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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 the hijab. The two verses on the 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 the hijab involves covering the head, and it also mentions that the head-covering should cover the chest, therefore the image of the 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 the 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. The hijab is meant to do the same for Muslim women, signalling to such men that these are women who are not interested 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. 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 is mentioned in hadith narrations, some Muslim women did not use to wear the 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 harsh and strict about the hijab, the Quran only dedicates two verses to it and never mentions any punishment or threats toward women who do not wear the hijab. The command to wear the 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 the hijab, for others it can be 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. The 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, the way they are free to choose to start taking care of their close relatives.

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

And God knows best.

2 thoughts on “The purpose of hijab in Islam

  1. M.F

    So, is really wearing hijab an obligatory for every muslim women in the world? I am from Indonesia, and as you can see not all of muslim women in Indonesia wearing hijab. I am not wearing hijab right now, because I want to make sure that when I wear it I am ready to wear it forever instead of wear it half hearted and take on and off the hijab. But recently my aunt sent me message telling me that wearing hijab is an obligatory for all muslim women, and the consequences of not wearing hijab is the same of committing big sin, the same as not doing anything muslims obligated to do ( such as salat). If so, then why wearing hijab is not included in pillars of Islam? What do you think about this?

    Reply
  2. Ikram Hawramani Post author

    Verse 24:31 of the Quran assumes that Muslim women will wear “khimar”, which is a head-covering, a scarf that covers the hair. This verse, along with other verses that teach that Muslim women should make a strict distinction between what they wear at home in front of their parents and siblings and what they wear in public provide strong evidence in support of covering the hair in public (i.e. wearing hijab). Therefore a woman who does not wear hijab without a legal excuse (such as old age) is going against the Quran’s commands.

    The Quran contains hundreds of commands that a Muslim must obey. The pillars of Islam are merely a few of the most important ones. I have not seen strong evidence to suggest that not wearing hijab is a great sin. You can be Muslim and not wear hijab and God may forgive this. However, no person with strong faith would knowingly go against any of God’s commandments, therefore a woman who refuses to wear hijab is clearly stating that she is not fully committed to following God’s commands, that there are things she considers more important than pleasing God.

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