Friday, 10 June 2011

The Correct Islamic Ruling on the Muslim Woman’s Dress

The Correct Islamic Ruling on the Muslim
Woman’s Dress

By Dr. Nazreen Nawaz

The recent plans to introduce anti-hijab laws in France and Germany
have thrown into the limelight once again, numerous discussions
on the Islamic dress code for women. Many have asked, is the hijab
an actual obligation in Islam or an issue of personal choice for
the woman? Should the dress code take a specific form or is it the
right of the woman to decide for herself what she considers as being
modest attire?

There are a few Muslims that argue that the hijab or khimar (headcovering)
is not an Islamic obligation commanded by the Islamic texts but
rather a personal choice of the woman. They argue that it is sufficient
for the woman to dress modestly according to her own opinion of
what modesty entails. For example, Gammal Banna, an Egyptian author
of several books on the rights of Muslim women and brother of the
founder of the Muslim Brotherhood commented, “The head scarf
is not an obligation, but derives from an erroneous reading of the
Koran .. Wearing the headscarf or not is part of a debate on morals
and not on religious obligations ... Whether a woman wears a scarf
or a mini-skirt is a matter of individual liberty.” He also
stated that he did not support the French President’s decision
to ban the hijab because it interfered with the personal choice
of the woman to wear a headscarf.

Such comments have been introduced in recent times by those whose
lives have been afflicted by the western thoughts. Such misguided
notions were noticeably absent throughout the glorious history of
the Islam, over the past thousand years. The commands and prohibitions
of Islam are contained in the texts of Islam, the Quran and Sunnah,
and it is these that one should examine when seeking the rule of
Allah (swt). It is clear that the covering of the hair in the presence
of non-Mahrem men (those men the woman can marry) by the hijab or
khimar is definitely an Islamic obligation (fard) commanded clearly
by the Islamic texts. Allah(swt) says in Surah Nur,

“Let them draw their head-coverings (khumur) over their necks
and chest” [TMQ An-Nur: 31].

The head-coverings (khumur) were worn by the women of Quraish in
the time of the Prophet (saw). They used to cover their heads, and
the cloth would run down their backs exposing their necks and chests.
Hence the command to wear the head-covering specifies also how to
cover (covering all the head, neck and chest).

In one hadith reported by Aisha (ra), she said that Asmaa bint
Abu Bakr entered the quarters of the Messenger of Allah (saw) wearing
thin clothes. The Messenger (saw) turned his face away and said,
“Oh Asmaa, if the woman reaches puberty, it is not allowed
to be seen from her except this and this”, and he pointed
to his face and hands.

Fortunately, most Muslim women understand the hijab as an obligation
but there is often confusion or misconceptions of what the hijab
is, and what the dress code is for the woman in public life. So
some may view the dupatta (the see-through scarf that accompanies
the shalwar kameez) as sufficient even though the hair and neck
can be seen. Some may place a loose scarf over their heads while
some of their hair remains exposed. Some wear the bandanna, covering
all the hair but exposing the ears and neck. Finally, there are
those who may wear the hijab correctly and cover all their hair,
neck and ears but accompany it with a T-shirt and tight jeans or
above ankle skirt, exposing their arms, legs and showing the shape
of their body.

In Islam, the rules pertaining to the covering of the woman both
in private life and in the public arena are not a matter of personal
interpretation according to the concept of modesty, personal choice,
or personal opinion. Rather they are detailed and specific as with
all the Ahkham (rules) of Islam. For example, Allah (swt) has not
commanded the prayer and then left people to choose for themselves
how to pray. Rather the actions in each and every prayer have been
described and specified. Similarly, Allah (swt) has not ordered
the woman to wear the hijab or khimar and then left it to personal
preference as to its form. Rather the rules of the Islamic dress
code for the woman have been described in detail. In such a matter,
the Muslimah would follow the obligation to cover in the defined
manner, the way she would follow the rules for prayer. The mind,
and personal opinions have no part to play in the hijab, as they
have no part to play in the prayer. Allah (swt) says,

