Philosophy of Hijab

By: Muhammad Fadlallah

Orignial title: Hijab

Some might ask whether in the past history of Civilization, Hijab (veil) used to exist, or is it an apparel decreed by Islamic Law?!

Hijab in Ancient Civilizations

Historical information indicates that Hijab existed before religions, and in the Code of Hammurabi, the first king of Babylon. But it was prohibited for bondmaids and restricted only to honorable women. And reading the religious texts before Islam (the Torah and the Bible), you notice indications about wearing the Hijab.

Wearing Hijab for women is an old custom.  It is stated in the Larousse Encyclopedia that: “the ancient Greek women used to cover their faces with parts of their dresses or with a special veil.” 

In “Sparta”, the girls used to appear unveiled in front of people, but they veiled themselves after they got married. Inscriptions indicate that women used to cover their heads, but unveiled their faces only, except when they were going to the market, they were required to cover their faces, whether they were virgins or married.

It was stated in the Larouse Encyclopedia that the Roman women used to “exaggerate” in wearing the Hijab, to the extent that the midwife (traditional birth attendant) did not use to get out of her home unless she was properly veiled, wearing a long apparel touching her ankles and putting over it a cloak (abaya) which does not allow her body form to be seen.

Hijab in language is derived from the word “al-sater” (veiling oneself/something), as it is stated in Lisan Al Arab Dictionary that veiling something means to hide itfrom view or conceal it. A veiled woman is the woman who has covered herself with a veil.

The free Arab women in Al-Jahilia (pre-Islamic era) used to be committed to hijab and refrained from unveiling themselves, since the society at that time used to regard the hijab as an indication for the woman’s honorability and higher position. However, the commitment to hijab was incomplete, in which, some women used to show some of their ornaments such as anklets and bracelets, as well as their necks, ears, and breasts… Hijab has been mentioned in the pre-Islamic poetry, such as in the poetry’s of the two poets Antara Bin Shaddad Al-Absi and Al-Nabigha Al-Zubiani who intended to praise the women wearing the hijab.

The Islamic Hijab

According to the Egyptian Dar Al-Iftaa, and in our presentation of the opinion of the scholars of Islam and the Islamic Jurists, it is unanimously resolved by all the past and the present Islamic Scholars and Jurists that the veil has been imposed on every woman who has reached the age of Taklif (puberty), that is the age in which the girl experiences haydh (menstruation) and reaches sexual maturity. So, she should cover her entire body except the face, the hands and the feet, and whatever is required to be shown, such as the placement of the bracelets, and what may appear from her arms when dealing with others. Nevertheless, through centuries, none of the Muslims opposed the duty of covering other than those parts. For it is a rule clearly stipulated in the Quran and the Sunna, and it has been unanimously agreed upon by the Islamic nation, and thus, the acts of all Muslims have been recurred all over the ages.  

In the context of talking about the evidences of Hijab, Dar el Iftaa in Egypt cites Allah’s saying in the Holy Quran: “O Prophet! Say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers that they let down upon them their over-garments; this will be more proper, that they may be known, and thus they will not be given trouble; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.” (33:59). The occasion during which this verse was revealed, is that women used to show their hair, necks and parts of their breasts, but Allah, the Most Exalted prohibited them from that and ordered them to wear apparels over those parts to be chaste and veiled.

Moqatel Bin Suleiman said in his Tafseer (interpretation), (Dar Ihyaa al-Turath 3/503): “which means: it is worth to be known by their clothes that they are not suspicious women and that they are chaste, thus, no one would hurt them.”

It was also stated in the “Sunan of Abu Dawood”, and Attabarani in “Al-Shamyeen”, IbnAudai in “Al-Kamel”, Al-Bahiki in “Al-Sunan Al-Koubra”, “Al-Adaab”, and “Shoaab Al-Iman”, that ‘Aa’ishahsaid thatAsma’, the daughter of Abi Bakr, entered upon the Messenger of Allah (p) wearing a transparent dress. The Messenger of Allah (p) turned away from her and said, “O Asma’, when a woman reaches the age of puberty, nothing should be seen of her except this and this” – and he pointed to his face and hands. 

AbouDawwod, Al-Tarmizi and IbnMaja narrated that Nabhan,the slave of Umm Salma, told him that Umm Salma said to him that once, she and Maimona were sitting with the Prophet (p), at that time Ibn Maktom entered after the Prophet had asked them to be veiled. Umm Salma said: “O Prophet isn’t he a blind person, he can neither see nor recognize us? The Prophet (p) replied: “Are you two also blind and cannot see him?” Al-Tarmizi said: This is an authentic narration.

The Egyptian Dar Al-Iftaa concludes that the stand of the Islamic Law in all its legislative resources regarding “the hijab”, since Allah has decreed it in His Book and through His Prophet’s (p) sayings and all Muslim Scholars from various times in Islamic history, agreed upon it since the era of prophecy and until the present era, is a clear position and has not ever been a controversial issue among Muslims Scholars. None of the Muslim Scholars has negated it throughout ages and generations, it is also undisputable in its origin, and unchangeable according to customs, traditions, and countries. It has never been among customs, but it is in the core of religion and Islamic Law duties which Allah held the human being liable for them rather than other creatures. And He, the Most Exalted, will hold him responsibility for them in the Day of Judgment.

