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’Hijaab Scrutinised. The Beauty of ’Hijaab in Concealing “Beauty” (Part 4/4)

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In this series, Hayat Alyaqout scrutinises the ’hijaab and touches upon several themes such as the religious authenticity of the ’hijaab, the overlap between the ’hijaab as a religious practice and the ’hijaab as a social practice, how men have their own ’hijaab too, and the philosophy of the ’hijaab in relation to the social notion of beauty.

In this last part of the series, she talks the two types of beauty and how the ’hijaab beautifully conceals the right type of the two.

Is it not bitter to be evaluated according to how you look regardless of who you are? What is even bitterer is that when it comes to women, evaluation according to looks seems to be the status quo; it has been prevalent throughout history to the point that made it an unquestionable axiom, unfortunately.

Some legitimate questions impose themselves:

1- Why is it wrong to be judged by the appearance?
vWe should understand that external beauty and internal beauty (character, manners, knowledge …etc) can very well coexist; they are not antagonistic or mutually exclusive.

The one and only fair judgment would be according to your self-achieved qualities; external beauty is a gift not an achievement. Judging women according to their looks is nothing but a systematic process of dehumanization, or as the French proverb says “sois belle et tais toi” or “be beautiful and shut up.” In this case, the utmost achievement for a woman is to look nice, and then she is captivated in the vicious cycle of beauty products.

’Hijaab comes here, as a declaration of emancipation in which women clearly declare that they are determined to have a role in this life that goes beyond cashing in on their beauties. Actually, this dispels the stereotype that Islaam came to oppress women and to prevent them from contributing to the society. Had this been true, there would have been no need for ’hijaab since women were going to be confined away from public spheres.

2- What is the problem of looking good? Is it not, after all, a natural disposition?
To answer this question, we need to define what beauty is. We know that every word has a denotation and a connotation; denotations are straightforward meanings of words, while connotations come in at a later stage where a word might suggest meanings that are not totally within the borders of the word’s denotations. So, the denotation of beauty – while avoiding the aesthetical debates – is “that quality or combination of qualities which delights the senses or mental faculties” according to Oxford dictionary. Nevertheless, the connotation of the word is “sexually attractive”, “tempting” or “seductive.” Many men would call a normal looking woman “beautiful” only because she is half-naked. So, this illusiveness of terms should be also born in mind to know which type of “beauty” we are talking about.

In a prophetic narration (’hadeeth), the Prophet tells us that “Allaah is beautiful and loves beauty.” Moreover, beautification is urged in the holy ’Qura~n;
 “O Children of Adam! Take your (zeenah) adornment (by wearing your neat clothes) at every mosque...” (Chapter of Ala‘raaf, verse 31)
“Say (O Muhammad) ‘Who has forbidden the (zeenah) adoration given by Allaah, which He has produced for his servants...’” (Chapter of Ala‘raaf, verse 21)

So, beauty – or in the ’Qura~nic terms “zeenah” – is never fought against in Islaam; it’s just being put in the right frame, where beauty as sexual attraction is not supposed to be revealed. These two levels are clearly manifested in these verses:
“And say to the believing women ... that they should not display their (zeenah) except that which appears of it; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their zeenah except to their husbands ...and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden zeenah.” (Chapter of Annoor, verse 31)

In these verses, there are two types of “zeenah”, namely, appearing, i.e., allowed to appear, and hidden, i.e., should be hidden. Appearing zeenah is looking beautiful and presentable which is totally lawful and this is the reason behind allowing women to show their faces and hands although they have beauty in them, because they are not sexually attractive. Meanwhile, the rest of the body should be covered because it is the stem of seduction. Note that the second type of zeenah should be hidden – not annihilated – which again accentuates that Islaam is not against beauty, it’s just putting it in the right context.

’Hijaab thus does not try to cover the beauty of a woman but rather covers her lust-ignition capability, and had Islaam been concerned with concealing beauty, Allaah would have asked children to cover all their bodies and even faces since children are the most beautiful of humans.

The prophet of Islaam was known to take good care of his looks, and he said that perfume was one of things he loved most. So, we should not feel guilty if we want to look presentable and be encircled with beauty, but we should be ashamed of turning ourselves into merchandises in the market of lust. And this is the beauty of ’hijaab; concealing the type of beauty that should be concealed, while keeping open all avenues for women to be productive and powerful creatures just like their brothers.

Hayat Alyaqout -

Hayat Alyaqout [’Hayaat Alyaa’qoot] is a freelance writer and the editor-in-chief of Nashiri E-publishing House. She earned a summa cum laude for her B.A. in political science and English language from Kuwait University.Read More >>

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