When talking about Hijab in Islam , the first impression that comes to mind is a cloth covering certain parts of women’s body. But is this the real meaning of the Hijab? Is that all Islam intended by ordering to wear Hijab; covering women’s bodies? This is surely one of the functions but is not the whole thing.
Hijab in Islam concerns men as much as women. Indeed, by introducing Hijab, Islam aims to set out a framework on how we dress, how we look, and how we interact in society. This also originates from a superior objective: limiting the human desires towards the opposite gender to one’s private life in the form of a legal marriage and letting the society focus on work and productivity .
Islam requires both women and men to dress simply, modestly, and with dignity. Simply said, one should not dress in a way to draw the attention of the others to their physical features. Islam has forbidden wearing the clothing that attracts the attention of the general public, making its wearer known for it because of the type of the fabric, its color, model or because of being worn and unclean ; and this applies to women and men both.
According to the Holy Quran, covering and Hijab of body dates back to the time of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: “So when they tasted of the tree, their nakedness became exposed to them, and they began to stitch over themselves with the leaves of paradise.” (7:22). This demonstrates that following the standards of modesty is innate in all human beings, and so do the Islamic dress codes.
Since modesty as the reason to wear the Hijab in Islam is a subjective term, the Quran and Sunnah [i] have laid out the bare minimum to prevent any confusion. The absolute minimum covering in Islam set for men is loose and unrevealing clothing from his navel to his knee . Men are not allowed to wear gold jewelry, silk clothing, or adornments that are considered feminine .
Muslim women, like men, are not permitted to wear tight and revealing clothing; especially the ones showing the details of their body. The clothing should cover their hair and body, but covering the face and the hands, from the wrist to the fingers, is not mandated . It is also forbidden for women to wear strong perfume, heavy make-up, or such jewelry that makes a jingle noise with movement and attracts the attention of others, especially strange men. They should not reveal their ornament either. These all let the Muslim women to be recognized in society by the content of their character rather than by their physical appearance and do force men to cease objectifying women.
It should be noted that besides these dress codes, Islam has mandated us to wear beautiful and clean clothes; especially when dealing with others and during prayers: “O Children of Adam! Put on your adornment on every occasion of prayer” (7:31). This also should be considered as much as the clothing rules.
Islamic precept has introduced a particular way of decency by presenting the concept of controlling the gaze. It is stated in the Quran that: “Tell the faithful men to cast down their looks” (24:30); and: “And tell the faithful women to cast down their looks” (24:31). It means that women and men are both required to keep their gazes downcast unless permitted [ii].
Imam Sadiq (AS) said: “A glance is a poisoned arrow from the arrows of Satan. He who refrains from it [glancing] for the sake of Allah and nothing other than Him, Allah will grant him a faith, the taste of which he will experience.” .
Keeping the glance downcast prevents men from lustful thoughts when looking at any woman other than their wife and allows women to protect themselves and guard their modesty. If one truly believes that God is present everywhere and at every second, He sees all he does [iii], and “He knows the treachery of the eyes, and what the breasts hide.” (40:19), he controls his glance in public and in private.
As society is composed of women and men, their social interactions and communications are inevitable. Emphasizing the concept of decency, Islam has special guidelines for the interactions between members of the opposite sex. Islam, as the religion of moderation [iv] , does not allow a free relation, neither severely restricts this interaction, but allows women and men to communicate in good intention . This means that the speech should be direct and both sides should consider the human identity of the other person, not the gender.
Allah says in the Quran: “wives of the Prophet! You are not like other women: if you are wary [of Allah], do not be complaisant in your speech, lest he in whose heart is a sickness should aspire; speak honorable words.” (33:32).
Although this verse of the Quran addresses the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) who were mostly at the old age, it also applies to all other women especially young ones . This requires Muslims, specifically women, to use a serious tone of voice and expression when talking to the opposite gender. Otherwise, their sweet words might seduce the person whose heart might be diseased with lust.
[i] The lifestyle and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)
[ii] e.g., in the case that a witness looks at the face of a non-mahram to recognize him/her.
