Hijab of Freedom
Hijab, the Islamic modest dress, is one of the most debated issues concerning Muslim women in contemporary society. The typical modern view of hijab is that it is a symbol of woman's oppression and her inferior status; thus, many people think that liberation and freedom come with unveiling. Has a woman who is free of the hijab found freedom in our society; has unveiling her given her an equal status with men? The truth is that a woman cannot find equality and dignity in a society that does not respect her for who she is. She cannot be honored if her appearance is more important than her intellect and character. Islamic hijab grants a woman the honor and respect she deserves. It allows her to achieve her potential and be whoever she wishes to be. When a woman wears hijab, she is only the slave of Allah; therefore, no other force can control her.
"The dawn of Islam was the dawn of women's rights".
Islamic veil includes both men and women"(Al-Balagh 8).
Because the prevalent meaning of hijab is veil, many people think that Islam wants women to remain behind a curtain, to be imprisoned in their home, and never to leave it. However, the word satr was used instead of hijab in the sense of "covering" (Mutahhari 8), and the word hijab is newly used in Islamic thought (Al-Balagh 8).
Islamic hijab refers to a woman's modest dress; it does not mean that she should be kept secluded in her home. There is nothing in hijab that restricts a woman's freedom-to express her views and opinion, to own property, to have an education and a career, or to choose a husband.
There are two ways we can discuss hijab-the veil of ignorance and the Islamic veil. The veil in the pre-Islamic era (Jahiliyah) meant preventing women from participating in public life and denying her rights. Women were used by men only for enjoyment and were deprived of human values (Al-Balagh 5). Islam condemns this kind of hijab of Jahiliyah, for imprisoning women in their home disables at least half of society and hinders women's social and public lives (Al-Balagh 18).
An example of ancient Jahiliyah in our modern world is the Taleban group in Afghanistan. Women are prevented from exercising their fundamental rights by groups who consider such activities to be un-Islamic for women (Amnesty 3). The Taleban have barred women from employment outside the home, except in the health sector, and have discontinued education for girls (4). Prophet Mohammad (S) said that seeking knowledge is incumbent upon every Muslim; it is unfortunate that women's education and her role in society is overlooked because of what is mistaken to be hijab. "It is an irony that although the Taleban purport their policies on women are in place to ensure the physical protection and dignity of women, many women now cite fear of being beaten by the Taleban as their main security concern" (4). It is sad that women are being used as victims in men's power and political struggles and that it is being done in the name of Islam.
"... From the Qur'an, the sayings and the example of the Prophet, the law codes that developed, other sources of authority in the Muslim community, and informal traditions, such customs as keeping women veiled, greatly stressing their obedience and chastity and identifying their main value with procreation became pervasive throughout Muslim lands ..."
A common misconception is that the Islamic hijab is something traditional, not religious. The use of the word "traditional" is incorrect when describing hijab; it implies that it is a result of customs and practices that are something separate from the religion. The traditional dress refers to the veil of the ancient Jahiliyah. It is the hijab of Jahiliyah that is "traditional;" this use of the veil prevents women from participating in society. On the contrary, Islamic hijab is not an informal tradition, nor does it lower women's dignity and identify procreation as her main goal. It is Islamic hijab that bestows women with dignity and equality in our society.
The phenomenon of harem and the act of exploiting woman practiced in the period of Jahiliyah are the same which are practiced today in the name of an attractive guise that insults women. The new limitation which is used by modern Jahiliyah in the hands of women is different from the old one only in its covering and outside appearance. It remains a fetter to bind her hands, forbid freedom, and confiscate her will. So man has made woman a captive and slave by using different means for achieving man's aims through trading, brothels, cinemas, television and radio, newspapers, and fashion.
The hijab of Jahiliyah, which existed in ancient times, has taken on a new form in modern times. Although the modern world is at the pinnacle of technology and advancement, how much has our civilization advanced if rampant problems such as rape, sexual assault and harassment, anorexia and bulimia exist? If our society was not concerned with women's figure and superficial appearance, then these problems would not trouble the lives of many women today. Islam is the religion of peace; Islam came as a religion to solve all of humanity's problems. It teaches how the two sexes should relate with each other so that everyone is respected and honored and that there is a state of harmony in our world.
