Monday, 12 March 2012

Is Hijab Mandatory in Islam: Part I

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 cover over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment except to their own husbands ... (Quran 24:31). 


There are many who are led to believe that khimar means head cover, and not simply cover. I find it very odd that some translate khimar as head cover, even when the word head or hair is not present; even though Allah, the All-Knowing is explicitly telling women to cover their bosoms and body parts.

Furthermore, you will notice that the word khimar is also used throughout the Qur'an in reference to wine and alcohol. Try asking an imam if crystal meth is not haram because it is not explicitly forbidden in the Quran, and he will most likely point you towards the root word of khimar being used for alcohol:

The imam will tell you that Allah chose to use the word khimar for alcohol, because it is anything that "covers" the intellect and leads one to other sins. If khimar truly meant head cover, can you imagine how odd these verses would sound if they were telling the believers to abstain from head covers? That wouldn't make much sense, would it? 
What's interesting is that Allah uses this same word for covering of the bosom. Therefore, the word  khimar, even according to some mistaken scholars, does in fact mean "to cover".

If one was to translate khimar as "veil", as other translators (or niqabists) have done, one must ask the question, "What is a veil?" Is a veil not a "cover", and its purpose being "to cover"? A face veil covers the face, and a bosom veil covers the bosom. Also, a further point is that in the same chapter (24), and verse 60 of the Qur'an, Allah has allowed elderly women to be less careful in covering. However, the word used here was thiyaab, and not khimar. So why has the head cover become part of the 10 Muslim Commandments, taking its place as an Islamic norm? 


What one may find rather frightening is that the male-dominated scholars who originally translated khimar as head cover are the same ones who translated the "beat" your wife verse, the killing of disbelievers to spread the word of Islam, the polygamy verse, killing apostates, stoning to death, and much more of what has been labelled Islamic today. Although some more modern scholars may not agree with all of these fanatical teachings, they still base their knowledge on these same interpreters of the Qur'an.

Why do most of today's dogmatic imams and translators keep insisting that ḍarabū in 4:34 means "to strike" your wife, when this same word is used for travelling, departing, leaving, breaking apart, going forth, presenting, etc. Why can't these translators simply teach Muslim men to "leave" their harsh wives if all else failed. Why do so many Islamic sources and so-called scholars keep insisting that the Qur'an states Jesus will be a sign of the Hour (43:61), when the word ayah is not used. The word knowledge ('ilm) is used to suggest that "He [or it] is knowledge of the Hour", yet this dogmatic belief of Christianity is still preached. The list of misinterpretations and mistranslations can go on forever.


"And We have revealed the Book to you which has clear explanation of everything, and a guidance, mercy and good news for those who submit." (Qur'an 16:89)

In the same khimar verse (24:31), after Allah lists in detail those kindred who are allowed to see the woman not fully-covered, it even gives such fine details as to tell women not to strike their feet as a means of attracting men:

And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment (Qur'an 24:31)

At the time of the Prophet, some women used to wear ankle bracelets and bells. Women in India and Pakistan still do, and some would stamp their feet in order to seduce men or to get their attention. Out of all the verses in the Qur'an, He clearly tells us not to eat the flesh of swine, blood, and even several different animals that are killed improperly. We are told to avoid strong drink/gambling, avoid usury, abstain from backbiting, to cover the bosom, to lower our gaze, when and how to pray, and steps in performing wudu.

Allah even explicitly tells us to wet our heads before we pray. If the hijab was truly mandatory, why wouldn't He simply order women to cover their heads, just as all the other verses of Divine Instruction? Why do we have to dig out so much ahadith interpretation in order to prove the head cover, which is still left unproven in the end? If the hijab was such an important practice, as are the many other teachings in the Qur'an, wouldn't Allah have cared to explicitly order women to cover their heads. Instead, they are told to cover their bosoms and body parts, as in 24:31.


It is very interesting that the Qur'an does use the word hijab, but nowhere is it used in reference to a women's head cover. The word hijab is used to mean a barrier, veil, or screen:

Did Allah know in His infinite wisdom that Muslims would later make hijab as part of the religion, and deliberately chose to use this word in the Qur'an? Some imams will point towards the oral ahadith literature to prove the ordinance of the hijab, even though these ahadith were not authorized by the Prophet himself, and were put into writing 300 years after himYet amongst the countless poorly-compiled ahadith narrations, filled with fabrications, one will still not find a direct order where the Prophet is reported (through so and so ...) to have ordered women to cover their hair.


