Hijab

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Hijabs.jpg

All schools of Islamic law require that Muslim women wear observe the hijab. Conceptually, the hijab is a set of requirements according to which both women and men must cover certain parts of their body (the Arabic word hijab literally refers to the concept of 'veiling'). While the requirements for men are similar to common expectations of public decency in the modern world, those for women extend to cover the entirety of the body except for their face and hands, with legal schools differing on the requirements for women to cover their feet, face, and wrists. Colloquially, the word "hijab" refers to the headgear employed by Muslim women to cover their hair and neck. There are many cultural variations on the hijab garment, many of which provide different degrees of coverage, including famously the burqa, niqab, and dupata.

While the Quran contains general guidelines on why and how the hijab should be observed, the hadith literature is more particular in its discussion of what the circumstances behind the revelation of the hijab requirements were and what precisely it entails. The reasoning and requirements found in the Quran and hadith differ, with the account in the hadith suggesting the hijab is intended to protect the anonymity of women, particularly Muhammad's wives who were being targeted and harassed by his close companion Umar (also the second of the rightly-guided caliphs), and the account in the Quran suggesting that the hijab is intended to hide women's beauty so as to prevent molestation.

Classically, both of these accounts have been embraced and attempts have been made to reconcile them. But in recent times, both accounts have proven problematic. The Quranic account has been objected to because it suggests that women somehow share responsibility for their harassment on the basis of their attire and the hadith account has proven difficult both because it paints Umar, a highly-revered religious figure and friend of Muhammad's, as an unsavory character and because it suggests that Muhammad was not alone responsible for the formulation of the Sharia, which is supposed to be divinely-revealed and unchanging.

In the Quran

The Qur'an generally advances the view that an unveiled woman is to some extent deliberately exposing herself to the increased possibility of harassment or assault. Consequently, the idea that the criminal's culpability in some way reduced as a result of this "encouragement" is widespread among Islamic scholars and societies.

This reasoning differ significantly from the story found in the hadith regarding the reason for the revelation of the hijab requirements, where ideas of modesty and protection against assault are absent. Critics have suggested that if the story found in the hadith regarding the revelation of the hijab verses is reliable, then the reasoning of modesty given in the verses was most likely a latter rationalization of the practice on Muhammad's part rather than the original motivation.

Quran 24:31

Quran 24:31 states that the purpose of the hijab is to hide women's beauty from men.

Corpus: And say to the believing women (that) they should lower [of] their gaze and they should guard their chastity, and not (to) display their adornment except what is apparent of it. And let them draw their head covers over their bosoms, and not (to) display their adornment except to their husbands, or their fathers or fathers (of) their husbands or their sons or sons (of) their husbands or their brothers or sons (of) their brothers or sons (of) their sisters, or their women or what possess their right hands or the attendants having no physical desire among [the] men or [the] children who (are) not aware of private aspects (of) the women. And not let them stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah altogether O believers! So that you may succeed.

Yusuf Ali: And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss.
Pickthal: 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 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.

Daryabadi: And say thou unto the believing women that they shall lower their sights and guard their private parts and shall not disclose their adornment except that which appeareth thereof; and they shall draw their scarves over their bosoms; and shall not disclose their adornment except unto their husbands or their fathers or their husbands fathers or their sons or their husbands sons or their brothers or their brothers sons or their sisters sons or their Women or those whom their right hands own or male followers wanting in sex desire or children not acquainted with the privy parts of women; and they Shall not strike their feet so that there be known that which they hide of their adornment. And turn penitently unto Allah ye all, O ye believers, haply ye may thrive!

Quran 33:59

Quran 33:59 states that the purpose of the hijab is to distinguish free Muslim women (presumably from non-Muslim or slave women, who do not have to observe the hijab) in order to prevent them from being molested/harassed.

Corpus:O Prophet! Say to your wives and your daughters and (the) women (of) the believers to draw over themselves [of] their outer garments. That (is) more suitable that they should be known and not harmed. And is Allah Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.

Yusuf Ali: O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
Pickthal: O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognized and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.

Daryabadi: O Prophet! say unto thy wives and thy daughters and women of the believers that they should let down upon them their wrapping- garments. That would be more likely to distinguish them so that they will not be affronted. And Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.

