In this series, Hayat Alyaqout scrutinises the hijab and touches upon several themes such as the religious authenticity of the hijab, the overlap between the hijab as a religious practise and the hijab as a social practise, how men have their own hijab too, and the philosophy of the hijab in relation to the social notion of beauty.
In the first part, she talks about the four main challenges raised against the authenticity of hijab in Islam and refutes them.
Some Boringly Repeated Statements:
1- “Only the wives of the Prophet – peace be upon him - were required to don the hijab”;
2- “Donning the hijab means that a woman covers her bosom as stated in the Qur’an;
covering the head was a social practise that dates back to ancient civilisations”;
3- “The hijab was a means to discern between free women and enslaved ones. Slavery has been abolished and there is thus no need to wear it”;
4- “The hijab is a spiritual state; it has nothing to do with clothing. Why don’t you people let us breathe?”
Are you bored with these statements that keep recurring every now and then? What is even more boring and aggrieving is the mindset that produces them; a mindset that reads the religious text partially and selectively. This way of thinking is not different than taking scissors and cutting pages of the Holy Qur’an in order to reach to a pre-determined aspired conclusion.
The first command in the Holy Qur’an is “Iqra!” or “Read!” So let’s try to fair-mindedly read about the hijab since there is no other way to get rid of this hijabophobia-generated fears and fallacies save by enlightened discourse.
Surviving the Mess of Terms
The terms can be intriguing; there is hijab, khimar, veil, headscarf and many others. Hijab is the commonplace term although it is not the most precise one.
Hijab and khimar are two Arabic words that both mean concealing; hijab implies a complete covering, while khimar is more precise and refers to the cloth the women of Arabia used to cover their heads with. Although the Qur’an commands only the wives of the Prophet to put a complete “hijab” between them and between non-mahrams*, and commands the rest of Muslim women to pull down their khimars (head covers) to cover their bosoms too and not only their heads, the term hijab is now the de facto term and is used generically.
I should stress here that the hijab is not merely a way of dressing as some people think, it also incorporates a code of behaviour. Hijab requires that a balance is stricken between the inward and the outward as will be explained in the last article of this series.
Below is an analysis of the above-mentioned fallacies:
Misinformation vs. Malignance Theory?
“Only the wives of the Prophet P.B.U.H. were required to don the hijab”;
There is either a great deal of misinformation or a great deal of malignance in this statement. In the matter of wearing the hijab, both the Qur’an and the sunnah (hadeeths*) address Muslim women in general. This is evident in these two verses of the Qur’an:
“And say to the believing women that they should lower some of their gaze [when necessary] and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty except what (must ordinarily) that appear of it; that they should draw their khimars [covers] over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers ... and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden zeenah [beauty or ornaments.] And O ye Believers! Turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss.” (T.M.Q, 24:31)
“O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast down their clothes over them, at least by this they would be recognised [as chaste] and not molested. And Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (T.M.Q, 33:59)
The same notion is affirmed in the sunnah too. It is narrated that Asmaa’ the daughter of Abu Bakr - may Allah be pleased with them both - came before the Prophet in a thin dress that showed her body, the Prophet then evaded looking at her and said, “O Asmaa’! When a woman reaches puberty, she is not supposed to show any part of her body except this and these” and then he pointed to his face and his hands.
Since Asmaa’ was not a wife of the Prophet P.B.U.H. and since the above-mentioned verses of the Qur’an address the believing women in general, I’m afraid I have no choice but to assume that the theory of malignance is valid.
Completing Customs vs. Complying with Them
“Donning the hijab means that that a woman covers her bosom as stated in the Qur’an; covering the head was a social practise that dates back to ancient civilisations.”
Taking into consideration the cultural and environmental circumstances is a must for a sound understanding; the desert climate has always necessitated that both men and women cover their heads to avoid sunstrokes and other undesirable effects of the severe climate.
