The Woman's Hijab
By: Ayatullah al-Uzma Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlullah
Regarding the woman's hijab (the Shariah covering), there are those who do not view that this widely-worn covering these days as adequate. They say the hijab is the chador or the abaya.
The hijab reflects Shariah issues, the essence of which consists of two points:
1. The body which God has forbidden to be revealed to the non-mahram (i.e. those with whom marriage is allowed).
2. Forbiddance of wanton display and drawing attention.
This means that it is obligatory that the woman's dress be of a type which, in mixed company, neither shows her body nor signals sexual license that might expose her to the ogling of a man. Therefore, any clothing which falls under these two headings is considered within the limits of the Shariah.
We do not stress the chador, abaya, or any particular style, because these are things that the people have made through imitation as a result of a specific environment or of specific preferences. The issue, then, is that the woman should, on the one hand, go out in a decent manner within the limits of the Shariah; and, on the other, appear as a dignified woman, not a sexual object. But there is no stress on any special form or type of clothes.
Hijab that Matches the Current Modes
While the hijab may fulfill all the conditions of proper covering, some women mix hijab with modern women's fashions.
This may lead the sisters to turn the hijab into something intended for appearance instead of decent dress. Accepting these modern airs in clothing suggests that something is lacking mentally in this or that woman; and so for attraction she goes out in a manner that draws the eyes of youth upon her. This mental and intellectual backwardness, develops to a stage where the h jab is in essence changed rather than enhanced.
What is meant by "notorious clothes" and why are they not allowed?
By "notorious clothes" is dress which people are not accustomed to wearing-depending on the social situation. A man cannot wear the dress of a woman or vice versa, according to what is customary for either of them. Pants now no longer count as solely men's clothing; both men and women wear them. However, wherever a type of clothing is specific to women, or to men, then neither one of them should wear the dress of the opposite sex. This is based on the hadith that a man should not wear woman's clothing and that a woman should not wear man's clothing.
If we inquire into the wisdom of this, it would consist of maintaining the social balance by preventing the confusion of psychological states.
The Qualities of the Islamic Hijab
What are the Islamic qualities of the woman's hijab (or Shariah covering)?
There are two main purposes for the hijab. The first is "to cover"-that is, the woman must cover her body, save the face and the hands. Some scholars opine that as a precautionary measure the face and hands must also be covered. However, we concur with most `ulama that the permission to show them is based on the words of God: "And they should not display of their beauty except that which ordinarily appears" (al-Nur, 24:31). It is necessary that the woman cover her entire body by wearing clothes which fill this function, displaying nothing that is covered.
The second purpose is "negation of wanton display." God has said: "...and do not display your finery like the displaying of the age of ignorance" (al-Ahzab, 33:33). It is impermissible for the woman to go forth in hijab, covering whatever must be covered, and then to appear wanton through makeup adorning her face or hands, or through other items of beautification she might wear.
This includes the items of clothing which make the body appear attractive in a particular manner and so forth. All this is considered wanton display, which shows the femininity of the woman in a suggestive manner rather than her normal humanness in public.
We are unable to put any specific limit on beautification; general custom may determine what is ornamentation and what is wanton display. The latter is an unnatural appearance whereby the woman displays herself and her beauty to the stares of the men.
Islam wants the woman to go forth in her specific clothing in the same way that a man goes forth in his specific clothing. The mixed public should not be a showroom of fashions, beauty, or suggestiveness.
This is the Shariah hijab in its proper context. There is a third aspect which is related to hijab in meaning if not in appearance-"hijab of the voice", if one may use the expression. Islam does not forbid the woman from speaking to a man, to converse in front of a man, to address political or public gatherings which call for some opening up, to scream in situations which call for screaming. But Islam does not want the woman to intimate suggestiveness by lowering her voice, making it musical as to be suggestive and intended to rouse instincts. This is what the Quran says: "And do not lower your voices in speech, so that he in whose heart there is sickness may be filled with desire" (al Ahzab, 33:32).
