Hijab, Islam & The Extremist West

ImageIn the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

When in the fifth Islamic century, Imam Al-Ghazzali was writing his magnum opus Revivification of the Religious Sciences (ihyâ ūlūm al-dïn), he did not feel it was necessary to write a separate chapter on the issue of hijab or the Islamic modest dress. As a matter of fact, hijab was not an issue in Ghazzali’s time: everyone knew what the modest dress was. Everyone dressed modestly and all human societies considered modesty to be a virtue.

When Saint John of Damascus was writing extensively against Islam, he criticized everything he could think of: yet, he never thought of criticizing the Islamic modest dress: he knew that the Blessed Virgin Mary dressed in a similar fashion and many of the Christian women of his time also covered their hair in public and wore long dresses. The miniskirt had not yet been invented!

Even before the Quranic verse on khimâr (head-covering) was revealed, the women of Arabia covered their hair with their khimâr. The Quranic verse says: ‘and to draw their head-coverings over their bosoms.’ The verse takes for granted that women cover their hair: Allah commands women to wear their head-coverings correctly, and to also cover their necks and bosoms with it.

Even when Islam met non-Abrahamic cultures, the hijab was not an issue: When Islam came to Persia, the Persian women (who were, before their conversion to Islam, Zoroastrians and fire-worshippers) did not wear miniskirts; they wore the chador, which was later adopted as a form of Islamic modest dress. Similarly, when Islam arrived at India, the women of Hindustan were wearing the sari which was still relatively modest and covered much of the body. The Muslim women of India sometimes wore the sari, albeit in a manner that made them distinct from Hindu women.

So let us ask ourselves: Why has the hijab suddenly become an issue in our times? Why was it not an issue throughout fourteen centuries of Islamic history? What has changed in modern times? The hijâb is not an invention. It is not something new that needs to be explained. Miniskirts, low-cut blouses, tight skirts, tight jeans, and the bikini are modern inventions. It is the Western immodest dress which is a departure from the pre-established norm. People are complaining about how Muslims have become obsessed with the hijab in modern times; but they do not realise that Westerners have become obsessed with the naked female body. The first Playboy magazine was published neither in Saudi Arabia, nor in India, nor in China, nor in Japan: it was published in the United States of America.

Why is it that the Islamic world must constantly explain the hijab, but the Western world does not have to explain its immodesty? Why is it that when a woman wears a niqab or a burqa, she is considered to be an extremist; but if she wears revealing clothes, that is not called extremism? Does the word ‘extremist’ apply only to extreme modesty and not to extreme immodesty? Is modesty in dress and behaviour a sign of backwardness, and immodesty a sign of progress? Is modesty something new that has to be explained, while immodesty is the ‘default’ norm of the Western society?

The Western world is extreme in more than one aspect. Let me give you concrete examples:

The pre-Islamic Arabia was one of the most primitive cultures in human history. The pagan Arabs, before the advent of Islam, used to eat the corpses of animals and they even made necklaces out of the livers of dead people. Yet, even in such a culture, fornication and adultery were thought of as crimes. The same is true about Hindu India, Confucian China, Zoroastrian Persia, Shinto Japan and all of the other great civilisations. In all of these cultures, people married one another. They did not just cohabit. Now, if the West thinks it is perfectly lawful for two unmarried people to have sexual relations – and this is not called fornication – this is a new concept to the rest of the world. This is a departure from the pre-established norm; and I believe it contravenes even the basic laws of Christianity. It is not the norm that needs to be explained. It is the ‘invention’ that needs to be explained.

To the eyes of many Muslims, the modern West is a strange civilisation. Westerners criticize the Islamic law for allowing a man to have four wives; while the Western law allows men to have sex with an unlimited number of women, without supporting those women financially and without accepting any life-time responsibility whatsoever. If a fourteen year old Muslim girl marries, this is considered to be a sign of backwardness, a violation of human rights. However, when a fourteen year old Western girl has illicit sex with her schoolmate, becomes pregnant, is left with a child to raise on her own with no financial or emotional support, this is viewed as a sign of freedom and modernity! Muslims cannot understand these contradictions.

Furthermore, in the West, when a line is crooked, instead of straightening the line, they make the ruler crooked also: when someone departs from the norm, instead of correcting the person, they change the norm. If too many people commit fornication, they legalise fornication. If the majority of the people think it is correct to commit adultery, they legalise adultery. Where there is no eternal code of ethics, there is no red line: it is not going to stop somewhere. Allah knows! Maybe in a few years, they will also legalise all kinds of incest and bestiality, all that in the name of modernity and freedom.

The battle between Islam and the West is not only a battle between the burqa and the bikini. It is a clash between two world-views:

A worldview that is God-centred and a world-view which is based on disbelief and atheism;

A worldview that says laws must be based on the eternal will of God; and a world-view that says laws must be based upon the wills and whims of a particular people in a particular society at a particular time;

A worldview that says humans must be free from the world and slaves only to Allah, and a worldview that teaches humans must be free from religion and slaves to worldly gains;

A worldview that praises modesty in dress and behaviour, and a worldview which is based on immodesty, uncontrolled sexual behaviour, and lust.

Can we reconcile these two contradictory worldviews? I will conclude with the following verses from the Holy Quran:

Not equal are the blind and the seeing; nor is darkness equal with the Light ; nor is the shadow equal with the Sun’s full heat ; nor are the living equal with the dead ; Lo! Allah makes whom He will to hear ; you cannot reach those who are in the graves. (35:19-22)

Hijab of Ihsan 2 – Correct Hijab

ImageIn the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

When a Muslim does aught, let him do it to perfection. [Hadith]

In the previous post, I explained the first dimension of ihsân, sincerity, in reference to the Islamic hijab. Yet, a Muslim woman must wear her hijab not only sincerely but also correctly. Correctness is the second dimension of ihsân.

2- Am I Wearing The Hijab Correctly?

