A Note to the readers:
This article and many such articles are not, are not Anti-Hijab, they are well-researched articles to point out to fellow Muslims that Hijab, as worn by Muslim women, is not Islamic, it is cultural. If it was Islamic it would have been clearly described, and all Muslims in the world would have worn the same way – like the Namaz (salat) is prayed the same way across the world. The differences in the shape and form of burqa/hijab exist because they are cultural. Muslim women are not required to wear Hijab as worn, they have a choice to wear or not wear, it is a cultural garment and not a religious one.
Indeed, I have written several pieces on the same subject at this site: WorldMuslimCongress.org
Dr. Ibrahim Syed is an intellectual who has written many articles for the thinking mind, God’s blessing.
The book “American Muslim Agenda” is for the enlightened mind, available at Amazon, Kindle, Barnes, and Nobles,
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A Death Knell to Hijab Proponents
Ibrahim B. Syed
President, IRFI (Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.), 7102 W. Shefford Lane, Louisville, KY 40242 USA
On the Dress Code for children of Adam, the Qur’an says:
“O children of Adam, We have bestowed upon you clothing to conceal your private parts and as adornment. But the clothing of righteousness – that is best. That is from the signs of Allah that perhaps they will remember.”7:26
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!
The word ‘hijab’ in the Quran has nothing to do with the Muslim women’s dress code.
While many Muslims call ‘hijab’ an Islamic dress code, they are in fact oblivious of the fact that the concept of ‘hijab’ has nothing to do with Islam nor with the Quran.
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.
Another Dress Code: Not to reveal any of their adornments
This 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.”
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 ‘zeenatahunna’. The way a woman strikes her feet while walking can expose the details of certain parts of the body.
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.
What is the correct meaning of the word khimar?
The Arabic word khimar means cover. Any cover can be called a khimar such as a curtain, a dress, also a table cloth that covers the top of a table is a khimar, also 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, our body, a table and so on, while khamr is that which covers the mind. Traditional translators, being influenced by Hadith and culture, claim that khimar in 24:31 has only one meaning, and that is veil or hijab, and thus they mislead women into believing that 24:31 commands them to cover their hair! The fact that the word khimar can mean any cover, and not just head cover, is a matter which can 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.
Is there a command in 24:31 for women to cover their hair?
For a start, we note that the words ‘head’ and ‘hair’ are not found in 24:31.
In addition, we must differentiate between two components in the wording of 24:31.
God says to women to draw their khimar (garment) over their cleavage/bossom. Here we have:
1- The subject of the command, which is the cleavage/bossom
2- The tool, which is the khimar.
The command is only obligatory in relation to the subject and not the tool.
If the obligation was for the tool as well God would have said:
“cover your hair and cleavage with your khimar”
God is not short of words, nor is God vague in the commands He decrees for us.
In his article ‘History of Veil: Veil in Pre-Islamic Arabia’, Alexandra Kinias describes Arabia during this era: “Surrounded by the hostile terrains of the Arabian Desert and under its blazing sun, Arabs dwelled in diverse nomadic tribal communities. Each had its own laws, language and lifestyles. As the traditions, customs, and culture varied from one tribe to the other, so did their women’s status. Because of such variable conditions and laws, the status and rights of women ranged widely. And even though scholars did not quite agree on the social construction of such societies, they concluded though that they neither secluded the women nor enforced the veil on them. Costumes always reflect environmental needs and in the harsh deserts of Arabia, the Arab nomads lived in tents or huts with no doors and with roofs made out of palm trees. They were exposed to all kinds of severe weather conditions: from the burning sun in the summers, to sand storms, cold, and often rain in the winters. Before proper houses were built, people sought the shelter of their own clothes to protect them. Due to that, both men and women often covered their heads and wore long garments. Covering the heads was neither a religious nor social obligation. The nature of their nomadic life in Arabia made segregation impractical and women’s seclusion impossible. Contrary to their rivals in the neighbouring civilizations, and even though a large number of them lived in oppressive and deplorable conditions, women in Arabia were widely active in their tribe’s public life. And because there were no social restrictions on their dress or mobility, women in pre-Islamic Arabia worked side by side with men and were productive in their communities. They traded in the markets, tended cattle and weaved baskets from palm trees, they received male guests and socialized with them and even participated in the tribal battles as nurses and often as warriors.”
