Hijab According to the Qur'an
The intention of this writing is not to issue any rulings on Hijab, but to revisit the concept in the Qur'an. I intentionally keep this writing brief to make it easier to follow:
There are primarily two verses in the Qur'an that can be seen as relevant to the concept of Hijab:
- First verse: 33:59 (and the verse after that is 60)
يَـٰٓأَيُّہَا ٱلنَّبِىُّ قُل لِّأَزۡوَٲجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَآءِ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنِينَ يُدۡنِينَ عَلَيۡہِنَّ مِن جَلَـٰبِيبِهِنَّۚ ذَٲلِكَ أَدۡنَىٰٓ أَن يُعۡرَفۡنَ فَلَا يُؤۡذَيۡنَۗ وَكَانَ ٱللَّهُ غَفُورً۬ا رَّحِيمً۬ا
لَّٮِٕن لَّمۡ يَنتَهِ ٱلۡمُنَـٰفِقُونَ وَٱلَّذِينَ فِى قُلُوبِهِم مَّرَضٌ۬ وَٱلۡمُرۡجِفُونَ فِى ٱلۡمَدِينَةِ لَنُغۡرِيَنَّكَ بِهِمۡ ثُمَّ لَا يُجَاوِرُونَكَ فِيہَآ إِلَّا قَلِيلاً۬
"O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks over them. That will be better, that they should be known, and God is forgiving and merciful. If these hypocrites and those too who have the ailment in their hearts and those who incite the people of Medina by spreading lies do not desist, We will rouse you against them. Then their days with you in that city will be numbered."
There can and there are different interpretations about what "draw their cloaks over them" actually means, among these, some consider it covering the whole body with a cloak, some consider it simply using the cloak for coverage, and some consider it not allowing openings towards certain parts of the body when they wear their cloaks.
The important point to appreciate however is that the verse has nothing to do with issuing a general rule of Shari'ah about Muslim women. It is clear from the context of the verse that this instruction was to avoid a situation that was developed at the time in Medina, where a group of ill hearted people and hypocrites were annoying women among the believers. When Muslims complained, they brought this justification that they did not know these were believers (and thought they were slaves or not chaste women). To remove this excuse the verse instructs women to use what could be seen as a sign of being chaste and free at the time. In this way, the instruction intended to take away any excuse from the hypocrites.
The most that can be derived from this verse, as a general rule, is that a Muslim woman should not appear in a way that she may be confused with unchaste women. I think this is an advice that any woman, Muslim or not, can appreciate or at least understand.
So in conclusion so far, verse 33:59 is not giving any specific rules for hijab.
- Second verse: 24:30 (and the verse before: 29)
قُل لِّلۡمُؤۡمِنِينَ يَغُضُّواْ مِنۡ أَبۡصَـٰرِهِمۡ وَيَحۡفَظُواْ فُرُوجَهُمۡۚ ذَٲلِكَ أَزۡكَىٰ لَهُمۡۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ خَبِيرُۢ بِمَا يَصۡنَعُونَ. وَقُل لِّلۡمُؤۡمِنَـٰتِ يَغۡضُضۡنَ مِنۡ أَبۡصَـٰرِهِنَّ وَيَحۡفَظۡنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبۡدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنۡهَاۖ وَلۡيَضۡرِبۡنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَىٰ جُيُوبِہِنَّۖ وَلَا يُبۡدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوۡ ... وَلَا يَضۡرِبۡنَ بِأَرۡجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعۡلَمَ مَا يُخۡفِينَ مِن زِينَتِهِنَّۚ وَتُوبُوٓاْ إِلَى ٱللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَ ٱلۡمُؤۡمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تُفۡلِحُونَ
"Tell the believing men to restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. This is purer for them. Indeed, God is well aware of what they do. And tell believing women to restrain their eyes and to guard their private parts and to display of their beauties only those which are normally revealed and to draw their covering over their chest And they should not reveal their beauties to anyone except their husbands or ... And they should not stamp their feet so that attention is drawn to their hidden beauties. Believers! Turn to God in repentance that you may prosper."
(I intentionally skipped the part of the verse that lists the group of people in front of which women can wear more relaxed cloths, as this is not the core topic of this writing).
I list here what I can understand from these verses:
1. Men are responsible to take care of their tazkiyah (purification) themselves. This is not conditional to how women would appear in the public. If men develop ill intentions with this regard it is only themselves who are to be blamed, not women. In other words, in terms of what to wear, women are not responsible for the tazkiyah of men. Men need to have piety no matter what.
2. Both men and women should remain chaste and moderate in their behaviour towards the opposite sex. This obviously means that they should cover their private parts.
3. Women should also cover their chest with part of their clothing. The use of khimar (خمار) here is simply due to the fact that this piece of clothing was in use by the Arab women at the time. This was part of their social culture. The use of this word by itself does not add anything to these instructions in terms of coverage. In other words, the use of khimar here does not mean that the Qur'an has instructed women to cover their hair.
4. Women are allowed to reveal those parts of their beauties that are normally revealed in the public. Obviously, based on the previous points, for Muslim women this can never extend itself to private parts and the chest. I chose the word 'beauty' for "zinah/زینه" as I agree with Imam Razi who argues in Tafsir of Mafatih al-Ghayb (in explaining this verse) that "zinah/زینه" here refers to both natural beauties (mahasin/محاسن) of the body and the embellishment that may be used for beautification. In my understanding here the stress is more on natural beauties (as Tabataba'i puts it in al-Mizan, zinah here refers to the place of embellishment rather than embellishment itself).
5. In front of certain group of closed people (like husband and maharim) women can be more relaxed in covering their beauties (as compared to what they wear in the public). We can understand from the verse 24:60 that elder women who no longer expect to marry can also relax their clothing although it is better if they maintain that level of modesty.
6. Women should not intentionally behave in a way so that they attract ill intentions towards themselves. The example that the verse refers to is stamping the feet by Arab women at the time to reveal their lower body beauties.
The above is what in my understanding can be derived from the above verses of the Qur'an about the hijab of women. Four points:
a) The extent of the application of the above directions is left to individuals. For instance there can be different takes on what the extent of normal coverage in the public is. This is left to individuals to decide, shari'ah is silent about this.
b) It is very important to appreciate that these verses never intended to give a dress code for Muslims in general. The Arab society at the time, in particular the communities in Mecca and Medina had certain norms in wearing clothes. Nudity was not a norm but also was not rare. Among women having bare chest was not unusual. The verse intended to adjust the situation for the newly emerging Muslim community within the same social context.
c) The above writing is only focusing on the Qur'an. Use of hadith to further understand the concept of hijab in Islam is depending on two important factors. One: What is the relationship of hadith vis a vis the Qur'an in terms of being a source of understanding Islam. Two: What are the criteria for considering a hadith authentic and for understanding the implication of a hadith, in particular when there are directives about the subject in the Qur'an.
d) A good coverage of body has been a sign of interest in purification in many spiritual paths, including Abrahamic religions. The above explains the requirements at the minimum. Both men and women who are interested in spiritual purification may use appropriate clothing and coverage beyond the above with the intention to contribute in the purification of themselves and the society that they live in. This however remains the choice of individuals. If individuals choose not to do beyond the above specifications that does not mean that he/she is less chaste or less purified than those who go beyond the above.
- Implication of the Word Khimar for HIjab
- Hijab (Follow Up: While Praying)