Before we ask this question, we need to know that there is such a thing as correct hijab. Islam is a religion that does possess a divine law (shari’ah). Christianity either does not have a shari’ah or its shari’ah is forgotten and deliberately neglected. That is why almost all Christians praise modesty as a virtue; yet if you ask them ‘What are the Christian standards for modesty in dress?’ they usually leave it either to the conscience of the individual or to the transient norms of the society. When people deny that there is an objective norm of morality and modesty, it is very easy to fall into the pitfalls of immorality and immodesty: The way modest Christian ladies dress today is very different compared to the way modest Christian ladies dressed a hundred years ago. God knows, maybe in a few years, Christians will consider the bikini to be modest enough for ladies to wear!

In Islam, the standards of modesty are dependent neither on the whims of the individual nor on the transient norms of a particular society at a particular time. There is a revealed law (shari’ah) which distinguishes moral from immoral and modest from immodest. Of course, even within the shari’ah, there is room for individual or cultural differences: a modest Malay Muslimah does not dress exactly the same as a modest Jordanian Muslim woman. A modest city-dweller does not dress like a modest villager or a modest nomad. The injunctions of the Shariáh, however, apply to all people: regardless of where and when we live. If our hijab conforms to the standards of the shariáh, then our hijab is correct. If our hijab is not in accordance with the standards of the shari’ah, then our hijab is not correct.

Khimâr and Jilbâb

First of all, the Islamic modest dress for women has two necessary components: one is called the khimâr (which is discussed in Verse 31 Surah 24 of the Holy Quran) and the other is called jilbâb (which is discussed in Verse 55, Surah 55). The khimâr is a headcovering that covers the hair, ears, neck and the chest of a Muslim woman. Jilbâb is a loose outer-garment that is worn over normal clothes. The ideal Quranic jilbâb is a one-piece cloak-like garment that starts from over the head (where the khimâr is already worn) and comes down to the feet.

In Islam, a woman must wear both the khimâr and the jilbâb in order for her hijâb to be correct: thus, wearing a headscarf is necessary but not sufficient. When we say that the jilbâb is required, it does not mean that all Muslim women must dress alike. Many Islamic cultures have their own versions of the jilbâb or outer-garments that are nevertheless very close to the jilbâb: such as the abâya in many Arabic countries, the chador which is worn in Persia, the haik which is worn in Algeria, the djellaba which is worn in Morocco, or even the Baju Kurung which is worn in Malaya. However: T-shirts, tops, jeans, pants and the like are not considered to be jilbâb at all. If you are wearing these clothes, you must wear a jilbâb over them to conceal the shape of the body. For more information on the jilbab, please see this, thisthis or this.

So what are the Islamic standards for modesty in dress? Note that the following standards apply to both the khimâr and the jilbâb.

Conditions of the Islamic Modest Dress

2-1) Covering the ‘awrah:

‘Awrah means the parts of the body that must be concealed. Covering the awrah is obligatory. Exposing the awrah is sinful. According to three of the four schools of law in Sunni Islam[1], a woman’s awrah in front of non-mahram men is her entire body except the face and the palms of her hands. This opinion is based on a sacred tradition.To Asmâ, the daughter of Abu Bakr, the Blessed Prophet said:

‘O Asmâ! When a maiden reaches the menstrual age, nothing must be visible of her except this and this.’ and he pointed to the face and hands. [Abu Dawud]

So, if anything shows other than the face and hands, it is certainly unlawful; even according to the most lenient scholarly position.

2-2) Lâ yasef Lâ yashef

The purpose of wearing clothes is to cover the body: If our clothes are tight-fitting and cling to the body, they describe the body rather than concealing it. Likewise, clothes that are made of thin and transparent material do not cover the body.

In Arabic, it is said that an Islamic modest dress must be lâ yasef lâ yashef; meaning that a modest dress is neither too tight to describe what is underneath, nor is it transparent to reveal what it is meant to conceal.

2-3) It should not be worn with the intention of attention-seeking

In the culture of the modern West, the main purpose of wearing clothes is to express one’s individuality, to inflate one’s ego and to show to the world that ‘I’ am different from the others. In Islam, we wear clothes not to expose ourselves but to cover ourselves. We must dress as slaves and handmaids of Allah; our dignity is beyond acting as advertising billboards for various companies and brands.

Likewise, we must not be wearing something that attracts men’s gazes. Even though the principle is static, its applications can change depending on the environment we are living in: for example, in the Shariáh, there is nothing wrong with wearing a yellow abâya per se. But if I wear a yellow abâya in Saudi Arabia, where the majority – if not all – of the women wear black, I will stand out and everyone will start gazing at me. So, it is not permissible to wear a yellow abâya in Saudi Arabia. Generally, it is said that black is the best colour for a woman to wear outside of her home. It is the colour of the night: the colour of concealment. That is why when the verse on jilbâb was revealed, the female companions went out of their houses, as if they had crows on their heads. Crows are not usually yellow, are they?

2-4) It should not resemble men’s clothing

In the modern West, we observe that men are gradually becoming more feminine and women are becoming more masculine: the result is that the West is moving towards a neuter society in which the differences between the sexes are blunted. Islam is not based on the equality and homogeneity of the sexes. Islam is based on the complementarity of the sexes. Men are men. Women are women. Men must be proud of being men. Women must be proud of being women. Men must not wear what belongs to women. Women must not wear what belongs to men.

2-5) It should not resemble the clothing of non-Muslims

Even as we are proud of our gender, we also take joy in our religion. So, we are told to dress in a way which makes us distinct as Muslims. As a matter of fact, this principle pertains equally to women and men. Unfortunately, in our age, many Muslims, especially men, have adopted Western clothes that are neither Islamic in origin nor have they been designed for Islamic rituals. When someone sees us in the street, he or she must able to know that we are Muslims: there must be a difference between how we dress and how non-Muslims dress.

The Islamic modest dress must also meet a few other requirements, but these are the most important ones. I could have explained each requirement with the related ahâdith, but that would make this article too long. In brief, a correct hijab is that which conforms to the afore-mentioned conditions and principles: this is correctness, the second dimension of ihsân.

[1] According to the second scholarly opinion, which is the dominant opinion in the Hanbali School, sisters must also cover the face and the hands in addition to the rest of the body.


