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The Hijab — Part 1

Guest Scholar – MAS Greater La

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In the Name of God, the Most Merciful, the Beneficent

Some sisters (including some non-Muslim friends) have asked me recently about the Hijab, and why Muslim women wear it. This is for them specifically, and everyone interested. It was not written it out of judgment of my respected Hijabi or non-Hijabi sisters. Only God can judge! But when addressing an issue, it should be said as it is.

The reason Muslim women wear Hijab is simple; it is the same reason for which we fast and pray: God commands us to do it. We do it out of submission to Allah, out of Islam. Fulfilling any command by God becomes an expression of our belief and an affirmation of our submission. The command came down in Surat Al-Noor, in Madina, during the 5th or 6th year after migration:

وَقُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلاَّ مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَى جُيُوبِهِنَّ
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… (Surat Al-Noor, verse 31)
When the verse was revealed, the early Muslim women implemented it quickly as described in Hadeeth A’esha (R) in Sahih Bukhari:
عن أمنا عائشة
قالت: «يرحم الله نساء المهاجرات الأول. لما أنزل الله “وليضربن بخمرهن على جيوبهن” شققن مروطهن فاختمرن بها».
She said: “May Allah have mercy on the early immigrant women. When Allah revealed that they should draw their veils over their bosoms, they cut off part of their garment and covered their head with it.”
The command was implemented immediately, and there was a reason for that. The Quran had been instructing the Muslims to establish a strong belief for years prior to that. By the time the command was given to the Muslim women, a solid belief was already established in their heart, and they had already submitted to the commands of God, even before the commands came down. They knew where the order was coming from, hence it was implemented immediately. The same happened with the other commands such avoiding alcohol, moving the Qiblah, fasting Ramadan, and others.
Belief (Eeman) was not approached as an academic exercise, or a mere intellectual experience. It was more comprehensive, where the actions themselves were part of the belief. Acts of submission (such as wearing the Hijab) become not just an expression of belief, but more than that, they become themselves components of belief, and strengthen it back.
With the strong belief, a solid identity was established as well. That identity was affirmed by acts such as wearing the Hijab, in a way that distinguish Muslim women from other women living in Madina at that time. This becomes particularly clear today, when a woman wearing Hijab is “different.” A Hijabi is telling everyone that she made her own choice. She is not just conforming; she chose to look different.
A Muslim man may not be identified as Muslim, as there is not a unique dress code that identifies him as such. He can choose whether to declare his identity at some moments or hide it at others. But the Hijabi Muslim woman is declaring her identity continuously, loud and clear. She made the choice to do so, to tell everyone who she is. Obviously, it is difficult at times, very difficult; but this is constantly changing, as affected by the current politics (Insha’Allah the topic of another reflection).
A woman’s Hijab is also a form of asceticism, a detachment, a sacrifice. When the world is constantly feeding our narcissistic tendencies, a Hijabi woman is nipping it at the bud. Everyone likes to feel beautiful and admired, and the world is telling you to flaunt it, if you have it. The Hijabi is resisting these tendencies, hiding something that she has the option (and sometimes the urge) to expose. It liberates one of her own desires and enslavement. And it is done willingly, in order to please God. This is the unique path to a higher form of piety as stated in the Quran:
لَن تَنَالُواْ الْبِرَّ حَتَّى تُنفِقُواْ مِمَّا تُحِبُّونَ وَمَا تُنفِقُواْ مِن شَيْءٍ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ بِهِ عَلِيمٌ
By no means shall you attain righteousness unless ye give (freely) of that which you love; and whatever you give, God knows it well. (Surat Aal-Imran, verse 92)
It is also essential not to reduce the Hijab to a mere head scarf. One of the verses about Hijab gives us the wisdom behind it, to declare a woman’s identity and protect her from sexual harm:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُل لِّأَزْوَاجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَاء الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِن جَلابِيبِهِنَّ ذَلِكَ أَدْنَى أَن يُعْرَفْنَ فَلا يُؤْذَيْنَ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ غَفُورًا رَّحِيمًا
O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over themselves: That is closer that they should be known (and identified as such) and not molested. And God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Surat Al-Ahzaab, verse 59)
A Hijabi woman is telling men around her “I’m not an available subject”, and as such it protects her from male’s sexual harassment.
Then here something very important: if the Hijab is meant to send this message, then it must worn in a way that sends that message. It must reflect modesty. Unfortunately some of the ways Hijab is worn does the exact opposite, screaming flashiness and seduction. The tight clothes, the flashy colors, the loud makeup, the excessive accessorizing, all of that clearly overshadow the message that the Hijab is intended to convey. Hence, the Hijab sometimes ends up enhancing the physical beauty, instead of concealing it.
People do treat us largely based on the way we present and define ourselves to them. If one keeps emphasizing the physical beauty, that will certainly be what they will see in her. But if character and intellect are what we put forward, it would be the way they will see us.
Modesty is a key component in a woman’s Hijab, and a Hijab without modesty is like a body without spirit.
I ask Allah (S) to bless both our Hijabi and non-Hijabi sisters and to guide us all to that which pleases Him, and that which brings us happiness in this life and in the next. Ameen!
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