Revelation of the hijab verses

Umar bin Al-Khattab's spies on Sauda

According to hadiths found in Sahih al-Bukhari, the most authoritative hadith collection, the series of events leading up to the revelation of the requirements of the hijab was as follows. First, Umar repeatedly asked Muhammad that Allah should reveal verses of the Qur'an pertaining to the veiling of women. Next, when no such revelation was forthcoming from Muhammad, Umar went out one night and stalked one of Muhammad's wives when she went out to relieve herself. Identifying the wife as Sauda bint Zam'a, he called out to her by name, noting that he had succeeded in recognizing her in her compromised circumstance. After this, Sauda presumably returned home embarrassed by the incident and reported what occurred to Muhammad, finally resulting in the revelation of the verses pertaining to the hijab.

Narrated 'Aisha: The wives of the Prophet used to go to Al-Manasi, a vast open place (near Baqia at Medina) to answer the call of nature at night. 'Umar used to say to the Prophet "Let your wives be veiled," but Allah's Apostle did not do so. One night Sauda bint Zam'a the wife of the Prophet went out at 'Isha' time and she was a tall lady. 'Umar addressed her and said, "I have recognized you, O Sauda." He said so, as he desired eagerly that the verses of Al-Hijab (the observing of veils by the Muslim women) may be revealed. So Allah revealed the verses of "Al-Hijab" (A complete body cover excluding the eyes).
Narrated 'Aisha: (the wife of the Prophet) 'Umar bin Al-Khattab used to say to Allah's Apostle "Let your wives be veiled" But he did not do so. The wives of the Prophet used to go out to answer the call of nature at night only at Al-Manasi.' Once Sauda, the daughter of Zam'a went out and she was a tall woman. 'Umar bin Al-Khattab saw her while he was in a gathering, and said, "I have recognized you, O Sauda!" He ('Umar) said so as he was anxious for some Divine orders regarding the veil (the veiling of women.) So Allah revealed the Verse of veiling. (Al-Hijab; a complete body cover excluding the eyes). (See Hadith No. 148, Vol. 1)
'A'isha reported that the wives of Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) used to go out in the cover of night when they went to open fields (in the outskirts of Medina) for easing themselves. 'Umar b Khattab used to say: Allah's Messenger, ask your ladies to observe veil, but Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) did not do that. So there went out Sauda, daughter of Zarn'a, the wife of Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him), during one of the nights when it was dark. She was a tall statured lady. 'Umar called her saying: Sauda, we recognise you. (He did this with the hope that the verses pertaining to veil would be revealed.) 'A'isha said: Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, then revealed the verses pertaining to veil.

Allah agrees with Umar

Following the incident with Sauda and a number of other incidents where Umar had directly preceded revelation in his recommendations to Muhammad, Muhammad proclaimed that Allah had come, on multiple occasions, to agree with Umar.

Narrated Anas:

Umar said, "I agreed with Allah in three things," or said, "My Lord agreed with me in three things. I said, 'O Allah's Apostle! Would that you took the station of Abraham as a place of prayer.' I also said, 'O Allah's Apostle! Good and bad persons visit you! Would that you ordered the Mothers of the believers to cover themselves with veils.' So the Divine Verses of Al-Hijab (i.e. veiling of the women) were revealed. I came to know that the Prophet had blamed some of his wives so I entered upon them and said, 'You should either stop (troubling the Prophet ) or else Allah will give His Apostle better wives than you.' When I came to one of his wives, she said to me, 'O 'Umar! Does Allah's Apostle haven't what he could advise his wives with, that you try to advise them?' " Thereupon Allah revealed:--

"It may be, if he divorced you (all) his Lord will give him instead of you, wives better than you Muslims (who submit to Allah).." (66.5)
Narrated Umar: I said, "O Allah's Apostle! Good and bad persons enter upon you, so I suggest that you order the mothers of the Believers (i.e. your wives) to observe veils." Then Allah revealed the Verses of Al-Hijab.
Ibn Umar reported Umar as saying: My lord concorded with (my judgments) on three occasions. In case of the Station of Ibrahim, in case of the observance of veil and in case of the prisoners of Badr.

