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Hijjab and dress

  • Islam has strongly emphasized the concept of decency and modesty in the interaction between members of the opposite sex. Dress code is part of that overall teaching. There are two verses in the Qur'an in which Almighty Allah talks about the issue of decency and hijab as defined earlier.

    The First Verse

    In Chapter 24 known as an-Nur (the Light), in verse 30, Allah commands Prophet Muhammad as follows:

    "Say to the believing men that: they should cast down their glances and guard their private parts (by being chaste). This is better for them."

    This is a command to Muslim men that they should not lustfully look at women (other than their own wives); and in order to prevent any possibility of temptation, they are required to cast their glances downwards. This is known as "hijab of the eyes".

    Then in the next verse, Allah commands the Prophet to address the women:

    "Say to the believing women that: they should cast down their glances and guard their private parts (by being chaste)"

    This is a similar command as given to the men in the previous verse regarding "hijab of the eyes".

    This hijab of eyes is similar to the teaching of Jesus where he says, "You have heard that it was said by them of old time, you shall not commit adultery. But I say unto you, That whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart." So if you see a Muslim casting his/her eyes downwards when he/she is talking to a member of opposite sex, this should not be considered as rude or an indication of lack of confidence- he/she is just abiding by the Qur'anic as well as Biblical teaching.

    After "hijab of the eyes" came the order describing the dress code for women: "and not display their beauty except what is apparent, and they should place their khumur over their bosoms"

    There are two issues about this sentence.

    (1) What is the meaning of "khumur" used in this verse?

    Khumur is plural of khimar, the veil covering the head. See any Arabic dictionary like Lisanu 'l-'Arab, Majma'u' l-Bahrayn or al-Munjid.

    Al-Munjid, which is the most popular dictionary in the Arab world, defines al-khimar as "something with which a woman conceals her head" Fakhru 'd-Din al-Turayhi in Majma'u 'l-Bahrayn (which is a dictionary of Qur'anic and hadith terms) defines al-khimar as scarf, and it is known as such because the head is covered with it."

    So the word khimar, by definition, means a piece of cloth that covers the head.

    (2) Then what does the clause "placing the khumur over the bosoms" mean?

    According to the commentators of the Qur'an, the women of Medina in the pre-Islamic era used to put their khumur over the head with the two ends tucked behind and tied at the back of the neck, in the process exposing their ears and neck. By saying that, "place the khumur over the bosoms," Almighty Allah ordered the women to let the two ends of their headgear extend onto their bosoms so that they conceal their ears, the neck, and the upper part of the bosom also.

    This is confirmed by the way the Muslim women of the Prophet's era understood this commandment of Almighty Allah. The Sunni sources quote Ummu 'l-mu'minin 'A'isha, the Prophet's wife, as follows: "I have not seen women better than those of al-Ansar (the inhabitants of Medina): when this verse was revealed, all of them got hold of their aprons, tore them apart, and used them to cover their heads..."

    The meaning of khimar and the context in which the verse was revealed clearly talks about concealing the head and then using the loose ends of the scarf to conceal the neck and the bosom. It is absurd to believe that the Qur'an would use the word khimar (which, by definition, means a cloth that covers the head) only to conceal the bosom with the exclusion of the head! It would be like saying to put on your shirt only around the belly or the waist without covering the chest!

    Finally the verse goes on to give the list of the mahram - male family members in whose presence the hijab is not required, such as the husband, the father, the father-in-law, the son(s), and others.

    The Second Verse

    In Chapter 33 known as al-Ahzab, verse 59, Allah gives the following command to Prophet Muhammad:

    "O Prophet! Say to your wives, your daughters, and the women of the believers that: they should let down upon themselves their jalabib." What is the meaning of "jalabib"?

    Jalabib is the plural of jilbab, which means a loose outer garment. See any Arabic dictionary like Lisanu 'l-'Arab, Majma'u 'l-Bahrayn or al-Munjid.

    Al-Munjid, for instance, defines jilbab as "the shirt or a wide dress" While al-Turayhi, in Majma'u' l-Bahrayn, defines it as "a wide dress, wider than the scarf and shorter than a robe, that a woman puts upon her head and lets it down on her bosom..."

    This means that the Islamic dress code for women does not only consist of a scarf that covers the head, the neck and the bosom; it also includes the overall dress that should be long and loose.

    So, for instance, the combination of a tight, short sweater with tight-fitting jeans with a scarf over the head does not fulfill the requirements of the Islamic dress code."