From the foregoing it is clear that both men and women covered their head with a piece of cloth called Khimar. It was a necessity and not religious or social obligation.
Therefore during the early periods of Islamic history, women had considerable freedom to roam unveiled. Some were required by custom to cover and Bedouin men and women were also accustomed to covering their hair and face to guard themselves from environmental elements. There is no indication that the veiling or seclusion of women was done for any religious reasons and was primarily a cultural phenomenon.
It is also worthwhile noting that men during this era also used the veil as per the cultural and environmental needs of Arabia at that time. Fadwa El Guindi Professor of Anthropology at the University of Qatar states:
“There is enough evidence that the Prophet himself covered his face … when warriors were on horses and camels they covered their faces … so we were missing a half of the story here when we focused too much on women, and by doing so we may have misunderstood even the meaning of women veiling.”
The portrayal of khimar as a cover used on the head and thrown at the back is also the same as stated in the tafsirs by Iman Abu Abdullah Qurtubi and Iman Abu’l-Fida ibn Kathir. Most orthodox scholars simply state the meaning of khimar as head cover laying emphasis on covering hair without taking into account the way it was used historically (there are no records showing specific requirement of the khimar to cover hair, if there is any emphasis then it is worn as an adornment on the head) and the fact that men also used the cover on their heads due to cultural and environmental needs. Therefore the use of the khimar may be taken to as a head cover, but it cannot be specified that the command is to hide hair, neck or ears. The only body part mentioned in the verse that has be concealed is the bosom, which was an apt instruction for that time given the above description of how the khimar was worn at that time and as history shows that when the pre-Islamic Arabs went to battle, Arab women seeing the men off to war would bare their breasts to encourage them to fight; or they would do so at the battle itself, as in the case of the Meccan women led by Hind at the Battle of Uhud.
Moiz Amjad writes in Understanding Islam website:
“A close examination of the related verse of Surah Al-Nur shows that the directive entailed in it is for women to cover their bosoms. ‘Khimar’ is only referred in this verse as a possible ‘tool’ for covering their bosoms. A woman who uses any other piece of cloth for this purpose would be said to have carried out the directive of the Shari`ah.” This point is further substantiated by the fact that in verse 60 of Surah Al-Nur, where the Qur’an has allowed older women to be less careful in covering their bosoms, it has used the word “Thiyaab” – implying any piece of cloth that may have been used for the stated purpose. It is clear that had the Qur’an required women to cover their heads, it would then have given an express directive to the effect.”
In his book ‘Arab Dress: A Short History – from the Dawn of Islam to Modern Times’, Yedidia Kalfon has extensely provided a description of the dress worn by Arabs before and during the life of the Prophet PBUH and has used sources including the ahadith to validate his understanding. He explains that although some wraps and mantles at this time seem to have been associated with one sex or the other, the jilbab, khimar and mirt, on the other hand were primarily for women. A common head veil was the mandil or mindil while the three most common face veils were the qina, litham and burqu. Although a detailed description of each type of veil is provided, the description of the khimar is missing and it has been included as a mantle or wrap rather than listed as a common head veil worn by the women during the era. Therefore the description of the khimar as a veil used only to cover the head feels incorrect and the description from other historical sources as a cloth that was loosely thrown at the back seems more appropriate. The present day understanding of ‘khimar’ is purely as a head cover and it is interesting to keep in mind that all the material we have on the pre-Islamic period dates from at least a century after the Prophet’s PBUH death and was written down by Muslim men. The history and true description of the khimar is uncertain and it would be safe to assume the true meaning of the word as a simple cover used as a adornment rather than as a head cover. This would imply that the directive of Surah Nur to simply cover the bosom with any cover and does not oblige women to also cover their hair.
