- Kamil Khan
First of all, let me be very clear that Hijab does not mean a Veil at all. A veil is only a piece of cloth. Hijab on the other hand is a complete code-of-conduct.
Before we take a look at the verses of Quran that speak of Hijab, let us understand the difference between the nature of men and women. For 4 years of engineering, I travelled from my hometown to my college in Mumbai Suburban Trains. Now these First-Class compartments always have a small window into the ladies’ section. And all those 4 years, I saw peeping Toms always ogling at girls getting in at every station. Women on the other hand were hardly interested in peeping on this side, except a few aunties who wanted to teach such men a lesson. So what I’m trying to point here is that there is a very clear and obvious difference between nature of men and women on the same issue. No man can deny the fact that he feels excited on seeing a girl in skimpy clothes. If he does not feel excited, then he needs a medical check-up. The reverse is also true, but only to a very small extent. However, having said that, it doesn’t mean that even if a girl is skimpily dressed a man can ogle at her. Even that is wrong. So the mistake is on both the sides. Both men and women should maintain decency in clothing and control their desires. It has to be equal on both sides.
This is when I looked at the verses in the Quran and yet again, they didn’t fail to amaze me. As I said earlier, Hijab is a complete code of conduct. And believe it or not, if you read Chapter 24 of the Quran from the beginning, it does define a code-of-conduct for both men and women, EQUALLY. Yes, maybe not the same, but they are fairly and justly equal. They ensure the protection of chastity of men & women from every side.
I would have loved to Quote all the verses from the beginning here, but that would be too much. So just to summarize, the chapter starts by stating the punishment for illegal sexual intercourse. It continues further to save women from false charges. Any person accusing a woman of such an act must produce four witnesses. If he fails to produce four witnesses, he will be punished and his testimonies will never ever be accepted in any other case too (unless he repents and turns a very righteous person). Then it asks people not to believe in those accusations unless proved. It goes further to ask people to take permissions before entering someone’s house. Even if there is no-one in the house, the house owners’ permission is necessary. And then there are the verses that we are interested in right now. Verse 30 asks men to lower their gazes on seeing women and to protect their private parts from wrong use.
“Tell the believing men to lower their gazes and protect their private parts (from wrong use). That is purer for them. Verily God is All-Aware of what they do.”
And then, the most important verse of discussion.
“Say to the believing women that they should lower their gazes and protect their private parts and not to reveal their adornments- except what is normally apparent thereof, and they should fold their shawls over their bosoms. They can only reveal their adornments to their husbands, fathers, their husband’s fathers, or their sons or their husband’s sons or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or their sisters’ sons or their maid servants or their slaves or their male attendants who have no sexual desires or children who still have no carnal knowledge of women. Nor should they swing their feet to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. Believers, turn to God for forgiveness so that you prosper.”
Had the Quran stopped at this point it would have been a bit unfair. Because just asking men to lower their gazes might not be the complete solution. So it continues. It asks all single men to marry if they are financially well off. This will give them the much needed stability in their lives also keep their wishful desires under check. As for those men who cannot marry now for financial reasons, the Quran asks them to keep themselves chaste till God provides the means.
“Marry those among you who are single, and those of your slaves and maids who are fit (for marriage). If they are poor, God will provide for them from his bounty, for God’s bounty is infinite and he is All-Knowing.”
“Those who do not have the means to marry should keep themselves chaste until God grants them enough out of His bounty…”
[Quran 24:32, 33]
From authentic Hadiths, we know, that unmarried men have been advised to fast. Fasting in Islam means of a lot more than just staying hungry, it means to exercise complete self-restrain from many desires including hunger, sexual desires, lies, etc. Hence fasting will prevent unmarried men from committing unlawful activities.