Lowering the voice in speech adds to the quality which seductively attracts the male, suggesting corruption. As such, the jurists have said: "It is not permissible to beautify the voice, to make it sweeter, to soften it in a manner suggesting seduction." This is what we mean when we say "the hijab of the voice".
If we wish truly to understand the Islamic atmosphere surrounding the hijab, we must turn to the social hijab. Islam dislikes that a woman should be with a man in private situations which pose a danger to her morals and virtue. This is because it may suggest certain fantasies, notions, or feelings which are incompatible with the morals of man and woman together. We know that being in private, especially with romantic settings, may suggest things that are morally improper, even if virtue should not be absent. This is what Islam hates for both the man and woman. There may be a Shariah prohibition because such a situation may lead to haram.
The hadith about the two sexes being in private shows that Islam has not made the forbiddance of privacy a fundamental principle. Islam forbids the privacy which leads to corruption and moral decay, and hates the privacy which may suggest negative connotations at the level of morality. Thus, if we do not find the issue of being alone realistic for our times, believing and observing Muslim society is requested to place limits which help distinguish between the privacy which leads to corrupt practices and the privacy which has positive or, at least, not many negative aspects.
The summary of what we wish to suggest through this discourse is that it is incumbent on the woman that hijab be reflected in her inner personality, so that she puts in her mind and emotions, her thoughts the specific guidelines which make her aware of the realities of life or the reality of man in a manner that disallow any corrupt ideas, or which might influence her mentality. She must not permit her way of life with the other group to stray from ethical gu The Mentality of the Fornicator
This is what we have observed with expressions like "fornication lies in the ogling eye," "fornication lies in the receptive ear," or "fornication is in the roving hand"-all of which suggest that a person may have a fornicating mentality without actually indulging in the sexual act. This holds true for many who exercise abstinence from the sexual act but contradict their abstinence in their ethical conduct. There are those who live the spirit of the fornicator even if they do not actually indulge in the sexual act; and there are those who live the spirit of the deceitful even if they do not actually cheat. For in dreams and hopes, they function on impulse-a problem they need not endure-except in conditions of temptation tending towards the impropriety created by the inner workings of the mind.
Hence the man, much like the woman, may require a condition of "mental hijab" to protect him from perverse thoughts. In this sense we may feel that the functional method of achieving this result is to distance both of them from every place and every element of possible seduction, every erotic reading or viewing material. Here, Islam protects against erotic films, stories, or sights, as they create a mental state in person who may normally be in control of himself whereby he can destroy his inner inhibitions. When exposed to an external incitement around him, his behavior quickly gives way to perverse acts.
When Hijab Loses its Meaning
The Muslim woman must not perceive the hijab in its purely concrete and imitative sense, restricting it to a matter of form. What we have observed is that many of those who observe the hijab began in a manner that changed their physical hijab to a condition which seems far from its true meaning. This is because they select flashy, gaudy, eye-catching colours which beautify the body in a particular way, which make the woman experience her sexuality even while in hijab-in much the same manner as one who does not wear it.
Islam then, does not cast aside her sense of femininity, since it is a normal condition for her. It desires her femininity to be expressed within a special sphere. This sphere neither, on the one hand, influences the humanness of the woman at a moral level; nor, on the other hand, adversely affect the moral values of her society.
The Western Perspective on Hijab
Western societies accuse Islam of going too far in the matter of the hijab, that the woman who neither observes hijab nor make a wanton display of her charms has no seductive influence on men.
This sort of logic is not realistic perception because of one reason-the femininity of a woman clearly attracts the man, even in a form that does not remotely resemble fornication or seduction. By the same token, the man attracts the woman. This is because the naturalness of the consuming impulses causes the man to be instinctively attracted to the woman-and many of these elements which he finds attractive may be focused in instincts that culminate in a blind rush to express themselves.
