Tag Archives: hijab

The purpose of hijab in Islam

So recently, I found out about the Quran being vague about the hijab. This person was saying many scholars argue that it’s left vague so that it can fit into any culture. But I heard many sheikhs say that it’s haram to not wear the hijab, even if it’s uncommon in your society.I don’t have any problems with my hijab, but my parents more or less force me to wear maxi skirts and dresses, which makes me sad because I end up being a cast out at school

I’m an extremely shy person and I don’t wish to be so ‘different’ that I end up on the foreground. I don’t want to wear any skinny jeans or anything but I wish I could wear loose trousers because almost all hijabis at my school do that. And sometimes, I get the question why I always wear skirts and I don’t know what to answer since it’s something from my parents. Personally, I think it’s something cultural because it’s worn a lot in my home country. Could you tell me more about this?

(Part 2)I’m an extremely shy person and I don’t wish to be so ‘different’ that I end up on the foreground. I don’t want to wear any skinny jeans or anything but I wish I could wear loose trousers because almost all hijabis at my school do that. And sometimes, I get the question why I always wear skirts and I don’t know what to answer since it’s something from my parents. Personally, I think it’s something cultural because it’s worn a lot in my home country. Could you tell me more about this?

Alaikumassalam wa rahmatullah,

There are many differing ways of interpreting the Islamic texts (Quran, hadith and post-Prophetic reports) on the issue of hijab. The two verses on hijab in the Quran are:

And say to the female believers to lower their gaze, and preserve their private parts, and not display their adornment except such as is outward, and let them fix closely their head-coverings over their bosoms… (The Quran, verse 24:31)

O you Prophet, say to your spouses and your daughters and the women of believers, that they draw their outer garments closer to them; that will (make) it likelier that they will be recognized and so will not be hurt. And Allah has been Ever-Forgiving, Ever-Merciful. (The Quran, verse 33:59)

These two verses define the hijab the way it is worn throughout the Islamic world. The first one mentions a “head-covering”, therefore we know from that that hijab involves covering the head, and it also mentions that the head-covering should cover the chest, therefore the image of hijab that we get is a head-covering that is large enough to be wrapped in a way that also covers the neck and chest. The part that says “not display their adornment except such as is outward” provides a great room for maneuvering, allowing women to wear various styles of dress as long as it includes hijab and it is considered modest and appropriate by the Muslim society around them.

The second verse provides the rationale behind the Islamic dress code. According to Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi’s commentary on the Quran, where it says “that will (make) it likelier that they will be recognized”, it means that women dressed as such will be likely to be recognized as modest, i.e. as women who are not interested in flirtation and being admired by men.

If you look at the way nuns dress, the meaning of this verse becomes very clear. When men see nuns, they immediately know that these are women who should not be approached or admired as sex objects. Even the most rude and lecherous men often become quiet and respectful when faced with a nun. Hijab is meant to do the same for Muslim women, signalling to such men that these are women who are not interesting in being sexually admired or flirted with.

Some say that it is “unfair” that Islam puts the burden on women to dress modestly instead of asking men to stop looking. That’s a typically simple-minded understanding of Islam. Islam does ask men to “lower their graze”, and looking at the context of the second verse above, you see that the hijab is not intended for the benefit of devout Muslim men, but for the benefit of irreligious and lecherous men who are found in all societies. The verse after 33:59 says:

If the hypocrites, the sick at heart, and those who spread lies in the city do not desist, We shall rouse you [Prophet] against them, and then they will only be your neighbours in this city for a short while. (33:60)

It was these “hypocrites, the sick at heart” who were sexually harassing Muslim women. As it is mentioned in hadith narrations, some Muslim women did not use to wear hijab (this included some of the Prophet’s wives), and the Muslim men had no problem with this nor did they harass them. But once the irreligious hypocrites in Medina started the harassment, these verses came down to deal with them, telling the Muslim women to dress in a way that would cause such men to ignore them.

As for wearing loose trousers, there is no issue with it as long as it is part of a modest costume that does not hug your body tightly. The point is to dress in such a way that does not attract admiring glances from men.

While some Muslims are very harsh and strict about hijab, the Quran only dedicates two verses to it and never mentions any punishment or threats toward women who do not wear hijab. The command to wear hijab is softened by other verses like:

And fear God to the best of your ability… (The Quran, verse 64:16)

While it is very easy for some women to wear hijab, for others it can be very difficult. The Quran contains many commandments that many Muslims do not follow fully, such as the command to provide income for one’s close relatives. Hijab is obligatory, but we are not meant to force religion on people, and people should be free to choose to wear it if and when they are ready for it, they way they are free to choose to start taking care of their close relatives.

Most people judge things by appearances, so it will always be a fact that many Muslims will not consider a woman really Muslim until she wears hijab. Similarly it is seen that in democratic countries people vote for the politicians that belong to their own race without caring about the politician’s principles. It is only more intelligent and better educated people who can go beyond appearances.

Niqab is not more “Islamic” than hijab, and why I do not recommend it

As Muslims, the program we follow is the Quran. Its priorities are our priorities. Those priorities are to be kind, generous, understanding, forgiving, to work to make this world a better place as God’s stewards (agents, khalaa’if in Arabic) on the earth.

