Hijab in Islam: the Real Meaning

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 Hijab? Is that all Islam intended by ordering to wear Hijab; covering women’s body? 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 the 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 [1].

 

The Islamic Dress Codes

 

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 [1]; and this applies to women and men both.

 

hijab in Islam

 

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 [1]. Men are not allowed to wear gold jewelry, silk clothing, or adornments that are considered feminine [1].

 

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 [2]. 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 the 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.

 

Controlling the Glance as A Part of Hijab in Islam

 

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.” [3].

 

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.

 

hijab in Islam

 

Limits to Talking to the Opposite Gender

 

As the 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] [4], does not allow a free relation, neither severely restricts this interaction, but allows women and men to communicate in good intention [5]. 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) who were mostly at the old age, it also applies to all other women especially young ones [6]. 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.


Notes:

[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)

 

References:

[1] http://www.hawzah.net/

[2] A. Aroussi Howayzi, "Tafsir Noor al-Thaqalayn", vol. 3/589, T. 105.

[3] M. B. Majlesi, "Bihar al-Anwar", vol. 101, p. 40.

[4] N. Makarem Shirazi, "Tafsir Nemooneh", vol. 1, p. 483.

[5] http://www.maarefquran.org

[6] M. Qara'ati, "Tafsir Surah al Ahzab."