Hyderabad: As the dispute over the hijab rages on, opinions for and against are aired freely. As with any other issue, people from all walks of life have jumped into the debate and are voicing their personal opinion on hijab when the issue is entirely religious in nature.
What Muslims eat and wear has always been a bone of contention. But it is a pity that their choice of dress has now focused on education, a fundamental right. With hijabi students determined to take the controversy head-on, it’s best to lift the lid on the confusion surrounding Islamic headgear. The argument made by many, including Muslims, is that everyone has the right to choose what they like to wear. But the truth is that the hijab is fardh (compulsory) in Islam and has its roots in the Quran and the Sunnah. The believing Muslim (practicing Muslim woman) has no choice in the matter. She must put on the appropriate religious covering or face the wrath of the Creator in the hereafter.
The Islamic rule on women’s dress clearly states that clothes should not show the body or its shape and a head covering that completely covers the hair, ears and neck. When it comes to clothing, modesty is necessary for both men and women, but a greater degree of modesty is required for women, especially in the cover of feminine elegance. The Quran commands women to pull their veils over their breasts and show their charm only to their husbands. The Prophet of Islam has clearly stated that within the limits prescribed by Allah, everyone is free to eat and wear what they want. Those with implicit faith in Allah (swt) as Creator dare not deny the Islamic Sharia which enjoins women to hide their faces from others, a widespread practice during the time of the Prophet. “Although the veil was not specified in the Quran, it is Quranic in spirit,” says Maulana Sayyid Abul A’la Maududi, one of the most notable Islamic thinkers and writers.
Dressing modestly is therefore not a choice but a religious obligation for the Muslim woman. This tells viewers that she should be treated with respect the same way an executive in a business suit should be taken seriously. Islamic scholars are unanimous in saying that the ‘awrah’ (parts of the body that should be covered with clothes) of a Muslim woman is her entire body except for her hands and face. This rule applies in all cases, including Haj. Thus, it is clear from the Koranic injunctions that the hijab is an obligation in Islam. However, there is a difference of opinion on face and hand coverage. While some jurists say the face should be covered, others argue that it is simply a recommended act.
Certain conditions govern the etiquette of the hijab:
1. It should cover the whole body.
2. It should not be waterproof or transparent.
3. It should not delineate body parts, especially those that are sexually attractive.
4. It should not be a dress usually worn by men.
Western propaganda has fueled the myth that women in Islam are largely repressed, their rights and movement restricted. But is it really so? There are a number of Muslim women holding important positions while observing the hijab. Some may view the hijab as a regressive practice, but many women feel comfortable and empowered in it. There are many trailblazers like Raffia Arshad, who works as a judge in the UK, wearing a hijab. For Salva Fatima from Hyderabad, the hijab didn’t stop her from becoming a pilot. There is no shortage of such examples where women leave their mark in different facets of life while adhering to the veil.
Purdah is instinctively a feminine trait, a part of feminine modesty. This is evident from the way even some non-Muslim women cover their heads and faces. Former President Pratibha Patil is a good example. During her five-year tenure, she was never seen without the “pallu” covering her head. Former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi too often covered her head in public. Additionally, it is customary in the Hindi belt region of the country for married Hindu, Jain and Sikh women to cover their heads and faces with the free end of the saree. When this is the case, why the cries over the religious symbols of Muslim women?
The problem is that there is a lot of ignorance about Islamic injunctions regarding modesty and hijab. The word “hijab” is now interpreted to mean headscarf when it is so much more than that. It is a comprehensive term with deeper connotations. This includes the woman covering her body and concealing her ornaments. Hijab also governs a woman’s conduct and behavior in relation to the opposite sex. Those who observe the hijab of clothing observe it in a limited sense. According to the scholars, the hijab of clothes should be followed by the hijab of the eyes, the hijab of the heart, the hijab of the mind and the hijab of the intention. The term used in the Quran for the head veil is khimar. Many who claim to have knowledge believe that there is nothing in the Quran or the Sunnah that says women should cover themselves in front of non-mahram (people with whom marriage is permitted) men. See verse 31 of Surat al-Noor:
And tell believing women to restrain their appearance and keep their private parts and not to show their adornment except what is apparent, and to draw their head veils over all juyoobihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and breasts) and to reveal their finery only to their husbands, or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or their brothers or the sons of their brothers or the sons of their sisters or their (Muslim) women.
In Surah al-Ahzaab verse 59 Allah says: O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the wives of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) over their whole bodies. It is more appropriate, so that they are recognized and not harassed. Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.
So to say that the veil or the head covering is not an essential part of Islam is wrong. Can there be a clearer injunction than this? Jilbab in Arabic means a loose outer garment that hides a woman’s body from head to toe. The Quran not only commands women to wear the cloak, but also to put it on their face. Of course, there are many Muslim women who do not observe the hijab. Their action does not necessarily mean that the hijab is not part of Islam. Likewise, many Muslims are not regular in their prayers. And to conclude that the namaz is not essential would be to push the argument too far. There are non-practitioners in all religions. And their actions should not be taken as criteria.
Do Muslim girls now find themselves with a Hobson choice – education or hijab? Certainly not. Both are essential and ordained by Allah. Muslim girls cannot give up the hijab or drop out of school. It is hoped that wiser advice will prevail and that the divisive political agenda will not fuel the problem.
The great satirist Akbar Allahabadi’s verse on the veil sums up the issue in the best possible way. He says:
Be-parda kal jo aaiin nazar chand bibayan
Akbar zamin mein ghairat-e-qaumi se gad gaya
Puchha jo main ne aap ka parda wo kya hua
Kahne lagin ki aql pe mardon ke pad gaya
(Yesterday, as we saw bareheaded ladies
Akbar lamented a sense of shame and pain
I asked politely, ladies, where did your veil go?
They said, he now covers the wisdom of men)