Juyūbihinna (جُيُوبهِنَّ): The Arabic word ‘Juyubihinna’ means bosoms as derived by ‘juyub’ that is plural noun for genitive masculine and ‘bihinna’ that is the 3rd person feminine plural possessive pronoun. Therefore clearly the directive here is to use ‘Khimar’ to cover the bosoms and it would be incorrect to add bodies, faces and necks to the meaning of this.
Covering Hair & Face: There is no mention of hair and covering of head, hair or face in this verse or anywhere else in the Quran. Although some orthodox scholars believe that head hair are a sign of beauty and therefore must be hidden to that effect but the logic of hair showing from a women’s scarf do not go against the ruling of the Quran. Similarly the use of the word ‘khumar’ to imply that hair is automatically included when covering ones bosom cannot be substantiated from historical fact and the use of khimar during the life of the Prophet PBUH. This is further supported by the fact that Muslim women other than Prophet’s PBUH wives did not veil during the life of the Prophet PBUH.
The famed Quran translator, Mohammad Marmaduke Pickthall, sums the history of veiling in his 1925 lecture The Relation of the Sexes: (http://www.studying-islam.org/articletext.aspx?id=1348
“..the Purdah system is neither of Islamic nor Arabian origin. It is of Zoroastrian Persian, and Christian Byzantine origin. It has nothing to do with the religion of Islam, and, for practical reasons, it has never been adopted by the great majority of Muslim women….The Purdah system is not a part of the Islamic law. It is a custom of the court introduced after the Khilafat had degenerated from the true Islamic standard and, under Persian and Byzantine influences had become mere Oriental despotism. It comes from the source of weakness to Islam not from the source of strength.”
(Mohammad Marmaduke Pickthall, 1925 lecture on the “Pitiful condition of Muslim womanhood”, available online at: http://www.islamfortoday.com/pickthallsexes.htm
There are many Ayah or verses in the Qur’an that are specific to a context and event and may not apply to us today.
For example Surah 49: 2 reads:
O ye who believe! Lift not up your voices above the voice of the Prophet, nor shout when speaking to him as ye shout one to another, lest your works be rendered vain while ye perceive not. [Pickthal 49:2]
People ask the question “ The Prophet isn’t among us today physically so what is the use of this verse?”
There are many other verses like these , that don’t seem to be applicable to us today, like other verses that apply only to the prophet , the prophets wives etc ..
And (as for the Prophet’s wives) when you ask for anything you want (or need), ask them from behind a hijab (screen), that makes for greater purity of your hearts. (33:53)
O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any of the (other) women: If you do fear (God) be not too complaisant of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire: but speak with a speech (that is) just. (33:32)
The Quran was revealed piecemeal over a period of time and different verses were intended for to different events and different people. While those verses may be not directly applicable to us, they do give us historical insight and perspective into past events.
One example is:
And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter… and fight them until fitnah is no more, and religion is for Allah. Quran 2:191
Quran scholars claim that the textual context of this particular passage is defensive war, even if the historical context was not.
In the verse 31 in Surah 24 (Nur) the command is to take their Khimar and cover their Bosoms (Breasts) because at that time the women were exposing their Juyub or breasts. The question is how should the bosoms be covered? The answer is given in the Quran, to take the Khimar and cover the bosoms, because the women were already having their Khimar on their heads and hence they do not need to look around to find a piece of cloth.
This command is valid for that time and place. It is not applicable now because no woman in the world no matter in which country she lives, Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, or Hindu country is exposing her breasts. Almost every woman wears a Bra, a blouse or Choli or Shirt and in addition she will wear a coat or vest. Muslim ladies in south Asia wear Salwar, Kameez and in addition they cover their bosoms with a Dupatta which is not needed because they already have a Bra and Kameez. If one reads National Geographic Magazine, one notices that women in primitive tribes located in Africa, Ethiopia and Amazon jungles still go bare breasted.