"In no way does Islamic hijab prevent women's active participation in society. Sometimes it is even necessary for her to participate; for example, the Hajj is equally obligatory upon men and women. " Mutahhari 92
The dawn of Islam was the dawn of women's rights. Islamic hijab means that a woman covers her whole body except the face and hands. It protects a woman and stops exploitation and confiscation of her rights, resulting in a morally pure human society (Al-Balagh 13). Hijab provides much more than just a physical cover; "it is a cover that acts as a repellent of every kind of crime and vice which destroys the individual and the society" (15). People deal with a woman wearing hijab with the perspective that she is a human being. A woman without hijab is generally dealt with from the point of view that she is a human being, but also "through her femininity and through what she stirs up in men by her exposed body" (19). Thus, hijab is a weapon and a barrier, not because women are weak, but because society is. It is a spiritual barrier, an empowerment, a guarantee that a woman will be judged by her inner spiritual beauty rather than her outer superficial appearance.
Say to the believing men that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts; that is purer for them; surely Allah is Aware of what they do. 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
Women are equal with men in every respect to their religion, even in instructions to modesty. Modesty is an integral part of faith for both men and women; both are to be modest and cast down their glance. "Islamic veil includes both men and women" (Al-Balagh 8). Being modest is what it essentially means to observe hijab. By instructing men to cast down their glance, Islam is protecting women from the evils that are widespread in our society and age. Neither of the sexes should look at the other with a lustful intention, unless of course they are husband and wife. Though they should also behave and dress modestly, Islam does not require men to cover themselves as it requires women to. It is a woman who attracts a man by her beauty (16), and it is a man who looks at her and is tempted (17). Thus, Islam instructs men to lower their gaze and women to cover themselves. It is also noteworthy that men are commanded to lower their gaze first, then women are instructed to do likewise. In an ideal Islamic and Qur'anic society, where hijab is practiced, what else can be expected but purity and chastity and that men and women are treated with dignity and respect.
"The Islamic hijab was ordained with the purpose that women could be leaders of society, not prisoners of the home. Allah would not have ordered women to observe the hijab if they were supposed to stay confined in the home."
In no way does Islamic hijab prevent women's active participation in society. Sometimes it is even necessary for her to participate; for example, the Hajj is equally obligatory upon men and women (Mutahhari 92). Islamic precepts provide the greatest extent of precaution to protect the purity and sanctity of sexual relations, and in no way do they prevent women's talents from blossoming (95). Nevertheless, opponents of the veil argue that it restricts women and does not allow them to contribute to society; thus, a major symbol of liberation for some reformers is throwing off the veil. The argument of these "Muslim" feminists is that the veil secludes them from having a public life, working, and receiving an education (Carmody 206). An "Islamic" feminist would say that the hijab they refer to is not the Islamic hijab. People who want to get rid of the Islamic hijab consider themselves feminists, for they argue that will make women and men equal. Is that true feminism? What about the woman who wears a hijab, receives an education, and works hard for her community? Is she not also a feminist, who by her achievements and character shows her equality with men? In Islam all human beings are considered equal, regardless of race and gender; only piety raises one's rank and nearness to Allah.
The Islamic hijab was ordained with the purpose that women could be leaders of society, not prisoners of the home. Allah would not have ordered women to observe the hijab if they were supposed to stay confined in the home; the hijab is meant for the public. A woman does not observe hijab when she is at home with her family! It is sad that many cultures today in "Muslim" countries still have not fully understood the ideal status Islam gives women.
There are many women in Islamic history who exemplify the significant role of women. Hazrat Khadija was Prophet Mohammad's first and most beloved wife. She was always at his side, giving financial support and moral inspiration. Furthermore, she was the first person to believe in him and defend him with her wealth and position (Al-Balagh 20). Among the first martyrs of Islam was Somayyah, an African woman. She was the mother of Ammar Yasser, a very close companion of Prophet Mohammad (S).