We assume, too, that the natural femininity of the woman gives her an intrinsic beauty, and the same for the manliness of the male. Therefore, the claim that the matter does not pertain to the hijab, but rather to wantonness is not entirely correct. We feel that wanton display gives the woman a beauty that is different from the beauty given to her by the hijab. The hair has its own beauty which adds to the beauty of the body, in the same way that bodily parts like the legs do with their beauty. They produce a special bodily effect, and this is what we know from the advertising media, which constantly draw attention to the hair and the legs.
On the one hand, sentiments go against this. On the other hand, the matter imposing itself in the West is that belief is expressed as one value, while another value is practiced. In the Western mind, liberty is absolute, and may find expression in sexual license between the man and the woman, in which case the hijab is meaningless. This is because the hijab is a means of creating the atmosphere of control and balance, of circumventing the factors that lead to perversity.
If, however, we operate on the basis of the idea that the man has freedom over his body and the woman has freedom over her body; and that the hijab in this sense is incidental to the life of both sexes, because nakedness is the natural state-then, according to the philosophical notion on freedom, there is no prohibition.
The Principle of Virtue and its Effects
The issue for Muslims stems from the principle of virtue enjoined upon both men and women. This principle is intended to function within the guidelines of actuality. In this way, it prevents the man, no less than the woman, from falling under the influence of the "abundant fuel" that fans the flames of instincts.
Another issue which we must address is the ethical principles of the East and the West. Does ethical principle give man and woman complete freedom as to what they could do with their bodies, or does it lay down certain guidelines for them-and this decides the path of wantonness or hijab.
The problem for many Easterners is probably that they continue to rely on the value of virtue and honor in their moral relations between man and woman, at the same time following Western customs with respect to suggestive display, beautification, and so forth. This causes them to endure a dichotomous situation that ruins their lives when they face a perverse man or woman in some such atmosphere. To save honor, they wash the naked person and perform other similar practices. In this situation, the words of the poet are appropriate:
They went to sea, and shackled and fettered he was thrown: Don't, don't let water bother you...
The Hijab and Repression
The gist of another misconception indiscriminately included in this matter is that the hfjab creates a state of repression for the man which subjects him to intense influence by the slightest thing.
When we wish to speak of repression, we must realize that it is not a result of the hijab, but rather of denying the instinctive needs of a man. It is caused by a situation that runs contrary to his inner mental and instinctive state, which seeks expression in one form or another. Reality clashes with it and prevents it from expression. Repression may result when the woman refuses to observe the hijab in the presence of a man.
The matter then boils down to the fact that there is a difference between the repression that result from problems and the repression that stems from the realities of regulated society. We believe that every social, political, and moral rule may cause problems in the mind of the human being who is prevented from obeying his inner urges. If we were to understand the workings of repression negatively for actual society, with its imposition of limits, then we may as well call for anarchy, so that no human being may face the problem in any way.
Certainly every society must follow a specific moral model, and this model may not be related to sexual ethics, but rather to economics or society. Sexual ethics may not relate to what man or woman wear, but to what the man wants from the woman and what the woman needs from the man. If we claim that the hijab in its Islamic form causes repression, what must we say about uncovering in its general social appearance; does it not cause repression? Does the youth not like to look upon a woman's chest and different parts of her body? Would a man not feel the pleasure of beauty of every part of this body, its suggestions, in the same way that a woman would the male body?
When the issue transcends that of nudity, the discourse-in the West-will center on the amount of clothes a woman must wear. In this sense, the proponents of hijab simply add another item to the apparel of the Western woman, who does not wear the hijab. And repression is repression, whether in part or in whole.
That Which Naturally Appears of Beauty
What is meant by the words of God, "What appears thereof" (al-Nur, 24:31)-i.e., the permissible display of beauty?
"What appears thereof' refers to the face and the two hands, the latter being essential to social function. Perhaps the clearest proof that God does not wish for the woman to cover her face and her hands is that it is forbidden for her to do so in a state of ihram during pilgrimage. However, the state of pilgrimage is one of worship which may necessitate the hijab on the woman to spare the other pilgrims exposure to suggestive stimuli.
We may add that in some narratives the expression refers also to some visible ornamentation like rings worn on the hand, light substance over the eyelids, normally a cosmetic for women.