In being unable to provide tangible proof from the Qur'an to support the notion of
hijab, some may even resort to Christian teachings: 

"But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved.
 For if a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off" [1 Corinthians 11:5-6]
If it was up to the Saudi mullahs, this rule would probably be made shariah! Even though Jesus did not direct his followers to cover their heads, with all due respect, some Christians do practice it. Some may even equate Mary's head covering with being righteous or chaste (modest), even though Mary may not have covered her hair fully. However, the Qur'an refutes this claim, teaching us that true chastity (modesty) is abstaining from lust:

She said: "How can I have a son when no man has touched me, neither have I been unchaste? (Qur'an 19:20)

And she who was chaste, therefore We breathed into her of Our Spirit and made her and her son a sign for (all) peoples. (Quran 21:91)

It is also interesting to note that many Jews and Christians who later converted to Islam during the Prophet's time and onwards brought with them much cultural/religious baggage. Some of these beliefs and teachings even made their way into the ahadith literature, seeping their way into Islamic beliefs and practices. Although they have no basis in the Qur'an, they were still adapted by later generations only to become today's Muslim or Islamic norm. The head covering is not the only Judeo-Christian teaching that has made its way into our faith, but others such as the return of Christ, the impure menstruating woman, original sin, intercession of sins, and various others have nothing to stand on when viewed in the Light of the Qur'an.


The Qur'an tells believing men and women to lower their gaze (24:30-31), and so does the Gospel (Injeel). During the time of Jesus, many Jews actually followed the commandments and outwardly teachings (or shariah) just as we Muslims do. One such example was not committing adultery, or the notion of "look but don't touch". Some hearts had become corrupt, and Jesus taught them:

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)

Many Jewish followers even believed that they could divorce their wives anytime they liked, and all they needed was a certificate (a statement), since this Law (shariah) was given to them by their Messenger, Moses. But Jesus tells them:

“Moses allowed you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:8-9)

Some Muslim men think the same way of divorce (similar to the Jews), as it is allowed in the Qur'an, yet it should really only be for valid reasons. You can't simply throw away a woman when you're done with her. I have seen some instances in a community where an imam would actually encourage a woman who is having marital problems to divorce her husband, and quickly marry her in order to get into her pants. One must ask the question, how is this different from adultery? Is he really following the shariah? Yet this is the kind of hypocrisy we deal with--the same hypocrisy and lawful shariah misunderstood even during the time of Jesus (Isa).


Many religious followers can mistake cultural norms for religious or spiritual practices. For example, it is a known fact that most women during the Prophet's time in the Arabian Peninsula did cover their head--but so did men! And so did Mother Mary of Jerusalem. If this is the basis for our belief, how come men aren't required to cover their heads? The reality is, had they not covered their heads in the heat of the sun, they would be asking for trouble (i.e. heat stroke)! And who is to say that these were not worn as a loose head cover rather than a complete hair suffocation.

Also, men's and women's dress were very loose and open, in order to allow air circulation. Although it is fair to say that women (and men) should not wear tight bodily revealing clothes, the abayah should not be considered an Islamic dress either! Can you imagine a Muslima Eskimo freezing and tripping over the snow in her abayah, while trying to hunt a seal? Whilst not following unnecessary trends, who is to say that we cannot wear ordinary clothing, such as loose-fitted shirts and jeans? Allah reminds us in the Qur'an the purpose of clothing:

O Children of Adam! We have revealed unto you garments to cover your shame, and splendid vesture; but the garment of righteousness--that is best. This is of the revelations of Allah, that they may remember. (7:26)


Many imams will tell us that the purpose of hijab is to hide a women's precious beauty, while using many other sugar-coated sayings. Although we can agree that hair is beautiful, but so are hands, nose, eyes, and mouth! In fact, the face is probably the most beautiful thing God has created on a human being! (This would be a great time for the niqabist to jump in). But let's ask ourselves the question of which is more attractive:

a) an image of a face with the hair covered or
b) an image of hair with the face covered

Almost anybody (especially the niqabist) can agree that the first option is the most-attractive. Most men may probably agree that they would rather see skin than filamentous biomaterial (i.e. hair). With this same notion of hiding her beauty, should the woman now cover her face?

Women are told that their hair should only be revealed to their husbands. They are told to hide their beauty (i.e. hair), yet they are freely able to beatify their faces with petrochemical makeup and lipstick, highlighting their eyes, brows, and lips. Also, does highlighting one's eyes with mascara, eyeliner, and eye shadow help men to "lower their gaze" (24:30) or raise their gaze to stare at those beautifully noticeable eyes? Wouldn't this directly help two eyes to meet and stare? We must be skeptical of the makeup imams and ask ourselves, why the double standards? Speaking of double standards, if hair is such a private part, should men not cover their hair as well? Picture that for a second.