Hijab of Ihsan 1 – Sincerity

white jilbabIn the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

When Ibrahim, the two-year old son of the Blessed Prophet – peace be upon him – died of illness and was buried in Medina, the earth had been humped over the grave. The Blessed Prophet ordered his companions to sprinkle some water over the grave and to make the ground even.

After a while, when the Prophet looked back, he noticed that some unevenness had been left in the earth. So, he said to his companions:

When a Muslim does anything, let him do it to perfection. [Ibn Ishaq 1:88]

In another hadith, the Blessed Prophet said:

Allah has prescribed perfection (ihsân) in all things. [Nawawi 17]

The word ihsân has a cluster of meanings: perfection, excellence, sincerity and correctness. Thus, whatever we do in life, Allah wants us to do it with ihsân: to do it perfectly, excellently, beautifully, sincerely and correctly. If we pray, we must pray sincerely. If we study, we must do so to perfection. If we cook, we must cook tastefully.

There is an Arabic proverb that goes:

‘If steal you must, steal the precious jewel.’

This means that even when a thief wants to commit a vile and unlawful (harâm) action such as stealing, he often does it perfectly to make it worth the crime. Now, if we are doing something lawful (such as studying or working) is it not even more appropriate to do it perfectly? If we are performing a religious duty (like prayer, fasting, reading the Quran, wearing the hijab) how much more is it necessary to do it to perfection?

Since the subject of this blog is the Islamic hijâb, I think every sister must ask herself the following question: ‘Am I wearing my hijab with ihsân?’ The concept of ihsân has at least three dimensions:

  • Sincerity
  • Correctness
  • Perfection

If we are doing something sincerely, perfectly and correctly, we are doing it with ihsân. So let us break the question above into three:

1. Am I wearing the hijab sincerely?

Before we ask ourselves ‘How am I wearing the hijab?’ we should ask ourselves ‘Why am I wearing the hijab?’ Am I wearing the hijab because I believe in the Quran and my Lord has commanded me to conceal my beauty? Or am I wearing the hijâb to impress my parents and my relatives? Am I wearing the hijab to look pious and religious? Am I wearing the hijab because every other woman in the society wears the hijab and I do not want to stand out?’ In Islam, intention (niyyah) is so important that the Blessed Prophet said:

Actions are [judged by] intentions (Nawawi 1)

Two people may do the exact same thing with different intentions. Ultimately, only Allah can judge the intentions of people; what humans can see is that inconsistency is a sign of hypocrisy. If a sister’s hijab in Yemen or Jordan is much different from the way she dresses in a Western country, this indicates that something is wrong with her intention.

Of course, if a sister is wearing the hijab simply because her parents, her spouse or her society want her to, she will still benefit from the outward advantages of hijâb; but on the Day of Judgement, Allah will not count her hijab as an act of worship. On that day, her hijab will be of no avail.

I hope sisters will not misunderstand or misquote my words. I am saying we should raise our intentions to the level of our outward acts; not that we must lower the level of our outward hijab to make it match with our intentions. I think none of us can claim to have a completely pure intention: but if the intention is unwell, why ruin the outward act? Let us cure the intention. [To be continued, insha’ Allah]

Hijab and Jeans?

In the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

Once upon a time, a vile neighbour stole Mulla Nasreddin’s donkey. In his search for his donkey, Mulla Nasreddin knocked on the neighbour’s door. ‘Is my donkey here?’ Nasreddin asked politely. ‘No’ was the reply. At that very moment, Nasreddin’s donkey brayed loudly from inside the neighbour’s house.‘Which of the two should I believe, sir?’ Nasreddin asked, ‘Should I believe you or should I believe the donkey?’

Unfortunately, some of the Muslim sisters who live in the West, have a similar contradictory attitude when it comes to hijâb: they wear headscarves along with tight jeans, tight-fitting tops and other non-concealing garments. Like Mulla Nasreddin, any person who sees these girls, asks these questions:‘Which of the two should I believe? Should I believe the headscarf or should I believe the tight jeans? Which of the two expresses her true self?’

I understand that many of these sisters may not have evil intentions. They are facing an inner struggle between two cultures: the Islamic culture which is based on purity, humility, modesty and submission to one’s Creator; and the modern Western culture which is founded upon greed, lust, worldliness, pride, individualism, gratification of sensual desires, obscenity and immodesty in dress and behaviour.

Some of these sisters try to please both Islam and the West by wearing their khimâr along with tight jeans. The result is that they please neither Islam nor the West. A modern progressive Muslimah is neither progressive enough nor Muslimah enough. So my advice to myself and to all sisters: Be true to yourself. If you are a Muslimah, be a Muslimah, dress like a Muslimah.’

A true Muslimah must never wear jeans or pants in public, especially if she is not wearing a jilbâb over her clothes. First of all, jeans were originally designed for men; there is nothing feminine about jeans or pants. Secondly, it is a fact that jeans outline the lower parts of the body. When a sister wears them, the outlining of her legs, thighs and buttocks can be perfectly seen by every man who looks at her. Men can easily fall into sinful thoughts by looking at the body of women: obviously, we do not want to be obstacles in the way of our brothers. We want to help our brothers in their spiritual journey. Let us remember that when a sister reveals part of her awrah, she is not only causing men to fall into sin: she herself is sinning by revealing what Allah has commanded her to conceal; and it is especially sinful to wear clothes that do not cover, clothes that are either too tight or too transparent. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said:

There will be, in the last days of my Community, women who are dressed and yet undressed. Curse them; for they are accursed…They will never enter Paradise nor smell its fragrance, even though it can be smelled from afar.’ [Al-Tabarâni]

May Allah protect us from that.

Dear Sisters,

If you are not currently wearing a jilbâb, I advise you to start wearing the Quranic jilbâb. The Quranic jilbâb is a wide and loose outer-garment worn over other clothes; it starts from over the head and comes all the way down to the feet. I have described the Quranic jilbâb in my previous post.