[iii] “does he not know that Allah sees [him]?” (96:14)
[iv] “Thus We have made you a middle nation that you may be witnesses to the people” (2:143)
Contrary to popular belief, women in Islam has been empowered and respected. We previously discussed the Islamic viewpoint on the rights of women and the position of women in the society. Knowing that the justice considers equal rights for both men and women, it revealed that Islam had given “equal” -not similar- rights to women and men. Here, we provide more evidence on the Islamic approach to demonstrate that females are greatly respected in Islam.
In the pre-Islamic era in Arab countries, females were considered as weak members of the society, and they were an economic burden especially during times of famine since they were supposed to be less useful. If a girl was born to a family, the father became disappointed (“And when one of them is informed of [the birth of] a female, his face becomes dark, and he suppresses grief.” (16:58)) and afraid of that girl being held captive by the invaders in the future, which would bring shame to the family. So, they used to bury baby girls alive (“Should he keep it in humiliation or bury it in the ground?” (16:59)).
Of course, Islam prohibited this practice by the divine commands in the Quran as well as the deeds and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). The reaction of the Quran to this act is: “evil is what they decide” (16:59) and adds: “do not kill your children out of poverty; We will provide for you and them” (6:151).
This act is so blamed and hated in Islam that in Surah Takwir it is said on the Day of Judgement, the first issue that will be dealt with before everything else will be burying the baby girls alive: “For what sin she was killed” (81:9). This demonstrates how invaluable females are in Islam.
Islam also attempts to show the position of the daughter in the family and how she brings blessings to it. In this regard, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has said: “God bless the father who has daughters. Daughters are lovely and bring divine blessing, and sons are like good news. Daughters are enduring good deeds (Baqiyat al-Salihat)” .
He (PBUH&HP) wondered why people were unhappy and sorry for having a daughter and said that daughters are like fragrant flowers for him to smell . Imam Sadiq (AS) said that: “Daughters are your good deeds and sons are your blessings. You will be asked for the blessings you have been given, but you will be only rewarded for your good deeds” .
This narration emphasizes how important female children and women in Islam are and warns us to treat them well. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) has advised buying gifts for the family members and said that this act would be rewarded similar to giving charities. Then, he (PBUH) adds: “Firstly give your daughters their gifts, and then your sons. Because whoever makes her daughter happy is similar to the one who has set one of the children of Ishmael free (AS)” .
The respect and importance given to daughters are also pointed out about women in Islam and especially wives such that according to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) the best of men is the one who is the best to his wife. And, he (PBUH) is the best man who other men should follow in act and behavior towards their wives .
Another manifestation of the respect for the wives is the Islamic point of view on polygamy. Islam does not approve of polygamy; rather it has restricted polygamy by setting some terms and conditions on that matter.
Islamic Advice on Respect for Mothers
Mothers are of high value in Islam because of their efforts such as how they withstand the difficulties during the pregnancy, the care and protection they provide after giving birth to the baby, the selfless sacrifices they make so that the child could grow up in the most comfortable condition and with the best education.
The rights of mothers are even known to be superior to those of fathers . According to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), one can never pay back the rights of the mother .
This amount of concern about females from childhood to motherhood and the considerations for the equal rights for women in Islamic teachings all the indicate the respect and attention paid to women in this religion.
- M. Nuri, "Mustadrak al-Wasa'il", vol. 15, p. 115, T. 17700.
- "Makarim al-Akhlaq Supplication", p. 219.
- Shaykh Al-Kulayni, “Al-Kafi”, vol. 6, p. 6.
- Shaykh Al-Amili, "Wasa'il al-Shi'a", vol. 15, p. 227.
- Shaykh al-Saduq, "Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih", vol. 3, p. 443.
- H. T. Nuri Ṭabarsi, “Mustadrak al-Wasail”, vol. 15, p. 203.