Veiling your face is not one of the Quran’s priorities, it is not even mentioned in it, and it should be considered in the light of the Quran’s priorities. Does veiling your face help you more effectively embody the Quran and carry out its program?

The root of the question is the matter of the Quran versus hadith. The Salafi view, which is a minority view that has billions of dollars of Saudi funding behind it, says that what the early Muslims did, we too must do. If their women wore niqab, then our women must do it too, since they were “the best generation” of Muslims and the represent the ideal all Muslims most follow.

The alternative view, which is the mainstream view followed by hundreds of millions of Muslims, is to follow fiqh al-awlawiyyaat (the law of priorities), giving importance to things the Quran considers important, and not obsessing with things the Quran does not consider important.

While Salafi Muslims are often obsessed with things never even hinted at in the Quran, mainstream Muslims read the Quran and try to apply its message in the modern world.

These differences lead to two different types of Islam. Salafi Islam thinks niqab and various other things about dress code are important parts of Islam, because it refuses to distinguish between the Quran and other texts. It treats all of Islam’s early history as a binding program that must be followed, thinking that the best Islam is one that creates an accurate reenactment of 630 CE.

The mainstream view rejects this, saying we follow the Quran, we do not follow Islamic history as if it is a program in itself. If the Quran and the most authentic narrations (those known as mutawatir) do not command that women should wear niqab, then it is not a necessary part of Islam, it is a cultural practice of early Muslims that we are free to adopt or ignore as it fits our modern context.

Since I belong to the Quran-focused camp (rather than the Salafi camp), to me niqab isn’t just unimportant, it must be judged within the context of the Quran’s priorities, and if it is found that wearing niqab goes against those priorities, it is more advisable to avoid it rather than wear it.

For Muslims living in the West and various other areas, wearing niqab will nearly always get in the way of applying the Quranic program more than it helps one follow it. Muslims are meant to belong to the societies in which they live, reforming it, working as activists to eradicate poverty and injustice, to create alliances with good people around them, Muslim and non-Muslim, in order to improve the world (please see Tariq Ramadan’s Western Muslims and the Future of Islam for detailed explanation of what I mean by these priorities.)

The Salafi view, exemplified in the fatwas of Salafi leaders like Ibn Baaz, is that a woman is a walking “bag of fitnah” that has to be cut off from society for her own good and the good of everyone else. Mainstream Islam considers this view inhumane and disrespectful toward a woman’s dignity, respecting her right to be an active member of society.

Wearing niqab will act as a barrier that turns people away from Islam on the one hand, while also reducing a woman’s ability to interact and connect with those around her. I respect a woman’s right to wear what she wants, but if you ask my opinion on it, then niqab is not something I recommend, I consider its potential harms to be greater than its potential benefits. This is, of course, something that every person should decide for themselves. But those who say that niqab is a “duty” or that it is “recommended” are voicing a minority view that is rejected by the majority of Muslims. Niqab is neither a duty nor is it recommended, it is a tool whose benefits and harms should be judged according to one’s culture and local context.

If a woman sees that it is more beneficial for her to wear it in her particular time and place, then she can do it. And if other women elsewhere decide not to wear it, like the majority of Muslim women have decided, then that’s their choice, and no one has the right to say that their faith is not complete or that they should “aim higher”, having the goal to one day wear niqab. There is nothing “higher” about niqab, it is a tool for separating women from society. If a woman prefers to separate herself in this way, then that is her choice, but this is not something the majority of Muslim women would choose.

The Salafi view is that niqab is more “Islamic” because there is evidence that some early Muslims wore it. The Quran-focused view is that niqab is not more “Islamic”, because it has little relation to the Quranic program. It is considered a tool that may or may not be beneficial depending on the time and place. The Salafi view is that Islam is about reenacting history. The Quran-focused view is that Islam is about following the Quran’s priorities.

Instead of thinking of niqab as a duty, it must be thought of rationally. As a woman, does it help you carry out your function (of being God’s agent for good on Earth) more effectively or less effectively? Which is more beneficial for you, separating yourself from society (and wearing something that many people find disconcerting), or engaging with society? Is it beneficial for your psychological health to feel separated from and potentially disliked by the people you interact with daily?

This way of thinking of niqab does not apply to hijab, since hijab is commanded by the Quran (although the Quran’s view on hijab is more moderate than the views of many Muslims, since the Quran recognizes that different cultures may choose to show less or more than others).

Niqab can help a person in avoiding unwanted male attention, and the separation it causes is beneficial toward applying the Quran’s teachings regarding modesty and lowering the gaze. But these benefits must be weighed against the potential harms it does.

There is nothing wrong with a woman veiling her face at a certain occasion, the way Victorian women used to, if she decides that she is more comfortable that way and expects benefits from it. This is the proper way to think of wearing niqab, not as a duty to be practiced no matter what, but as a tool that can be used if and when necessary.

The highly respected mainstream scholar Yusuf al-Qaradhawi has done a detailed study of the Islamic rulings regarding niqab, published as al-Niqab Baina Fardiyyatihi wa Bid`iyyatihi, and his conclusion is that niqab is neither a duty, nor is it a bid`ah (false innovation) to be condemned, it is rather a tool, an item of clothing, that can be beneficial to wear at times and harmful at others.