IS HIJAB COMPULSORY?
Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D.
One of the verses in the Quran protects a woman’s fundamental rights. Verse 59 of Surah A1Ahzaab reads: “O Prophet! T’ell thy wives and daughters and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when outside) : so that they should be known (as such) and not molested”.
According to the Quran, the reason why Muslim women should wear an outer garmcnt when going out of their homes is that they may be recognised as “Believing” women and differentiated from streetwalkers for whom sexual harassment is an occupational hazard. The purpose of this verse was not to confine women to their homes, but to make it safe for them to go about their daily business without attracting unsavoury attention.
Older Muslim women who are past the prospect of marriage are not required to wear “the outer garment”. “Such elderly women as are past the prospect of marriage, there is no blame on them if they lay aside their (outer) garments, provided they make not wanton display of their beauty; but it is best for them to be modest; and Allah is One Who sees and knows all things”. (24:60).
The Quran does not suggest that women should be veiled or they should be kept apart from the world of men. On the contrary, the Quran is insistent on the full participation of women in society and in the religious practices.
Morality of the self and cleaniness of conscience are far better than the morality of the purdah. No goodness can comc from pretence. Imposing the veil on women is the ultimate proof that men suspect their mothers, daughters, wives and sisters of being potential traitors to them. How can Muslim men meet non-Muslim women who are not veiled and treat them respectfully, but not acccord the same respectful trcatmcnt to Muslim women?
To wear the Hijaab is certainly NOT an Islamic obligatory on women. It is an innovation (Bid’ah) of men suffering from a piety complex who are so weak spiritually that they just cannot trust themselves!
Muslim women remained in mixed company with men until the late sixth century (A.H.) or 11 th century (A.C.). They received guests, held meetings and went to wars to help their brothers and husbands, and they defended their castles and bastions.
It is part of the growing feeling on the part of Muslim men and women that they no longer wish to identify with the West, and that reaffirmation of their identity as Muslims requires the kind of visible sign that adoption of conservative clothing implies.
For these women the issue is not that they have to dress conservatively, but that they choose to. In lran, Imam Khomeini first insisted that women must wear the veil and chador, but in response to large demonstrations by women, he modified his position and agreed that while the chador is not obligatory, MODEST dress is.