“But no, by thy Lord, they can have no (real) faith until
they make thee judge in all disputes between them, and find in their
souls no resistance against thy decisions but accept them with the
fullest of submission” [Al-Nisa: 65]

As clear in the ayah and hadith mentioned earlier, the adult Muslim
woman should cover everything except her face and hands in the presence
of all non-mahrem men (those to whom she can marry). The clothes
should not be thin such that her skin can be seen, or tight such
that the shape of her body can be seen. The whole body of the woman,
including her neck and hair (even one hair), except for her face
and hands are awrah (that which it is haram to reveal to any non-mahrem
man). In Surah An-Nur, Allah (swt) says,

“And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking
at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal
sexual acts, etc.) and not to show off their adornment except only
that which is apparent (like palms of hands or one eye or both eyes
for necessity to see the way, or outer dress like veil, gloves,
head-cover, apron, etc.), and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna
(i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms, etc.) and not to reveal
their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's
fathers, their sons, their husband's sons, their brothers or their
brother's sons, or their sister's sons, or their (Muslim) women
(i.e. their sisters in Islam), or the (female) slaves whom their
right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, or small
children who have no sense of the shame of sex. And let them not
stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment.
And all of you beg Allah to forgive you all, O believers, that you
may be successful.” [An-Nur:31]

Ibn Abbas explained the words, “...beyond what may (decently)
be apparent thereof” as referring to the face and hands.

In addition, when the woman leaves her home and enters the public
arena, she has been commanded to wear the khimar (a head cover that
covers the entire head, neck, and the chest) and the jilbab (a one
piece outer dress that covers her indoor clothes and drapes down
to the floor). It is not sufficient that she wears the khimar accompanied
by a skirt and blouse or shirt and trousers. Allamah ibn Al Hazam

"In the Arabic language of the Prophet, Jilbab is the outer
sheet which covers the entire body. A piece of cloth which is too
small to cover the entire body could not be called Jalbab."
[Al Muhalla, vol. 3, p. 217]. If she leaves the home without these
two pieces of clothing then she would be sinful for she has neglected
a command from Allah (swt). The evidence for the jilbab is also
clear. Allah (swt) says in Surah Al-Ahzab,

“Oh Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women
of the believers to draw their cloaks (Jalabeeb) all over their
bodies.” [Al-Ahzab:59]

In addition, in one hadith narrated by Umm Atiyya (ra), she said,
“The Messenger of Allah (saw) ordered us to bring out the
young women, the menstruating women and veiled women for the two
Eid festivals. The menstruating women were to keep away from prayer,
yet witnessing the goodness and the dawa (address) to the Muslims.
I asked, ‘O Messenger of Allah, what about the one who does
not have a Jilbab?’. He said, ‘Let her use the Jilbab
of her sister.’” The Prophet (saw) maintained the insistence
that the women wear the jilbab even if she did not possess one,
i.e. she would have to borrow one.

A Muslim woman should not imitate the western woman who uses her
own mind to decide what to wear, and what is appropriate to be seen
in. Aisha (ra) is narrated as having said to some women from the
tribe of the Bani Tamim who were wearing dresses made of thin material
when they were visiting her, "If you are mumin (true believers)
this is not the type of dress suitable for mumin women. But if you
are not mumin, then do as you please."

Muslim women of today should take guidance from the Muslim women
of the past who were praised by the Messenger (saw) and gained the
Pleasure of Allah (swt). When the verses for covering were revealed
they responded immediately without a second of delay by covering
their awrah with whatever they could find of material. Safiyyah,
daughter of Shaybah, said that Aisha (ra) mentioned the women of
Ansar, praised them and said good words about them. She then said,
“When Surat an-Nur came down, they took the curtains, tore
them and made head covers (veils) of them.” (Sunan Abu Dawud).

Hence the hijab is much more than covering modestly, or following
traditional or contemporary customs and practices. It is an Islamic
obligation that has precise rules, and needs to be fulfilled in
the manner that Islam has prescribed.


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