The philosophy of Hijab
The world has started to have World Hijab Day in February since 2013. It was founded by Nazma Khan and it is a worldwide event that encourages Muslim and non-Muslim women to wear the hijab for a day in order to experience life of a Hijabi muslim woman.
It is a commendable effort to create empathy and awareness especially amongst non-Muslims. However, a more important aspect is the understanding of WHY a Muslim woman wear a hijab. What is the purpose, why do they do it? Although a growing number of Muslims women start wearing hijab every around the world, most likely it is following some fashion trends or tradition. People should understand the concept of hijab to appreciate the nature of wearing hijab.
In some parts in the world Muslim women were and are still oppressed because of the misunderstanding of hijab. Much so that today, 28th February, marks a historic event in Turkey when the secular government in 1997 banned all hijab wearing students from attending and pursuing schools & universities.
Islam has placed great importance on decency and modesty in the interaction between men and women. Part of that overall teaching is how we dress. At the same time, Islam holds women in very high honor and the purpose of the Islamic rules of dress code is to protect and guard her dignity and honor. The word most often used with regards to modest and appropriate dressing is hijab.
It is our obligation to fulfill the conditions of the dress code. Verses from the Qur’an and the Sunnah give us the commands and guidelines regarding this matter. First of all though, it all begins with faith.
Some people may think that one becomes a Muslim simply by confessing his or her belief on all the above. On the contrary, the full meaning of faith in Islam is not, by any means, something minimal or mere formality.
Faith consists of two main parts; speech and action. In speech, there are two kinds which are speech of the heart and speech of the tongue. This means faith first exists in our heart then we declare it through our tongue. However, in order to increase our faith, we have to perform the second part of faith that is action. Action is divided into three categories, 1) Action of the heart, 2) Action of the tongue, and 3) Action of the limbs.
Action of the heart is our love for Allah (Muhabbatullah), fear of Allah (Hasyatullah), Hope for Allah (Raja), etc. Meanwhile, action of the tongue is our dhikr of Allah; La ilaha illallah, Subhanallah, Alhamdulillah, etc. Then action of the limbs is our physical submission like salah five times a day, fasting in Ramadan, charity, pilgrimage, etc., and HIJAB.
The Command of Allah
In every part of our life there is the law of Allah. We have no right to separate the law of Allah from our life. It is clear that the very meaning of faith makes Islam penetrate deeply and constructively into every aspect of life. True faith has significant effect on our spiritual and material aspects, and also on our personal and social behavior as well as our political conduct and financial life. Hence, we cannot disregard the command of hijab for it is one of Allah command to mankind.
Allah says in the Qur’an:
(Surah An-Nur, 24:31) “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and to be mindful of their chastity, and not to display their charms [in public] beyond what may [decently] be apparent thereof; hence, let them draw their head-coverings over their bosoms. And let them not display [more of] their charms to any but their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands' fathers, or their sons, or their husbands' sons, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their womenfolk, or those whom they rightfully possess, or such male attendants as are beyond all sexual desire, or children that are as yet unaware of women's nakedness; and let them not swing their legs [in walking] so as to draw attention to their hidden charms…”
(Surah Al-Ahzab, 33:59) “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.”
In Surah An-Nur, hijab is more related to personal identity while in Surah Al-Ahzab it is more concerned with social identity. Thus, it is the command of Allah. Such as when we see the moon crescent in Ramadan it signifies the start of fasting, or when the sun is down then it is time to perform the Maghrib prayer.
Similarly, whenever we show up in society or in public, we are obligated to dress and act modestly and appropriately as per commanded by Allah in order to protect our honor. This is very clear and to act in the contrary will be breaking the law of Allah.
What is Hijab?
Hijab actually comes from the Arabic word ‘hajaba’ meaning to hide from view or conceal. Literally it means a barrier, obstacle, partition, screen, curtain, or veil. However, it also has abstract meanings. A Muslim woman in hijab is a modestly covered woman.