  • Before presenting the Quranic rules for women's dress, it is essential to be reminded of the following:

    1- The Quran is the only source of law that is authorised by God (6:114). 2- The Quran is complete and fully detailed (6:38, 6:114, 6:89 and 12:111). 3- God calls on His true believers to make sure not to fall in the trap of idol worship by following the words of the scholars instead of the words of God (9:31). 4- God calls those who prohibit what He did not prohibit, aggressors, liars and idol worshippers (5:87, 6:140, 7:32, 10:59). The command to follow the Quran alone is given very clearly in the Quran, see: Dozen Reasons

    Quranic guidelines for women's dress

    First Rule : The Best Garment

    "O children of Adam, We have brought down to you garments to cover your private parts, as well as for adornment, yet the garment of reverence is the best. These are some of God's signs, perhaps they will remember." 7:26

    To revere God and know that He is always watching us is the basic rule for the dress code in the Quran. Any woman knows quite well what is decent and what is revealing. Women do not need to be told, they know how to maintain righteousness and how not to. God created the woman and therefore He knows that she can make this distinction. This is why God set the rule of revering God and maintaining righteousness as the first rule.

    Second Rule : Cover your Bosoms

    The second rule can be found in 24:31. Here God commands women to cover their bosoms. Before quoting 24:31 let us review some crucial words that are always mentioned in connection to this topic, namely the 'hijab' and the 'khimar'.

    The word 'hijab' in the Quran

    Hijab is the term used by many Muslim women to describe their head cover. This may or may not include covering their face. The Arabic word 'hijab' can be translated into veil or yashmak. Other meanings for the word 'hijab' include, screen, cover(ing), mantle, curtain, drapes, partition, division, divider.

    Can we find the word 'hijab' in the Quran?

    The word 'hijab' appears seven times in the Quran. Five of them as 'hijab' and two times as 'hijaban', these are verses: 7:46, 33:53, 38:32, 41:5, 42:51, 17:45 & 19:17.

    None of these 'hijab' words are used in the Quran in reference to what the traditional Muslims call today 'hijab', that being the head cover for Muslim woman!

    God knows that generations after Muhammed's death the Muslims will use the word 'hijab' to invent a dress code that God Himself never authorised. God used the word 'hijab' ahead of them just as He used the word 'hadith' ahead of them (45:6).

    The word 'hijab' in the Quran has nothing to do with the Muslim women's dress code.

    Historical Background:

    While many Muslims call 'hijab' an Islamic dress code, they in fact oblivious of the fact that the concept of 'hijab' has nothing to do with Islam nor with the Quran.

    In fact, the 'hijab' is an old Jewish tradition that infiltrated into the hadith books like many innovations that contaminated Islam through the hadith. Any student of Jewish traditions would know that the head cover for the Jewish woman is encouraged by the Rabbis and religious leaders. Religious Jewish women still cover their heads most of the time and especially in the synagogues, at weddings and religious festivities. This Jewish tradition is a cultural not a religious one. Hijab was observed by the women of the civilisations that preceded the Jews and was passed down to the Jewish culture.

    Some Christian women cover their heads in many religious occasions while the nuns cover their heads all the time. The tradition of covering the head was practiced thousands of years before the Muslim scholars claimed the 'hijab' as a Muslim dress code.

    The traditional Arabs, of all religions, Jews, Christians and Muslims used to wear 'hijab' not because of Islam, but because of tradition. In Saudi Arabia for example, all men cover their heads, not because of Islam but because of tradition.

    North Africa is known for its Tribe (Tuareg) that have the Muslim men wearing 'hijab' instead of women. Here the tradition has the 'hijab' in reverse. If wearing 'hijab' is the sign of the pious and righteous Muslim woman, Mother Teresa would have been the first woman to be counted.

    In brief,'hijab' is a traditional dress and has nothing to do with Islam or religion. In certain areas of the world, men are the ones who wear the 'hijab' while in others the women do.

    Mixing religion with tradition is a form of idol-worship since it implies setting up other sources of religious laws besides the law of God.

    The word 'khimar' in the Quran:

    The word 'khimar' can be found in the Quran in 24:31 While the first basic rule of Dress Code for the Muslim women can be found in 7:26, the second rule of the dress code for women can be found in 24:31. Some Muslims quote verse 31 of sura 24 as containing the 'hijab', or head cover, by pointing to the word, khomoorihinna, (their khimars), forgetting that God already used the word 'hijab', several times in the Quran. Those who are not shackled by pre-conceptions will easily see that there is no command in 24:31 for women to cover their heads. The word 'khimar' does not mean 'hijab' nor head cover. Those who quote this verse usually add the words (head cover) and (veil) after the word 'khomoorihinna' and usually between brackets. These additions are their own words not the words of God and they are clearly added to the text to imply a meaning not found in God's words. The words of 24:31 are:

    "And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and to guard their private parts and not to show their adornments except that of it which normally shows. They shall cover their cleavage with their 'khimar'. They shall not show their adornments except in the presence of their husbands, their fathers, the fathers of their husbands, their sons, the sons of their husbands, their brothers, the sons of their brothers, the sons of their sisters, other women, their slaves, the male attendants who have no sexual desire and the children who are yet to attain awareness of women's nakedness. They shall not strike their feet so as to reveal details of their hidden ornaments. You shall repent to God all you believers, so that you may succeed." 24:31