If you cannot find a Quranic jilbâb, you must consider wearing an abâya that starts from the shoulders and comes down to the feet; or something else which is close enough to the jilbâb required by the Quran. In brief, the way you dress must look like the jilbab of these women in the picture.Image

The jilbâb is a requirement. According to the hadith, there was a poor woman among the female companions who could not afford to buy a jilbâb. Another female companion asked the Prophet on her behalf: ‘How can she come to the Eid prayers?’ The Prophet, peace be upon him, did not make an exception for this woman. He did not allow her to go out without the jilbâb. Instead, the Blessed Prophet suggested:

Let her borrow the jilbâb of her companion [Bukhari 1:347]

So, dear sisters, if covering the head is important in Islam, wearing a loose outer garment (which conceals the entire body) is also part of the hijâb of a Muslim woman.

Dear Sisters

I understand that each of us lives within a larger society: We can sometimes be influenced by the media, by other people, and by the obscene culture surrounding us. The society can teach us false things. Yet, truth and falsehood are not equal. Our Lord, Praise be to Him, says in the Holy Quran:

Evil and good are not equal, even though the abundance of the evil might impress you. (5:100)

Islam does not teach: ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do.’ When in Rome, do as the Muslims do. If you are in Rome, know that Allah is present everywhere and wheresoever you may be; you are the maidservant of Allah.

I understand that living as a Muslimah is a great challenge for sisters who are living in the West; yet religion is sacrifice. ‘Asiyah, May Allah be pleased with her, had to practice her religion in the palace of the Pharaoh despite all hardships. Lady Maryam devoted her life to fasting and prayer, and instead of conversing with non-mahrams, she kept the company of the angels. Lady Khadijah spent much of her wealth in the Cause of Allah and supported the Prophet at a time when everyone else denied him. Lady Sumayya was the first martyr in Islam: she endured whippings and torture only because she believed in Allah as the One God. Think of all these saintly women and the sacrifices they have performed. Maybe it is time for us to also sacrifice something of our freedom for Allah and His religion. Insha’ Allah.

The Quranic Jilbab

sadasIn the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

One of the most important but often neglected issues pertaining to the Islamic modest dress (al-hijab al-shar’i) is the issue of jilbâb or the outer garment that must be worn by Muslim women.

Unfortunately, it has been instilled in the minds of many people that hijâb only means wearing a headscarf and covering one’s hair. Hijab does mean that but it also means much more than that. Hijab means concealment: a true Islamic hijab hides the body; it neither reveals nor outlines the body parts. The Islamic modest dress includes wearing the headcovering (khimâr), as discussed in Verse 31 Surah 24 of the Holy Quran. It also includes wearing the jilbâb, as required by the Holy Quran in Verse 59 of Surah 33. Hence:

Islamic modest dress = khimâr + jilbâb

Now, if the jilbâb is so important, we should ask ourselves: What does jilbâb mean? If we look at the contemporary usage of the word jilbâb in Arabic and other Islamic languages, it is very easy to get confused and misguided. In Indonesian, for example, people use the word jilbâb to refer to the headcovering (khimâr). In modern Arabic, people often use the word jilbâb as a synonym of abâya. It is therefore necessary to distinguish between the Quránic jilbâb (which is the jilbâb that was worn by the wives, daughters and female companions of the Prophet, peace be upon him) and all other garments which were later called jilbâb in the different parts of the Muslim world. Not every jilbâb is Quranic jilbâb.

From the outset, let us look closely at what Our Creator says about the jilbâb in the Surah al-Ahzâb. Allah – Praise be to Him – says:

O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to cast their outer garments [jalâbēb, plural of jilbâb] over their persons. (33:59)

From this holy verse, we learn that wearing the jilbâb is a requirement of the Shariáh. But what does the Quranic jilbâb look like?

Linguistic approach: According to the Lisan-al-Arab dictionary, the jilbâb is: ‘the outer garment, mantle or cloak of a Muslim woman. Jilbab is the outer sheet or covering which a woman wraps around her on top of her garments to cover herself from head to toe. The jilbâb covers a woman’s body completely.’[1] Ibn Hazm writes: ‘In the Arabic language of the Prophet, jilbâb is the outer garment that covers the entire body. A piece of cloth which is too small to cover the entire body cannot be called jilbâb.’[2]

The Quranic Jilbab Covers the Head

We should note that unlike the modern abâya, the Quranic jilbâb is an outer garment that starts from over the headcovering (khimâr) and not from the shoulders. The jilbâb covers the face; and the scholars do not seem to have differences of opinion on this issue. Therefore, jilbâb is one thing and the typical abâya is something else.

(*) Umm Salamah – May Allah be pleased with her – said: ‘When the verse ‘to draw their cloaks all over their persons’ was revealed, the women of the Helpers (Ansâr) came out as if there were crows on their heads, because of their outer garments (jalâbēb). [Abu Dawud 4101]

(*) A’isha – May Allah be pleased with her – said: The woman must bring down her jilbâb from over her head and then place it upon her face. [Bukhari 6:60 282 ; Abu Dawud 32:4091]

Does the Quranic Jilbab Cover the Face?

It is an undisputed fact that the Mothers of the Believers and some of the female companions of the Blessed Prophet covered their faces with their jilbâb. Whether other Muslim women are required to cover their faces is a point of debate. Now, it may be asked: ‘Does the Quranic jilbâb cover the face?’ My answer to this question is that the Quranic jilbâb does not cover the face per se; but it can be worn in such a way as to cover the face.[3] In order to explain my view, I will need to give you a few examples from the Sunnah:

 (*) Aísha – May Allah be pleased with her – said: The riders would pass us when we were with the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, in the state of ihrâm. When the riders approached, each of us [women] would lower her jilbâb from her head over her face, and when they went away, we would uncover our faces. (Abu Dawūd 1833)

Firstly, like the afore-mentioned ahadith, this hadith proves that the Quranic jilbâb is not like the typical abâya: this is because Lady A’isha – May Allah be pleased with her – described the jilbâb as coming from her head and not from her shoulders; also because it is not possible to cover the face with a modern abâya.

Secondly, this hadith proves that the Quranic jilbâb is not something like the Afghan burqa: Lady Á’isha says ‘When they left us, we would uncover our faces.’ For a woman who is wearing the burqa, it would be impossible to uncover only the face.

