Revelation of the Hijab
If you ask a Muslim why Muslim females wear the Hijab (veil) the reason given is usually one of two (or a mixture of both):
- They are obeying a command from Allah as given in the Qur'an; it is a matter of piety.
- They are protecting their modesty by dressing this way instead of showing their body off for everyone to see.
The crux of the issue is how this mandate made its way into the Qur'an in the first place? We can find this information in the ahadith by examining the revelational circumstances of these verses.
Qur'an Ayahs Regarding the Hijab
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.Shakir: And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants not having need (of women), or the children who have not attained knowledge of what is hidden of women; and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may be known; and turn to Allah all of you, O believers! so that you may be successful.
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.Shakir: O Prophet! say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers that they let down upon them their over-garments; this will be more proper, that they may be known, and thus they will not be given trouble; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
The first verse above states that the purpose is to hide women's beauty from men. The second verse makes it clear that it is to prevent molestation/harassment whilst traveling. We also do not find any such requirement for Muslim men. What are the possible explanations for this?
- Women's beauty is so enticing that men are unable to control themselves if they see an uncovered female - This cannot be right because women do not have to cover themselves in front of those males to whom they are related.
- Women are not attracted to men - Even the casual observer knows this is untrue - the vast majority of women are not asexual.
- Women have more self control than men - This may very well be the case, but only with the caveat that 'men' refers to Muslim men.
The current perception in Islamic society is that an unveiled woman is asking to be sexually harassed or assaulted. Although not a guarantee, they believe that the wearing of a veil is added protection against the chance of assault. However as we look at the ahadith, we find that none of the above reasons are correct as we see when studying the revelational circumstances of these verses. The Hijab verses were sent down in response to a specific situation occurring at the time.
Ahadith Regarding the Hijab
Umar bin Al-Khattab's Involvement
In short, the sequence of events as laid out in the ahadith are as follows:
- Umar repeatedly asks Muhammad that Allah should reveal verses for the Qur'an pertaining to the veiling of women.
- No such revelation is sent down.
- Umar follows Muhammad's wives one night when they go out to relieve themselves (go to the toilet) and calls out to Muhammad's wife Sauda.
- Sauda goes home in a state of embarrassment and relates to Muhammad what has happened.
- Allah then reveals the hijab verse as Umar had wanted all along.
Of course this brings up some obvious questions:
- If Muhammad is just a messenger, relating Allah's word, why did Umar ask Muhammad for the hijab revelation? Why did he not just pray to Allah and ask directly?
- No revelation was sent down until Umar spied on Muhammad's own wives. Why did Umar do this? How did he know (or at least suspect) it would be successful? Why does Allah care about toilet privacy so much that he revealed a verse pertaining to all Muslim women that will ever live?
A common apologetic for this is that Allah was waiting for Umar to do this so that the situational revelation could come down. However this is not mentioned anywhere, thus there is no evidence for it. Moreover, Umar confirms that he came up with the idea first and then Allah "agreed with him".
Allah Agrees with Umar
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)
How can the Qur'an be the text that was in existence since before the world began, if Allah is taking suggestions for its content from Muhammad's contemporaries? It appears however, that Umar was a serial toilet-place loiterer, because after the revelation of the verses he had so wanted, he was at it again.
Umar Spies Again
Apparently, Umar was not satisfied once he had gotten the Hijab verses he eagerly bothered Muhammad about. He wanted women to be completely unrecognizable.
Reasoning on the Hijab
A common claim by apologists is that the Hijab protects women against unwanted sexual attention from men. Well known apologist Dr. Zakir Naik takes this line of reasoning in his defense of the hijab mandate. Before evaluating this claim we must examine a few more ahadith:
Evaluating the "Protection" Claim
Given the fact that the verses were first revealed after Umar verbally harassed Muhammad's wives while they were going to the toilet, and that Muhammad told women to wear the veil even in the presence of a eunuch, we must conclude that the veil is only intended to prevent men from evaluating the physical attributes of females. Since eunuchs have no sexual desire, the claim that it is to prevent sexual molestation and not just gossip/verbal harassment is scripturally invalid.
Another interesting thing to note is that all of the verses and ahadith examined so far are to do with Muslim men harassing Muslim females. Thus Allah has revealed this verse to protect the believing women from the believing men.
