Sunday 24 June 2018

Hijab for Muslim Women

Hijab for Muslim women is more often than not a subject of discussion among non Muslims and many of them take the concept of Hijab against the basic human rights of the women. In this post I will try to put across of the concept of Hijab and misconceptions related to this word and why Muslim women have been directed to cover themselves by Allah in the Holy Qur'an.

First of all let be clarify the misconception about the word Hijab which is often related to the head covering of the Muslim women. In Arabic, the word Hijab means a partition, normally made of a cloth which was hung at the door of the ancient Arabia to shield the inside of the house for the outsiders as keeping the door closed was not a norm. Even this practice continues in many parts of Arabian villages and even in many other Muslim countries.

The use of this word is specially used in the same context in the following verses of Surah Al Ahzab 33:53-
O you who have believed, do not enter the houses of the Prophet except when you are permitted for a meal, without awaiting its readiness. But when you are invited, then enter; and when you have eaten, disperse without seeking to remain for conversation. Indeed, that [behavior] was troubling the Prophet, and he is shy of [dismissing] you. But Allah is not shy of the truth. And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a partition (Hijab in Arabic). That is purer for your hearts and their hearts. And it is not [conceivable or lawful] for you to harm the Messenger of Allah or to marry his wives after him, ever. Indeed, that would be in the sight of Allah an enormity.
The word Hijab in Arabic also means separation between deity and mortals (42:51), wrongdoers and righteous (7:46, 41:5), believers and unbelievers (17:45), and light from darkness (38:32).

As for the head covering of Muslim women, the correct word used in Qur'an is Khimer, meaning a loose headdress worn by the women with a part covering their bosom. And the Allah's commandment as for covering of women's head and bosom is explained in these very verses of Surah Al Nur 31-32:

وَقُلْ لِّـلۡمُؤۡمِنٰتِ يَغۡضُضۡنَ مِنۡ اَبۡصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحۡفَظۡنَ فُرُوۡجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبۡدِيۡنَ زِيۡنَتَهُنَّ اِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنۡهَا​ وَلۡيَـضۡرِبۡنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلٰى جُيُوۡبِهِنَّ​ وَلَا يُبۡدِيۡنَ زِيۡنَتَهُنَّ اِلَّا لِبُعُوۡلَتِهِنَّ اَوۡ اٰبَآئِهِنَّ اَوۡ اٰبَآءِ بُعُوۡلَتِهِنَّ اَوۡ اَبۡنَآئِهِنَّ اَوۡ اَبۡنَآءِ بُعُوۡلَتِهِنَّ اَوۡ اِخۡوَانِهِنَّ اَوۡ بَنِىۡۤ اِخۡوَانِهِنَّ اَوۡ بَنِىۡۤ اَخَوٰتِهِنَّ اَوۡ نِسَآئِهِنَّ اَوۡ مَا مَلَـكَتۡ اَيۡمَانُهُنَّ اَوِ التّٰبِعِيۡنَ غَيۡرِ اُولِى الۡاِرۡبَةِ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ اَوِ الطِّفۡلِ الَّذِيۡنَ لَمۡ يَظۡهَرُوۡا عَلٰى عَوۡرٰتِ النِّسَآءِ​ وَلَا يَضۡرِبۡنَ بِاَرۡجُلِهِنَّ لِيُـعۡلَمَ مَا يُخۡفِيۡنَ مِنۡ زِيۡنَتِهِنَّ​ ؕ وَتُوۡبُوۡۤا اِلَى اللّٰهِ جَمِيۡعًا اَيُّهَ الۡمُؤۡمِنُوۡنَ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تُفۡلِحُوۡنَ‏
Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do.
And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their head-covers (Khimer in Arabic) over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, their brothers' sons, their sisters' sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or *those male attendants having no physical desire*, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed. (Surah An-Nur 24:31)
In the above verses, it is amply highlighted that the concept of modesty is not only restricted to women alone. Even all men are commanded to lower their gaze (that is not staring women lustfully) and guard their private parts. This means a man is not to open his private parts to anyone except his lawfully wedded wife. This is a great commandment with far reaching ramification which lay the basis of piety, modesty and respect. And it is the very basis of directing men from extra marital relations.

As for the women, the same commandment is given with certain additional requirements. We all know that a woman's naked or exposed body is lustful due to which many ills are born in societies where women are not dressed modestly. That is why Allah's commandment for the women is to  wrap [a portion of] their head-covers (Khimer in Arabic) over their chests" and have been asked no to appear before men except for the relations clearly spelt out in the above verses. Even the women have been asked "not to stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment."

Talking of the Khimar being used before the advent of Islam, the women of Medina used to put one part of their headscarf Khimar on their head and the remaining at the back exposing their ears and neck and the upper front of the body. With this commandment of Allah "Place the khimer over the bosoms,” what actually is being told to the women that by doing so their ears and neck will also be hidden beside their upper half of the body including their bosom. This thus formed a covering to ensure modesty and piety of the woman from the lustful gazes of men.

Explanation of Khimar by Muhammad Asad:
The noun khimar (of which khumur is the plural) denotes the head-covering customarily used by Arabian women before and after the advent of Islam. According to most of the classical commentators, it was worn in pre-Islamic times more or less as an ornament and was let down loosely over the wearer's back; and since, in accordance with the fashion prevalent at the time, the upper part of a woman's tunic had a wide opening in the front, her breasts were left bare. Hence, the injunction to cover the bosom by means of a khimar (a term so familiar to the contemporaries of the Prophet) does not necessarily relate to the use of khimar as such but is, rather, meant to make it clear that a woman's breasts are not included in the concept of "what may decently be apparent" of her body and should not, therefore, be displayed.

Interestingly when the nuns in Christianity wear the same cloak, no one objects as nuns are cloaked exactly how a modest and pious women should when out of her house. If the dress of nuns is the dress of modesty, why it is objected for Muslim women who Allah wills to appear with honour, dignity and piety.

And then for older women, there is yet another concession given to them as for Khimer is concerned:
And women of post-menstrual age who have no desire for marriage* - there is no blame upon them for putting aside their outer garments [but] not displaying adornment. But to modestly refrain [from that] is better for them. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing. Surah An-Nur [24:60]
In Saudi Arabia and some other countries, these instructions and commandments have been interpreted meaning a cloak covering the entire body of the woman. This to an extent is true for the reason that a head to toe cloak obscures the contours of the body of the woman which are so lucrative to men. However, if a Khimer is aided by loose dress covering the contours of a woman, the purpose is the same. However, there is no mention of covering of the face of a woman which some Muslim women very ardently observe which creates problems in their identity.

For more posts on Women in Islam, please refer to our reference page: Women in Islam. You may also refer to our reference pages: Islam and the rest of the World and Reference Pages for knowing more about Islam and Qur'ān.

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