Although it is not obligatory for women to participate in holy war (jihad) unless there is an emergency, the Prophet gave some women permission to participate in battles to help the soldiers and the wounded (Mutahhari 92). An example of such a lady is Nosaibeh Jarahe, who took part in battles alongside the Prophet (S) as a surgeon, treating the sick and injured. In the Battle of Uhud, while rushing to help the Prophet (S) who was being surrounded by the enemy, her son was killed. Nosaibeh grabbed her son's sword and killed the assailant. Prophet Mohammad (S) said, "Well done! May God's blessings be upon you Nosaibeh" (Al-Balagh 21).
We should clearly lift the veil of ignorance from our eyes and try to understand the Muslim woman's veil. It does not symbolize suppression, oppression, and silence. It is a barrier, shield, and armor. It is not a symbol of terrorism, but the identity of a Muslim, who follows the religion of peace. Hijab does not denigrate woman, it raises and honors her. A woman who observes hijab is not hiding or afraid; she is strong and courageous. She follows Hazrat Fatima (AS), the daughter of Prophet Mohammad (S), who faced the caliphs after her father and fought for her rights.
Following in her mother's legacy, Hazrat Zaynab (AS) endured the task of explaining and conveying the aims and goals of her brother Imam Husayn's great revolution in every meeting and gathering she attended, even in front of the caliph Yazid. She saved Islam after Imam Husayn was brutally massacred. After killing all the men, the enemy set fire to the women's tents. The Imam after Husayn was his son Imam Ali Zayn-ul-Abidin (AS), who was very ill. Hazrat Zaynab (AS) saved the Imamate by carrying him out of the burning tent, thus saving Islam. The enemy used their spears to snatch the women's veils, and, by sacrificing her veil, Hazrat Zaynab (AS) kept Imam Husayn's message alive, and also taught the significance of hijab. Once someone told Imam Zayn-ul-Abidin (AS) not to be sad because martyrdom is the inheritance of the family of the Prophet (S). The Imam (AS) replied if it was their inheritance for the women of the Prophet's family to be paraded in the streets of Kufa and Syria unveiled?
Hazrat Zaynab helped society, especially women, realize their moral duty to fight tyranny and oppression. "Surely history bows its head in shame in front of this great woman to whom Islam and the oppressed are indebted for what she sacrificed, and for her resistance, patience, and contributions in the way of truth" (Al-Balagh 22). A woman who wears hijab is performing the greater jihad; she is in every right a soldier of Islam. Hijab is a Muslim woman's identity, her beauty, her piety and her purity. The active participation of women in Islamic history is a "lesson to women all over the world urging them to regain their lost identity" (21).
Islam gave women rights over 1400 years ago that are still ignored by many Muslims and non-Muslims today; many women are treated in ways far from Islamic ideals, yet in the name of Islam. Taleban is an example of a cultural, patriarchal, and political name that has been identified with Islam. There is no freedom for women if they are imprisoned in their home in the name of hijab and Islam. Moreover, the veil of oppression should not be mistaken with the veil of Islam. Men and women should recognize what true hijab means in Islam, and why it is a concept of freedom. The purpose of Islamic hijab is to allow a woman to have a morally pure public life. Furthermore, one cannot find freedom by being free of the hijab. Women will realize true freedom when they observe true Islamic hijab, which honors them and adds to the dignity of our world. The only reason a woman should wear hijab is to express her freedom, her freedom to serve Allah and Allah alone; thus, she will be judged for who she is and her piety in serving her Creator.
Al-Balagh Foundation. The Islamic Hijab (Veil)
Date accessed 12/8/99. 5:55 PM
Amnesty International. "Women in Afghanistan: Pawns in Men's Power Struggles."
Carmody, Denise Lardner. Women & World Religions. 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1989.
The Holy Qur'an. Trans. M.H. Shakir. Elmhurst, New York: Tahrike Tarsile Qur'an Inc., 1989.
Mutahhari, Murtaza. Islamic Hijab: Modest Dress. Trans. Laleh Bakhtiar. Chicago: Kazi Publications, Inc., 1988.