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The Islamic Concept of Veil

By: Prof. Maqsood Jafri


Two verses of the Holy Quran succinctly and candidly deal with the basic concept of veil in Islam.  First; in Sura An-Nur (The light) the Quran says: “And tell the believing women to lower their gazes and be modest, and to display of their adornments only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms.”(24:31)


In this verse it is clearly mentioned that sex parts must not be exposed and must be covered.  “Adornment which is apparent” alludes to the common body parts between male and female sexes.  The face, hands and feet are common parts and are exposed without any indecency or immodesty.  Second; The other verse of the Holy Quran is in Sura Al-Ahzab (The confederates).  The Quran says: “O; Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go outside).  That will be better, that so they may be recognized and not molested”. (33:59).  The ancient Arab history reveals the fact that the immodest and immoral ladies used to expose their bodies and walk in market without veil.  They were purchasable commodities.  They did not wear hijab or scarf.  They were improperly dressed.  The corrupt people could easily decipher and unravel about their character or profession.  They were prostitutes.  Hence the Quran announced that pious ladies must be properly and modestly dressed so that when they go out of their houses people should recognize them as domestic chaste, pure and pious ladies and they should not be teased or chased.  From these two above-mentioned Quranic verses it is clear that God ordains to cover the bodies and strictly rejects and condemns nudity and obscenity.


Now the question arises as to what is the concept of veil in Islam.  Different jurists and interpreters have differently interpreted the above-mentioned Quranic verses about veil.  Here I would like to cite from two illustrious contemporary scholars.  Maulana Moududi of Pakistan in his Urdu book entitled “Pardah” (The veil) considers the covering of face obligatory for a Muslim woman.  On the other hand Ustad Murtaza Motaheri Shaheed of Iran in his Persian book entitled “Hijab” (The veil) does not consider the covering of face obligatory.  But both scholars of eminence believe that a Muslim lady must wear “scarf” and cover her head for identity and sobriety.  They also in detail discuss that covering of sexual parts was obligatory in ancient Greek and Roman culture and was religiously obligatory in the society of the Jews and the Christians as well.  They have given examples that only immodest and indecent ladies used to expose their bodies.  To date the ladies who expose their bodies in the name of modernity and progressive civilization represent the ladies of ancient times who were considered the ladies of market having no value and culture.  The history is repeating itself.  In the name of freedom we are exploiting and insulting the women folk.  The woman has been turned into a purchasable commodity.  It is happy omen that the Muslim society believes in the covering of the womenfolk but it is divided in its concept and practice as mentioned earlier.  The Muslim world is divided in to three groups.  First; those who claim to be modern wear European dress.  They do not care about the Quranic injunctions.  They pay lip service to Islam.  We can find some Muslim ladies wearing skirts or mini skirts in some Muslim countries like Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt and the Middle East.  Second; there is an extreme known as retrogressive ladies.  These ladies cover their bodies from top to toe.  It is known as ‘Burqa’.  It is a kind of veil with eyeholes to it, covering the whole body from head to foot.  You cannot see the face, hands or feet of the women.  It is rampant in Saudi Arabia and in some other states.  Third; we find some moderates who do not believe in extremism and give the moderate interpretation of religion.  These ladies neither wear western dress nor Saudi dress.  They cover their bodies but do not cover the face, hands and feet.  Some of them wear scarf and some do not.  They do not make “scarf” an issue.  They are more concerned about sex parts and the matter of their covering.  Majority of them believe that scarf is the part of Islamic dress while some others do not consider scarf the part of Islamic dress, as there are no clear Quranic injunctions about headscarf in the Quran.  But the Muslim history testifies this fact that wives of the holy Prophet (P.B.U.H) used to cover the head with a sheet or scarf.  Hence such ladies consider scarf an Islamic obligation.  Such ladies are mostly found in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Malaysia and Indonesia.  During the performance of pilgrimage the Muslim ladies cover the head with a scarf but do not cover the face, hands and feet.  It seems the pilgrimage gives women respect, place, position and status on the bases of knowledge, character, dignity and modesty.  Islam does not make womenfolk as sex commodities or play things in the hands of commercialism.  The female body is used for selling everything from cosmetics to clothing.  The woman has been made a marketable commodity in the name of so called freedom.  We must resist.  We must give natural honor to women through Islamic teachings. 


In the end it is necessary to mention that the prohibition of scarf in schools or offices by the French government is discriminatory.  It is against human rights.  The French officials say that hijab is a religious symbol and must be prohibited.  But the crux of the matter is that if some ladies are free to wear miniskirts or reveal their bodies how the other ladies can be asked not to cover their bodies.  If the Jews can wear the Star of David or Yamaka (A skull cap worn by the Jews) and the Christians can wear the cross, then why only the Muslim women are asked not to wear scarf.  It is a discriminatory law and exhibits prejudice against Muslims.  Let us respect the religious symbols and right of all believers and be tolerant to maintain a culture respecting Inter Faith dialogue and religious co-existence.     




(The writer is an eminent speaker and scholar and can be reached at       

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