Literal Meaning of Hijab:
The word Hijab literally means a curtain or veil. It comes from the Arabic word ‘Hajaba’ meaning to hide from view or conceal and is best understood by exploring the Islamic concept of modesty. Muslim men and women are required to be modest while mingling with unrelated members of the opposite gender. Hijab is a requirement for both genders, despite the physical hijab outwardly appearing different for both. The content of our speech, the way we communicate, the way we laugh and joke around, our behaviour and social etiquette in general should all be transmitted to the other party in a way that attracts the least amount of the wrong form of attention. Additionally, we are required to “lower our gazes” and respect other men or women by not eyeing them from head to toe (i.e. checking them out). Similarly, the physical Hijab establishes healthy distances of physical contact (not even a handshake with the opposite gender!). Lastly, this modesty must also be manifested in the way we dress.
In order to appear modest, Muslim women are required by their faith to observe the most visible form of the Hijab in public – the headscarf to cover our hair and full-length clothing to conceal the shape of our bodies. Non-Muslims often ponder how it is possible and why a woman would ever voluntarily want to conceal what every other woman takes pride in revealing – her beauty. From a very long list, presented below are the most common reasons why Muslim women observe the Hijab.
To Please Our Creator:
Muslims recognise God Almighty as the grand creator and supreme authority over the universe, and hence the religion He has sent – Islam – is a complete way of life for us. Accordingly, Divine law is followed at all times, and submitting to God’s commandments is in itself a form of worship. After telling Muslim men to lower their gazes, the Holy Qur’an reminds women: “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that they should not display their beauty and ornaments, except what (ordinarily) appear thereof.” (24:31) In line with this Qur’anic verse, we do not display our beauty simply because it is the command of our Lord!
Taking a Stand against Female Exploitation:
Since the beginning of time, women have always been exploited. Known for our gentleness, delicateness, and beauty, women are often used as mere objects to attract men or sell products and services. Unfortunately, today a woman’s physical beauty is likened to a man’s trophy, to be shown off to the whole world. In an interview with former rapper “Napoleon” from Tupac Shakur’s band, the OutLawz, revert Mutah Beale said, “The music industry is where they really exploit and degrade women. We’d pay them a hundred bucks to strip for our music videos, and they’d do it!” Sadly, women have become well accustomed to this routine and also take pride in displaying their beauty. But what Muslim women realise is that our beauty is sacred and certainly not for any random man to gawk at for pleasure.
A Source of Protection:
If there is any good in impressing random men with our beauty (intentionally or unintentionally), then surely we would all know about it. Despite all the technological advancements in 2010, our moral values continue to plummet. One in six girls in the United States is sexually assaulted by the time she is 18. According to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in 2007, over 12 thousand women were sexually harassed. This means at least one woman is sexually harassed in the workplace every 20 minutes. (It is noteworthy that the majority of incidents are not officially reported, and these statistics are probably grossly understated.) Of course, it is the men who are to be blamed for harassing women, yet the woman who fails to realise that dressing in a way which is so strikingly appealing (particularly when working in a male-dominated environment) is only asking for trouble is part of the problem as well. Regardless of where the blame lies, there is only one way by which a woman can guard herself against such evils, and that is why Hijabi women conceal their beauty in public as much as possible.
Preserving Our Beauty:
Regardless of age or marital status, every female loves attention and being cared for. For most women, satisfying that need comes from compliments of others in private and public. Muslim women who conceal their physical points of attraction in public only seek that attention from their loved ones in private. The logic behind this practise is almost convincing enough to experiment.
Basically by covering up, we demand self-respect from the public, as we do not allow ourselves to be judged based on our beauty (or the lack thereof). On the other hand, our families provide us with the respect and honour we deserve as they realise that we are not letting strange men take a bite of our beauty by way of exposing ourselves, but rather, we are limiting the right to enjoy our beauty to our husbands. In addition, a Muslim woman’s Hijab allows the husband the honour of having a wife who finds him worthy enough to preserve herself only for him. In return, he provides her with all that extra attention that every woman desires. This also satisfies the man’s natural instinct of admiring a woman’s beauty, and thus he has greater motivation to avoid “checking out” random women and to lower his gaze, as his wife doesn’t allow herself to be ogled at and admired by other men either. Often labelled as “jealousy” by so-called Western “relationship experts”, this kind of respect and preserving oneself solely for one’s partner is actually the key to lifelong marital happiness and success.
The Hijab is NOT…
• It does NOT hinder contribution to society.
• It is NOT a symbol of oppression.
• It is NOT required in places where there are only females and close male relatives.
• It is NOT a sign of female inferiority to men.