Umar ups the ante

After Umar's wish of having Muslim women veiled was fulfilled, he set his sights on having the clothing requirements increased to the point of making the women completely unrecognizable. To this end, he again spied on Sauda as she had gone out to relieve herself, this time notifying her that because she was a distinctively "fat huge lady", the newly-obligated veil did not suffice in obscuring her identity. Embarrassed yet again, Sauda returned home to inform Muhammad. Then feasting on a piece of meat and apparently disturbed by the interruption, Muhammad immediately received revelation from God alerting Sauda that Umar's demands would not this time be met. Accordingly, Sauda was informed that she would be allowed to relieve herself outdoors in spite of Umar's harassment.

Narrated Aisha: Sauda (the wife of the Prophet) went out to answer the call of nature after it was made obligatory (for all the Muslims ladies) to observe the veil. She was a fat huge lady, and everybody who knew her before could recognize her. So 'Umar bin Al-Khattab saw her and said, "O Sauda! By Allah, you cannot hide yourself from us, so think of a way by which you should not be recognized on going out. Sauda returned while Allah's Apostle was in my house taking his supper and a bone covered with meat was in his hand. She entered and said, "O Allah's Apostle! I went out to answer the call of nature and 'Umar said to me so-and-so." Then Allah inspired him (the Prophet) and when the state of inspiration was over and the bone was still in his hand as he had not put in down, he said (to Sauda), "You (women) have been allowed to go out for your needs."
A'isha reported that Sauda (Allah be pleased with her) went out (in the fields) in order to answer the call of nature even after the time when veil had been prescribed for women. She had been a bulky lady, significant in height amongst the women, and she could not conceal herself from him who had known her. 'Umar b. Khattab saw her and said: Sauda, by Allah, you cannot conceal from us. Therefore, be careful when you go out. She ('A'isha) said: She turned back. Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) was at that time in my house having his evening meal and there was a bone in his hand. She (Sauda) cline and said: Allah's Messenger. I went out and 'Umar said to me so and so. She ('A'isha) reported: There came the revelation to him and then it was over; the bone was then in his hand and he had not thrown it and he said: "Permission has been granted to you that you may go out for your needs."

Reasoning on the hijab

Billboard in Tehran reading "hijab is security"

Protection of chastity and against assault

While Islamic legal scholars are assiduous in pointing out that Islamic laws, being direct orders from God, need not provide practical benefit to merit fulfillment, most today hold that the practical reasoning behind the obligation of the hijab is that it protects women from sexual assault by suppressing their attractiveness and serves to help them guard their own chastity. The following hadith account is often referenced in this vein of reasoning.

'Abd bin Hamid reported from 'Abd Ar-Rizaaq reported from Ma'amar, reported from Az-Zuhri, from 'Urwa, from 'A'isha that a eunuch used to come to the wives of Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) and they did not count him as a male with sexual desire. Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) one day came as he was sitting with some of his women and he was busy in describing the bodily characteristics of a lady and saying: when she approaches you it is with four (folds of fat) and if she goes away from is it with eight (folds of fat). Thereupon Allah's Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: Do I not see that this one knows what, behold, is here, the women ought not to be exposed like this. She (" A'isha) said: Then they began to wear hijab around him (the eunuch)[sic]
Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin: A mukhannath (eunuch) used to enter upon the wives of Prophet (peace be upon him). They (the people) counted him among those who were free of sexual desires. One day the Prophet (peace be upon him) entered upon us when he was with one of his wives, and was describing the qualities of a woman, saying: When she comes forward, she comes forward with four (folds in her stomach), and when she goes backward, she goes backward with eight (folds in her stomach). The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Do I not see that this (man) knows what here lies. Then they (the wives) observed veil from him.

Traditional counter-perspectives and modern criticisms

While modern scholars have inclined precipitously toward the rationale of chastity and assault protection, most probably due to its appealing to some form of practical reasoning, the traditional understanding and the understanding most straightforwardly found in the Islamic scriptures themselves appears to be that the hjiab serves to obscure the public identity of women to some extent and to prevent men from observing their physique. One criticism that has been presented against the above interpretation of the account regarding the eunuch found in the hadiths is that if Muhammad's concern had been the chastity and protection of the women from assault, then whether or not they wore the hijab in the presence of eunuch should not have made a difference. A eunuch, after all, could not pose any threat to the women's chastity or safety. The reason Muhammad did give in the hadiths is that he did not want the eunuch to observe the women. This, rather than the protection of women as such, appears to better fit both the legal requirements of the hijab and narratives presented in Islamic scriptures.