She not only careful in making sure that her dress in public is modest (i.e. the type that screens her from lustful male gaze), but she also conduct herself in modest character and attitude. Her behavior screens her as much as her clothing. Hence, for instance, if a man stared at her, she lowers her gaze or looks away, and does not seek to stare (provocatively or alluringly) at men herself.
On one hand, it is obligatory for woman to wear hijab, on the other, there are certain obligations for men too. Islam makes it obligatory for both men and women to cast down their eyes for others than their wives, husband or their mahram. If a special dress is limited for woman to hide the fascinations (beauties) of her body; on the other side Islam also imposes that men lower their eyes to women other than their mahram women in addition to guarding their private parts.
Thus, Islamic veil or hijab applies to both men and women; but its essence differs in the form that preserves morals, protects virtue and respects woman in daily life.
Wisdoms behind Hijab
There are wisdoms in every command of Allah. Allah does not prescribe any ruling but there is great wisdom behind it, which we may understand, or our minds may not be guided to understand it. We may know some of it but a great deal is hidden from us. Allah is al-Hakim (the Most Wise). The word Hakim is derived from the same root as hukm (ruling) and hikmah (wisdom). Allah alone is the One Who issues rulings, and His rulings are the most wise and perfect.
For example, the Eid-ul Adha is not just a kind of meat festival to some people. It holds a deep lesson on sacrifice and love for Allah, honor of Allah and mankind, our devotion and submission to the Creator of the earth and heaven, and the hierarchy of existence. This is a manifestation of total submission to the command of Allah: one submits one’s mind, wealth and body to the Command and Pleasure of Allah.
The same goes to salah too. It is not just some physical performances that you HAVE to do at least five times a day. In fact you NEED salah to get closer to your Lord. It solidifies your connection with Allah. For instance, to raise our hands while saying the takbir (Allahu akbar) means we throw all the worldly things behind our back and stand for the prayer for Allah. When we stand on our feet, we understand our mistakes, saying that we have errors whereas Allah is errorless because He is All-Perfect. We bow our head representing the lack of pride, and modesty of the heart.
When we bow down, we confirm our understanding of our weakness whereas Allah is All-Powerful. When we prostrate, we understand our poverty and that everything needs Allah but Allah does not need anything. Besides, when we pray, we make our body and each organ in it worship.
Fasting is not merely holding yourself from eating and drinking but also how and where to stop eating and drinking. Furthermore, it holds a more deep profound purpose than developing self-restraint on your physical desires. Fasting is a mean of attaining taqwa (piety, being conscious of Allah), and taqwa means doing that which Allah has enjoined and avoiding that which He has forbidden. It also strengthens the social bonds by increasing the communal acts of worship and helping the less fortunate people.
Hence, there are deep philosophies behind these rituals. Ritual is the body while their wisdom is like the soul of the body. It has to come altogether. So, what is the wisdom behind the obligation of hijab?
Here, I can present five main essences that are served when we observe the hijab command.
- It Is the Consciousness of the Dominion.
Because Allah is the authority of our body then He is the one who decide the limits. Our limbs are not the production of the human being. They are not ours. So if they all belong to Allah, then Allah is the one who decide the limits of our wearing, not the society.
(Surah An-Nisa, 4:131) “And to Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And We have instructed those who were given the Scripture before you and yourselves to fear Allah. But if you disbelieve - then to Allah belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And ever is Allah Free of need and Praiseworthy.”
When we cover our body for sake of Allah, we will have consciousness of our dominion. We confirm that our body is created by Allah and we should use our limbs only for sake of Allah. We should have some limits on our body. Hijab is the best reminder of that. We cannot use our body and limbs without of Allah’s permission.
