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Response to a Muslim Lady’s defence of ‘religious’ Hijab

By Rashid Samnakay

(A retired professional Electrical (Power) Engineer, of three scores and ten years. . .  He tries to impart knowledge of the temporal and spiritual world, acquired from life long search for answers to complex questions, hand-on-life experiences, and leaving room for dissent and divergent opinion His studies of Quran have led him to firmly believe that Islam exults free speech and thought and that it is a societal code of  life, that is it gives core values to adhere to in order to live and let live in a peaceful and rewarding life in the changing world. His motto for a Muslim, "Oh Lord in the service of humanity, we worship Thee.")

My Dear Sister Mehra:

You took umbrage to my reference in the sentence to Hijab as a show of piety and the cleavage as a sensual fashion. I was, sarcastically perhaps, trying to establish that to me they both are _expression of fashion, and no dress Arab or not, is reverential, hence the _expression such as ‘doubled up fan belt on the Arab head dress’ by our friend.

The French, Turkish and other Governments’ attitude to Muslim women’s head cover is naïve and foolish. They are scared of the -expression and the exercise of the Muslim women’s right to make political statements and protests. As I tried to argue that in fact the Skull-cap and the Cross are more religious than the Hijab. I now add the Sikhism’s Turban in the religious category.

The Scarf has been a part of lady’s dress from time immemorial. Historically it was a status symbol of the upper class ladies among the Romans, Greeks, the Persians etc. It is not a new invention of ‘Muhammadan’ era; nor of modern times. It is a hand-me-down apparel of Judeo-Christianity.

We have discussed the Universal cultural-etiquette of young women of the Subcontinent where they cover their heads as sign of respect for the elders, irrespective of the gender and Religion.

Let us consider the subject and my understanding of the issues in the light of Quran. However I am willing to be corrected. I contend the following in reference to it as brought by our Rasool. The superscripts are only one reference, often out of many:-
* Khimaar-(khumurihinnaa Qur'an 24:31=their scarves) is just that, a piece of cloth. It could be Dupatta, Orhnee, Mantle, Shawl, Jilbaab (Qur'an 33:59) and any of the other various names given to such material to cover such parts of the body that would display sensuality.
* I believe that Quran, in recognizing the difference between male and female anatomy and certain aspects of sensuality, has made a “paradigm shift” in the usage of the scarf from it just being a dress accessory; to the meaningful covering of the female bosoms (juyubihinnaa) Qur'an  24:31, for obvious reasons.

* I also believe that it is Hadis and the male-clergy (priest hood), who linked the scarf specifically to HAIR, and not the part of the female body that Quran puts the emphases on.

* Hair (She’run) Qur'an 16:80 is mentioned in Quran in respect to the gifts God has provided in animals such as their fleece, hair for spinning wool Quran: 16:80, not in respect to human hair.

* The Muslim clergy (the Muslim-Church) is riding the bandwagon of Religious Hijab to bolster their position and now by playing politics with it.

We therefore believe, Quran has never meant Hijab as a means of hiding the hair on the head of a woman or a man for that matter.
We ask that if a ‘Muslim’ woman is to be covered from head to toe (alas! a separate topic), then what is the necessity of this extra thing called Hijab, the hair covering?

We also contend that if the hair was so dirty and sensuous that it has to be totally covered in the name of the ‘religion’ then, men with ‘religious’ beards should also cover their faces in Niqaab/Burqaa! Or else shave their head and face at least once daily if not five times in the name of religion.

We conclude that according to Quran:

1. The seven places the word hijab ( Qur'an, 7:46, 17:45,19:17, 33:53, 38:52, 41:5,  42:51) occurs in Quran, it alludes to the aura of separation, the protocol, decorum, barrier etc. For example, God spoke to Rasul from behind a Hijab; there was a hijab between the people in hell and the people in heaven etc. The political metaphors of ‘Iron’ and ‘Bamboo’ curtain are an example, without the physical curtain.

2. Within the Code of Islam, the responsibility of not only dressing modestly but, behaving correctly, falls equally on Muslim male and female, (Qur'an  4:124) gender. In fact the Male (Qur'an, 24:31, 32) is addressed first in the verses. In our ‘religion’ the female carries all the responsibility of the male’s morality and his sins! (Remember Amina Lawal of Nigeria?- and cases in NWF (North West Frontier) in Pakistan.