    The Arabic word khimar means cover. Any cover can be called a khimar, such as a curtain, a dress. A table cloth that covers the top of a table is a khimar. A blanket can be called a khimar and so on. The word khamr, which is used in the Quran for intoxicants, has the same root as khimar. Both words mean that which covers. The khimar covers a window, a body, a table and so on, while khamr is that which covers the mind. Traditional translators, obviously influenced by Hadith and culture, claim that khimar in 24:31 has only one meaning, and that is veil or hijab. Thus, they mislead women into believing that 24:31 commands them to cover their hair! The correct meaning of the word khimar can easily be verified by consulting any Arabic dictionary. In 24:31 God is telling women to use their khimar (cover/garment), which could be a dress, a coat, a shawl, a shirt, a blouse, a scarf and so on, to cover their cleavage/bosoms.

    Third Rule: Not to reveal any of their adornments

    The third rule can also be found in 24:31. Here God commands women not to reveal their adornments (beauty spots) except what is normally apparent (face, hair, lower arms and lower legs .. etc).

    "not to show their adornments except that of it which normally shows."

    This expression may sound vague to many because they have not understood the Mercy of God. Once again, God here used this very general term in order to allow women the freedom to decide on what is shown of her body. Righteous women will always make the correct decision so as to conform to the general code of morality, and also according to the time, place and occasion.

    The great wisdom of God in granting women this fexible concession can be witnessed every day and in every place. The following example demonstrats the application of this concession:

    A woman attending the masjid for prayers, or attending a funral would wish to wear fairly concervative clothes, but a woman playing sports for example would wish to wear simple light clothes that does not hinder movement.

    If God did not grant this merciful concession in 24:31it would mean that all women would have to wear ientical clothes at all occasions!

    The word 'zeenatahunna' (adornments) in this verse refers to the woman's beauty spots which carry a sexual connotation, examples are ""thighs, breasts, back side ... etc). At the end of the verse, God tells the women not to strike with their feet to show their 'zenatahunna'. The way a woman strikes her feet while walking can expose the details of certain parts of the body.

    For more detailed analysis of 24:31 please go to: Corruption of 24:31

    Fourth Rule : Lengthen your Garments

    "O prophet, tell your wives, your daughters and the wives of the believers that they shall lengthen their garments. This is better so that they will be recognized and not molested. God is Forgiver, Merciful." 33:59

    When we reflect on the above words, we would understand the great wisdom of God. In this verse, God, deliberately said that women should lengthen their g arments, but did not say how long is long. God could have said tell them to lengthen their garments to their ankles or to their mid-calf or to their knees, but He did not. God knows that we will be living in different communities and have different cultures and insists that the minor details of this dress code will be left for the people of every community to decide for themselves, as long as righteousness is always maintained.

    Relaxing the Dress Code:

    In the family setting, God put no hardship on the women, and permitted them to relax their dress code. This is apparent from the words of 24:31 (above). In addition, elderly women who no longer expect to get married can also relax their dress code:

    "The elderly women who no longer anticipate marriage commit no error by relaxing their dress code, provided they do not flaunt their adornments, but to abstain from doing so would be better for them. God is Hearer, Knowledgeable." 24:60

    Reply to those who claim that a Muslim woman should be all covered except for her face:

    Many Muslim scholars have invented extreme rules for women's dress which are not found in the Quran. Some say that women should be totally covered except for her face, while others who are even more extreme, say that all women must be covered from head to toe except for two holes for the eyes to see!

    1- There are no words anywhere in the Quran which command women to cover all their bodies. Those who preach such un-Quranic rules cannot find words in the Quran to justify this extremity, so they manipulate various words in 24:31 and 33:59 to justify the falsehood.

    2- The fact that God says in 24:31 to specifically cover the bossom indicates clearly that there are other parts of the woman's body that do not have to be covered.To elaborate on the indication of the words in 24:31, let us ponder on the following example:

    Think of your house and in it you have a garden. You have gardener who comes to look after your garden. One day you tell the gardener: please water the area under the big tree and also water the back of the garden.

    What does this example tell us?

    It tell us that since you specified only areas to be watered, then this is a clear indication that there will be other areas in the garden that are not to be watered. If you wanted the gardener to water the whole garden you would have asked: please water the whole garden.

    When we apply this example to the issue of women's dress code in the Quran, the same principle applies. If God wanted the whole body of the woman to be covered, God would not have bothered saying "cover your chest" since an overall command to cover all the body would be all that is needed to say. But since God specifies certain parts of the woman's body to be covered, then there are other parts that do not have to be covered, as long as they are not beauty spots of sexual connotation and as long as righteousness in dress is maintained.

    3- The command to "lengthen the garment" also proves that the woman is not commanded to be covered from head to toe. For if that was the case and women must be covered down to their toes, there would be no meaning to "lengthen the garment". How can a woman lengthen a garment that is already down to the ground?

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