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The Qur'an Does Not Mandate Hijab

 by Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D. 
Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Louisville, KY 40242-6462, U.S.A.


In my previous communication I wrote that the Qur’an aims to eliminate all sources of temptations and enticement in society, and does not want women should bear the brunt of the burden in this process. However, the vast majority of Muslim men want that women should be covered from head to toe except perhaps for one roaming eye, and men may happily swagger around undisturbed by scrumptious female parts. Worst of all, this fundamentally male-indulgent view is presented as God’s unquestionable truth.

In this context I quoted from the book of Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl who is an accomplished Islamic jurist and scholar, and a Professor of Law at the UCLA's School of Law where he teaches Islamic law. He is a world renowned expert in Islamic law who previously taught Islamic law at the University of Texas, Yale Law School and Princeton University. A high-ranking Shaykh, Dr. Abou El Fadl also received formal training in Islamic jurisprudence in Egypt and Kuwait.

My quote is not directed at any individual directly or indirectly.

Abou El Fadl argues that in contemporary Muslim societies people tend to become authoritative by imposing a single viewpoint to the total exclusion of others. Shariah (Islamic law) is then invoked to quash debate by people who are themselves not adequately qualified to do so.

To counter this trend Fadl wrote  the book "And God Knows the Soldiers" (University Press of America, pp.204, 2002),  noting that it was his aim to “challenge those who invoke the moral weight of Islamic law to their side as a way of foreclosing the debate. The message of this book  is: "If you carry Islamic law as a weapon to silence others, you better know how to use it.” (p.20)

In America the scholars and writers follow Islamic guidelines of etiquette:
1. AVOID FLAMING which is name calling, personal attacks, and character assassination.
2. STICK TO THE FACTS or at least label speculation as such.

There is no doubt the Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc., respects opposing points of view and people have a right to espouse those points of view. It is my understanding that the Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc., has a bedrock policy to encourage critically constructive discussion and debates. However, discussion should be based on facts and not become shrill and emotional or make uncomplimentary remarks about individuals.

I have been taught that a strong scholar is like a mighty rock who is not shaken but allows the winds of criticism to pass by. A weak debater, lawyer or scholar makes a case with speculative thinking, subjective interpretation and forgets the guidelines of etiquette.
This is a good discussion and extremely important to debate with sincerity as people's lives are at stake. We need to distinguish between the tenets of Islam and cultural customs. My intention is to engage in a scholarly discussion and not to ridicule those who oppose my points of view.

Islam does not mandate or prescribe any specific type of dress. Thus, as long as the dresses are not revealing or too tight, cultural variations can add tremendous diversity in the fulfillment of this guideline.

Hijab, a terminology that is NOT to be found in the Qur'an or Hadith in the context of dress code.                                                                                                                                       (Source:

A  word-for-word translation  of the Qur'anic text (Surah 24: 31) will prove my point:
wal yazribna - and should draw
bi-khumurihinna - with their head covering
alaa juyuubihinna - across their bosoms

A Muslim scholar wrote  "Surely a female dress covers all of the body except the hair and the face. The verse forcefully commands that these beautiful parts and features should not be displayed to the stranger, but only to the husband and very close relatives." (Source: Dr. Bashir Ahmad, "Veil/Hijab Becoming a Symbol of American Muslims" in Pakistan Link, August 26, 2005)

The words "except the hair" are the author's own subjective interpretation which he cannot provide proof as these are the Qur'anic words.

The scholars who read ‘The Message of the Qur'an’ ( published by Dar al-Andalus Ltd, 3 Library Ramp, Gibraltar, 1980) wrote, "Muhammad Asad's translation and commentary is widely considered the best in the English language, renowned for its intellectual insight and frequent reference to classical commentaries such as Zamakshari. Asad's interpretation to be the most bona-fide and coherent, it is scrupulously referenced so he does not give his opinion rather quotes some of the greatest scholars after the manifestation of the Qur’an such as Zamakshari, Ibn Kathir as well as Qurtubi to name a few."
Some Muslim scholars are under the impression  that  the Arab women used to roam around with their head and bosoms totally uncovered; and the Qur’anic verse (24:31) instructed them to pull their ‘khimar’ from their back onto their exposed bosoms. This assumption is correct as it is based on historical facts.

A Qur'anic scholar should know "Asbab Un-Nuzool" causes or reasons for revelations
(of the Qur'aic verses).

On Surah, An-Nur 24: 31, Muhammad Asad gives the translation "… let them draw their head-coverings over their bosoms." In his commentary No. 38, he wrote, "The noun khimar (of which Khumur is the plural) denotes the head-covering customarily used by Arabian women before and after the advent of Islam. According to most of the classical commentators, it was worn in pre-Islamic times more or less as an ornament and was let down loosely over the wearer's back; and since, in accordance with the fashion prevalent at the time, the upper part of a woman's tunic had a wide opening in the front, her breasts were left bare. Hence the injunction to cover the bosom by means of a khimar (a term familiar to the contemporaries of the Prophet) does not necessarily relate to the use of a khimar as such but is, rather, meant to make it clear that a woman's breasts are not included in the concept of "what may decently be apparent" of her body and should not, therefore, be displayed."

The word  khumur (singular, khimar), is generally understood to be a head-covering worn by both male and female Arabs at the time of the Prophet.  Some Muslims had discussions about whether or not it is permissible to wipe over a head-covering when making ablution for prayer refer to the Prophet wiping over his khimar. (Source:

"When the pre-Islamic Arabs went to battle, Arab women seeing the men off to war would bare their breasts to encourage them to fight; or they would do so at the battle itself, as in the case of the Makkan women, led by Hind at the Battle of Uhud…….While modesty is a religious prescription, the wearing of a veil is not a religious requirement of Islam, but a matter of cultural milieu." (Cyril Glasse: The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. Harper and Row Publishers, New York, N.Y., 1989, p. 156 and p. 413).

My main contention is that covering of hair for a woman is not mandatory as written by many scholars including Shaykh Zaki Badawi. Dr. Zaki Badawi (head of the Muslim Council in London, England and the Chairman of the Council of the Mosques and Imams) wrote, "The hijab veil (which covers all of a Muslim woman's hair) is also not obligatory" (Source:

Parents have  problems  in some Gulf countries   where the education ministry, the teachers' union and the students' union had all fallen under Islamist control. One mother described what happened when she moved her 11-year-old daughter to a new school: "After about three months she said: 'Mummy, I want to wear hijab'." The mother, thinking she was too young for hijab, asked her why. A teacher had said the girl's hair would be burnt on Judgment Day if she did not wear it.

Years of research on hijab (head cover) has convinced me to make a challenge. The challenge is for any one ( Muslim or non-Muslim) to prove that the Qur'an mandates the women to cover their hair.

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