Wearing of hijab not required by Quran: Egyptian
August 13, 2006
By Khalid Hasan
WASHINGTON: A leading Arab Islamic scholar has said that neither the Qur'an nor
the authentic Sunnah demand that women wear the hijab or cover their hair.
There is no specific verse that obliges women to wear headscarves, but you find
verses setting the broad lines for public modesty or decency, according to Gamal
El-Banna, brother of Hasan El-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood in
Writing in the magazine Egypt Today, El-Banna lays to rest the controversy over
the increasing use of hijab by explaining that there is no Quranic authority or
injunction for donning the hijab. He writes, The Qur'an states: ˜And tell the
believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their
adornment only that which is apparent and to draw their veils over the bosoms
(24:31). If the Qur'an wanted to oblige women to cover their hair, it would have
stated it very clearly. Why would the Qur'an resort to expressions that have a
variety of interpretations? The fact is that the Qur'an can be understood
directly without resorting to interpretation if it couldn't, we would have
clergy to lead us.
In his book al-Hijab, El-Banna declares that the veil is not an Islamic
tradition, but a pre-Islamic one. He bases this view on the research he has
completed on the Arab world prior to the advent of the Holy Prophet (PBUH). In
those days, he says, Arab women covered their heads and left the upper parts of
their chest uncovered. He concludes that the Quranic verse commands women to
cover their chests, not their heads.
According to El-Banna, the Prophet (PBUH) improved the status of women as much
as he could, given his cultural milieu. He also opened the door for further
aspects of emancipation. However, the Arab society was reluctant to tolerate
this new reality, so many of them started to make up ahadith that would maintain
the status quo. Similarly, El-Banna says, there is no religious foundation that
prevents women running for any elected office, including the presidency.
El-Banna dismisses accusations that he is calling on the faithful to abandon the
Sunnah, but insists that the orally transmitted traditions of the Prophet (PBUH)
are less binding on Muslims than the Qur'an itself. We cannot deny the Sunnah,
even though it has been proven that most of the sayings attributed to the
Prophet (PBUH) have been made up, were narrated in other people's words or were
transmitted inaccurately. This does not mean that there are no true sayings that
set many Islamic fundamental principles; what it does mean is that it's high
time to study the Sunnah in a different way, El-Banna says.