Pamelia khaled: This article touch upon double standards applied to Muslims women in Canada and across the world. Some talk about the veil/hijab/nikab/ hand gloves, others about women leadership, and others about terrorism about Muslims.
The diversity of the subject matter is indicative of the range of voices in the growing Muslim community. The way Muslim issues are discussed everywhere that is not the definitive view of what is a true Muslim. Part of the problem with media representation is some people talking about all sorts of issues randomly without pursuing knowledge in it. They just become the Muslim voice or non-Muslim voice; it would be great to have more than one point of view.
When we see the veil, hijab or even the niqab, we must not change the ideas of diversity. We must not be fearful and standoffish, and worried, just be understanding, and actually not see conservative Muslim women, as the offender or the person to be feared, but rather see them as vulnerable and someone who wants to be understood.
In the doldrums of Islamphobia and ISIS movement across the world and their declaration to convert entire world population into Muslims and Islamic states, a new fatwa is ruled by a Saudi Cleric against wearing Hijab. The fatwa was issued by Saudi Arabia’s former head of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice in Makkah, Ahmed bin Qassim al-Ghamidi. He said that “Islam doesn’t require women to wear veil,” adding that women can put makeup on, take pictures for themselves and post them on social media networks. The Saudi cleric said that “there is nothing wrong if a woman showed her face or put make-up.”
He goes on to add that as far as to claim that only the wives of prophet (MPBUH) “were required to wear Hijab so that adult males outside of their immediate family couldn’t see them.” To support his claims, he quoted a previous saying of the Palestinian Islamic scholar Ibn Qudamah al-Maqdqsi in which he said that “if the woman’s face and hands were intimate parts of her body, it would not be Haram for her to cover them while performing Al Haj. Ahmed bin Qassim al-Ghamidi goes on to add instead of blaming women, the blame should put on men who are required to lower their gaze. The Saudi cleric quoted Morocco’s scholar Qadi Ayyad, who once said: It’s not mandatory for woman to cover her face outside her house, but it is a Sunna Mustahaba_ (preferable not obligatory). Men, on the other hand, shall lower their gaze.” Morocco World News posted the above news on 6th December 2014.
It is not clear how Muslim women started wearing veil/ hijab in Mecca and across the Muslim world. Was it imposed in the name of Islamic rule by men or not. Or it became a norm for women to get identified her high status in the society, need to be clear.
Covering women’s head loosely was the old tradition in Saudi Arabia, Persia, Asia and Europe, the tradition was present in Arabia before Muhammad. Professor Reza Aslan, a Harvard Professor of Theology thinks that the hijab or ‘veil is surprisingly, not enjoyed upon Muslim women anywhere in the Quran’. However, the “verse of hijab”was revealed not for general women; however it was exclusively to Prophet’s wives. It says, “believers, do not enter the Prophets’ house…unless asked. And if you are invited…do not linger. And when you ask something from the prophet’s wives, do so from hijab. This will assure the purity of your hearts as well as theirs”(33:53). This restriction was made as at that time Prophet’s house was the centre of religious and social life, a community mosque. Aslan asserts that the veil was applied solely on Muhammad’s wives, the word is used donning the veil –“ darabat al-hijab, was used synonymously and interchangeably with “ becoming Muhammad’s wife” For this reason during the prophet’s time , no other women in the Ummah observed hijab”. It is difficult to determine exact the moment, possibly Muslim women followed Prophet’s wives but it was most likely after prophet’s death. However, it was determined by other scholars as well, Aslan cites from Leila Ahmed, she correctly observes, “nowhere in the whole of the Quran is the term hijab applied to any women other than the wives of Muhammad”.
Head covering was used even during the 13th century B.C as a sign of high status of elite, respectable women. However, in ancient time this Assyrian rule was not imposed on the slaves and prostitutes.
Veil was used in Greeks, the Romans, Zoroastrians, Jews and pagan Arabs. Women in India and Bangladesh also covered their head even pre date Islam as a sign of respectable woman.
MAamer Sarfraz, a consultant psychiatrist & director of medical education in England, she describes in her article ‘the idea of hijab’ “females in some Hindu castes in India also practiced a form of hijab called ghoonghat that might pre-date Islam. In Jewish tradition, cursed was the husband whose wife’s hair was seen, as it was believed to invite poverty into the house. Similarly in Christian tradition, a woman without head-cover dishonoured her head and it equated to her hair being shaved off”. She further notes that “as late as the Middle Ages, European Royalty and the elite wore the veil with or without headgear. Some Christian sects in the West, Africa and in the Middle East still do. Nuns of most denominations still wear the ‘hijab’”.
