On October 28, 2001, William Safire, wrote an interesting article in The New York Times.
Within a week of the terrorist attack, George W. Bush went to the Islamic Center in Washington and said, ''Women who cover their heads in this country must feel comfortable going outside their homes.'' In remarks to State Department employees on Oct. 4, President Bush spoke warmly of ''stories of Christian and Jewish women alike helping women of cover, Arab-American women, go shop because they're afraid to leave their home.''
At a televised news conference a week later, he reprised this ecumenical theme: ''In many cities when Christian and Jewish women learned that Muslim women, women of cover, were afraid of going out of their homes alone . . . they went shopping with them . . . an act that shows the world the true nature of America.'' He repeated that phrase, women of cover, calling ''such an outpouring of compassion . . . such a wonderful example.''
The cover is a veil that expresses Muslim piety. The hijab, meaning ''cover, curtain,'' can range from a floral kerchief that leaves the face exposed, to the niqab, abbaya or in Persian, chador, which covers the whole body except the face, to the burka, as worn in Afghanistan, which covers everything. ''To have good hijab'' is a general term meaning ''to be properly covered.'' Some Muslim women believe that the cover need not be worn outside the mosque. The linguistic question: in describing the wearers of the veil, is it women who cover, as the president first used it, or women of cover?
Sue Obeidi, at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, uses women who cover, women who wear the scarf and women who wear hijab. She is unfamiliar with women of cover, and I cannot find it on databases.
It's possible that the president coined the phrase; if so, it was on the analogy of women of color, a description adopted by many nonwhites. (Though colored people is dated and almost a slur, people of color is not in the least offensive.) The substitution of who with of in the cover category introduces a nice parallel to the woman of color phrase; we'll see if it takes.
The article ends with the phrase 'we'll see if it takes'.
Now, after more than ten years, what can a native speaker, living in the U.S., say about that expression 'women of cover'? Paraphrasing Mr Safire's words, did it take?
Google Search shows more than 18,000 hits for "women of cover", but for those who live outside of the U.S. that number says nothing at all but simply leads to this question.