- Strengthen the Personal Identity Rather Than Sexual Identity
In human relations, sexual identity should not be a priority. Hijab is a kind of indirect or subtle message to men. It implies to men not to concentrate on a woman’s body but rather her mind, ideology and contributions. So the spirit of hijab is actually to facilitate a woman in a social context. A woman in hijab can participate and be active in social activities without any worry of being subjected as sexual object.
As against to the western misunderstanding and propaganda that hijab makes women invisible and feeling oppressed especially by their husbands, rather than being seen as a sexual object, the hijab enables a woman to be treated as a person. The garment might conceal her sexuality but it brings out her femininity. It helps her be seen as a chaste and pure person who does not want sexuality to infiltrate her interaction with the opposite gender. As a result, Muslim men are also encouraged to respect women for their obedience to God, modesty, and purity.
A woman with hijab can be in business like Saidatina Khadijah, be a scholar like Saidatina Aisyah, or be a nurse like Rufaydah. Or, like Ummu Haram. Many years after the Messenger (s.a.w.) passed away, his aunt, Ummu Haram, who was over 80 years old, had gone to war with the Muslim troops to Cyprus. There she helped the Companions. She then fell and became syahid.
Today’s women should also be likewise. They should be active in society. Not with their sexual identity but with their mind and ethical manner. With their compassion and their beautiful characteristic qualities. Look at the Islamization of Anatolia with the role of Bajiyani Room movement which was the Muslim women movement. Such a significant contribution!
All in all, hijab allows women to be active members of society. Hijab gives honor to people. On the other hand, wearing a proper hijab is equally important for just because you put on a dress but did not cover the body, or if it covers the body but it is transparent or skintight that you can describe the size and shape of the body or part of it, this is not considered hijab. The purpose of clothing is to prevent fitnah (temptation), and this can only be achieved if clothes are wide and loose; modest and appropriate.
- Foster Brotherhood and Sisterhood
Islam does not forbid men and women to interact with each other, but enjoins them to adopt a code of behavior characterized by modesty so that they may treat one another with full and appropriate respect. Islamic modest behavior consists of piety and mutual respect, as well as a standard of dress that protects the honor of a Muslim especially women.
If Muslim women do not observe Islamic dressing, it can prevent the brotherhood and sisterhood in Islam. This is because we are supposed to look at women in Islam as our sisters. We are all brothers and sisters in religion. A hijabi woman can prevent a brother from deviating from his pure intention. Human experiences have shown that when a male begins to interact with a female, then a sort of attraction and likeness gradually develops over a period of time.
Even if people are innocent and free from evil thoughts, the domination of one’s inner emotions and feelings can soon take lead, and a person may find himself/herself in a position where he/she becomes some-what inclined to the other. Islamic dressing therefore, protects a person from going astray.
In another matter, no men like it when other men look at his wife. When the wife is going out with inappropriate dressing, (the "dressed and yet undressed" women are those who wear transparent or very tight clothes, or clothes which are cut in such a way that they show the shape of the body; such clothes reveal more than they conceal) not only it is impermissible in Islam but it also makes the husband very unhappy. This can create arguments with the other men and also between the couple. Any kind of sexual-oriented observation to the wife can make the husband unhappy.
Thus, not dressing in Islamic way can prevent the fostering of brotherhood and sisterhood spirit. It diminishes the dignity, honor and respect of the relations. Hijab ensures that pure intention is maintained and prevent from any unwanted distraction. The aura of privacy created by hijab is indicative of the great value Islam places upon women.
- Hijab Protects the Honor of Women
A husband and a wife is screen for one another. They are exclusive to one another. A man’s body is not the business of any woman other than his wife and vice versa. So, if we attempt to exploit from another woman’s body it can be liken to stealing. It is not your garden.
There are some areas and matters that people should respect and never step over the boundaries. For example, in your workplace you have some private and confidential files. It will be an issue if someone else looking at those files without your permission or knowledge. These files belong to specific appointed person and accessing them without permission is trespassing and illegal.