No feminist ever objects like, “Hey!! Why haven’t the unmarried girls asked to fast to protect them from unlawful activities??” Apparently because they want to avoid an additional command, isn’t it? Well, God knows very well what He has created. He knows the nature of His creation better than we do ourselves. Hence He advices the women to guard their chastity from those lusty eyes that role towards them. He provides the solution too i.e. an additional shawl over their normal clothing so that they don’t reveal their figures. And He asks the men, whom He has created with a lot more sexual desires, to keep their desires under control and has also given them the solutions like marriage and fasting. Isn’t this just and fair? If a man is not able to keep his desires under check and is not fasting or doing anything about it, then he is as much at fault as the women wearing skimpy clothes. Don’t women have any problems with men ogling at them? They should at least ask their brothers and fathers how they feel when people ogle at their sisters and daughters.
So as we see, Hijab is much more than just clothing. It includes all manners and behavior including the way one speaks, walks, behaves, etc. Clothing is just a part of it. Let us look at the Clothing part of the Hijab as understood from the authentic Hadiths; and let us see if it really differs for men and women.
One can establish 6 criteria from authentic Hadiths.
1. The extent of compulsory clothes for men is from his navel to knees. For women, it is from neck to ankles. Now this difference is for obvious reasons. And this is the only criterion that is different for men and women.
2. The clothes worn should be loose and should not reveal the figure.
3. The clothes worn should not be transparent such that one can see through them.
4. The clothes worn should not be so glamorous as to attract the opposite sex.
5. The clothes worn should not resemble that of the opposite sex.
6. The clothes worn should not resemble that of the unbelievers. For example, dressing like a Pandit in saffron colors.
So there is no difference in the prescribed clothing for men and women. The only difference is in the extent of minimum area to be covered, and that I think is fair, considering the physical differences and difference in characteristics. Other criteria are all the same. Men and women have been subjected to equal restrictions in clothing. As such, Islam does not prescribe any particular type of clothes for anyone. People are free to wear any clothes they want depending on their choice, regional customs, etc if those clothes are decent and modest.
But when it comes to women’s clothing, this threshold of decency and modesty has been smartly and systematically reduced by men in today’s world. This problem was nowhere in picture till World War I. The rights which have been given to women today are not something that were granted voluntarily by men out of respect for females. Modern woman had to force her way to the present position and circumstances came to her aid. Shortage of manpower during wars, pressure of economic needs and requirements of industrial developments forced women to get out of their home. These rights had already been given to women by Islam 1300 years ago. However they were all regulated and protected by the laws that suit her nature, give her security and protect her against misuse, disgraceful circumstances, etc. Women today have been given all the rights, but at the expense of some very important things. My mothers and sisters need to understand that the liberation that a man talks about might be a disguised form of exploitation of her body and degradation of her soul. The society that speaks about upgrading women’s status today has actually reduced her status to that of concubines and society butterflies in the hands of pleasure seekers disguised behind the colorful screen of culture. Why else do we need a bikini-clad girl in a car-battery’s advertisement? Why else do we see thin long wrists with red nail polish holding a hand of a guy shaving in a razor’s advertisement? Why else are air-hostesses kicked out of their jobs after they turn 30? Why else don’t men get the job of desk and call attendants? Think!!
Another common misconception is that it is only Islam that asks women to cover their body. No, it is not an Islamic monopoly. In fact other religions are much strict when it comes to proper dressing for women. We know very well the concept of proper clothing for women in Indian culture. As for the west that generally ‘claims to’ follow Christianity, let me remind them of how strict the Bible is in this matter.
“If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved off, she should cover her head.”
[Bible, 1 Corinthians 11:6]
As I write on this topic here, the French government has banned the veil calling it “oppression”. As such, a black colored dress is not something prescribed by Islam. Anything that hides the figure of a woman is enough. And even when it comes to wearing those clothes, I haven’t seen a single woman being forced to wear them by any man. Forcing is completely unislamic. The Quran says, “There is no compulsion in religion”. But if a woman herself prefers to wear something like that, then stopping her from doing that is surely a violation of her right and freedom. You have every right to make laws that put a man behind bars if he forces a woman to wear a particular kind of dress. But you cannot stop a woman from wearing an additional covering for her body, calling it oppression.