8.7 The Veil (Hijab)
On the much-contested question of the hijab the important point to keep in mind is that the Qur’an enjoins modesty for both men and women.
(24:30, 31) Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display their adornment only that which is apparent[…]
For the woman in particular, it is implied that she should wear clothes in public which are primarily a modest dress but which does not act as an impediment to her activities. This is why drawing the veil on the bosom, is given as the limit, within which one must operate.
(24:31) And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands’ fathers, or their sons or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or sisters’ sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigour, or children who know naught of the women’s nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that ye may succeed.
In verse 33:59 below Allah is guiding the Prophet’s female relatives and other believing women to use a cloak or outer garment when they go out â€“ ‘so that they may be recognised’. It should not really matter whether the head is covered or not as the Qur’an does not specify that the head should be covered.
(33:59) O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.
In this connection I would like to quote a short article by Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed Phd. D.Sc. who is president of the Islamic Research Foundation, Louisville, Kentucky, USA.
According to the Qur’an, the reason why Muslim women should wear an outer garment when going out of their homes is that they may be recognised as ‘believing’ women and differentiated from street-walkers for whom sexual harassment is an occupational hazard. The purpose of this verse was not to confine women to their homes, but to make it safe for them to go about their daily business without attracting unsavoury attention.
Older women who are past the prospect of marriage are not required to wear ‘the outer garment’. ‘Such elderly women as are past the prospect of marriage, there is no blame on them if they lay aside their (outer) garments, provided they make not wanton display of their beauty: but it is best for them to be modest: and Allah is One Who sees and knows all things’ (24:60).
The Qur’an does not suggest that women should be veiled or they should be kept apart from the world of men. On the contrary, the Qur’an is insistent on the full participation of women in society and in religious practices.
Morality of the self and cleanness of conscience are far better than the morality of the purdah. No goodness can come from pretence. Imposing the veil on women is the ultimate proof that men suspect their mothers, daughters, wives and sisters of being potential traitors to them. How can Muslim men meet non-Muslim women who are not veiled and treat them respectfully, but not accord the same respect to Muslim women?
To wear the hijab is certainly not an Islamic obligation on women. It is an innovation (bid’ah) of men suffering from a piety complex who are so weak spiritually that they cannot trust themselves!
Muslim women remained in mixed company with men until the late sixth century (A.H.) or 11th century (C.E.). They received guests, held meetings and went to wars to help their brothers and husbands, and they defended their castles and bastions.
It is part of the growing feeling on the part of Muslim men and women that they no longer wish to identify with the West, and that reaffirmation of their identity as Muslims requires the kind of visible sign that conservative clothing implies.
For these women the issue is not that they have to dress conservatively, but they choose to. In Iran Imam Khomeini first insisted that women must wear the veil and chador, but in response to large demonstrations by women, he modified his position and agreed that while the chador is not obligatory, MODEST dress is.10
Studying the Qur’an it is clear that the Qur’an does not try to give specific laws for all occasions but it gives fundamental principles which enable us to establish the basic guidance for our behaviour in all aspects of our life. It is a question of using common sense and reason on the basis of guiding principles (see section 13.5). In fact, Allah is less concerned with our rituals and far more with our behaviour and deeds, and yet we consider exactly the opposite to be the case.