(*) Aísha – May Allah be pleased with her – said: …His [Safwan’s] recital of this Quranic verse woke me up and I covered my face with my jilbâb. (Bukhari 5:59:462)

It is very interesting that in this hadith Lady A’isha – May Allah be pleased with her – says: ‘I covered my face with my jilbâb’; she does not say ‘I wore my jilbâb immediately.’ This implies that she was already wearing the jilbâb. She was covering her entire body and had left only the face uncovered. As soon as she realised a non-mahram was there, she ‘covered her face with her jilbâb.’ This hadith also makes it clear that the Jilbab is not something like the Afghan burqa. Otherwise, it would make no sense to say: ‘I covered my face with my jilbâb’. It would be sufficient for her to say ‘I wore my jilbâb’ and everyone would understand that she covered her face. In brief: It is possible to wear the jilbâb and uncover the face. It is also possible to wear the jilbâb and cover the face: this latter way was how the wives of the Prophet and the female companions wore their jilbâb.

Thus, the Quránic jilbâb is a loose garment that starts from over the head (where the khimâr is already worn) and goes all the way down to the feet without outlining a woman’s body and even without explicitly defining her shoulders.

ImageSince one picture is worth a thousand words, I hope this picture conveys the meaning.

The first three women (from right to left) are wearing different forms of the Quranic jilbâb.

The fourth woman (or first from the left) is wearing a typical abâya that starts from the shoulders. The abâya is still a form of Islamic modest dress but it is not the same as the jilbâb which is mentioned in the Quran and was worn by the female companions. The shoulder-abâya may be concealing compared to the modern trends that have appeared in recent years, but it has at least two disadvantages: Firstly, it outlines the form of the shoulders and is similar to the abâya commonly worn by men. Secondly, it is not possible to cover the face with it. For a sister who is wearing the Quranic jilbâb, it is very easy to cover the face in a situation of fitnah, like when a non-mahram approaches her or starts gazing at her. The same is not possible for a sister who is wearing a khimâr and a shoulder abâya, unless she also wears a separate affixed veil (niqâb).

Conditions of the Jilbâb

The following conditions are well-known for a woman’s outer garment. For further discussion of their evidences, one can refer to the books on Islamic jurisprudence:

  1. The outer garment must be made of thick material that does not show what is underneath. It should not be transparent nor should it cling to the body.
  2. The jilbâb must cover the entire body, from head to toe, and be loose enough so that it does not show the shape.
  3. It should not have any adornments or colours that attract attention: it must not be worn for tabarruj.
  4. It should not resemble the dress of non-Muslims; likewise, it should not resemble the dress of men.
References and Links:
* Hijab: A Crash Course
* Jilbab and the Muslim Woman’s Dress Code

[1] Ibn Manzur, Lisan al-Arab Vol. 7 p.273

[2] Ibn Hazm, Al-Muhalla, Vol. 3 p. 217

[3] According to the interpretation of some companions of the Prophet, this [covering the face] is the correct way to wear the jilbâb: Muhammad ibn Sirin said: ‘I asked Abidah al-Salmani about this verse ‘to draw cloaks all over their persons.’ So he draped a blanket around him, concealed his face with it, and covered his entire head. [Ruh al Maáni 22:89]’ The woman twists the jilbâb above the forehead and tightens it…she conceals the chest and most of the face. [Ruh al Maani 22:89]

The Universality of Modesty – 1

In the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

I know a sister who was born and raised in a Christian family in Canada. She went to live in Egypt for some years. There, she converted to Islam; and she started performing the prayers and wearing the Islamic hijab. When her studies finished, she had to return to Canada. She had kept her hijab a secret. She was burning inside from keeping this secret, and was very anxious about how her parents would react.

Finally, she arrived in Canada. Her parents had come to the airport to greet her. For the first time, they were seeing their daughter wearing a hijab. What was their reaction? Their eyes were filled with tears of joy. They embraced her, kissed her and said: ‘You look like the Virgin Mary! It is as if you have come out of the Bible.’

As Muslims, we believe that modesty is not a human invention. Modesty is in the inner nature (fitrah) of all human beings.All prophets, therefore, taught their followers to dress modestly and set standards for modest dress and behaviour. These standards and guidelines were gradually forgotten and distorted; so other prophets came to remind the people of the same forgotten principle and to set new standards. The principle of modesty is universal: it applies to all nations and all times. Its forms of manifestation and its particular applications however, can be different from religion to religion. Of course, since Islam is the last religion, and is destined for the last cycle of human history (akhir al zamân), its rules on modesty are stricter than previous religions. Here, I will have to repeat this sacred tradition (hadith) which I have mentioned also in my other posts. The Prophet of Islam, peace be upon him, said:

Every religion has a distinctive character; and the distinctive character of Islam is modesty. (Bukhari)

Even today, after fourteen centuries, we still observe that Muslims, as a whole, dress relatively more modestly than the followers of other religions. However, unfortunately it is also true that some Muslims are imitating the West in everything even in its current immodest culture; which is neither Islamic, nor Jewish, nor Christian. So what do the earlier religions teach about modest dress and behaviour?


This is how the Jewish scripture, Midrash Aggadah, recounts the creation of the first woman:

‘When God was on the point of making Eve, He said:

“I will not make her from the head of man,

Lest she carry her head high in arrogant pride.

I will not make her from the eye of man, lest she be wanton-eyed;

Not from the ear, lest she be an eavesdropper;

Not from the neck, lest she be haughty and insolent,

Not from the mouth, lest she be a tale-bearer;

Not from the heart, lest she be envious;

Not from the hand, lest she be a meddler;

Not from the foot, lest she be a gadabout.

I will form her from a chaste portion of man’s body.

