burnous", "haik", "milaya", or a thousand other names. They may even be called "jilbab".
What we must always keep clear in our minds is that there is the Quranic jilbab, which is any outergarment that meets the criteria set out in the Shari'a; and there may also be a "cultural jilbab" that refers to a very specific style. As Muslims we are responsible for following the Shari'a not Arab culture. When a word is used in the Quran or hadiths, we need to give it the definition it has according to the Shari'a, not the definition it might have in Arab culture.
So whether you wear an abaya, a chador, a djellaba, or indeed a "jilbab", be sure that it meets the criteria of the Shari'a:
It is an outergarment, an extra layer, something that you wear over your clothes
It is made of thick, opaque fabric so that nobody can see what is under it
It is loose so that nobody can see the contours of your figure
If you are going to wear a coat-like jilbab, be sure that your head and neck are covered by your khimar and that your feet are completely covered by your garment or by socks and shoes (and, if you follow that opinion, that your face is covered by your niqab).
Here is a vid to show you how mixed up people are in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia about the subject of jilbab (and hopefully people realize how hard is for women in supposedly Islamic countries to wear proper hijab against the wishes of family and friends and even husbands). I want to stress, there is no Caliphate in the world right now, and so there is no Islamic country, only a -cultural Muslim majority (the narrator of the vid doesn't mention this), and of course jilbab and khimar and even niqab existed before the advent of Islam as all the Prophets (allahi wa salaam) bore the message if Islam before their messages were corrupted. As one wise commentator on the vid wrote "of course the abaya [jilbab] was in Mesopotamia 4000 years ago before the Prophet Muhammad salallahu 3alaihi wa sallam because there were prophets there. We know that Ibrahim and Yunus 3alaihi salam were from Mesopotamia which is present day 3Iraq. These are the teachings of all the prophets. All the prophets taught hijab and the abaya or should I say jilbab is Qur'anic not cultural or traditional like people would want us to believe."
I am soooooooooo on the same page as the first Saudi girl. I wear jilbab because it is a religious obligation (and I understand it and interpret my clothes based on my understanding) but I don't think it should be enforced and disagree with any enforcement of hijab/jilbab/khimar on those who do not believe or have not yet the understanding the same way I object to anti-hijab anti-jilbab regulations. Here is the post I did on everything I think is proper Islamic jilbab http://ilovehishmatheblog.blogspot.com/2009/05/everything-i-think-makes-quranic-jilbab.html