WHY HIJAB IS IMPORTANT IN ISLAM?
Hijab, or veil, takes the center stage whenever there is battle between truth
and falsehood. It has always been a sensitive issue, but it recently received a
great deal of attention due to legislation and proposed legislation in several
European countries (e.g., France, Germany) that ban its use in government
institutions as well as educational institutions. For women who wear hijab out
of religious conviction, the truth is obvious and indisputable. For others with
limited knowledge or understanding of Hijab, it can be confusing.
It is important to understand several points related to hijab and modesty. The
first point is that modesty had been the norm in history, up until the later
part of the past century. If one were to peruse historical books of various
times and ages, one would find modest covering of women in almost every society.
The other point is that modesty is a component in several world religions,
particularly in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It may come as a surprise to
many that it was not Islam that invented modesty or hijab. This existed in the
laws of religions revealed before Islam, and remnants can still be found in the
altered books of those faiths. With the final message given to Prophet Muhammad
(SallAllaahu Alaihe WaSallam), the order for Hijab was confirmed and finalized.
This is a reality since all of those revelations came from the same Source,
Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). Mary, mother of Jesus (may Allah exalt their
mention), is rarely depicted without a traditional head-covering and one would
assume her to be Muslim. (Which, of course, she was.) One can still find both
Jewish and Christian women today who cover in much the same way as Muslim women.
It is one of the common bonds that are shared by these three major faiths.
More than a religious symbol
Hijab represents a woman’s submission to her Creator and her connection with the
faith. While referring to it, Allah (SallAllaahu Alaihe WaSallam), the Almighty,
says: “That is more suitable that they will be known...”
But, while hijab is a symbol, in reality it is much more than that. The
following purposes and functi-ons of hijab will clarify this point.
Hijab is a test for the Muslim woman. It is clear from the Quraan and the
Ahaadeeth that hijab is a religious obligation, which a woman has to undertake.
There is no scholarly difference on this point and the Muslim Ummah has applied
it for over 14 centuries. When a Muslim woman wears hijab she is obeying and
submitting to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). The following Aayaat of the holy
Quraan refer to the obligatory nature of hijab: “And tell the believing women
that they must lower their gazes and guard their private parts, and must not
expose their adornment, except that which appears thereof, and must wrap their
bosoms with their shawls, and must not expose their adornment, except to their
husbands or their fathers or the fathers of their husbands, or to their sons or
the sons of their husbands, or to their brothers or the sons of their brothers
or the sons of their sisters, or to their women, or to those owned by their
right hands, or male attendants having no (sexual) urge, or to the children who
are not yet conscious of the shames of women. And let them not stamp their feet
in a way that the adornment they conceal is known. And repent to Allah O
believers, all of you, so that you may achieve success.” (an-Noor 24:31)
Also Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) says: “O prophet, tell your wives and your
daughters and the women of the believers that they should draw down their shawls
over them. That will make it more likely that they are recognized, hence not
teased. And Allah is Most-Forgiving, Very-Merciful.” (al-Ahzaab 33:59)
A woman who wears hijab liberates herself from the vain and selfish desire to
show off her beauty and to compete with other women around her.
This is an innate desire that is exacerbated by wanton display and tamed by
modesty and covering. With the hijab, a woman does not have to live up to
society’s expectations of what is desirable, and she no longer has to use her
beauty to obtain recognition or acceptance from those around her.
In the chapter of Al-Ahzaab mentioned above, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), the
Almighty, says, what means: “That is more suitable that they will be known and
not be abused.”
Thus, one of the functions of hijab is to protect women from abuse and harm.
This particularly includes various forms of sexual abuse and harassment, which
are prevalent in societies in which few women cover. Men often get mixed signals
and believe that women want their advances by the way they reveal their bodies.
The hijab, on the contrary, sends a signal to men that the wearer is a modest
and chaste woman who should not be annoyed.
One of the main reasons for the hijab ban in a country like France is
secularism, a system in which government functions with little or no connections
to religion or religious institutions. Religion does not dictate political
decisions or thinking. As a philosophy, secularism is the belief that life can
best be lived with little or no reference to God or gods. In secular societies,
people do not assume religious beliefs to be widely shared and over time
religion becomes less important in their lives. The obvious danger of this
philosophy is that it encourages atheism and agnosticism. There is an emphasis
on rationalism and a denigration of religions and religious teachings.