While trying to sound equal, imams will also preach in the masjid that the man's hijab is lowering his gaze, whereas the woman's hijab is covering her hair. However, this doesn't agree with the Qur'an, since Allah orders both man and woman to lower their gazes. So why simply stress on the man? And it also creates a notion (which I have seen) that hijabis don't have to lower their gaze, staring at men as they walk by. This is the kind of hypocrisy we are dealing with when our imams preach fake outwardly teachings, forget about guarding one's heart from evil thoughts.


Here is one story worth sharing, from my non-hijab wearing aunt. She walked into a restaurant with her two friends, one who wore a hijab and one who let her hair out. Surprisingly, they noticed that her friend who wore the hijab got all the attention from the males. In trying to be realistic, don't you think a hijab can sometimes bring out a women's face, while hiding big ear's, old age, or unwanted features. Some men may even admit (I deem them not!) that a certain woman looks better with a hijab. But I don't think that was the case, unless all these men in the restaurant had a hijab obsession.

My aunt exclaimed how her friend actually looked far more beautiful than her non-hijab friends, with her decked out colorful hijab, cuffs, sleeves, and makeup! Worn with the right style, a hijab can actually increase a woman's attractiveness, and with men's curiosity, gain more stares than not-cares. Perhaps this is the reason why some women dye their hair pink or blue, in order to stand out and get more attention, yet this is not the righteous Muslima's intention. Nowadays, it appears as though hijab has become a fashion statement, and some non-Muslim women have even chosen to wear it for that very reason.


Whoever works any act of righteousness and has faith,- His/her endeavour will not be rejected: We shall record it in his/her favor. (21:94)

Not choosing to wear a hijab does not make a woman immodest nor unrighteous, as Allah will reward us for all our acts of goodness as mentioned in the verse above. I am not against wearing hijab, but nor am I against not wearing one. I am not against the idea of a hijab just as much as I am not against a baseball cap, a tuque, or a wig. A woman should have the right to choose if she would like to wear one or not. But Muslim women should not be discriminated against or judged for not wearing one. I know a precious girl who was righteous and modest, yet she did not wear hijab. Some of the hijab-wearing girls were out doing immodest things, and in the end, the modest non-hijabi was looked down upon by them for not wearing the hijab. How twisted and backwards have we become to think like this? Let's leave the judging to Al-Hakam, The Judge.

What has become of our Muslim society and values, as we preach outwardly things over inwardly things? We think we follow the shariah just as the Jews did, but do we? I truly have sympathy for these poor women who are commanded by their imams to cover their itchy scalps all day, suffocating their heads that long to breathe the fresh air. How sad is it for the nature-loving Muslima who cannot feel the breeze flow through her hair, since that would involve being seen in public. How unfortunate for the bird-watching Muslima whose ears are covered from hearing the distant chirps of the glorious meadowlarks. I express my sympathy for the water-loving Muslima who is unable to dip her bare head in the cool soothing sunlit waters, while running her fingers through her scalp as a way of healing.

When thinking about hijab, let us not forget the Judeo-Christian cultural influence that was rampant in Arabia. There surely was women who did not cover their hair during the Prophet's time, so why would there be no Qur'anic injunction ordering women to explicitly cover their hair? After all, they are advised to cover their bosom. We need to re-observe hijab in the Light of the Qur'an, and it should not be mandated as a fardh teaching of Islam by our imams, equated to taking off one's clothes. It should not be regarded as one of the ten commandments of Islam. Exposing one's hair should not be considered a religious taboo, and women who choose to wear it (or not) should be respected. Let's start preaching what it truly means to be modest and righteous. True chastity, as we learned from Mary in the Qur'an, comes from guarding your chastity. And true modesty comes from:

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 covers over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment ... (Quran 24:31)

Below is a more scholarly answer that may be of interest, written by Moiz Amjad:

It is true that "Khimar" is generally used for head covering. However, a close examination of the related verse of Surah Al-Noor shows that the directive entailed in it is for women to cover their bosoms"Khimar" is only referred in this verse as a possible 'tool' for covering their bosoms. A woman who uses any other piece of cloth for this purpose would be said to have carried out the directive of the Shari`ah. This point is further substantiated by the fact that in verse 60 of Surah Al-Noor, where the Qur'an has allowed older women to be less careful in covering their bosoms, it has used the word "Thiyaab" - implying any piece of cloth that may have been used for the stated purpose.|
It is clear that had the Qur'an required women to cover their heads, it would then have given an express directive to the effect.
In view of the above, I am of the opinion that head-covering, even though it has always remained a part of the noble Muslim social traditions, is not a directive of the Shari`ah. [Source]
I hope this helps.
Moiz Amjad

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