However, a woman’s body is far more valuable and worthy than any files. Thus Islamic dressing prevents the degrading of the woman’s honor. It sets the boundaries to which a woman should be regard as; respectable, strong, and dignified.
Unfortunately, in today’s world the honor of women is tainted. People seemingly degrade women’s honor widely. It has been so long that women have been depicted as sex objects. Overall media and advertisings continue to project women as sex appeal symbols. Women are put on display like pieces of commodities or ‘merchandise’. Please remember that if you degrade a woman this means that you degrade the human family because a woman is the mother of mankind.
- Hijab Provides Freedom for Women
Hijab is a symbol for freedom. In Islamic law, free and Muslim women are obligated to have hijab. Hijab is not merely a covering dress, but more importantly, it is behavior, manners, speech and appearance in public. The head covering or headscarf is an outer manifestation of an inner commitment to worshipping Allah; it symbolizes a commitment to piety.
As explained earlier, Hijab comes from the word ‘hajaba’, in essence, ‘to divide something’. For example, it is used also for door and curtain because it divides the inside from the outside. So hijab is a kind of ‘walking home’ for a woman. If there is no curtain in your home, you will not be comfortable. Therefore, hijab is the result of your natural disposition.
Hijab is freedom. It protects women from wandering eyes. If everybody is looking at you consistently you will feel uncomfortable. In a way, it is like an observation prison if you do not have hijab.
Hijab frees women from being thought of as sexual objects of desire or from being valued for their looks, or body shape rather than their minds and intellect. Not only it frees women from being slave to consumerism, hijab also liberates women from the need to conform to unrealistic stereotypes and images dictated by the media. Women wearing hijab have expressed that dressing modestly and covering their hair minimizes sexual harassment in the workplace.
In line with Islamic law, only free women are obligated to cover their heads. In the history, the Bani Kaynuka tribe attacked one of the hijabi Muslim women and it started a battle. According to their theology their women also covered their heads but for different reason. In their belief system, the head covering symbolized a man’s authority over a woman. On the contrary, in Islam hijab symbolizes freedom.
It is like a flag. If someone tries to attack a hijab woman, it is the same as attacking the flag of a country. In 1920, when the French tried to occupy a city in Turkey they attacked some hijabi women. One imam then started a kind of striving against the French and a battle started. Of course afterwards the Turks kicked the French out of their land.
- Hijab is Empathy
The spirit of hijab is to think of others. A Muslim woman should feel responsible about her action that affects other people. She should empathize with the eternal life of others. She would not want to be the cause of others’ sins because of her not dressing appropriately. The family life and relationship of people around her could be jeopardized directly as a result of her inappropriate dressing. Hijab removes that possibility; it simultaneously protects her honor and others’ honors in the process.
- Hijab is a Medication for Envy and Hostility Amongst Women
Many women nowadays are willing to sacrifice their health and financial savings so that they can afford to have expensive beauty regimens or plastic surgery with an aim of meeting unrealistic perception of beauty. This is done in the hope to compete with other women and being boastful, and priding herself on her so-called beauty.
However, Muslim women with hijab can live their lives without ever worrying about impressing other people. The hijab eliminates the disease of envy from the heart. Not only it eliminates the feeling of vain arrogance and narcissism, it also encourages the women to concentrate on the inner values rather than the outer physical attributes. This fact can result in the decrease of animosity and hostility amongst women. If all women have this kind of humility and wisdom, not only can it elevate their honors, it also can strengthen the sisterhood, consequently maintaining the harmony amongst the women.
The hijab is an indication of dignity and purity. Muslim women with hijab are portrayed as chaste and pure women. The fact is wearing a hijab does not have demerits. Wearing it gives more strength and confidence because these women become less concern of their physique and appearance.
The wisdoms behind the hijab make it all the more relevant in today’s world where the value of honor and respect are fast becoming a fading priority for people. Islam has shown the best guideline on appropriately dignified dressing for the community to embody in order to protect one’s honor and the mankind’s as a whole.
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