Those who are not Muslim and committed to religion may think that Muslim women cover themselves in front of men. They do not wear make-up. They do not have boyfriends. They do not take part in mixed parties with men where they can dress up and flirt, and dance with music. What is the sort of life that they have? How do they enjoy life?
Also, non-Muslim women may look at the eastern type of Muslim women’s lifestyle and say: do they not get bored of staying home and raising children and taking care of their husband all the time? Do they not want some time for themselves?
This way of thinking makes some of them so worried about Muslim women that they start campaigns for defending Muslim women and try to awaken them for their very normal rights!
On the other hand, many Muslim women and I, when looking at the lifestyle of non-Muslim women, think to ourselves that they do not cover themselves in the presence of their marriageable kin (non-Mahram) men.
They dance with any man! They spend a lot of time dressing up and wearing make-up to go to nightclubs or parties to present themselves to men! So that one man may say: “you look so beautiful!”, and they say: “Thanks, I’m flattered!”
They go to the same swimming pools that men go, nearly nude! Forget about Islamic cover, where does modesty go?! They taste different boys in life before they get married, or let’s say they allow different boys to taste them! What is that sort of life? Do they not get offended by being degraded so much?
Muslim women may look at non-Muslim women’s western type of lifestyle and say: do they not get bored when they do not have big family gatherings, where all children and grandchildren come together around their grandparents? Do they not miss big parties in which instead of drinking and going out of mind, people sit together and talk about their issues and find out if one of the group has a problem, then everyone tries to sort it out?!
Now as a Muslim woman with the background of growing up in a huge eastern family, and then experiencing the Western lifestyle for many years, let me tell you what Muslim women do for fun. What they enjoy in life and why they stick to the eastern lifestyle without getting bored.
In my definition, the eastern Islamic lifestyle does not belong to the East only; rather it has remained in the East while it has disappeared in the West. You may find many people in the East who live a western lifestyle. You may as well find people in the West who live an eastern lifestyle.
I would like to list a few characteristics that are bold in an eastern Islamic lifestyle:
The high amount of respect that people have towards each other, especially the respect for the elderly or the teachers.
The importance of family.
The priority of the community over the individual.
Definition of freedom; In their social life, People are free as far as their freedom does not disturb others, while in western lifestyle people are free to do what they wish to do as long as it is not against the social rules; no matter if it may bother other individuals.
Ethics and human values are stronger than law.
The above points and many other similar points come together and shape a viewpoint about humans and life. And it is due to that point of view that eastern or western lifestyle develops.
As long as we do not become familiar with other people’s ideologies, we will not recognize the difference of opinions about the same issues.
When Muslim women, all over the world, have a tendency towards the eastern lifestyle, that has been completed by the Islamic teachings, in many cases, they will no more enjoy the same things that non-Muslims like. No matter in which part of the world you live as a Muslim, but when you are a Muslim, your mindset is shaped in a way that you enjoy the Islamic lifestyle.
With the sort of ideology that Muslim women have, they no more enjoy exhibiting their bodies for their marriageable kins (non-Mahram). They do not enjoy flirting with different guys all the time or going to nightclubs. While at the same time many of them may enjoy having lots of children and being in big families, in which they come together now and then, in order to empower themselves with the energy of the community.
The Islamic lifestyle gives us a vision and a spiritual goal (unlike most of the western goals which are materialistic). A Muslim woman (like a Muslim man) defines her activities in harmony with her beliefs, to help her achieve her spiritual goal in life. Therefore, she defines her fun activities in a way that does not contradict her path of growth.
Finally, keeping in mind all the above, there is no difference between Muslim men and Muslim women in terms of having fun. It might be a matter of modesty in relationships, which is recommended not only for women but also for men. Suggestions about different types of lawful (Halal) fun is available in an article with the title “What is lawful (Halal) fun?”.
Overall, Muslim women can have all sorts of fun that do not contradict the Islamic values and do not deviate them from their central roles such as motherhood as well. (Please note that by motherhood Islam does not mean only giving birth to the baby and feeding her/him. But the most important social role of a mother is to nurture the child to grow up into a great human).