3. Showiness and overt display, (Qur'an 24:31) of one’s piety (Qur'an, 107:6) is frowned upon. It is this last aspect, when examined critically by us, irks many a ‘good’ Muslims for they realize rightly as their “religion” and their “piety” is being questioned.

4. Islam prescribes code of dress and not a mode of dress. Every decent dress, creating that aura of modesty and decorum- that curtain without a curtain; both for men and women is an Islamic dress irrespective of cultural differences and styles. Middle Eastern mode/style of dress is no more reverential and holy than the well attired Lungi/Kameez of Bengal and Burma, Kimono of Japan, Sari of India, Busuti of Uganda, Bueebuee/Kanju of Kenya, Banju Kurong/Todong of S.E Asia, Shalwaar/Kurtaa/Duppattaa of Pakistan etc.

5. Dress should be such as not to draw attention to your self so as be not molested (Qur'an, 33:59). Couple of sizes smaller, body-hugging attire accentuating one’s body contours falls into that category. (You told me that in the Subcontinent, males brazenly molest ladies in streets, what ever the dress! This is confirmed in the book ‘the Holy Cow’. See REFERENCE below.)

6. The only other dress alluded to in general is the Ihram-pilgrim’s garb (Qur'an, 5:3) for Hajj purposes only.  The word Ihram is not in the Quran.

7. Zeenat (Qur'an, 7:32), adornment and personal enhancement is acceptable to Quran.
The fact is that instead of a simple dress accessory, today Hijab has become a form of demonstration (a flag) of our Muslim ethnicity; to some even of piety and in today’s environment a statement and protest, and in combination of the above, a fashion design.

It is admitted that the head scarf turns any woman, even a tramp, in to a lady. But no particular mode/style of dress is given in Quran and therefore none is holy. All over the Muslim world Design/fashion houses are springing up.

 Because Muslim women are no less fashion conscious than others and there is nothing wrong in that except for masking the fashion behind Islam to trading in the aayat for meager returns (Qur'an, 2:79).

I also admire you and your kind who have the guts to express themselves for what they are and feel. It is about time our women to take part in what affects their lives as Muslims and not what the males have imposed on them in the name of religion. Free will (Qur'an, 2:256) is the concession of Islam within the prescribed Code of behaviour, and that along with the requirement of takreem (Qur'an, 17:70) - dignity- forms the basis of the equality of mankind; including that of women. Take active part in the matter of Islam in a positive manner, not just as a second-class citizen and not be dictated by the other gender, for we have rights over (Qur'an, 2:228) each other! These rights extend to all walks of life, including politics.

Islam is not just an Arabic religion or of any particular region, it is universal, for the whole of annaas (Qur'an, 3:110) i.e. human. So, we must resist any body who want to hijack it to ‘their’ region, for ‘their’ religion or for ‘their’ vested interests.
Dear Muslim Sister, you as an educated and an enlightened person have every right to wear what ever you like. Only that as a Muslim, we all have to be Modest and decent (that is non-sensual) in our dress and you know that too. All such decent dresses are Islamic. That is all people like me are saying. Any addition to and subtraction from Quran is Shirk even for good politics.

However I remember and cherish your advice which is endorsed by Quran to “discuss with them in most aahsan way” (Qur'an, 16:125). To agree to disagree amicably is the requirement of intellectual discourse. Quran has the oft repeated exultation of afalaa tadabbaroon (Qur'an, 47:24) - why don’t you contemplate- and even to question it! (Qur'an, 25:73). I have not said any thing out side the ambit of Quran. I believe that you are quite capable of looking out for additional references in it. Please over look my weakness and keep on correcting me.
Salams to all of you and our love to the young ones in the family.



Also see the following:-
Sarah Macdonald –‘Holy Cow, an Indian Adventure’ – p 124
“I hunt for the passages on women and dress codes, but I find only that Mohammed urges women to guard their modesty. I also read that Quran advises men they shouldn’t wear tight clothes across their genitals. I can’t help but note there’s still a lot of stretch denim in town.”(After all she is an Australian!)


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