In non-Islamic societies, women are generally free to walk around unveiled and not be harassed/assaulted every few blocks by men, but in an Islamic society (e.g. in Egypt where women and young girls are harassed 7 times every 200 meters or in Saudi Arabia where the observance of hijab is strictly enforced but the country still has one of the highest rape scales in the world) this would not be the case. If not arrested under indecency laws, women would be constantly harassed and/or assaulted by Muslim men.
Furthermore, certain studies carried out in the Muslim world have proven that the widely-held belief that a veil is added protection against the chance of assault is actually false (i.e. the majority of victims wear the hijab). Thus we can conclude that the hypothetical situations like that presented by Naik and other apologist, in favor of the Hijab, are not only scripturally invalid, but also technically invalid, even in Islamic societies.
Different Types of Veiling
There are other ahadith that talk of the 'verses of al-hijab' but these are concerning a different type of hijab (veil) with, of course, a different set of revelational circumstances.
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)
I of all the people know best this verse of Al-Hijab. When Allah's Apostle married Zainab bint Jahsh she was with him in the house and he prepared a meal and invited the people (to it). They sat down (after finishing their meal) and started chatting. So the Prophet went out and then returned several times while they were still sitting and talking. So Allah revealed the Verse:'O you who believe! Enter not the Prophet's houses until leave is given to you for a meal, (and then) not (so early as) to wait for its preparation .....ask them from behind a screen.' (33.53) So the screen was set up and the people went away.
We see that in addition to the personal hijab, a 'house hijab' is also required to separate the women of the house from visitors; in the form of a separating, opaque screen. Again as we see above this was a situational revelation. Muhammad was annoyed that people stayed and chatted with his wives after having dinner at the house, so Allah revealed a verse requiring a separation to put a damper on communication, thereby meaning guests do not stay as long before and after dinner. The above verses are not pertinent to the type of hijab being covered in this article, but have been presented to further highlight the silly circumstances of many of these situational revelations; also to acknowledge that 'hijab' as mentioned in the Qur'an and ahadith do not always refer to the same thing.
The reason that Muslim women wear the hijab today is not a spiritual one, nor is it a matter of piety. Covering the hair/face cannot be considered an act of modesty because Muslim men are not required to cover theirs. The sole reason they do it is because Umar bin Al-Khattab, a companion of Prophet Muhammad, wished that he would reveal verses from Allah requiring women to wear it. When Muhammad did not oblige, Umar did not consider praying to Allah for assistance. Umar knew he had to make it personal for Muhammad himself in order to bring the revelation down. He followed Muhammad's wives out when they went to go to the toilet and made his presence known. When Muhammad heard of this, the revelation that Umar had so wanted was sent down from Allah. Umar knew where these revelations were really coming from, which is why he went to Muhammad and harassed his wives instead of asking Allah.
Although the revelational circumstances for the hijab may seem comical, the consequences that we can see to this day, are not. The requirement for the hijab has had the effect of placing full responsibility for Muslim-male self control onto the females - freeing the men of responsibility for their actions if they see an unveiled woman. Lack of self control is not an inherent attribute to men, because men in non-Islamic societies generally do not have such self control issues; when it is rare to see a woman covered so in these societies. The hijab's purpose, as revealed and to this day, is designed to protect Muslim females from the now acceptable behavior of Muslim males; behavior which has been deemed socially acceptable precisely because of the requirement of Muslim females to wear the hijab.
- Hijab - A hub page that leads to other articles related to Hijab
- Does a woman’s clothing seduce rapists? - Bayo Olupohunda, Nigeria Intel, May 23, 2013 (archived), http://www.nigeriaintel.com/2013/05/23/does-a-womans-clothing-seduce-rapists/
- Egypt’s NCW chief says women harassed 7 times every 200 meters - GhanaMed, September 6, 2012
- Manar Ammar - Sexual harassment awaits Egyptian girls outside schools - Bikya Masr, September 10, 2012
- "The High Rape-Scale in Saudi Arabia", WomanStats Project (blog), January 16, 2013 (archived), http://womanstats.wordpress.com/2013/01/16/the-high-rape-scale-in-saudi-arabia/.
- Magdi Abdelhadi - Egypt's sexual harassment 'cancer' - BBC News, July 18, 2008