The Question of Hijab: Suppression Or Liberation?
Why do Muslim women have to cover their heads? This question is one which is asked by Muslim and non-Muslim alike. For many women it is the truest test of being a Muslim.
The answer to the question is very simple – Muslim women observe HIJAB (covering the head and the body) because Allah has told them to do so. “O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women to draw their outer garments around them (when they go out or are among men). That is better in order that they may be known (to be Muslims) and not annoyed…” [Noble Quran 33:59]
Other secondary reasons include the requirement for modesty in both men and women. Both will then be evaluated for intelligence and skills instead of looks and sexuality. An Iranian school girl is quoted as saying, “We want to stop men from treating us like sex objects, as they have always done. We want them to ignore our appearance and to be attentive to our personalities and mind. We want them to take us seriously and treat us as equals and not just chase us around for our bodies and physical looks.” A Muslim woman who covers her head is making a statement about her identity.
Anyone who sees her will know that she is a Muslim and has a good moral character. Many Muslim women who cover are filled with dignity and self esteem; they are pleased to be identified as a Muslim woman. As a chaste, modest, pure woman, she does not want her sexuality to enter into interactions with men in the smallest degree. A woman who covers herself is concealing her sexuality but allowing her femininity to be brought out.
The question of Hijab for Muslim women has been a controversy for centuries and will probably continue for many more. Some learned people do not consider the subject open to discussion and consider that covering the face is required, while a majority are of the opinion that it is not required. A middle line position is taken by some who claim that the instructions are vague and open to individual discretion depending on the situation. The wives of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) were required to cover their faces so that men would not think of them in sexual terms since they were the “Mothers of the Believers,” but this requirement was not extended to other women.
The word “Hijab” comes from the Arabic word “hajaba” meaning to hide from view or conceal. In the present time, the context of Hijab is the modest covering of a Muslim woman. The question now is what is the extent of the covering? The Quran says:
“Say to the believing man that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them; and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; and that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands…” [Noble Quran 24:30-31]
These verses from the Quran contain two main injunctions:
A woman should not show her beauty or adornments except what appears by uncontrolled factors such as the wind blowing her clothes, and
the head covers should be drawn so as to cover the hair, the neck and the bosom.
Islam has no fixed standard as to the style of dress or type of clothing that Muslims must wear. However, some requirements must be met. The first of these requirements is the parts of the body which must be covered. Islam has two sources for guidance and rulings: first, the Quran, the revealed word of Allah and secondly, the Hadith or the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) who was chosen by Allah to be the role model for mankind. The following is a Tradition of the Prophet:
“Ayshah reported that Asma’ the daughter of Abu Bakr came to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) while wearing thin clothing. He approached her and said: ‘O Asma’! When a girl reaches the menstrual age, it is not properthat anything should remain exposed except this and this. He pointed to theface and hands.” [Abu Dawud]
The second requirement is looseness. The clothing must be loose enough so as not to describe the shape of the woman’s body. One desirable way to hide the shape of the body is to wear a cloak over other clothes. However, if the clothing is loose enough, an outer garment is not necessary. Thickness is the third requirement. The clothing must be thick enough so as not to show the color of the skin it covers or the shape of the body. The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) stated that in later generations of his Ummah there would be
“women who would be dressed but naked and on top of their heads (what looks like) camel humps. Curse them for they are truly cursed.” [Muslim]
Another requirement is an over-all dignified appearance. The clothing should not attract men’s attention to the woman. It should not be shiny and flashy so that everyone notices the dress and the woman. In addition there are other requirements:
Women must not dress so as to appear as men.
“Ibn Abbas narrated: ‘The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) cursed the men who appear like women and the women who appear like men.'” [Bukhari]
Women should not dress in a way similar to the unbelievers.
The clothing should be modest, not excessively fancy and also not excessively ragged to gain others admiration or sympathy.
Often forgotten is the fact that modern Western dress is a new invention. Looking at the clothing of women as recently as seventy years ago, we see clothing similar to Hijab. These active and hard-working women of the West were not inhibited by their clothing which consisted of long, full dresses and various types of head covering. Muslim women who wear Hijab do not find it impractical or interfering with their activities in all levels and walks of life. Hijab is not merely a covering dress but more importantly, it is behavior, manners, speech and appearance in public. Dress is only one facet of the total being. The basic requirement of the Muslim woman’s dress apply to the Muslim man’s clothing with the difference being mainly in degree. Modesty requires that the area between the navel and the knee be covered in front of all people except the wife. The clothing of men should not be like the dress of women, nor should it be tight or provocative. A Muslim should dress to show his identity as a Muslim. Men are not allowed to wear gold or silk. However, both are allowed for women.
For both men and women, clothing requirements are not meant to be a restriction but rather a way in which society will function in a proper, Islamic manner.
