Saturday, 4 May 2019

The meaning of hijab from the Quran.

After colonization, the hijab, for the first time, became a contentious issue among Muslims. The colonizers saw it as a symbol of our oppression, then the Islamists turned it around and made it into a symbol of our freedom. Some question the veil altogether. But the hijab is much more than a socio-political issue, so let's return to the Quran and try to understand the concept.

The first verse is 24:31, which tells believing women to (1) lower their gaze, (2) guard their private parts, (3) to not expose their beauty except that which is apparent by necessity, (4) to draw their khimar over their cleavage, (5) to not stamp their feet, ringing their anklets (which had little bells in those days) to draw attention to themselves.

Some here say "aha! There's no mention of a headcovering", forgetting that a khimar in Arabic is precisely a headscarf. According to Quranic exegetes, before this verse was revealed, Arab women would wear a flowing scarf on their head, and drape it behind their backs, exposing their necks and upper chest. This was done after the manner of the Nabateans of Northern Arabia and Iraq. The verse therefore mandates that women were to take their khimar and close it from the front as well. Every traditional Islamic legal school requires a headcovering (among other coverings) for free Muslim women.

What is the reasoning provided in the Quran? 33:59 provides two explicit reasons:

(1) So that they may be recognized. Clothing is a source of identification, and when a woman wears a khimar, we know what her rights are. There are specific laws in Islam pertaining to ritual purity, food, marriage, charity, testimonies, status, and crime where the religion of a person matters - so the khimar allows people to recognize her religion without bothering her. Part of this recognition may also be a way to raise society's moral standards, identifying the muhajjiba as a free, respectful, trustworthy woman who should not tolerate injustice or base degeneracy in her surroundings. It is also a means for da`wa - many people use the khimar as a conversation ice-breaker.

(2) So that they may not be harassed. Of course covered sisters still face harassment, catcalling, and even rape, all of which is reprehensible. But this verse associates harassment with clothing. Of course, no woman should be harassed because of their clothing. But we know that harassment is not just motivated by "power" hunger, but by visual stimulus - according to the US Department of Justice, the overwhelming majority of female victims of sexual violence are young adults and teenagers; not children and the elderly. We also know that clothing has communicative intent; it is a means by which many people explicitly or subtly broadcast their sexuality. In the same way we dress a certain way to a job interview to give a certain impression, your clothing is a message and a presentation. So in a society where women dress promiscuously, and expect men to also "make the first move" and be "confident and assertive", they will absolutely attract looks, stares, comments, awkward conversations, sleazy pick-up artists, DM slides, and other forms of unwanted attention. Many women will attest that what they wear effects how people react to them in public.

The purpose of clothing in the Quran is to project elegance and cover shame and nakedness (7:26). In all instances, the hijab protects something sensitive from those who have not demonstrated a sincere connection to it. It prevents both intentional and accidental harm from coming to the object of value. Only those who have demonstrated a sincerity to the gem beyond the barrier can access its excellence. 

The highest form of hijab is Allah’s. The hijab of Allah is Light. Allah’s Light is simultaneously both guidance to Him and a barrier between the creation and His Essence. On the Day of Mi`raj, Allah raised His Prophet (s) nearer than two bow lengths to His divine presence (53:9), passed the Light that Jibra’il could not permeate, all the way up to Sidrat al-Muntaha. The mi`raj was the ultimate unveiling to the sincerest servant of the divine.

The hijab therefore is not just purely a horizontal (dunyawi) phenomenon, it is a vertical symbol that connects the celestial world (samawat) and the material world (ard). And so the ideal hijab is one that inspires guidance, but also preserves mystery from the unwanted outsider. And what is better to say than the fact that the verse of hijab was mentioned in Surat al-Noor, the chapter of Light…

Some of our sisters are not spiritually ready for the khimar. My advice to those sisters is to be patient, understand the meaning of the veil, and make those steps towards it. You can start by limiting your privacy settings on social media, and deleting unnecessary pictures. This can be a first step towards humility, as it takes some to delete pictures with many likes and “encouraging” comments. Then they can start gowning the veil at certain settings. Then finally, once your imaan is up and shaytan is gone, take advantage of the moment and gown it with confidence. Allah will assist you with your effort and reward your abundantly. Remember that this world is fleeting and insatiable, and that which is with Allah is everlasting and fulfilling. May Allah forgive us all for our shortcomings.

“We have not sent down to you the Qur'an that you be distressed, but only as a reminder for those who fear.” (20:2-3)

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