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The Islamic Hijab


Now we will discuss the Quranic verses and after we clarify what traditional commentators have explained about the verses, then, with the help of traditions which have been narrated on this topic and the edicts of the religious jurisprudents on this issue, it will become clearer. The verses relating to the modest dress are found in Surah Nur and Surah Ahzab. We will mention all of them.

We will begin our discussion with the verses from Surah Nur. Of course the verses which relate directly to the modest dress are verses 30 and 31 of Surah Nur but there are three verses before this which are more or less introductory to the modest dress and relate to this issue.


 The Command to Announce Your Entrance to Someone"s House


"O believers, do not enter houses other than your houses until you first ask leave and salute the people thereof; that is better for you;  haply you will remember." (24:26)

 This verse describes the duty of a man who is not mahram, to the house of another person, that is, the house of a person whose wife is not mahram to him. Of course, there are rules regarding those who are mahram and we will mention them later. Also there are some places where it is not particular to those who are mahram. It relates to what a person who wants to enter the house of another should do.


It was not the custom among Arabs in the Age of Ignorance to announce that they wanted permission to enter. They felt it was an insult to seek permission to enter. The Holy Quran says in another verse, “If you go and seek permission and it is not granted, return." This may be considered to be an insult by some but this emphasis in the Holy Quran is one of the introductory aspects of the modest dress because every woman in her own home is in a situation that she does not want to be seen or she does not want to see a person. A verse was revealed. "And when you ask his wives for something, ask them from behind a curtain (hijab)."(33:54)

When the Holy Prophet would enter, he would stand behind the door of the room in a place where they could hear his voice and would call out, "As-salam alaykum ya ahl al-bayt" ("Peace be upon you oh household of the Prophet"). He said, "If you hear no answer, perhaps the person did not hear you. Repeat it again in a loud voice. Repeat for a third time if you receive no response. If, after the third time that you announce yourself, you hear no response, either that person is not home or the person does not want you to enter; return." The Holy Prophet did this and many stories have been narrated about this, such as when he wanted to enter his daughter"s house, he would call out salutations in a loud voice. If she responded, he would enter. If he called out three times and received no response, he would return.


"This is purer for you." That is, the commands We give are better for you, contain goodness, are not illogical. "Know that this is good."


"And if you do not find anyone therein, enter it not until leave is given to you and if you are told "return"; that is purer for you; and God knows the things you do." (24:27)
 "There is no fault in you that you enter uninhabited houses wherein enjoyment is for you. God knows what you reveal and what you hide." (24:28)

 This was very difficult for the Arabs to understand. To seek permission when they wanted to enter a house was itself difficult and then to be told to return and then to actually do so, was next to impossible. It was an insult.


In the verse, "there is no fault in you...", an exception arises. Does this ruling apply whenever one wants to enter anyone"s home or only a person"s residence. The Holy Quran says this is not a general ruling and only applies to someone"s home.


A home is a place of privacy, the place of one"s private life. If this were not so, there would be need to seek permission. If there is, for instance, a caravanserai and you have business, do you have to seek permission, etc? No. Here it is not necessary to enter by seeking permission. What about a public bath? There is no need here. "There is no fault in you..." if it is not a place of residence in which you have business."God knows what you reveal and what you hide."


From the word, "uninhabited", one can understand that the philosophy of why a person cannot enter the home of another without announcing it first is because of the wife as well as the fact that the home is the place of one"s privacy. Perhaps there are things which one does not want someone else to see.

Thus, when a person enters the privacy of another"s home, the entrance must be announced. A person must, in some way, announce that he wants to enter even if the person knows that the other has allowed him to enter. He is your friend. He knows that you are going to enter. You know that he is totally in agreement with your entering. Still, you should realize that you are entering upon his privacy.


The Command to "cast down their glance", "to Guard Their Private Parts" and "not to reveal their adornment"

"Say to the believing men that they cast down their glance and guard their private parts; that is purer for them. God is aware of the things they do." (24:30)


"Say to the believing women that they cast down their glance and guard their private parts and reveal not their adornment except such as is outward and let them cast their veils (khumar) over their bosoms and reveal not their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, or their husbands" fathers or their sons or their husbands" sons, or their brothers or their brothers" sons, or their sisters" sons or their women or what their right hands own, or such men as attend to them, not having sexual desire, or children who have not yet attained knowledge of women"s private parts nor let them stamp their feet, so that their hidden ornament may be known. And turn all together to God, O you believers, so you will prosper." (24:31)