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(Published by The Institute of Islamic Information and Education (III&E) and reproduced in electronic form by Islamic Academy for Scientific Research with permission)
Islam is a complete way of life, each and every aspect is designed by our Creator to advance happy, healthy communities and ease the path to eternal bliss in Paradise. In today’s society modesty is seen as a sign of weakness or insecurity. This is not the case in Islam, where modesty is seen as a sign of respect for oneself and others. The modesty that every human being is born with is seen as something to be treasured. To this end Islam has a dress code for both women and men. Its purpose is to protect the society as a whole and promote modest dressing and behaviour. It creates a barrier between the sexes and allows us to conduct our lives with modesty, dignity and respect.Islam holds women in very high esteem and the Islamic rules of covering are intended to protect and guard her dignity and honour. The word used most often in regard to covering is hijab. All qualified Muslim scholars throughout the history of Islam agree that fulfilling the conditions of the dress code is an obligation on all Muslim men and women. They have based these conditions on evidence found in the Quran and the Sunnah. Below are the most well known verses of the Quran and the most well known saying from the Prophet Muhammad concerning the subject of hijab.
“O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies. That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed. (Quran 33:59)
Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and protect their private parts (from sins); and they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what appear thereof… (Quran 24:31).
When a girl reaches the menstrual age, it is not proper that anything should remain exposed except this and this. He pointed to the face and hands.[ Abu Dawud]
The purpose of hijab is to cover the awrah and awrah varies in different situations and amongst different groups of people.
We begin with the conditions of hijab for a woman in public and amongst non-mahram men. As long as these conditions are fulfilled a woman may wear whatever she pleases.
1. The hijab (covering) must conceal the entire body except the face and the hands.
2. It should not be translucent or tight. Tight clothes, even if they conceal the colour of the skin, still describe the size and shape of the body or part of it, and create vivid images.
3. It should not attract the attention of the opposite gender; thus it should not be extravagant or excessively opulent. Nor should jewellery and makeup be on display.
4. It should not be a garment worn because of vanity or to gain popularity or fame. The female companions were known to wear black and other dark colours but other colours are permissible; a woman must not however wear colourful clothes because of vanity.
5. It should not be perfumed. This prohibition applies to both the body and the clothes.
6. It should not resemble the clothing worn by men.
7. It should not resemble the clothing that is specific to the non-Muslims.
Men’s Dress code:
Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and protect their private parts (from sins). That is purer for them. And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. (Quran 24:30)
Although they are sometimes overlooked or not well understood there are conditions of dress code for men as well. Some of the conditions are the same as the conditions for woman but others relate particularly to men.
1. The part of the body from the naval to the knees should be covered.
2. It should not resemble the clothing that is specific to the non-Muslims. Western clothing that does not represent a certain group or sect is normally permitted.
3. It should not resemble the clothing worn by women.
4. It should not be tight or see-through.
5. A man is not permitted to wear garments made of silk, or jewellery made of gold.
6. Two types of adornment are forbidden to men but permitted for women. These are, gold and clothing made of pure silk.
The scholars of Islam overwhelmingly agree that for men everything between the navel and the knees (including the knees) must be covered in the presence of anybody. The only exception to this is a man in the presence of his wife.
allso it is recommended for men not to wear garments that fall below the ankles.
The definition of awrah is the parts of the body that should be covered and this does vary in different situations among different groups of people.However, to fully implement the Islamic dress code it is important to understand a number of other situations in which awrah becomes important.
The awrah of a woman in front of her husband:
There is no awrah between a husband and wife. When a woman is alone with her husband she is permitted to wear any clothing that pleases them both.
And among His Signs is this that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts. (Quran 30:21)
The awrah of a woman in front of her mahrams:
Who is my mahram? For ease of writing and understanding we outline mahram’s for a woman; however the mahram relationships are the same whether the person in question is female or male. (Father/mother; son/daughter etc)
A mahram is a person one is never permitted to marry, because of a close blood relationship, breastfeeding or marriage. One’s spouse is also one’s mahram. A mahram is a person one is allowed to be alone with.
.A close blood relationship: For a female, her father, grandfather, son, grandson, brother, both paternal and maternal uncles and nephews. Likewise for a male, his mother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, both paternal and maternal aunties and nieces.
.Breastfeeding: This includes anyone, male or female breastfed by the same mother or wet nurse. (and includes the brother or husband of the one who breast fed the person in question)
.Marriage: People who become your relations by marriage for example father-in-law, mother-in-law, stepfather, step-grandfather, stepson.
When a woman is amongst her mahrams, the scholars of Islam agree that a woman does not have to observe strict rules of covering but rather that she is able to uncover her hair, face, arms, hands, legs from below the knee, and feet. However, a Muslim woman must always remember that she is known for her modesty and haya, therefore she must never make a wanton display of herself.
And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts, etc.) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent and to draw their veils and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husband’s sons, their brothers or their brother’s sons, or their sister’s sons, or their women, or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women… (Quran 24:31)
The awrah of a woman in front of other (Muslim) women:
A woman should dress decently in front of other Muslim women; she can uncover what she would usually uncover, her hair, arms, feet. As for other parts of her body, such as her thighs, and breast area, they should not be uncovered
. Although she is allowed to wear beautiful and flattering clothes and make up, she must take great care to behave and dress in a manner that befits her station and does not offend the haya of other women.