• It is NOT a means to restrict a woman’s freedom to express her views and opinions.
• It is NOT a means to restrict women from pursuing an education or a suitable career.
• It is NOT a portable prison.
• It is NOT an act of defiance, confrontation or protest against non-Muslims.
• It is NOT something new – it has been practiced by many righteous women historically.
• It is NOT against community values – community values necessitate that people should not be judged by what they wear, nor discriminated against or mistreated, based on their choice of clothing or appearance.
• It is NOT worn with the intention of being intimidating or anti-social.
To Be Judged for Our Worth, Not Our Appearance:
Often labelled as oppressive, many fail to realise that the Hijab truly empowers every female with the ability to control how she is treated and respected in society, her safety, and who deserves to see her beauty, all while making a statement against female exploitation. A woman who observes the Hijab is freeing herself of society’s immoral and disrespectful expectations of her. A female who conceals her beauty has granted herself the power to say to the world “You know what? Everything about me besides my beauty should matter to you.” If wearing miniskirts, low-cut tops, head-turning heels, and layers of makeup in public is the expectation without which a woman in incapable of stepping outside her house, then we have two very different definitions of liberty and self-respect.
In summary, Muslim women wear hijab to obtain the pleasure of Allah (God) and to uphold modesty. Hijab allows a person to focus ‘internally’ rather than thinking about how to adorn one’s body in order to attract attention. Many feel they have to sexualise themselves in order to gain attention from men. What is the reason for this? It is because we always demand from them success and intellect.
Women are valued for their beauty. Industries have been established to capitalise on ‘How to make women look pretty’, focusing on superficial beauty. Islam on the other hand elevates the status of the women in the society by focusing on her individuality rather than the beauty.
All human beings demand respect, and why should we women be treated as mere objects valued or devalued for our beauty or the lack thereof? Why should we let all random and strange men (whether we are friends with them or not) be the judges of our attractiveness? Shouldn’t we preserve ourselves for only those who deserve us?
Islam honoured women, whether as mothers, daughters or sisters.
It honoured women as mothers. It was narrated in one of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad Peace be Upon Him that Abu Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: A man came to the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and said, “O Messenger of Allaah, who among people is most deserving of my good company?” He said, “Your mother.” He asked, “Then who?” He said, “Your mother.” He asked, “Then who?” He said, “Your mother.” He asked, “Then who?” He said, “Then your father.”
(Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5626; Muslim, 2548)
Islam honours women as daughters. It was narrated in one of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad Peace be Upon Him from Abu Sa’eed al-Khudri that the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whoever has three daughters or three sisters, or two daughters or two sisters, and takes good care of them and fears Allaah with regard to them, will enter Paradise.”
(Narrated by Ibn Hibbaan in his Saheeh, 2/190)
And Islam honours women as wives. It was narrated in one of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad Peace be Upon Him that ‘Aa’ishah (wife of the Prophet) said: the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “The best of you are those who are best to their wives, and I am the best of you to my wives.”
(Narrated and classed as hasan by al-Tirmidhi, 3895).
Islam gave women their rights of inheritance and other rights. It gave women rights like those of men in many spheres. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Women are the twin halves of men.” (Narrated by Abu Dawood in his Sunan, 236, from the hadeeth of ‘Aa’ishah; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood, 216).
Islam encourages men to treat their wives well, and gives women the freedom to choose their husbands; it gives women much of the responsibility for raising the children.
Islam gives fathers and mothers a great deal of responsibility for raising their children. It was narrated that ‘Abd-Allaah ibn ‘Umar heard the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say, “Each of you is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The leader is a shepherd and is responsible for his flock. The man is the shepherd of his family and he is responsible for his flock. The woman is the shepherd of her husband’s household and is responsible for her flock. The servant is a shepherd of his master’s wealth and is responsible for his flock.” He said, I heard this from the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him).
Nobel Peace Prize winner, Tawakkul Karman, ‘The mother of Yemen’s revolution,’ when asked about her Hijab by journalists and how it is not proportionate with her level of intellect and education, replied:
“Man in early times was almost naked, and as his intellect evolved he started wearing clothes. What I am today and what I’m wearing represents the highest level of thought and civilization that man has achieved, and is not regressive. It’s the removal of clothes again that is a regression back to the ancient times.”
And that is why Muslim women observe the Hijab.
Islam provides certain guidelines for the benefit of the individual which has an overall positive effect on the society when implemented correctly. It is an act of obedience to the Creator. It’s a source of dignity & empowerment, its an act of purity, liberation and belief. Equality will be achieved when women do not need to display themselves to be valued.