In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful
Assalaamu `alaykum waRahmatullahi Wabarakatuh
Amongst the most common questions asked by non-Muslims is why do Muslim women have to cover themselves. Although many have misunderstood the concept of hijāb in Islām and associated it with oppression and injustice, this could not be further from the truth. Ironically, it is this same hijāb that has granted women honor and safeguarded them from the evils in society.
Before analyzing the wisdom and purpose of the hijāb, it is essential to clarify that the main reason a woman wears a hijāb is due to the fact that her Lord has commanded her to wear it. Allāh says in the Qur’ān:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُلْ لِأَزْوَاجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَاءِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِنْ جَلَابِيبِهِنَّ (الأحزاب: 59)
O Prophet, tell your wives, daughters, and the women of the believers to draw their veils over their bodies (Qur’ān 33:59)
Islām means submission. A Muslim submits to the commandments of his/her Lord regardless of whether he/she can perceive the wisdoms behind those rulings. A Muslim first follows the instructions of Allāh and then, in an attempt to make his/her faith and conviction even stronger, tries to understand the wisdom behind the ruling. A Muslim’s following of a decree is not subject to his/her understanding of its wisdom and purpose. Only after comprehending this basic principle in the life of a Muslim can a person now try to investigate the question of why do women have to do hijāb.
In another verse mentioning the ruling of the hijāb, the Qur’ān says:
وَقُلْ لِلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَى جُيُوبِهِنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَائِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَائِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي أَخَوَاتِهِنَّ أَوْ نِسَائِهِنَّ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُنَّ أَوِ التَّابِعِينَ غَيْرِ أُولِي الْإِرْبَةِ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ أَوِ الطِّفْلِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يَظْهَرُوا عَلَى عَوْرَاتِ النِّسَاءِ وَلَا يَضْرِبْنَ بِأَرْجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعْلَمَ مَا يُخْفِينَ مِنْ زِينَتِهِنَّ وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ (النور: 31)
And tell the believing women to lower their gaze, protect their private parts, not show off their adornment except only that which is apparent, draw their veils over their bosoms, and not reveal their adornment except to their: husbands, fathers, husband’s fathers, sons, husband’s sons, sister’s sons, women, [female] slaves, male attendants who have no [sexual] urge, or children who have no sense of the shames of women. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal the adornment they conceal. And repent to Allāh, O believers, that you may be successful (Qur’ān 24:31)
In addition to commanding women to lower their gaze and not become attracted to the beauty of others, the Qur’ān commands them to also not become a source of others raising their gazes towards them and becoming attracted to them. Allāh orders women to adopt modesty and not reveal their adornments, except that which is apparent (such as their outer garments, for example), to anyone who is not from amongst the categories detailed in the verse. Furthermore, women are advised against actions, such as stamping their feet, for instance, which attract attention towards themselves and their beauty. Hence, it becomes clear that one of the purposes of the hijāb for women is to be modest and not attract attention towards their beauty.
By adopting modesty and not attracting attention, a woman retains her honor and respect within society. Unfortunately, due to the lack of such modesty, vice has become rampant and the honor of women has significantly dropped. Where a woman was once regarded as the queen of her house, she has now been reduced to a sexual commodity where her body and beauty is used to advertise practically any product one can imagine to thousands of viewers everyday. She is not regarded for her intelligence, capabilities, or skills. Rather, her beauty is utilized for the mere amusement of others and the advertisement of products. Take note of the magazine ads, TV commercials, billboards, and all other forms of advertising where a woman’s beauty is utilized to appeal to a larger audience. Even worse, due to not displaying modesty but rather exposing one’s beauty, vices, such as flirting, fornication, and adultery, have ransacked society causing moral degeneration and leading to the breakup of marriages, spreading of disease, and the sexual abuse of women.
Although the Qur’ān has also instructed men to lower their gazes and dress appropriately, it has not commanded them to wear a hijāb. A woman is much more in need of covering her beauty than a man to protect her honor from being violated. Women are the victims of most sexual attacks, not men, and they are the ones to suffer most of the harms, such as pregnancies resulting from rape. Consider the following statistics reported by Duke University on their website:
– According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 6 women in the US have experienced an attempted or completed sexual assault
– The US Department of Justice reports that a woman is raped every 90 seconds
– Even worse is the situation in South Africa, according to UNISA, where a woman is raped every 26 seconds! Imagine how many women have been abused just in the time it takes to read this answer (http://wc.studentaffairs.duke.edu/sass/edu_info/topics/statistics.html).
When a woman practices modesty and does not display her beauty to others by donning on the hijāb, she does not attract sexual attention towards herself. Instead, she sends an immediate message to anyone who looks towards her about her dignified nature, thus closing the door that leads to evils such as flirtation, fornication, and worse. In addition, she demands recognition for her capabilities, intelligence, and skill set, rather than be a sexual object displayed on a billboard in order to advertise and sell products. It is through this modesty which a woman displays while wearing the hijāb that not only safeguards her from having her honor violated, but, in fact, raises her respect and grants her true recognition in society.
And Allah knows best
Wassalam u Alaikum
Ml. Abrar Mirza,
Student Darul Iftaa
Checked and Approved by:
Mufti Ebrahim Desai
Darul Iftaa, Madrassah In’aamiyyah