In recent years, the scarf or Hijab in Islam that Muslim women wear on their heads to cover the hair has engaged many governments and has been among the headlines around the world. Since then, Hijab and covering the hair has been banned in certain government buildings, schools, and public services in some countries.
So the question is: what is that strong incentive that makes Muslim women even more resolute to maintain their belief in Hijab, despite all these controversies and conflicts?
According to most of the Islamic jurists, Muslim women are required to wear the clothing that covers their hair and entire body except the face and the hands, from the wrist to the fingers, in the presence of non-Mahrams or small boys whose consciousness of sex has developed or the evidence of sexual urge is noticed on them . So, in the circumstances where non-Mahrams are not likely to be present, there is no need for Muslim women to wear Hijab in Islam.
In Surah Nur, women are ordered to “not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears” (24:31). In a narration from Imam Sadiq (AS) and some other Islamic narrations , the hair is known to be an adornment for a woman, then, it is obligatory (Wajib) to cover it. The very first reason to veil the hair is, therefore, the commitment to the ruling on Hijab in Islam.
However, it should be noted that there has always been a natural tendency in human beings, especially in women, which made them not expose their body. This originates from an inner sense of modesty and decency which is stronger in women. Hence, the Islamic dress code is in complete accordance with the human nature.
It is evident that the beauties of a woman’s appearance, hair and body have always been appealing to men, and even women; that is why they usually appear on the advertisements to attract more customers for companies. On the other hand, women tend naturally to show their beauties and to get admiration. Men might be therefore easily appealed by the appearance of non-Mahram women, and this can eventually lead to a forbidden (Haram) gaze [i].
Committing a first forbidden (Haram) gaze and then consecutive ones affect both who looks (man) and who is looked at (woman). The one, who looks, remains thoughtful for a while by what he has seen and this may even last for days and weeks and lead even to some lustful thoughts. Also, one who has received a forbidden (Haram) gaze won’t be at ease and might feel her privacy invaded. So, both sides will be under some sort of stress and anxiety.
Since the two sides are both affected by a forbidden (Haram) gaze, women and men are equally required to take part to avoid such looks. To this kind of gaze and its consequent mental pressures, Islam orders women to cover their hair, and more generally their body. This is, in fact, the strategy to remove the external causes of sinful looks which concern women.
For the men’s part, they should participate by controlling their eyes. Forbidden (Haram) gaze is such that brings about one after the other. So, men are commanded not to follow the first unintended look by the second one; in other words, they should put an inner barrier to such looks.
Islam has encouraged women to appear in the society modestly and with dignity. This is, however, something inherent in every woman. The more simply a woman is dressed and is dignified, the more she will be respected by men and will be protected from the harmful gaze. The after effects of a forbidden (Haram) gaze are not limited to the unpleasant feeling that it brings about.
Women who do not wear Hijab, including the ones who do not cover their hair, are more susceptible to such annoying looks at any time and anywhere, and this consequently makes them feel more “unsecured” in the society. Even in some cases, this might end in some sorts of sexual abuse which is a crime in every society.
Moreover, the Hijab of a body is the basis for other types of Hijab that are commanded in Islam and which have the same aim in the society. It means to invite the humans to modesty and dignity in order to guarantee a normal and equilibrated society. These kinds of Hijab offer a reference on how one should look at non-Mahrams, the way of talking with them and the behavior in their presence [ii]:
Hijab of the eyes, recognized as controlling the glance, which mainly concerns men (as discussed above);
Hijab of talking when dealing with non-Mahrams, which concerns both women and men. It is about using a serious tone of voice, caring about the words exchanged, considering the human identity of the other person other than his/ her gender, and just focusing on the subject and the purpose of the discussion. Otherwise, the goal of the conversation, either scientific, formal, social or working, won’t be achieved;
Hijab of the behavior that implies being decent and modest towards the opposite gender, in a way that the person with the lust in the heart cannot dare to violate one’s privacy (especially women’s privacy).
Another social effect of Hijab manifests itself in the family, as the basic unit of the society. In Islamic teachings, great importance has been given to the family as an influential institution of the society. Forming a family (through marriage) is known to be so dear to God as no other establishment . Muslims are advised to satisfy some natural needs such as emotional and sexual ones, as well as beauty seeking desire only and only within the framework of the family.
This allows a regulated enjoyment of the beauties a woman has, accompanied with the commitment, which respects the principles of women’s rights. Besides, disobeying the Islamic ruling on Hijab in the society and exposing men to the feminine beauties in the streets, which would be tempting for them, is undesirable from the Islamic point of view. This makes the foundation of the family vulnerable and equally affects the relationship between the spouses.
Unlike previous religions, Hijab does not present a monastic attitude in Islam. Hijab in Islam follows certain social and individual purposes and helps one to live a better life. The Quran invites Muslim women to wear Hijab in order to be recognized as Muslims in the society and prevent being abused (33:59).
This becomes however suspended in case of distress and constriction . The majority of Muslim women choose to wear Hijab to obey God and to be recognized by their intellect and minds rather than their physical appearance. They often believe that Hijab liberates them from the need to conform to unrealistic stereotypes and images dictated by the media .
They do not consider Hijab in Islam as a symbol of oppression but as a sign of Islamic consciousness. That is why they view it as a right and not a burden.