Most scholars are agreed that provisions of the hijab were revealed to prophet’s wives to uphold their holiness. Prophet asked his wives to cover entire body part with veil/ cloak to distinguish them from the commoners (as prophet was revealed through Quran) and asked public not to enter his home without his permission and knocking at the door. During the reign of Prophet Muhammad, Prophet came in contact to public and political associations in the mosque and at his home, courtyard and there was very limited privacy for his wives. Quranic verses clear public’s entrance to prophet’s home saying that there must be a boundary of entering men to prophet’s home while prophet is in rest during day or night time.
It is true that maintain purity and piety Quran suggest for both men and women regarding their clothing, the organs of reproduction, especially the external organs and the way they should look (gaze) to others. For women, it was specific not to express her beauty to unknown men besides husband and close relatives (distinguished relatives only) and cover her bosoms with shawl/chador when going outdoors.
According to the Quranic verse, Muslim women were also asked to use extra cover on their upper body part, bosoms (not hijab/ nikab) to be distinguished as Muslim women, so they can save themselves from teasing by evil men on the street during that time (according to hadith, an explanation of the verse: in a regular religious meeting, neo-Muslim women asked to prophet a solution how they can save themselves from the evil passerby), Aiyame Jaheliat’s era.
There is a possibility prophet’s suggestion moved Muslim men and women, in suspense for more rewards in the after world, to implement veils/ hijab towards women. Exploring the Quranic verses, it reveals that the rules of wearing hijab and nikab, or covering face and palm are not mandatory/ compulsory for Muslim women. For a Muslim woman it is her choice/ personal preference to keep her faith up, if she wants to follow the suggestion was made for prophet’s wives, as it is a part of sunnah (Sunni Muslims follow what prophet did in his lifetime). However, it is important to note that wearing veil, hijab, nikab, hand gloves etc. are not obligatory for Muslim women, as hijab, the headdress; an article of clothing is not mentioned in the Quran.
Thus, Hijab is not a religious obligation in Islam, as it has no religious significance. It was not imposed as a moral value on Muslim women. We must be responsible to share the meaning of veil/cloak and wearing hijab/nikab and use of hand gloves for Muslim women, as this is a momentum to give back women, their equal status as human being and freeing women and empower them to choose what they want for their lives. We need to share knowledge to remove the veil of ignorance and reduce the gap between Islamic a non-Islamic thoughts, specifically the information is harmful for women and Islam.
Amartya Sen, a renowned social scientist and noble laureate discusses that “human beings have always lived in groups, and their individual lives have invariably depended on group decisions. But the challenges of group choice can be daunting, particularly given the divergent interests and concerns of the group’s members. So, how should collective decision-making be carried out”? This group or social choice is discussed from the economic context of worldly wise philosophy. When we discuss a social choice and individual life from religious context; then, it is no longer only worldly naive issue, it is much deeper thoughts that are related to person’s faith and after world. It may be Muslim women’s choice thus need to stop objectification of women.
Thus the relevance of nikab/ hijab/ veil for women, from the religious aspect is extensive to both group of men and women who are conservative and modern Muslims. We need to explore the proclivity of using veil /hijab /nikab in the past and modern context. Hijab/ Veil: was it a suggestion for Muslim women only, or a revelation, a rule for prophet’s wives case. Is it a social choice made by men or individual preference? Or hijab is a purely religious faith that women can choose undermining the pursuit of social reasoning. Or else, choosing not wearing veil can be followed by an individual choice, as it is not obligatory. Need to remember first, hijab/veil is not an Islamic rule/fatwa, only a suggestion for the sunnah believers (who believes in prophet’s daily doings). At this moment world is suffering of Islamphobic and terrorism; thus, this hijab concept brought a dichotomy in the decision among the conservative and modern Muslim men and women across the globe?
To avoid biasness let’s not see hijab, a symbol of degradation of women, from post modernist view, and not to observe Islam from the view of Western cultural hegemony, a religion, a social system, a complete failure that pushes women to backwardness, which is misleading. Aslan reminds us “ Those who treat the Muslim woman not as an individual but as a symbol either of Islamic chastity or secular liberalism are guilty of the same sin: the objectification of women”.
However women are subordinated around the world, since ancient time, which is universal. Thinking critically about veils/hijab/ has immense impact on our ability to think rationally about a religious, sensitive issue and collective decision-making on which women’s survival and happiness depend, as women are the worst sufferer in the many part of the world because of veil of ignorance and lack of knowledge, proper education and awareness in women and men. Therefore, veil or Hijab/ nikab and hand gloves, a social choice or religious faith, we must not leave this choice on women only, we need to clarify and educate women and men of its use, justification and context collectively. Nevertheless, it is a decision of Muslim women to decide hijab for themselves, it is not men or any state can impose hijab on women, or define what is exact Muslim womanhood, after women perceive the knowledge the reasoning of hijab.
The writer is Doctoral Candidate in Curriculum Studies and Teacher Development
Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE)
Research Assistant, University of Toronto
Founder-President Volunteer Association for Bangladesh Canada (VAB-Canada)