If a Muslim woman finds herself in a situation where there are other women who are known to be morally bad, then she must dress accordingly and must follow the same rules of awrah that apply when in public. (The rules we learned as the conditions of hijab.)
The awrah of a woman in front of non-Muslim women:
This is a matter of some disagreement between scholars. Some say that the same rules apply as for Muslim women, however others say that a woman must observe stricter rules for covering amongst non-Muslim women.
At the time of the Prophet, Jewish women and those who worshipped idols used to enter upon the wives of the Prophet for various reasons. It is not narrated that the Prophet’s wives, the best and most pious of women, covered themselves in that situation.[Sheikh Ibn Baaz, in al-Fataawa al-Jaami’ah li’l-Mar’ah al-Muslimah]
When a woman is deciding on what level of covering to observe in front of non Muslim women she must remember that non-Muslim women may be unaware that she should not describe a Muslim woman’s beauty to any man.
Thus it is important that she makes her decisions based on each different situation. Muslim women should always dress in clothes that above all else express her modesty and dignity. If there are unknown women in a gathering perhaps it would be better to have a higher degree of covering.
The awrah of a woman in front of her children:
If the child is an infant or unable to understand the meaning of awrah and sexuality then it is permissible for her to uncover herself to the same degree as with other Muslim women. If however the child is a male and comes to an age where he understands the meaning of awrah and the difference between men and women then the women’s awrah is the same as it is for other male mahrams.
All Muslims, male or female, should maintain a sense of haya (modesty) at all times because haya is part of faith. A person’s clothing is usually one of the indicators of their modesty.
The Prophet said, “Faith consists of more than sixty branches (i.e. parts). And haya is a part of faith.”[Saheeh Al-Bukhari]
The Awrah Whilst Praying:
What to wear when praying. Praying is something that every Muslim does at least five times per day. It is more than a few moments of quiet contemplation – it is a time when an individual is connected to the Creator of the Universe – Allah. For this pleasure it makes sense to want to look and feel our best.
When the time comes for a woman to pray, one of the conditions that must be fulfilled in order for her prayer to be valid is that she covers her awrah.
“…Take your adornment (by wearing your clean clothes) while praying…” (Quran 7:31)
The Prophet said, ‘Allah does not accept the prayer of a woman who has reached puberty unless she wears a veil’.
The awrah of a woman when she prays is the same as for non-mahram men. However it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to wear a long loose fitting garment over her indoor clothes, presuming she is praying in the privacy of her home. If she is praying in the masjid, of course she will be wearing clothes that are acceptable in front of strangers.
In order for a man’s prayer to be valid he too must cover his awrah, which is from the navel to the knees. However because Islam is a religion that is very concerned with community cohesion and respect for others, a man must always be aware of where he is. In accordance to the spirit of haya it is always advisable for a Muslim (man or woman) to be cautious about those things that could affect either him or those around him.
It is desirable for a man to wear perfume when he is standing in front of his Lord for prayer. Women must be careful of this point. While it is allowable, even desirable for her to wear perfume in the home it is not acceptable for either her skin or her clothing to be perfumed if she wants to pray in the masjid.
“If any one of you (women) attends evening prayer, let her not touch any perfume.”[Saheeh Muslim]
The Wisdom in the Islamic Dress Code
There is great wisdom in the Islamic dress code. In order to see and understand it clearly one must remember a few basic concepts. First and foremost, that Islam was revealed for all people in all places, at all times. Thus what is in or out of fashion is not relevant. Secondly, Islam is a holistic religion concerned with humankind’s physical, spiritual and emotional health, and not just for each individual but for the community or society as a whole. This involves respect; for Allah, for each other and for oneself.
Thirdly, a dress code is required for both men and women, Islam does not put the responsibility entirely on one gender, and in fact the verses referring to men were revealed first. However both men and women are commanded to lower their gaze and protect their modesty; and both men and women are expected to create a healthy social environment with constructive morals, manners and values.
The term hijab, is more than a scarf and more than a dress code. It is a term that denotes modest dressing and modest behaviour. For instance, if a Muslim woman was correctly covered but at the same time using bad language, she would not be fulfilling the requirements of hijab. If a Muslim man was covered from the navel to the knee but walking around in public calling attention to himself or behaving rudely he would also not be behaving in an appropriate manner.
Women who wear hijab point out many benefits to be gained from adhering to the Islamic dress code. Some describe wearing hijab as being “set free” from society’s unrealistic expectations. They are no longer thought of as sexual objects, but are desired for their intellect. They are no longer valued for their looks or body shape but for their personality and character. Women wearing hijab report that it minimises sexual harassment in the workplace.
Many women report that people (both Muslims and non Muslims) are more inclined to show good manners towards a woman in a scarf. Men open doors, give up seats on public transport, apologise for bad language, and offer to carry groceries and many other small kindnesses that were once a normal part of life in most western communities.source newmuslims.com