This practise can be noticed in all desert areas and only in Arabia, and it is an undeniable fact that any anthropologist can confirm. We should notice however that Allah Almighty commanded the Muslim women to draw their head covers to cover their bosoms too and did not command them to cover their bosoms only. In the period of ignorance (the period that preceded Islam) women used to show the upper part of their bosoms as a compensation for their lost attractiveness due to their environmentally forced covering of the heads.
Actually a woman in that period would take a piece of cloth, cover her head with it and tie it at the back of her neck, exhibiting her neck and bosom and covering only the part of her skull that is sensitive to the sun. There was thus no need to tell them to cover their heads for covering the head was the status quo then, and had Allah told the believing women “cover your heads” they could have all apostatised! The real Creator should know that they all – for climatic necessities - cover their heads and thus does not need to ask them to do something they all already do.
The Qur’an then tells them that covering the head is not enough and that it should be extended to include the bosom and normally the neck. Women also used to shorten their dresses as not to get dirty with the desert sands, and that’s why the Qur’an commanded the Muslim women to cast down their garments or make them longer.
Logically speaking, what can be more attractive in a woman more than her hair? A statistical look at the number of beauty salons in the world and the profits of hair product manufacturers all over history tells us that the hair is a thing a woman brags with and attracts the attention with the most.
Now can Allah command the believing women to cover the upper part of their bosoms and allow them to uncover a more attractive part of their bodies? Or I should say the most attractive part. Allah even forbids women from attracting the attention to their hidden or potential “zeenah” or beauty (a thing discussed in detail in the last article of this series), let alone allowing them to explicitly show the most alluring part of their bodies.
The hijab is thus a perfecting addition to what societies practised rather than being an extension to social and historical practises as some suggest.
“The hijab was a means to discern between free women and enslaved ones. Slavery has been abolished and there is thus no need to wear it”;
Fortunately enough, there is no “text” neither from the Qur’an nor from the hadeeths that corroborates this claim. Fortunately enough too, logic refutes it; had Allah wanted to discern enslaved women form free ones (although there is no logical reason for that), would He burden the free (the majority) or the slave (the minority) of the trouble of covering herself?
Some argue that the verse “at least by this they would be recognised [as chaste] and not molested” means that the hijab was to protect free women from molestation. This opinion is simply catastrophic, because it claims that Islam does not mind that enslaved women are molested! The meaning of the verse is totally different; the phrase “at least” is very significant because it tells us that the least benefit of the hijab is that everybody would know that they are Muslims and are chaste. It’s a value-added benefit economically speaking. Not being molested is the minimum that hijab grants women and is not the only reason. More details on the philosophy of hijab will come later in this series.
“The hijab is a spiritual state; it has nothing to do with clothing. Why don’t you people let us breathe?”
If we follow that paradigm of thinking, then there is no need to pray or fast. Deeds are louder than words, and Allah asked us to demonstrate our love and obedience to him intrinsically and extrinsically. Embracing a religion is a free yet a difficult choice. Let us all breathe, but please let us all make sure that when we breathe we do not puff subjectivity and illogicality.
In the Next Issues:
Part 2: The Social Hijab: The Slaves of Allah, and the Slaves of the Society;
Part 3: Men’s Hijab: Justice Not Equality;
Part 4: The Beauty of Hijab in Concealing “Beauty.”
*A mahram is the husband plus any male that a woman can not marry. Mahrams are mostly very close relatives such as the father, brothers, uncles and some others, and it is thus normally unlikely that there will be sexual attraction between a woman and one of her mahrams. A woman thus does not have to be wear the hijab in their presence although demureness is required.
*Sunnah means the tradition of the Prophet, it is used synonymously with hadeeths.
* Hadeeth in Arabic means speech, yet hadeeth is used generically to mean anything the Prophet P.B.U.H. said, did, or approved of. The verbal culture of Arabs resulted that hadeeth was used as an umbrella term.
|< Prev||Next >|