Hijab. Headscarf. Veil. These words are all used interchangeably today to refer to what Muslim women use to cover their head and openly identify themselves as Muslims – the ones who submit to the will of Allah. Depending upon where she lives, the Hijab or dress-code of a Muslim woman can take on different forms in accordance with the clothing culture of the people. It is therefore of great importance to understand what Hijab really means, and to truly ask ourselves, “Is Hijab something that is dependent upon our own culture and society?”, “Why do we wear the Hijab in the first place?” and “Is it solely based on one’s own choice?”
There has been a growing trend among many young Muslims to promulgate the “My Body, My Choice” movement. So they openly declare to the world that the Hijab they once wore is no longer something they align with, thus making it an acceptable choice to remove their Hijab. The choice is theirs after all. This trend is ever so popular in recent times, and thus it seems apparent that the true meaning of Hijab is almost completely lost among many Muslims today, leading them down the dark path that we see unfolding before our very eyes.
We must then ask ourselves, what is the Hijab? Is it just a piece of cloth covering our heads? Is it a fashion statement? There has plenty been said on Hijab in recent times and even more against it. What does our Creator say about Hijab?
Allah says us in the Quran:
“And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.” [Surah An-Nur: 31]
This verse has been subjected to opinions and a common word thrown around is that verses about Hijab can have different ‘’interpretations”, casting doubts on the whole issue. Let us reflect upon what the believing women are commanded to do, directly from the translation:
- Lower their gaze
- Guard their private parts
- Not display their beauty and ornaments except what (ordinarily) appears thereof
- Take their khimar and cover their chest
- Not to display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, etc.
It is very difficult to see how a verse with so many specific, step-by-step commandments can be written off as someone’s “interpretation.”
The above ayah of the Quran – the words of Allah عزّ وجلّ, He Himself – tells us, the believing women – the ones who submit to the will of Allah – what hijab is and how it should be worn. Isn’t Allah the One Who gives us life and will one day take it away? Isn’t Allah the One Who gave us the gift of Guidance and The One Who honoured us to be Muslim women? Should we not then obey His command to cover our beauty and adorn ourselves with the proper Islamic code of conduct both inwardly and outwardly?
The question then follows, what is Hijab exactly? Recently, we see the growing popularity of Muslim women making the Hijab something to be used as a fashion statement, a piece of clothing to be marketed to the masses, in any size, shape and colour you can think of. From Muslim models on the runway, to Muslim women wearing Hijab in music videos, from commercials to make-up tutorials, Hijab has become a trend-setting, fashion embodiment of what the ‘ideal’ Muslim woman should look like to be considered ‘free and liberated’.
But wait, how did the women around the Prophet ﷺ take in the verses about Hijab?
Aishah رضي الله عنها said: “The women of Quraysh are good, but by Allah I have never seen any better than the women of the Ansar, or any who believed the Book of Allah more strongly or had more faith in the Revelation. When Surah An-Nur was revealed – “and to draw their veils all over Juyoobihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms)” – their menfolk came to them and recited to them what had been revealed, and there was not one woman among them who did not go to her apron, and the following morning they prayed wrapped up as if there were crows on their heads. [Bukhari]
Obedience. Submission. Immediate compliance. Aren’t they the women who lived with our Prophet? Aren’t they most worthy of being followed than today’s trend-setters?
“Isn’t it beautiful how Surat an-Noor (the Light) is the chapter that encourages lowering the gaze, getting married, wearing hijab, respecting privacy, avoiding lewd gossip, and fleeing from fornication? By that, Allah reminds us that when you allow yourself to get immersed in immorality, such a heart is no longer eligible to carry the light of Allah. You lost your humanity, and Allah chose that humans – not animals – be privileged to carry His light of guidance within them.”