Based on the above, is beauty that which the woman beautifies herself with or is it a natural distraction?
It covers both.
What is Forbidden Glance Regarding the Woman
When we study the Quranic text which deals with the issue of looking, we find that the idea we derive from the Book is that God (Exalted) wishes that the senses and feelings which the believing man has towards the believing woman, and vice versa, be pure. This means that they do not have any evil blemish which may distance them from morality. Senses and feelings must not cause the believing man or woman to be in a situation which beckons to future corruption. This is because God wants humankind to live a life without sin in the mind, in thoughts and concepts; and that this sinlessness should be a way to attain functional freedom from sin, since deeds spring from ideologies, feelings, and perceptions.
We read, then, the wonderful verse, "Say to the believing men that they cast down their glance, and guard their private parts; that is purer for them. Indeed God is well aware of all that they do" (al-Nur, 24:30). We understand from the term "purer for them" that God wants the human being to have a purity of mind which transforms to purity of action.
Again, the words of God: "Say to the believing women that they must lower their gaze and guard their private parts" (al-Nur, 24:31). And the text on how a woman should speak to a man: "Do not lower your voice in speech; perchance he in whose heart is sickness may cherish a longing" (al-Ahzab, 33:32). Here we see that God wants woman to speak to the man in a natural manner. If she were to address him with gentle and melodious tones, that may suggest to others that they can pursue their own corrupt purposes towards this woman.
The Deceitful Look
From all of the above, we see that a man must look at a woman in a natural manner, so that there is no untoward thought associated with his look-that is, glancing at the woman in a way that expresses a desire to do that which is haram, etc. This is known as "the deceitful look" and is mentioned in the Quranic verse: "He knows the stealthy looks and what the hearts hide" (Mumin, 40:19); and the supplication of the one who says, "O my Lord, purify my heart from hypocrisy, and my deeds from showing off, my tongue from lies, my eyes from deceit; for you know the deceitful look, and what the hearts hide."
The deceitful look is the glance which stems from a feeling which has deceit at its core. This is another expression for the desire of what is forbidden, and which starts the person, even afterwards, towards corruption.
No Passion and No Lust
The look, therefore, must not be one of lust, where the man ogles the woman to enjoy her beauty. It leads to negative results even if it occurs only ten percent of the time. This is because there is a difference between looking lustfully at a beautiful woman and looking at ordinary sights with appreciation. This is because appreciating the beauty of a woman sets into motion urges which lead to sexual feelings; these, in turn, spur the man to pursue the woman. In view of this, it leads to negative results; whereas appreciating ordinary sights does not cause any of these effects.
For this reason, the jurists have ruled that looking at what is permissible should not be in lust or passion. The poetic verse of the prince of poets, Ahmad Shawky, is perhaps one of the most exquisite attestations on this matter:
A glance, a smile, and then talk;
a greeting, an appointment, a date.
By those words, he meant the glance which sets into motion what is to come: the passionate or lecherous look. We may understand from the expression "the first look is for you, and the second is against you" that generally, the first glance is something natural and spontaneous. When it leads to a second and third look, then something in the mind pushes the person to keep looking again and again, but with different feelings.
Lowering the Glance is a Preventive Condition
Often the passionate glance may be involuntary, and the person may be in a situation which forces him to look at his female companion at work or study. Through personal contact and meetings, feelings are generated.
The familiarity between a man and a woman may create a condition of close friendship, causing the man to look at her differently from the way he did at first. There is a difference between looking normally at a woman in the course of working (which requires that you look at her or that she should look at you) and the look which stems from your feelings or desire for her. A glance in that instance is not considered natural, but a condition which creates a mental state which may change into a situation leading to something not natural.
