In recent years, a small piece of cloth has managed to cause quite a stir. The Niqaab or Veiling or even scarf or Hijab (as the name given to scarf) that Muslim women wear on their heads is making headlines around the world. Hijab is banned in French public schools and other European countries have adopted, or are drafting similar legislation. In Australia, sometimes back, a radio presenter triggered both debate and outrage when he called for the face veil (Niqaab) to be banned from banks and post offices. Even Muslim majority countries such as Turkey and Tunisia, once, banned the Hijab in certain government buildings.
When a small piece of fabric causes such controversy and conflict, wouldn’t it be rational to obey the law of land and make life easier? Why then, under such circumstances, do Muslim women insist to practice their religion strictly?
First and foremost is the belief that we, the human beings, are the progeny of Hadhrat Aadam (Adam) and sent to this mortal world by Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) to be tested by Him. We have not been created to reside permanently here to enjoy this world but we are expected here to pass our lives revolving around the commandments of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa). That life does not compromise religion to feel at ease with man-made laws, rules, values, norms, etc. The one and only objective of life is to please the Lord Almighty.
There are a myriad of other reasons why, but the easy, one sentence answer is, because they believe Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) has made it an obligation for believing women. In the Quraan, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) tells the believing men and women to lower their gaze and to dress modestly. He specifically addresses women when He asks them not to show off their adornment, except that which is apparent, and draw their veils over their bodies.
Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) says in the Aayah (Verse) 31 Soorah Al-Noor (Chapter 24):
وَقُلْ لِلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَى جُيُوبِهِنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَائِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَائِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي أَخَوَاتِهِنَّ أَوْ نِسَائِهِنَّ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُنَّ أَوِ التَّابِعِينَ غَيْرِ أُولِي الْإِرْبَةِ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ أَوِ الطِّفْلِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يَظْهَرُوا عَلَى عَوْرَاتِ النِّسَاءِ وَلَا يَضْرِبْنَ بِأَرْجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعْلَمَ مَا يُخْفِينَ مِنْ زِينَتِهِنَّ وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ [النور: 31]
”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)
The 30th and 31st Aayaat (Verses) of Soorah An-Noor in Quraan are known as the Aayaat of Hijab and it is the consensus among the راسخین فی العلم علماء (Risekheen fil ‘Ilm Ulamaa) Islamic scholars who are well-grounded or well-founded and firm in knowledge, they say these Aayaat make the covering the and face is mandatory. Some countries do enforce a dress code. Women there, are expected to cover their face and wear some sort of loose fitting, full-length garment over their clothes. However, for the majority of Muslim women around the world, to cover, or not to cover, is a freely made choice by the law for their land. Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa) requires Muslim women to dress modestly and to cover themselves in public and in the presence of non-Mahram men (other than blood relatives to whom marriage is permanently forbidden).
Although the English word scarf and the Arabic term Hijab have become interchangeable, it is worth noting that Hijab is more than just a scarf. It is a term that covers a variety of clothing including scarves, but also a variety of different dress styles from around the world. Many have cultural connotations such as the Pakistani Shalwaar Qamees or Burqa, Pakistani or Afghani style, but whenever a Muslim woman covers “her adornment”, she is said to be wearing Hijab.
The literal meaning of Hijab is to veil, to cover, or to screen. Islam is known as a religion concerned with community cohesion and moral boundaries, and therefore Hijab is a way of ensuring that the moral boundaries between unrelated men and women are respected. In this sense, the term Hijab encompasses more than a scarf and more than a dress code. It is a term that denotes modest dressing and modest behavior. For instance, if a Muslim woman was wearing a scarf but at the same time wearing trousers that show body curves or see through garments, or using bad language, or mixing freely, shaking hands, cracking jokes with non-Mahram man, she would not be fulfilling the requirements of Hijab.
The majority of Muslim women wear Hijab to obey Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aalaa), and to be known as respectable women as Quraan describes:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُلْ لِأَزْوَاجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَاءِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِنْ جَلَابِيبِهِنَّ ذَلِكَ أَدْنَى أَنْ يُعْرَفْنَ فَلَا يُؤْذَيْنَ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ غَفُورًا رَحِيمًا [الأحزاب: 59]
”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)
However, in the last 30 years, Hijab has emerged as a sign of Islamic consciousness. Many women see wearing the Hijab as indicative of their desire to be part of an Islamic revival where obeying the Lord is not compromised, irrespective of countries where the practice of Islam is compulsory, allowed, appreciated, discouraged or even forbidden.
While those who seek to ban Hijab refer to it as a symbol of gender based repression, the women who choose to don a scarf, or to wear Hijab, in the broadest sense of the word, do so by making personal decisions and independent choices. They view it as a right and not a burden. Nor do these women regard Hijab as a sign of oppression. Women who wear Hijab often describe themselves as being “set free” from society’s unrealistic fashion culture.
In reality, Hijab frees women from being thought of as sexual objects of desire or from being valued for their looks, or body shape rather than their minds and intellect. No longer slaves to consumerism, Hijab liberates women from the need to conform to unrealistic stereotypes and images dictated by the media. Women wearing Hijab have expressed that dressing modestly and covering their full body, minimizes sexual harassment in the workplace. The aura of privacy created by Hijab is indicative of the great value Islam places upon women.
It is true that in some cultures women are forced to live as second class citizen, but wearing Hijab is the norm. Women who choose to wear Hijab do not make the decision lightly. In fact many women testify that they faced great animosity from their Muslim or non-Muslim families when they decided to cover. Across the globe there are numerous instances of women having to defend their right to wear the Hijab.
Hijab is a symbol of piety and it can be a sign of great inner strength and fortitude. A woman wearing Hijab becomes a very visible sign of Islam. While Muslim men can blend easily into any society, Muslim woman are often put on the line, and forced to defend not only their decision to cover, but also their religion. Nevertheless, women who wear Hijab insist that the advantages far outweigh any disadvantage conjured up by media bias or general ignorance.