A more poignant criticism presented by critics, however, has been that if the hijab seeks to protect women from sexual assault, it wholly fails to serve this purpose. Islamic countries where the overwhelming majorities of women observe the hijab have been found to have some of the highest rates of women experiencing all manner of sexual harassment. In Egypt, for instance, women and young girls are harassed 7 times every 200 meters[1][2] and in Saudi Arabia, where the observance of hijab is strictly enforced throughout the country, women experience one of the highest rates of rape in the world.[3]

Types of veiling

Physical barriers

Another type of veiling, also referred to in Arabic as hijab, is that effected through physical barriers. While Islamic legal schools disagree about the requirement and use of physical barriers in addition to hijab as matter of personal clothing, the use of physical barriers is the rule rather than the exception in much of the Islamic world and even make frequent appearance in Western diasporic settings.

At home

In addition to the generic employment of physical barriers wherever both men and women are present, there is the more specific practice of the "household hijab". The idea of separating male and female visitors at one's home is inspired by hadith accounts which describe this practice in Muhammad's household as well as a Quranic allusion thereto. According to the hadiths, the separate revelation regarding the household hijab was also situationally inspired. Here, the story is that Muhammad had visitors and was bothered to find them lingering to chat with his wives after they had dinner.

Narrated Anas bin Malik:

When Allah's Apostle married Zainab bint Jahsh, he invited the people to a meal. They took the meal and remained sitting and talking. Then the Prophet (showed them) as if he is ready to get up, yet they did not get up. When he noticed that (there was no response to his movement), he got up, and the others too, got up except three persons who kept on sitting. The Prophet came back in order to enter his house, but he went away again. Then they left, whereupon I set out and went to the Prophet to tell him that they had departed, so he came and entered his house. I wanted to enter along with him, but he put a screen between me and him. Then Allah revealed:

'O you who believe! Do not enter the houses of the Prophet...' (33.53)
Narrated Anas: A banquet of bread and meat was held on the occasion of the marriage of the Prophet to Zainab bint Jahsh. I was sent to invite the people (to the banquet), and so the people started coming (in groups); They would eat and then leave. Another batch would come, eat and leave. So I kept on inviting the people till I found nobody to invite. Then I said, "O Allah's Prophet! I do not find anybody to invite." He said, "Carry away the remaining food." Then a batch of three persons stayed in the house chatting. The Prophet left and went towards the dwelling place of Aisha and said, "Peace and Allah's Mercy be on you, O the people of the house!" She replied, "Peace and the mercy of Allah be on you too. How did you find your wife? May Allah bless you. Then he went to the dwelling places of all his other wives and said to them the same as he said to Aisha and they said to him the same as Aisha had said to him. Then the Prophet returned and found a group of three persons still in the house chatting. The Prophet was a very shy person, so he went out (for the second time) and went towards the dwelling place of 'Aisha. I do not remember whether I informed him that the people have gone away. So he returned and as soon as he entered the gate, he drew the curtain between me and him, and then the Verse of Al-Hijab was revealed.
Narrated Anas bin Malik: that he was a boy of ten at the time when the Prophet emigrated to Medina. He added: I served Allah's Apostle for ten years (the last part of his life time) and I know more than the people about the occasion whereupon the order of Al-Hijab was revealed (to the Prophet). Ubai b n Ka'b used to ask me about it. It was revealed (for the first time) during the marriage of Allah's Apostle with Zainab bint Jahsh. In the morning, the Prophet was a bride-groom of her and he Invited the people, who took their meals and went away, but a group of them remained with Allah's Apostle and they prolonged their stay. Allah's Apostle got up and went out, and I too, went out along with him till he came to the lintel of 'Aisha's dwelling place. Allah's Apostle thought that those people had left by then, so he returned, and I too, returned with him till he entered upon Zainab and found that they were still sitting there and had not yet gone. The Prophet went out again, and so did I with him till he reached the lintel of 'Aisha's dwelling place, and then he thought that those people must have left by then, so he returned, and so did I with him, and found those people had gone. At that time the Divine Verse of Al-Hijab was revealed, and the Prophet set a screen between me and him (his family).

See also

External links

References