Another peek into the Hijab during the time of Prophet ﷺ:
Narrated Umm Atiyya: We were ordered to bring out our menstruating women and screened women to the religious gatherings and invocation of the Muslims on the two Eid festivals. These menstruating women were to keep away from the musalla. A woman asked, “O Messenger of Allah! What about one who does not have a jilbab?” He said, “Let her borrow the jilbab of her companion”. [Sahih Bukhari]
It is very clear how much the Jilbab was of importance to the Sahabiyaat – where we can see that they did not even go out if they didn’t have one. When they were instructed to go out for Eid prayers, this was their concern. From the answer of the Prophet, we confirm that importance. Did he excuse them? No, he asked them to borrow one.
Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said: “Allah is modest and covering. He loves modesty and privacy.” [Ahmad].
Surely, it is not simply a clothing line to be bought and sold; Hijab is a screen, a covering of modesty both outwardly and inwardly. It is the way we carry about ourselves as the ones who say we believe in Allah. Hijab is a protection from the vices and the unwanted luring of those not fit to be a part of our lives, it is a means of drawing closer to Allah, not drawing the attention of the people closer to us.
That is why Allah’s Messenger ﷺ said: “Modesty is part of Iman and Iman is in Paradise.” [At-Tirmidhi]. Also: “Modesty and Iman are companions, when one goes away the other one goes away.” [Al-Haakim and others].
Hijab is a veil of modesty and integrity, for both females and males.
Does that mean that the colour of the hijab be only black?
Our Sheikh, Ibrahim Nuhu advises, “Wear any color that you want as long as it is not attractive. If black is attractive then a sister shouldn’t wear black. The main objective is to turn attention away and not towards. The culture and nature of the people can also be taken into account. That’s why she doesn’t wear perfume as heads will turn to see the source of the smell, and she doesn’t hit the ground while walking etc.
Know that Shaitan opens doors gradually. If we avoid the path that leads to the Haram then we are safe in avoiding the Haram as well. Block all such paths and be patient instead of taking a chance and suffering in the future and in the hereafter as well.
Staying away from the doubts is a source of safeguarding one’s honour. Today people want to find any loophole and exert effort in finding any random fatwa to allow them to do all that is doubtful and especially in matters of business transactions. But remember, don’t exaggerate in abstaining for that is also an extreme that causes harm. A person does not reach the peak of Taqwa till they abstain from even that which is permissible to them. This was a way to train oneself from going towards the impermissible.”
Getting back to the topic, Abdullah Ibn Masud is known as the most knowledgeable Sahabi in matters of Shariah; became Muslim when he was a young kid and stayed with Prophet ﷺ, understanding the Quran from him. Umar Ibn Khattab said about him, “By Allah, I don’t know of any person who is more qualified in the matters dealing with the Quran than Abdullah Ibn Masud”. How did he explain the word ‘Jilbaab’ (Surah Ahzab, 59)? He said that it means a cloak which covers the entire body including the head, face and hands.
This means that the Islamic dress code for women does not only consist of a scarf that covers the head, the neck and the bosom; it also includes the overall dress that should be long and loose.So, for instance, the combination of a tight, short sweater with tight-fitting jeans with a scarf over the head does not fulfill the requirements of the Islamic dress code. Honestly, that would be making mockery or doing the exact opposite of what was expected of us.
Let’s get a bit technical for a minute. Promise it’ll be just for a minute. In Islam, rulings of allowance, prohibition etc are based on and linked to the effective cause (illah) and not the wisdom (hikmah) and the fruits of it. All that is secondary and an added bonus. It is good to know the hikmah behind a ruling, but what is more important is to know the illah behind it.
Lets look at wearing of the hijab.
- Wisdom: Covering the body, modesty, protection, safeguarding the chastity etc.
- Illah: The presence of mature woman (who has hit puberty) infront of non mahram men makes the hijab wajib upon her. This is irrespective of there being desire from her or the men’s side or no matter how beautiful, ugly, or whatever she might perceive herself or how she is perceived by others.
Basing rulings on the wisdom gives so much scope that the very ruling can collapse. That is why it is very important to base it on the illah. Without it the Shariah would not have the order and consistency that it has. SO, when women remove the hijab claiming they have been liberated, freed from oppression and Allah knows what’s in the heart – Little does a woman realize that it isn’t about WHAT the disobedience is, but rather about WHOM she is disobeying.