And to every limb and organ as He formed it,

God said: ‘Be chaste! Be chaste!’ (1:17-23)

The Aggadah also recounts the story of the first sin and mentions: ‘Woman is obligated to cover her hair in token of Eve’s having brought sin into the world’

Many of the wives of the Hebrew prophets, generally known as matriarchs, are praised for their modesty. In the Book of Genesis, we read: When the angels paid Abraham a visit in order to give him the glad-tidings of the birth of Isaac, they asked him: ‘Where is Sarah, your wife?’ and Abraham answered: ‘‘Behold, she is in the tent.’ (Gen 18:9)

In Bava Metzia it is said: ‘The angels knew where our mother Sarah was, but they asked this question to make known to Abraham that she was modest, and in this way to endear her to her husband.’ Rashi writes in his commentary: The phrase ‘She is in the tent’ illustrates Sarah’s modesty; for knowing that the guests were men, she chose to remain in the tent and did not come to greet them.’

In Gen 24:64-65 we read that when Rebekah met Isaac for the first time, she took a veil and covered herself. In the Hebrew Bible, we find many references to the veil worn by Jewish women (Ruth 2:8-10; Pro 6:1-10, 20:26, 3:15; Isa 47:1-2, Song of Songs 4:1) In the book of Numbers (5:18), we read:

And the priest shall set the woman before the Lord, and uncover the woman’s head.

In Rashi’s commentary, it is said: ‘and he has to uncover the woman’s head to punish her in this way and to cause shame in her.’ So, for a Jewish woman, it was a dishonour to appear before men with her hair uncovered. It was a punishment. Based on this, many Jewish scholars have stated that a woman must cover her hair in public. In the Jewish law (Halakhah), if a woman’s hair was seen in the marketplace, her husband was allowed to divorce her without paying the ketubah to her. Throughout centuries, orthodox Jewish women (and particularly married women) covered their heads in public. Jewish women who lived in the East also covered their faces. They also wore the radidh which is defined as a head-covering ‘which enshrouds her whole body like a cloak’ (Hilkhoth Ishuth 13:13)

The Jewish rules on modesty (tzeniut) are very similar to the Islamic rules: What the Jews call ervah is what the Muslims call awrah, which means parts of the human body that have to be covered in public. In Islam, non-related men and women are not allowed to shake hands; in Judaism also, touching the opposite sex is called negiah and is considered to be a sin. In Islam, khalwah (being alone with the opposite sex in a secluded area) is forbidden; in Judaism also, yichud (which is exactly the same thing) is prohibited. Muslims are not allowed to wear the clothes of the opposite sex; this is also forbidden in Judaism. (Deut 22:5) In Islam, tabarruj (adorning bodies with colourful cosmetics, jewellery, tight or revealing clothes) is a major sin. In Judaism also, the daughters of Zion were cursed because of their tabarruj and their dressing immodestly. In the book of Isaiah, we read:

The Lord says: ‘The daughters of Zion are haughty

And walk with outstretched necks and wanton eyes

Walking and mincing as they go

With ornaments jingling on their ankles. (Isaiah 3:16)

File:Sisters (Daughters of Mary) Roman Catholic Singing.jpgChristianity:

Here are some verses from the New Testament about modesty dress and behaviour:

  • I also want the women to dress modestly: with decency and propriety, not adorning themselves with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly dress; but with that which is the proper adornment for women: godliness and good works.  (1 Timothy 2:9-10)
  • Do not let your adorning be external…but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Peter 3:1-4)
  • Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own…So glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Cor 6:19-20)
  • But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ. The head of woman is man. The head of Christ is God…Every woman who prays or prophesizes with her uncovered dishonours her head…If a wife will not cover her head, she must shave her head. Yet since it is disgraceful for a woman to shave her head, let her cover her head. For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman ought to cover her head, for she is the glory of man. Man did not come from woman, but woman from man; man was not created for woman, but woman for man…(1 Cor 11:3)

In the Middle Ages, Christian authors wrote extensively against Islam. They criticized many aspects of Islam which were alien to Christian thought. However, they never thought of criticizing the the Islamic modest dress. This is because in those days, Christian societies also valued modesty in dress and behaviour.

Finally, I would like to ask my Jewish and Christian readers to take note of the following verse from the Holy Quran:

O People of the Scripture! Ye have naught of guidance till you observe the Torah and the Gospel and that which was revealed unto you from your Lord. (5:68)

What this verse means is that if one is a Jew or a Christian, one has to follow at least his or her own scripture. Religion must not conform to the ‘spirit of the time’. It is the spirit of the time that has to conform to scripture. It is never correct to distort a timeless truth or an eternal principle in order to be timely and fashionable. Why is that Muslims are constantly judged according to what is fashionable today in the West? Why is that Western social norms are considered to be ‘universal values’ by which all other cultures are judged and evaluated?

If Christians and Jews are sincere in their own religion, they must side with Muslims against the spirit of immodesty that rules over the modern world. They must side with Muslims against a culture which is based on greed and lust. In all religions, greed and lust are vices. It is only in the religion of the modern West that greed and lust are considered to be virtues. As soon as Christians and Jews start to side with secularists,atheists and materialists against Muslims, they are not even true Christians and Jews any more. As the Noble Quran says:

O People of the Scripture, why do you confuse the truth with falsehood and conceal the truth while you know it? (3:71)

References and Links:

* Hair Coverings for Married Women
* Marylike Standards of Modesty
* Halakhah: Rules on Modesty
* Jewish Modesty: Tzniut


In the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

Marriage is the union of bodies, hearts, minds and souls.

Marriage is also the oldest ‘contract’ between two people on earth: Adam and Eve were married to each other. This was the oldest contract in human history.

The contract is made in the name of Allah: the All-Seeing, the Witness. In Islam, marriage is half of the religion.

Entering this sacred partnership is an act of worship that brings man and woman closer to Allah. Marriage is a commitment that starts in this world, and Allah willing, it will continue in Paradise together.

Marriage is a blessing that one is encourage to pursue and a trust one must strive to uphold. The Prophet, upon him be peace, said:

Allah has obliged Himself to save the souls of these three: A mujahid who strives in His cause, a worker to pay his debt; and one who wants to marry to live a chaste life [Tirmidhi]

He, peace be upon him, also said:

Marriage is part of my Sunnah. He who forsakes my Sunnah is not of me. [Bukhari]

Niqab: Common Misconceptions

All niqabis are Muslims?