France is a pure secular state as noted in the first sentence of its
constitution (1905) “France is an indivisible and secular Republic…” In relation
to the hijab, the President of France, Jacques Chirac, is quoted as stating,
“What is at stake is supporting the principle of secularism, which is one of the
pillars of our Republic.” Jean-Pierre Raffarin, the Prime Minister of France,
has stated, “Secularism in France is a fundamental value, particularly in
France’s foremost Republican sanctuary, her schools, where every young person is
learning about citizenship, universality, and where he or she must benefit from
the principles of equality and liberty, the neutrality of public service.”
Seventy percent of French people support the hijab ban. This is also one of the
main reasons that hijab is banned in the secular countries of Turkey and
Islam is a threat to these governments since it is quite the opposite of
secularism. Islam is not only a religion, but a Deen, a way of life. As a way of
life, it is comprehensive, covering virtually every aspect. A Muslim is not able
to separate religion from the rest of life for the Deen is the life. A true
practicing Muslim breathes, walks, and lives Islam, even down to the smallest
details. Upon rising in the morning, she remembers Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa).
She immediately washes for pray and completes the Fajr Salaah (Morning Prayer).
She eats with his right hand during meals. During social interactions she
follows Islamic manners. Hijab is a part of this way of life and as such it
cannot be altered or removed. The religion of Islam pervades both private and
public life. These cannot be separated and one cannot say that she will be
religious in private life but not public life. An individual takes her Deen to
public life when she wears hijab. She takes her religion to public life when she
refuses to shake hands with males. The religion comes into play during social
interactions, economic transactions, and political decisions. A Muslim can never
live a “secular” life. Unfortunately, this is what nations are forcing Muslims
to do, even in so-called Islamic countries. But, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)
has guaranteed to preserve the religion and to reward those who work for His
cause in its protection.
The second reason given for the hijab ban is reflected in the following quote by
Jacques Chirac — “Regardless of their origins and their convictions, French men
and women have the same rights, the same duties, and they have a right to the
same respect and the same opportunities.” The goal of these societies is to make
men and women totally equal or the same; exactly identical in rights, duties,
and opportunities. It is somehow strange to think that by removing hijab men and
women will somehow become magically equal in status.
These people also assume that women who wear Hijab are oppressed, subjugated and
in need of liberation. They seem to think that Muslim women want to be liberated
and to be told to remove the hijab. It is as if they are doing a favor for the
From an Islamic perspective, it is important to realize that although men and
women are similar in many ways (i.e., spiritual), Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa),
the Almighty, has created specific rights and responsibilities for each gender
in certain realms of life. He has not only done that, but He has also created
each gender uniquely to best fulfill the duties that have been assigned to each.
Science, in fact, has affirmed these concepts. This does not imply the
superiority of one gender over the other since both roles are honorable and
operate in a complementary manner. They are both essential for effective
functioning of the society. One may ask the question, “If Allah Almighty had
intended for men and women to be equal or the same, would it be necessary to
have two genders?”
A Muslim woman does not need the “freedom” that is being offered, for she is
already liberated. Her liberation comes through submission to her Lord and
Creator. The hijab liberates her from the focus on worldly and lower desires and
elevates her into the domain of spirituality and nearness to Allah (Subhaanahu
Wa Ta’aalaa). The “liberation” they promise is only subjugation deceptively
shrouded in the cloak of goodness. There can never be liberation in disobedience
to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa).
Although secular countries proclaim to support freedom of religion and speech,
these can easily be compromised in defense of the secular philosophy. The
following quote highlights this fact: “The European Court in Stasbourg protects
secularism when it is a fundamental value of the state. It allows limits to the
freedom of expression in public services, especially when it is a matter of
protecting minors against external pressures.” In these societies, everything is
upside down, even to the point of giving minors rights above their parents. In
essence, what they are doing is taking control from parents and giving it to the
state. So, it is no longer parents who are telling their children to wear hijab,
but it is the state telling them to take it off. There is still no freedom, only
a different force. This is not much different from saying that you have come to
liberate a country, only to occupy it yourself.
In Islam, the rights of parents are sacred and honored. Allah (Subhaanahu Wa
Ta’aalaa) commands the believers to obey and respect their parents and this is
often placed next to submission and obedience to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa)
in importance. They are attempting to tear down this fundamental aspect of the
Deen and the lifestyle based on divine teachings, but this cannot be allowed.
From an Islamic perspective, parents can force their daughter to wear hijab
since this is a religious obligation. They are only requiring her to do what is
best for her, her family, and her society, in this world and also in the
Aakhirah (Hereafter). This is really no different than enforcing a curfew or
placing limitations on friends or outings. In reality, it is more essential
since the benefits are immense. It is important to note that girls are not
obligated to wear hijab until puberty, but they should be taught about the
essentials of hijab from an early age. If they are properly taught the beauty
and meaning of hijab, they will willingly make their own choice to don it when
the time is right.