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)
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).
The status of Fatimah, the most beloved daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) and Khadijah, is so great within the religion of Islam that our last prophet has said: “Fatimah (AS) is part of me, whoever annoys her, annoys me and whoever pleases her, in fact, he/she pleases me”  He has also said: “Fatimah (AS) is the leader of the women of the worlds and a role model for all Muslim women” .
The history of Islam has witnessed the immense respect that the Prophet (PBUH&HP) had for Fatimah Zahra (AS) which also reflects the importance of women in society. In pre-Islamic times when Arabs would bury their daughters alive, Allah revealed the Chapters of al-Kawthar, and Dahr with the birth of Fatimah (AS) to praise her .
According to some Quran commentaries, when the Quraysh tribe [i] said that the Prophet (PBUH) had no offspring, the chapter of al-Kawthar was revealed:
“Indeed We have given you abundance (al-Kawthar);
So pray to your Lord and sacrifice,
Indeed it is your enemy who is without posterity” (108:1-3).
Al-Kawthar means the abundant good, i.e., the abundant offspring that the Prophet (PBUH) would have through his daughter Fatimah Zahra (AS) especially after the death of his son (Qasim), which made the Quraysh men say he was cut off from male children. In fact, this was a reply to those people and their effort to weaken the Prophet's spirits just because he did not have a son .
Fatimah (AS), the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) was born on the 20th of Jumada al-Thani (the sixth month of the Islamic Lunar calendar), five years after Muhammad (PBUH)’s prophetic mission (Be’that).
After losing her mother as a young child, she looked after her father so devotedly that Muhammad (PBUH&HP) used to call her “Umme Abiha”, i.e., the mother of her father. This was a really hard time for the family because Abu Talib (the leader of Banu Hashim [ii] and the prophet’s uncle) who was the protector of Muhammad (PBUH&HP) from the animosity of the Quraysh also died in the same year as Khadijah.
So in Fatimah’s (AS) early childhood, there was no place for leisure and playing childish games. Rather, she fulfilled an important role accompanied by motherhood characteristics in her father’s life with all the suffering, mockery, and humiliation he was facing. She would comfort him, empathize with him, relieve his pain, and take care of him with kindness .
When it was the right time for the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), Fatimah (AS), to get married, and after her cousin, Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS) proposed to marry her, the Prophet (PBUH&HP) consulted with her and asked if she would accept his marriage proposal. In fact, Muhammad (PBUH&HP) wanted to encourage Muslims to also seek their daughters’ opinions and avoid wrong pre-Islamic beliefs about girls.
When Fatimah (AS) was asked about this (Ali (AS)’s proposal), she respectfully sought her father’s advice and the Prophet (PBUH&HP) said: “God has authorized this marriage”. Fatimah (AS) then replied that she was satisfied with what Allah and His Prophet (PBUH&HP) were pleased with.
Fatimah (AS) was the model of Prophet’s teaching among women just as Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS) was the best embodiment of his instructions and manly qualities among men; they were the most suitable couple to be married. So after receiving Fatimah’s (AS) consent, their marriage took place in the simplest possible manner .
A few days later, the Prophet (PBUH&HP) called on his daughter and asked her how she had found her husband. She said that he was the best companion in devotion and obedience to God. Later, he asked Ali (AS) how he had found his wife, and he said that he found her the best companion in giving service to the Creator.
Fatimah Zahra (AS) aided her husband in his worldly and religious affairs and cooperated with him in achieving his exalted goals. She was responsible for the household work; made dough, baked bread, and cleaned the house; in return, Ali (AS) vouched to take care of the outside work .
It has been narrated that once Imam Ali (AS) saw that Fatimah (AS) had been working so hard that she got blisters on her hands. He decided to ask the Prophet (PBUH&HP) for a housekeeper. But Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) said that he would teach them something instead that would do them better than having a housemaid. He told them to recite the Tasbih of Fatimah Zahra before sleeping; that is 34 times “Allahu akbar,” 33 times “al-hamdu lillah,” and 33 times “Subhan Allah.”
It is strongly recommended to say this Tasbih [iii] as a devotional act after each prayer.
God bestowed upon Fatimah (AS) and Ali (AS) four children; two sons, Hassan (AS) and Hussain (AS), who were the second and the third Infallible Imams; and two daughters, Zainab (AS) and Umme Kulthum (AS).
Fatimah (AS) portrays excellence in her role as a mother and displays a model for all the God-fearing parents in the upbringing of her four children. It has been narrated by a companion of the Holy Prophet (PBUH&HP) that one day the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) was busy grinding some grain when her older son Imam Hassan (AS) started crying. The companion offered to help her with comforting the child, but Fatimah (AS) preferred to take care of her son herself. This shows how important it is for a child to have her/his mother around her/him as much as possible since only a mother can truly soothe her child and no one else can be as much of comfort as a mother .
She always read passages from Quran when she put her children to sleep in the crib and so they all grew up hearing Quran from their infancy, and the words of God became etched upon their young hearts. Through such osmosis, the Quran and the children of Fatimah (AS) became inseparable for all time .
It has been said that this blessed family vowed to fast for three days if their sons recovered from an illness. They became well, and the family fasted for three consecutive days without eating any food giving away their Iftar (breakfast) [iv] to a beggar, an orphan, and a prisoner who arrived at their door and asked for food. The 76th chapter of the Quran (Dahr) was revealed in praise of this family and their extremely charitable act in the way of Allah .
“They fulfill their vows and fear a day whose ill will be widespread. They give food, for the love of Him, to the needy, the orphan and the prisoner, saying, ‘We feed you only for the sake of Allah. We do not want any reward from you nor any thanks.’ Indeed we fear from our Lord a day, frowning and fateful. So Allah saved them from the ills of that day and granted them freshness and joy. And He rewarded them for their patience with a garden and garments of silk” (76:8-12).
Fatimah (AS) actually showed such generosity and compassion for the poor that no destitute or beggar ever returned from her door unattended.
As well as being an exemplary daughter, a loving and supportive wife, and a caring mother, she played an active part as a very powerful, intellectual, and aware member of the society.
Along with all her feminine qualities, she was well-aware of her rights and whenever necessary stood up for them, instead of suffering like a helpless victim. She would make herself available for people who needed answers or clarifications on complicated issues. Her sermons and sayings are evidence of her strong character and noble mind.
She was also a very courageous lady who accompanied the Prophet (PBUH&HP) in many wars. Her genius, wisdom, determination, will-power, piety, patience, knowledge, and nobility, both in words and deeds, were inherited from her illustrious father.
In short, the existence of Fatimah Zahra (AS), the daughter of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), along with her skills of eloquence, her political and social expertise, and powerful foresight, demonstrates how a Muslim woman can attain high spiritual and mystical positions and how a woman can play different roles powerfully, and positively influence the course of history by her social contribution .
[i] A powerful merchant tribe that controlled Mecca and its Kaaba and that according to Islamic tradition descended from Ishmael. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) was born into the Banu Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe.
[ii] A clan of the Quraysh tribe
[iii] The repetitive utterances of short sentences in the praise and glorification of Allah.
[iv] The evening meal with which Muslims end their daily Ramadan fast at sunset.