Hijab: The Quran, Muslim culture and style


The concept of decency and modesty has clearly been emphasised by Islam in the interaction between members of the opposite sex in which dress code plays a major role. In the Qur’an, there are two verses in which Almighty Allah talks about the issue of decency and hijab as defined earlier.
In Chapter 24 known as an-Nur (the Light), in verse 30, Allah commands Prophet Muhammad as follows:
“Say to the believing men that: they should cast down their glances and guard their private parts (by being chaste). This is better for them.”
Muslim men are commanded not to look at women lustfully (other than their wives); and to prevent any possibility of temptation, they are required to cast their glances downwards.
This is known as “hijab of the eyes”. In the second verse, Allah commands the Prophet to address the women:
“Say to the believing women that: they should cast down their glances and guard their private parts (by being chaste)…”
This is a similar command as given to the men in the previous verse regarding “hijab of the eyes”.
This hijab of the eyes is similar to the teaching of Jesus where he says, “You have heard that it was said by them of old time, you shall not commit adultery. But I say unto you,that whosoever looks on a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.
So, whenever a Muslim is seen casting his/her eyes downwards when he/she is talking to a member of opposite sex, this should not be considered as rude or an indication of lack of confidence, but an obedience to Allah”s command in the Quran.
After “hijab of the eyes” came the order describing the dress code for women:
“…and not display their beauty except what is apparent, and they should place their khumur over their bosoms…”
There are two issues about this verse, First is the meaning of “khumur” and “placing the khumur over the bosoms.”
Khumur is plural of khimar which means the veil covering the head. Other Arabic dictionaries such as Al-Munjid, which is the most popular dictionary in the Arab world, defines al-khimar as “something with which a woman conceals her head, other dictionaries define al-khimar as “scarf, and it is known as such because the head is covered with it.
So, the word khimar, by definition, means a piece of cloth that covers the head.
Then the issue of “placing the khumur over the bosoms”
According to the commentators of the Qur’an, the women of Medina in the pre-Islamic era used to put their khumur over the head with the two ends tucked behind and tied at the back of the neck, in the process, exposing their ears and neck. By saying that, “place the khumur over the bosoms,” Almighty Allah ordered the women to let the two ends of their headgear extend onto their bosoms, so that they conceal their ears, the neck, and also the upper part of the bosom.
This is confirmed by the way the Muslim women of the Prophet’s era understood this commandment of Almighty Allah. ‘A’isha, the Prophet’s wife, said:
“I have not seen women better than those of al-Ansar (the inhabitants of Medina):
when this verse was revealed, all of them got hold of their aprons, tore them apart, and used them to cover their heads…”
The meaning of khimar and the context in which the verse was revealed clearly talks about concealing the head and then using the loose ends of the scarf to conceal the neck and the bosom. It is absurd to believe that the Qur’an would use the word khimar (which, by definition, means a cloth that covers the head) only to conceal the bosom with the exclusion of the head! It would be akin to saying put on a shirt only around the belly or the waist without covering the chest!
Finally, the verse goes on to give the list of the mahram – male family members in whose presence the hijab is not required, such as the husband, the father, the father-inlaw, the son(s), and others.UntitledThe second verse in the Quran that talks about decency and Hijab is in Chapter 33 known as al-Ahzab, verse 59, Allah gives the following commands to Prophet Muhammad:
“O Prophet! Say to your wives, your daughters, and the women of the believers that: they should let down upon themselves their jalabib.”
Jalabib means a loose outer garment. Other Arabic dictionaries see it as “the shirt or a wide dress” wider than the scarf and shorter than a robe, that a woman puts on her head and lets it down on her bosom…
This means that the Islamic dress code for women does not only consist of a scarf that covers the head, the neck and the bosom; it also includes the overall dress that should be long and loose.
So, it means that, the combination of a tight, short sweater with tight-fitting jeans with a scarf over the head does not fulfill the requirements of the Islamic dress code.
Muslim Culture and Style.
It is quite probable that these socalled experts of Islam and of the Middle East have confused the basic order of the Qur’an with the style of hijab worn by Muslim women of various ethnic backgrounds.
The requirement of hijab is a Qur’anic command. The basic requirement is that a Muslim woman should cover her head and bosom with a khimar (a head covering), and her body with a jilbab (a loose over-garment). Of course, she can leave her face and hands open.
When it comes to the style, colour, and material of the khimar and jilbab, each Muslim ethnic group can follow the Qur’anic injunction according to their cultural background. The variety in styles of implementing the same Qur’anic law is so because Islam is a world religion, it cannot be confined to one region or tribe or culture.
Therefore, you see that the Muslim women in Arabia use ‘abaya; the Persian Muslim women use chador; the Afghani Muslim women use burqa; the Indo-Pakistani Muslim women use niqab or purdah; the Malaysian/Indonesian Muslim women use kerudung; the East African Muslim women use buibui; and now in the West, the Canadian Muslim women use mainstream clothes worn with a bigger scarf over the head and a loose outfit.
Islam is not concerned with the style as long as it fulfills the basic requirement of khimar and jilbab. This is where the religion and culture interact with each other, and therein lies the dynamic aspect of the Islamic shari‘a; and this interaction might have confused some of the so-called experts of Islam, who erroneously believe that hijab is a cultural tradition and not a religious requirement.