From here, God wants the believers to lower their gaze, as a precaution against negative consequences. By the same token, it is better for a believing woman to lower her gaze. One may construe from this that it is necessary for believing man and woman to be in a state of caution when having to deal under these situations. Of course, the discourse here has to do with permissible looking. What is not permissible to look at, Islam has put limits-particularly, looking at the private parts of a woman-in the same way it has put limits on woman looking at the private parts of the male. The purpose of this is to avoid any basis for suggestiveness which, because of mental conditioning regarding sexual relations, may be in the mind of one of them. Thus, some sociologists state that platonic friendship between a man and a woman is unlikely.
The Shariah Limits in the Permitted Look
What, then, is the philosophy behind the permissibility of looking at certain non-mahram female?
The fatwa which the question raises entails two others. The first fatwa is that the glance is towards those who remain uncovered after being asked to cover, whether they are Muslims or non-Muslims, although some ulama enjoin that, based on caution, one ought not to look at such Muslim women.
This is because there is a legal understanding where a hadith suggest that the matter of looking at a woman implies the issue of respect for the woman. She may cover part of her body, but then the man's glance seems to undress her and to assault her honor, on the premise that this is the area she wants to cover. She does not wish anyone to look at that part, and were she to find a person sneaking a glance at her, she would rebuke and harshly scold him.
Respecting the Veil Leads to the Respectful Look
A person covers those parts of the body which he/she wishes not to expose. Therefore, the issue of looking at that which should be covered is fundamentally alien to any consideration of attraction or lack of attraction. According to this, if the woman does not place any restriction on her body, and displays all her charms, then there is no restricted area on her body which the man should not look at. As such, it is allowable for him to look at her without any lust or passion.
This is one angle. From another angle, the difficulty is allayed when the person faces a social situation where the woman goes out without covering, making it impossible for the man to lower his gaze from her. The hadith, it states, "It is not forbidden to look at the hair of the women of the protected minorities (dhimmis)." In this case, the stipulation is removed because, in the West, for example, it represents a hardship for the man. This is because the woman is the one who abandoned respect for herself in this matter. However, on the condition that the possibility of passion and lust is absent.
The Glance at the Photo of a Woman
The second fatwa is related to the matter of photographs. There are fatwas which state that it is not forbidden to look at the photograph of a woman. Some `ulama deny such permission in the case of a veiled woman who does not wish that anyone should look at her body, even if it be through a photograph, since her photogaph was taken by a mahram, for example. The scholars place a cautionary prohibition on looking at the photograph of a covered woman, if the person looking knows the identity of the subject. That would violate her covering, because if she wants to cover herself, and goes to this length, such a look is tantamount to an infringement of her freedom and honor.
Beyond the scope of this scenario, however, if the woman were unknown to us, or is one of those who do not observe the hijab and is uncovered, `ulama hold that the prohibitions about looking applies to looking at the woman in person, and not through a photograph.
They focus the issue on the fact that there was no passion or lust in the look. From this we can see that the foregoing fatwa does not apply to looking at pornographic films, since that would enter the realm of passion and lust, and does not detach itself from a mental state that could cause a morbid condition in the person who is in the habit of looking at these films.
The Look in Specific in Medical Situations
From the medical point of view, is it possible for the man to look at the body of a woman?
There is no objection for a man, in such a scenario, to look at the sex organs of a woman whom he does not know, there being no objection from a scientific viewpoint. A doctor is allowed to look at the patient, and the female doctor is allowed to look at any organ of a male patient if treatment and cure must be decided on such observation.
It has been stated that if a woman can derive more benefit by being treated by a man than by a woman, she is allowed to expose herself to him, and he is allowed to look at something otherwise forbidden in normal situations. In a hadith related from Imam al-Baqir-in response to a question-the narrator said, "I asked him about a Muslim woman whose body has been injured, either by a fracture or a wound in a place where it is not allowable to look at. If a man is more qualified than women to treat it, is he allowed to look at it? He said, 'If she is compelled to do so, then he may treat her if she wishes.'"
There is a hadith from Imam Musa al-Kazim, reported by his brother Ali b. Mar, which states thus, "I asked him about a man, the back of whose thigh has an injury. Is it allowable for a woman to look at it and to treat him?" He responded, "If it is not a private part, there is nothing wrong with that."