In the phrase, "Say to the believing men that they cast down their glance," there are two words which we have to define. One isghadh and the other is absar. A person who might say absar, the plural of basar, needs no explanation because it means eyes but absar essentially means "sight". If it had said "ain asin ghamdh"ain it would have meant "close their eyes". It would have had a particular meaning in this case. What does ghadh basar mean? Ghadh means "lower", "cast down", not "cover" or "close". We see this in another verse, "Be modest in thy walk and lower (yaghaddwu) thy voice; the most hideous of voices is the ass"s." (31:19) This does not mean to be silent. A person"s voice should be moderate. In the same way, "to cast down one"s glance" means not to look in a fixed way, not to stare.


There are essentially two ways of looking. One is to look at another with care as if you were evaluating the person by the way he looked or dressed. But another kind of looking is in order to speak to that person and you look since looking is necessary for conversation. This is a looking which is introductory and a means for speaking. This is an organic looking while the former is an autonomous kind. Thus, the sentence means: "Tell the believers not to stare at or flirt with women."


In the next sentence it says, "Tell the believing men. . . to guard their private parts." (24:30) To guard from what? From everything which is not correct, guard against both corruption and the glance of others.


As you know, it was not the custom among Arabs in the Age of Ignorance to hide their private parts. Islam came and made it obligatory to cover this area.


It should be noted that the present Western civilization is moving directly towards the habits of the pre-Islamic Arabs in the Age of Ignorance and they are continuously weaving philosophies justifying that nakedness is a good thing.


"Say to the believing women that they cast down their glance..." (24:31) You see that in these two verses, the ruling for a man and woman is the same. This is not something particular to men. For instance, if women were forbidden from looking and not men, there would have been a distinction that such and such was all right for men but not for women. It is clear, then, that when there is no distinction made between men and women, it has another purpose which we shall discuss in the next lesson.


The third duty is not to reveal "their adornment..." which refers to that which is separate from the body like jewels and gold as well as things that are attached to the body like henna or collyrium.


 The Exceptions  

As to the fact that they should "reveal not their adornment," there are two exceptions in the Holy Quran. The first is "except such as is outward" and the second is "except to their husbands...etc." Both of these have to be discussed further, in particular, the first exception.


Women should "not reveal their adornment... except such as is outward." What does this refer to? Is it beauty which is most often hidden under clothes that must not be revealed? Then what is that which "is outward?" From the beginning of Islam, many questions arose in relation to "except such as is outward" which were asked from the Companions of the Holy Prophet and the Helpers and many Shi"ites asked the pure Imams. There is almost total agreement regarding this point. That is, whether one is a Sunni who refers to the Companions and Helpers of the Holy Prophet or one be a Shi"ite who refers to the recorders of those traditions, there is more or less agreement that which "is outward" is collyrium, a ring and, in some, an anklet.


That is, adornments which are used on the two hands and the face. This then shows that it is not obligatory for women to cover their face or their hands. Things which adorn them may appear as long as they are part of common usage. The adornments which are applied to the hands and the face are not obligatory to be covered.

There is another tradition narrated by Ali ibn Ibrahim from Imam Baqir, peace be upon him. He was asked about this exception and he said it includes a woman"s clothes, collyrium, ring and coloring of the palms of the hands and a bracelet."


Then the Imam said that we have three levels of adornment, the adornment all people may see, the adornment which mahram may see and the adornment for one"s spouse. That which may be displayed for the people is the face and hands and their adornment such as collyrium, a ring, a bracelet but the adornment which may be displayed before someone who is mahram is the neck and above including a necklace, an armlet, hands plus an anklet and anything below the ankles.


We have other traditions in this area as well such as the fact that women must "cast their veils over their bosoms". Before the revelation of this verse, women would wear a scarf but they would place the ends behind their head so that their earrings, neck and chest would show since their dresses were most often v-necked. With the revelation of this verse, it became clear that they had to cover their ears, neck and chest with their head covering. There is a traditional recorded by Ibn Abbas, the well known transmitter of traditions, that it is obligatory for women to cover their chests and neck.

Other Related Links:

Liberation by the Veil  

Quranic Verses about Hijab  

History of Hijab or Head covering  

Head Covering or hijab in Christianity  

Bible verses regarding head covering or Hijab   

Women’s Equality in Quranic Society

The Word hijab (Modest Dress)


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