Posted by Saha under Uncategorized
“And when ye ask of them (the wives of the Prophet) anything, ask it of them from behind a curtain. That is purer for your hearts and for their hearts” Qu’ran 33:53
InshaAllah, in Yemen, I will be once again wearing niqab. I’m actually looking forward to it. Despite the questions that I have about the obligatory nature of covering even the hair, and my leaning towards the understanding that it is modesty that is prescribed, as discussed by Muhammed Asad in his tafsir.
“[My interpolation of the word “decently” reflects the interpretation of the phrase illa ma zahara minha by several of the earliest Islamic scholars, and particularly by Al-Qiffal (quoted by Razi) as “that which a human being may openly show in accordance with prevailing custom (al-adah al-jariyah)”. Although the traditional exponents of Islamic Law have for centuries been inclined to restrict the definition of “what may [decently] be apparent” to a woman’s face, hands and feet - and sometimes even less than that - we may safely assume that the meaning off illa ma zahara minha is much wider, and that the deliberate vagueness of this phrase is meant to allow for all the time-bound changes that are necessary for man’s moral and social growth. The pivotal clause in the above injunction is the demand, addressed in identical terms to men as well as to women, to “lower their gaze and be mindful of their chastity”: and this determines the extent of what, at any given time, may legitimately - i.e., in consonance with the Quranic principles of social morality - be considered “decent” or “indecent” in a person’s outward appearance.] hence, let them draw their head-coverings over their bosoms. [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 all 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 cleavage were left bare. Hence, the injunction to cover the bosom by means of a khimar, (a term so 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.]“
This verse discusses the semantics of khimar, however we now commonly refer to head covering as hijab, although hijab actually refers to the curtain or screen referred to at the beginning of my post. I still find the experience of covering my hair and body, extremely liberating. And taking it a step further and covering the face as I did for a few months some time ago, is one of the most powerful experiences of my life. It is immensely satisfying to walk amongst others and see and not be seen. I loved it. I felt invinsible…and invisible, lol!
I stopped wearing niqab because I tired of other people’s reactions. I wasn’t trying to present myself as Pious Muslimah of the Month, I was exploring something which I considered very much part of our history. Niqab has been worn by Muslim women for centuries, and might I add it has been loved by Muslim women for centuries. Not everyone hates it, as is so often assumed. I liked it, and would have continued to wear it, except for the fact that our culture here is really not set up for it, it becomes so difficult to maintain in a non-segregated society. I’m not yet convinced that Islam requires sex segregation, again, I think it is religion being filtered and understood through cultural lenses, yet, I find myself preferring such arrangements.
Don’t misunderstand me, I like men! I enjoy talking to interesting, intelligent or fun people of either gender. But I’m much, much more comfortable in female only environments. Perhaps this is because I am used to it, I went to an all girls school. The thing is I know how easily platonic friendships can become non-platonic, I have seen it happen so many times. I have had many male friends who have remained just that…but still, there is often that air of possibility. Life for me is much simpler without it, that heady atmosphere of sexual attraction, or knowing that another finds you beautiful, is something that I can do without. I don’t want it, I have my avenue for all things lustful and I love and am content with him, thank you very much!. So I prefer not to be friends with men, business or learning is fine, but social interactions I prefer to keep at a minimum.
I know, some of you are now thinking about same sex attraction. Lets face it, a minority of people experience this, it is not an argument that works against social segregation of the sexes and I think that we tend to understand our own gender better and just know when someone is not at all interested, so perhaps women are less likely to be over-bearing in that way. Or maybe, because I am definitely heterosexual, there is no possiblity of any charged atmosphere, because I just don’t think that way, so I am comfortable. This is not to suggest that I advocate a pedantic system that encourages a neurotic fear of the other gender. I’m just saying that I like it, I enjoy how it works.
I enjoy keeping a separate world, I enjoy not being seen by men that are not mahram. That being said, in many ways I am liberal and progressive (boy do I hate those words!). I don’t enjoy conservative groups, and I’m frustrated by black and white understandings of reality. For me, sex segregation is a cultural pattern that is informed by and works very well with religion. For most of my friends however, it is annoying!
For this reason, it is totally impractical for me to wear niqab, as it requires a segregated environment. In my life, that is too difficult. If I believed that it was religiously mandatory, I would persist through the dificulty, but as I don’t, it just becomes ridiculous.
However in Yemen, it is the norm. In Tarim, I won’t be mixing with men at all. And really, I can’t wait! I love having such defined space. And as my ideas about the whole culture versus religion thing aren’t fixed, I’d like to see how my feelings about it change/do not change after living there.
I have to admit though, I’m kind of disappointed that I’ll be living in a town in which they wear only black!
I much prefer this kind of thing.
I just remind myself that I am going there to learn, not to indulge my love of ethnic textiles! Although surely there’s no harm in the latter!
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2 Responses to “On Beautiful Hijab”
Very nice post, Saha! I always enjoy reading what you have to say and what you said about hijab and niqab as cultural is what makes me nod. That is one reason I wear hijab sometimes when I do.
BTW, have you ever been to Yemen? My BIL lived there for a year - he is Salafi and yet found it very hard.
I’m not yet convinced that Islam requires sex segregation, again, I think it is religion being filtered and understood through cultural lenses, yet, I find myself preferring such arrangements.
That is about exactly how I feel about it.
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