Philosophy of Hijab

Hijab, in its legislation, dimensions and philosophy, is one of the most important components in the identity of the Muslim woman. In this context, His Eminence, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra) indicated that Islam as well as other religions and ideologies, has put certain restrictions on the individual freedom in this field, because the unrestrained freedom creates chaos and negatively affects the society especially in the domains of lineage and family relations.

Islam emphasizes the aspect of commitment in the movement of personal freedom and creates the psychological atmosphere to resist the call for deviation through a set of laws. In this sense, hijab is one of the regulations that prevent man from living in a state of emergency in response to the call of desire. It is a part of the entire legislative structure that builds moral commitment.

The atmospheres, circumstances and challenges outside exert pressures on the woman and negatively affect her. Some of these atmospheres are full of deviations which drives her away from her humanity. Here comes the role ofhijab in the practice of the moral control in general.

In this regard, Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra) says: Hijab creates the psychological atmosphere to resist the calls for deviation, and builds an internal immunity in both men and women. It suggests to the woman that she should present herself as a human being and helps her to do so by covering her sexual beauties. It also suggests to the man that he has to consider the woman as a human being only, since he cannot see her body. Therefore, the hijab represents to a large extent a means of blocking the roads that lead to deviation.

His Eminence (ra) reminds us of the dimensions of hijab and the image which represents and reflects its reality. He (ra) says: The real hijab demands that the woman should cover all her body except the face and the hands, and that she should not put make-up when she goes out. This means that the hijab has a physical side which involves the covering of the body, and a moral aspect that makes a woman act as a human being in the society, by not being seen in a makeup that draws attention, or talking in a certain way {If you will be on your guard, then be not soft in (your) speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease yearn;}, or by any other means for that matter.

His Eminence continues to illustrate the issue by saying: “Islam regards the hijab as a whole integrated unit that has two closely interacting dimensions. On the one hand, it insists on the woman to be committed to the moral hijab which prevents her from deviation and moral decline and which is the reason behind ordaining the physical hijab. On the other hand, it considers the physical hijab a kind of protection that protects both man and woman from being affected by the situations that can have negative effect on their morals.

This means that leaving the physical hijab threatens the moral one, and vice versa. Since hijab is not just a personal or individual matter but a social one also, because whatever has to prevent the individual from deviation, also impacts the society, for the society in the end is the sum of all its individuals and the system of values, principles and regulations that govern the relations among them.

What His Eminence (ra) indicated also intersects with the opinion of Martyr Motahari who says. “Whenever the woman is veiled and looking modest when getting outdoors, she is said to be observing chastity, and thus the wicked and impudent persons would not dare to hurt her.” ….. Here we notice that Martyr Motahari stresses on the hijab as a practical unit that works on deepening the concept of chastity in the woman’s life as well as in the society and as a spiritual and moral value which means suppressing one’s sexual desire, directing them properly and naturally, and putting them under the control of the mind and the belief.   

{And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands’ fathers, or their sons or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or sisters’ sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigour, or children who know naught of women’s nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that ye may succeed.} (Al-Noor: 31)

Martyr Motahari says: It is possible to deduce a general law from this verse”. Since, the more the woman is abiding by chastity and modesty, the more this would besymbolization to the Islamic legislative system in preserving the woman, and this is a general moral basis.

Martyr Motahari says: “Chastity and modesty are among the innate characteristics of the human being. Hijab is due in its turn to the form, type and the nature in which the act of covering is being set up…” [The Issue of Hijab by Martyr Motahari].

The opinion of Martyr Motahari intersects with that of Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra) who indicates that “the goals of Islam are to traverse the inner of the human being to nourish his soul, rise up his personality by stressing the line of integrity in his life… Islam has made the relations between the man and the woman governed by exact rules which regulate the conditions that arouse sexual desire and the movement of the instinct in the body. So, the relation between them would be natural and pure as it falls within the wide moral frame of purity of both the soul and the body. That is on the basis of chastity in their personalities which is affected by the practice that regulates the person’s idea and achieves immunity in the movement. 

His Eminence (ra) continues: “The legitimate restrictions within the frame of human relations, always aim at protecting the general atmosphere from all the negative consequences that could make these relationships unstable, and therefore, enriching the immunity and the ability of these relations to face all difficult pressures. So, they strengthen the experience inside the human being rather than fleeing away from it…” [Tafseer Min Wahy El Quraan, resource1, p: 288 and the following pages. 

In the end of this presentation we reach a decisive conclusion which is, according to what His Eminence (ra) says, the rulings governing the looking at and showing of the woman’s ornaments is fully related to the general concept which Islam wants to raise in the person’s life for getting a pure relation and a balanced conduct in the society of both man and woman. Therefore, it is impermissible to separate these rulings from the things they are originally associated with, exactly as in the case of any scientific study of any Islamic ruling where we should recognize its path and dimensions.

Source: Bayynat

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