[i] See “The Islamic Etiquette of Looking” for more info.
[ii] See the article “Hijab: the Real Meaning” for more details.
- A. Aroussi Howayzi, "Tafsir Noor al-Thaqalayn", vol. 3/589, T. 105.
- H. Al-Ameli, “Wassail Al-Shia”, vol. 20, p.59.
- M. B. Majlesi, “Bihar al-Anwar”, vol. 103, p. 222.
- R. Mugehi, “Family religious precepts”, p.38
- Hijab in Islam
The issue of women in Islam has always been a topic prone to misunderstanding and distortion, partly due to propaganda and media that misrepresent Islam and partly due to misbehavior of some Muslims or pseudo-Muslims, like ISIS and al-Qaeda, which are taken to represent the real visage of Islam.
Those who accuse Islam of considering a lower rank or status for women, mostly forget in their debates the differences between women and men which are necessitated by order of creation. Contrary to the popular myth, Islam has never acknowledged the superiority of men over women but has taken into account their differences and set appropriate regulations and guidelines based on them .
One of the issues addressed in the holy Quran is the creation of woman and man. Unlike some sacred books saying that: “woman was created out of an inferior stock to that of man or Adam's wife was created from one of his left-side parts of the body”, the Quran explicitly states in several verses that woman was created from nature of man, and from the same essence: “who created you from a single soul, and created its mate from it” (4:1), (7:189).
This demonstrates that women in Islam and men are of the same origin; hence, neither of them is superior to the other in the first place. Besides, men and women in Islam are each created for the other: “they are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them.” (2:187), and a woman is designated as the source of solace and comfort for man’s heart (30:21) which highlights her importance.
It is directly and clearly stated in the Quran that the earth and the sky, the clouds and the winds, plants, and animals, all have been created for “mankind” [i]. It means that everything in the universe is there to serve every single human being and not only men.
A woman is created to pave the way for improvement, like a man, and to reach the perfection that a human being deserves. The Quran has firmly declared that the afterlife reward and nearness of God do not depend upon one’s gender, but on his/her faith and deeds.
In verses (3:195) and (4:124), it is specified that whoever does acts of blessing and is a believer “whether male or female," God will give them an abundant reward.
The Quran also demonstrates the women’s role by emphasizing the importance of the company of a great and pious woman alongside every great and pious man (11-12: 66), (28: 7). The wives of Adam and Abraham, and the mothers of Moses and Jesus (PBUH) are the examples of great women mentioned in the Quran. There is, therefore, no superiority between men and women in Islam in the spiritual sense.
Among the Jews and Arabs of the pre-Islamic age, there was a belief that a woman is filthy and weak during her menstrual period, so, she was isolated and avoided until she became clean. The Quran says: “They ask you concerning [intercourse during] menses. Say, ‘It is hurtful.’ So keep away from wives during the menses...”(2:222).
It means that menstruation is harm leaving the woman’s body, but it is not deplorable at all. Instead, menstruation is a preliminary to receive a blessing from God, a miracle that takes place inside a woman’s womb and places paradise at the feet of mothers .
Men and women have undoubtedly “equal” rights in Islamic ideology, but the point is that their rights are not “similar”; in some conditions, women are given more rights while in other cases men have more rights. Every Muslim, female or male, is encouraged in Islam to seek knowledge.
The Prophet (PBUH&HP) said, “The acquisition of knowledge is compulsory for every Muslim, whether male or female” . Education, learning and gaining knowledge are therefore duties assigned to every woman as much as to every man.
Regarding economic rights also, men are not superior to women unlike what is reported in the media and many beliefs. The misunderstanding about the inheritance, for example, is caused by ignoring the whole rights and duties each of men and women have and the balance between those rights.
That is why in the Quran, people are told: "Do not covet the advantage, which Allah has given some of you over others. To men belongs a share of what they have earned and to women a share of what they have earned." (4:32) .
Contrary to the false impression that says Islam has restricted women to stay at home and does not permit them to appear in the society, in a truly Islamic society, there must be women in many social positions. There must be, for instance, women physicians and women nurses for some special treatments that women need; or, women teachers as girls require some teachings and guidance when they reach the age of puberty.
In Surah Nisa, it is said that: “Men are the managers of women, because of the advantage Allah has granted some of them over others, and by virtue of their spending out of their wealth” (4:34). Some use this verse to argue that Islam has given superiority to men, but the interpretation of these words will clarify the wisdom behind:
A family is known to be the smallest social unit. It requires, therefore, a supervisor or manager like any other social unit. This duty is generally attributed to the man in the family, mostly because men are physically stronger than women and they are less affected by their emotions [ii].
Moreover, the woman might also be given this responsibility after her husband’s death. Knowing the man as the supervisor of the family does not prove any inherent superiority in men, but assigns him the heavy responsibility of providing for his family needs from which women are exempted .
It is now clear that Islam has never inhibited women nor given them an inferior position to men; instead, it has undoubtedly caused the status of women to be improved by firstly recognizing their full personhood, and then describing the goal of their creation and the capacities and rights they have.
[i] (2 :29), (24:32-33), (45:13)
[ii] Exceptions might exist, but, the general case is always considered to set the regulations and guidelines.
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.