Firstly, if we extend the meaning of niqab to something that covers the face, everyone has worn the niqab at some point: surgical masks, helmets and scarves are all things that cover the face. Why is that those things are never banned, are never considered to be impediments to communication or security threats? Maybe because those are not worn for religious reasons!

But there are also a number of non-Muslim women who cover their faces for religious reasons. The women you see in this picture are not Muslims: They are Jewish women. They are not members of the Haredi Burqa Sect or some other modern Jewish sect. They are orthodox Yemeni Jews. Up to the present day, many of the Jewish women who live in Yemen wear the face-veil. Interestingly, the Western media is only interested in Muslim women who wear the veil. Those who oppose the niqab are not opposed to covering the face per se: they are opposed to covering the face, when it is associated with Islam!

Niqab has nothing to do with Islam?

It is an undisputed fact that the wives of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, covered their faces. Also, according to the Islamic traditions, many of the female companions of the Prophet covered their faces. Thus, niqab is part of the Sunnah. It may or may not be required. Nevertheless, it is part of the Islamic tradition.

Niqabis are forced to wear the niqab?

The majority of the niqabi women, at least in Western countries, choose to cover their faces as an act of devotion to Allah. Many of these women are even converts/reverts to Islam: their parents might be Christians, Hindus, Buddhists or even atheists. So, they are swimming against the current. I also know of many sisters who are born and raised in Muslim families, and who like to wear the niqab, but their parents do not allow them to wear the niqab. Yes, the niqab can be forced. But it is not the only thing that can be forced. Besides, day and night, we are being forced by the media and other corporations to think and live in a certain way: Why is this not called ‘brainwashing’, ‘indoctrination’ or ‘oppression’?

Isn’t the face the mark of a person’s identity?

Firstly, even if a woman considers the niqab to be obligatory, she can uncover her face when there is a necessity: like when giving testimony in a court or when taking passport photos. [1] Secondly, the face is not always the mark of a person’s identity. All Muslims know and love Lady A’isha, the wife of the Prophet, peace be upon him. Have we seen her face? No. Do we know how she looked like? Not exactly. Yet, for us, she has an identity distinct from others. Because the way she thought and lived was different. Women who wear the niqab are thinking human beings.

The niqab can send the following message: “I am not my body. My body is part of me and it is a part of me that I choose to keep private. I am not the colour of my skin. I am not the shape of my nose. I am not my lips, my cheeks, my earlobes. I am my thoughts. It is how I think that matters and nothing else.”

Does the niqab restrict a woman’s freedom?

The answer is yes. But aren’t we free to restrict our own freedom, if we wish to? Religion is all about ‘restricting one’s own freedom’ but doing so freely and willingly.

Niqabis consider non-niqabis to be sinful?

There are two groups of niqabi women: There are women who wear the niqab and consider it to be mustahabb (extra devotion). Then, there are other sisters who wear the niqab and consider it to be obligatory (wâjib). But even if we consider the niqab to be obligatory, we must not judge other sisters who follow other schools of law. In Islam, whenever there is a difference of opinion among the scholars, we respect all orthodox views. We do not enter argumentation.

There may be some self-righteous niqabis out there. But, as far I know, the majority of niqabis do not think that they are necessarily better than non-niqabis. Ultimately, we must never judge our Muslim sisters or brothers, particularly in regards to an issue in which there is a khalâf (difference of opinion) among the scholars.

Owning a Ferrari means that you are rich, but not owning a Ferrari doesn’t mean that you are not rich. Wearing the niqab is an expression of modesty, but not wearing the niqab is not a sign of immodesty. Modesty can be expressed in other ways as well.

images (8)Niqabis are uneducated?

Some people wrongly assume that niqabis are uneducated. This is simply not true: %68 percent of university students in Saudi Arabia (a country in which the majority of women wear the niqâb) are women. This means for every male who graduates from a Saudi university, there are about seven female graduates, the majority of whom wear the niqâb. Many of these niqabi women are doctors, nurses, teachers or university lecturers. Many of them may be more educated that their husbands. Islam teaches that education is equally important for men and women. The Prophet, upon him be peace, said: Seeking knowledge is obligatory upon every Muslim; male and female. Is there any necessary connection between covering one’s face and the level of one’s education?

Please also visit: http://muslimmatters.org/2009/09/24/the-niqab-fact-v-fiction/

Why Niqab? , Part 3

In the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

So far, I have explained two of the reasons for wearing the niqab:

(1) Covering the face is a way to emulate the wives of the Prophet, peace be upon him.

(2) Covering the face is either obligatory or recommended; in both cases, it is a way for sisters to draw closer to Allah.

So what is the third reasons?

Reason 3: To preserve my beauty for my husband

Yes, Praise be to Allah, I have a beautiful face. I know that saying this can be a sign of pride; but I am well aware that my beauty does not belong to me. I did not create myself. I have borrowed my beauty from the All-Merciful; and when the time for it comes, I will have to return my life to the Source of all Life, my beauty to the Source of all Beauty.

Verily we belong to Allah and verily unto Him we return. (2:156)

I would like to share with you something that I heard from a preacher (khatēb) on the day of Eid-ul-Adhâ. The preacher said:

‘Religion is sacrifice. When Allah bestows a blessing upon a servant, the servant must offer a sacrifice in return.’

Allah has given us wealth; thus, we must spend some of it in charity. Allah has given more physical strength to men. In return, they must fight in the Cause of Allah (jihâd) and they must also work hard to provide for their families. Now, Allah has blessed women with exceptional beauty. Which sacrifice must women perform in return? We must use our beauty in a way that pleases Allah. Our Creator says in the Noble Qurán:

And tell the believing women to cast down their eyes, to guard their modesty…to draw their veils over their bosoms and not to reveal their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers… (Quran 24:31)

When something becomes commonplace, it becomes cheaper. When something is concealed, it becomes even more valuable. Why do people value pearls more than they value rocks? Because pearls are hidden, while rocks are easily accessible. In Islam, the beauty of a woman is like that of a pearl: precious and concealed. A Muslim woman shares her beauty not with every man on the street, but only with her husband and her mahrams.