Hijab and The World
Let’s have a look at hijab from a different angle. When the Europeans penetrated the interior of Africa a century ago, they found some tribes who went about naked. They forced the tribes to wear clothes as mark of civilization. “Now those advocates of ‘civilization’ are themselves discarding their clothes. One often wonders if the ‘primitive tribes’ of the last century were not more civilized than the rest of the world. After all, it is rest of the world which is now imitating the ways of the so-called primitive society.
Christianity, as well as Islam, figured how important it is for a woman to wear hijab. We can easily see that the nuns are still wearing their own hijab and the society in large see this as a normal condition. Whereas, when it comes to Islam all voices come against the idea itself. If one were to peruse historical books of various times and ages, one would find modest covering of women in almost every society. The other point is that modesty is a component in several world religions, particularly in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It may come as a surprise to many that it was not Islam that invented modesty or hijab. This existed in the laws of religions revealed before Islam, and remnants can still be found in the altered books of those faiths. With the final message given to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, the order for Hijab was confirmed and finalized.
This is a reality since all of those revelations came from the same source, Allah. Maryam (Mary), mother of Isa (Jesus) (may Allah exalt their mention), is rarely depicted without a traditional head-covering and one would assume her to be Muslim (which, of course, she was). One can still find both Jewish and Christian women today who cover in much the same way as Muslim women. It is one of the common bonds that are shared by these three major faiths.
Saeed Akhtar rightly said, “To look at one’s own religious or cultural history and then to pass a judgment against another religion is, on the milder side, an intellectual miscalculation, and, on the harsher side, outright cultural imperialism!
Hijab is not meant for restriction rather it is a means in which society may function in an appropriate manner. Islamic regulations are unique to the highest standards of the Muslim identity of chastity, righteousness, and moral uprightness. Islam protects and safeguards the individuals and the society from awkward situations. Islam does not suppress desires as is famously portrayed, rather it keeps them in check and disciplines it. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Verily for every religion there is a characteristic, and the characteristic of Islam is Haya`a (modesty, shyness, bashfulness)” [Ibn Majah]
A woman who wears hijab liberates herself from the vain and selfish desire to show off her beauty and to compete with other women around her. This is an innate desire that is exacerbated by wanton display and tamed by modesty and covering. With the hijab, a woman does not have to live up to society’s expectations of what is desirable, and she no longer has to use her beauty to obtain recognition or acceptance from those around her. It might be a tough battle, but then again check who you are hanging out with, who your friends are, for they play a major role in your religion and how YOU implement it. Parents should make sure that their daughters actually understand why they start wearing the hijab in the first place. It should be for the sake of Allah, and not out of fear of parents and the comments of the society.
Sheikh Ibrahim Nuhu touching on this validation issue said, “Some scholars of the opinion that all of the woman is awrah and that the niqab is compulsory. Other scholars are of the opinion that everything is to be covered except for the face and the hands. There is a difference of opinion as both sides bring ahadith to support their claim; and it’s always better to be on the safer side.
There is no difference of opinion, rather there is a consensus of the scholars that no matter what is covered or uncovered of the woman; a man has to lower his gaze and cannot look at her more than the first time. If that’s the case then how can we accept the fact of having sisters put their pictures on the Internet where a person can look at it again and again, hence both parties incur sin. This is a very serious matter which we now take lightly.”
We live in times of massive change around us, and among these changes are Muslims who change their stance day by day on matters pertaining to the Deen. Social media and captivating speech can attract thousands of fans and suddenly mere fleeting thought and opinions become as valid as a Fatwa.
Let us not fall into the trap laid out for us by so many around us, that we have the choice and freedom whether we want to obey or disobey Allah. Of course, we do! We do have the choice, without a doubt. But do we willfully want to choose to disobey the One who Created us? Even if our human weaknesses make it difficult for us to comply, do we proudly flaunt our wrong choices that may encourage others to do the same? There are so many questions for us to sit and ponder over. Think. Reflect. Act.
- Joint Article by Umm Hafsah Rumaisah, Aathifa Feroze, and Mohammad Zahid
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