Reason 4: To Prevent Fitnah (Temptation)

A Christian reader would know that in the Bible, Jesus Christ is reported to have said:

Whoever looks at a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27)

As a Muslimah, I do not know whether or not these are the exact words spoken by Jesus Christ or the Prophet Isâ, peace be upon him. However, according to reliable traditions (sahih ahâdith), the Prophet of Islam, peace be upon him, has said something very similar:

Verily the eyes commit zina and the zina of the eyes is to look lustfully. (Bukhari)

In Arabic, the term zina means sexual immorality: It can mean adultery as well as fornication. In Islam, looking at the opposite sex lustfully is forbidden and is a form of zina. This is particularly important for men; because unlike woman who seeks to dominate man’s heart, man wants to dominate woman’s body.

When a man looks at a woman’s face with lust, his eyes are committing zinâ. Certainly, in this case, it is the man who is committing a sin. But what can the woman do? How can she possibly know whether or not the gazes directed at her are lustful? She has no way to make sure except one way: to cover her face; to leave nothing visible. The harder your house is to enter, the less likely thieves will come near it: the more we cover of our bodies, the less likely men will look at us with desire.

Let us remember that the Prophet, upon him be peace, said:

Every religion has a character and the character of my religion is modesty. (Bukhari)

And he, peace be upon him, also said:

Modesty gives birth to nothing but good. (Bukhari)

[To be continued, insha Allah]

Why Niqab? – Part 2

In the name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

In the previous post, I explained the first reason for wearing the niqab. In this post, Allah willing, I will attempt to explain the second reason for covering the face. From the outset, I need to clarify a few points for my non-Muslim readers: Islam, as a divine religion, is based on a revealed law (Shari’ah) which is,in our belief, the crystallisation of Allah’s will on earth. Our everyday actions must conform to the standards of the Shari’ah. According to the science of the Shariáh or fiqh, all human actions are divided into five categories: fard/wâjib (obligatory), mustahabb (recommended), mubâh (permissible), makrūh (abominable) and finally harâm (forbidden). So what category does ‘covering the face’ fall into?

There is a difference of opinion among the scholars of the community. Islam is a pluralistic tradition and there is room within the Shariáh for more than one interpretation of the Sacred Scripture. According to the Hanbali school of law, which is one the four orthodox schools of law (fiqh), covering the face is obligatory (fard) at all times when a woman appears before non-mahram men. According to the other three schools, covering the face is not obligatory per se but is highly recommended (mustahabb). However, even according to the latter opinion, covering the face becomes obligatory at certain times: for example, when a woman is wearing makeup or jewelry, or when she is extremely beautiful and there is a fear of temptation (fitnah). So, in brief, there are two scholarly opinions about the issue of niqab: It is either obligatory (fard) or highly recommended (mustahabb).

Which of the two opinions is correct? To be honest, I do not know. I have read articles that argue that niqab is obligatory, and I consider many of their reasons to be sound. I have also read books that argue that the niqab is not obligatory, and again I find many of their reasons to be convincing. So, I guess it is best if we leave argumentation for the scholars. To me, Islam is not the religion of argumentation: it is the religion of piety, submission and obedience.

Should I wear something that is obligatory? Should I wear something that is highly recommended? I would answer ‘Yes’ to both questions. Let us think mathematically. There are these four situations:

  1. If the niqab is obligatory (fard) and I cover my face: I am doing something that Allah has commanded me to do.
  2. If the niqab is obligatory and I do not cover my face: I may be committing a sin.
  3. If the niqab is highly recommended (mustahabb) and I cover my face: I am doing something that Allah loves me to do and for which I will receive heavenly rewards.
  4. If the niqab is recommended and I do not cover my face: I am neglecting something that Allah loves me to do.

So, all in all, if I wear the niqab, I will be on the safe side, regardless of which scholarly opinion was correct. Why should I not do as the Prophet, peace be upon him, taught:

Leave that which makes you doubt for that which does not make you doubt. (Nawawi 40)

To the eyes of many Westerners, covering the face may appear to be an extreme practice. This is because the West itself is an extremist civilization. For someone who neither prays nor fasts, praying five times a day and fasting an entire month seems to be too much. Likewise, for someone who is used to seeing women who cover almost nothing (as if all men on the street were their husbands), women who cover almost everything are considered to be extremists.

In Islam, however, the criterion of judgement is not the social norms of any Western or Eastern society. Our criterion of judgement is the Shari’ah. According to the most lenient fiqhi opinion, the awrah of a woman is her entire body except the face and the hands. The awrah means the minimum area that we must cover. It does not mean the maximum. If we go beyond the minimum requirement, we are not being extreme. In the same way that praying five times a day is the required minimum, while a Muslim can choose to perform extra (Sunnah) prayers in addition to the obligatory prayers out of his love for Allah.

My sister in Islam, Muhajjabah, writes in her website:

Hijab is a command from Allah. Sisters draw near to Him through wearing hijab. Clearly, doing more than has been commanded is a way to draw still nearer to Allah. When a sister is already covering everything but her face and her hands, and she would like to do something extra to seek the Love of Allah, the only things left for her to cover are: her face and her hands…How can it be ‘extreme’ to wear the niqab when her face and her hands are the only things that the Muslim sister has uncovered in public to begin with?’ (1)

So, my second reason for wearing the niqab is the following: Wearing the niqab is either obligatory or recommended. If it be obligatory, it is best to wear it. If it be recommended, again it is best to wear it. That is because we are not needless of heavenly rewards. Because whether it be obligatory or recommended, it is a way for us to get closer to Allah. Allah Himself says in a Sacred Tradition (Hadith Qudsi):

My slave approaches Me with nothing more beloved to Me

Than what I have made obligatory (fard) upon him,

And My slave keeps drawing nearer to Me

With voluntary works and devotions

Until I love him.

And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears,

His sight with which he sees,

His hand with which he grasps

His foot with which he walks

If he asks me, I will give to him.

If he seeks refuge in Me, I will protect him. (Nawawi 37)

[To be continued, Insha Allah]