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Prof. Ibrahim B. Syed


Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.

Louisville, Kentucky




Many Islamic scholars have written that  "The Qur’anic verses are very explicit about hijab and chastity." And they quote the following verse from the Noble Qur'an:
“ O prophet, direct thy wives and daughters and the women of the believers that they should pull
down their outer cloaks from their heads over their faces. This will make it possible for them to be distinguished so that they will not be molested. Allah is most forgiving, ever merciful.” Qur’an AL-AHZAB 33/60

                 A conservative and literal translation of the first quoted verse (Surah Al-Ahzab 33:59) would read:         "O Prophet tell your wives, daughters and women of the believers to lower or possibly draw upon themselves) their garments. That is better so that they will not be known and molested. And God is forgiving and merciful."

    The operative words in Arabic are 'yudnina alayhinna min jalabibihinna'. This could    mean 'lower their garments' or 'draw their garments closer to their bodies'. Jalabibihinna literally means, 'their garments'. A jilbab is a garment, like a dress or Arab robe, which has stitches and thread. A single piece of cloth like a chador or an abayah which some women wrap around their bodies in the modern age, would normally be called a jilbab. 'Yudina' literally means to bring closer or to lower something, in this case a garb. Therefore, one can interpret this verse to require the covering of the legs, or a more vigilant covering of the torso, or, simply, modesty, but the original text does not support covering the heads over their faces. Nowhere does the verse says that the face should be covered. In fact, the verse is devoid of the word ‘face’. If the face was required to be covered, words to this effect should have been present: ‘يُغَطِّيْنَ وُجُوْهَهُنَّ’ (yughatina wujuhahunna: they should cover their faces).                                                            


     There are certain directives about women which have been erroneously derived from   some verses of Surah Ahzab. These can be enumerated as follows:


i. Women must cover their faces and wear large cloaks (jilbabs) when they go out of their houses.

ii. Women must not speak in a polite tone with strangers.

iii. Women should primarily be confined to their homes.

iv. Women should be kept secluded except from their immediate relatives.  

The following verses are quoted  to prove that  the Qur’an details the code of moral conduct both for men and women:

 “And say to the believing women that they restrain their looks and guard their private parts, and that they display not their beauty or their embellishment except that which is apparent thereof, and that they draw their head coverings over their bosoms, and that they display not their beauty or their embellishment save to their husbands, or to their fathers or the father of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers or the sons of their brother or the sons of their sisters, or women who are companions or those that their right hands possess, or such male attendant as have no desire for women, or young children who have not yet attained knowledge of the hidden parts of women. And they strike not their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may become known. And turn yet to Allah all together, O believers, that you may prosper.” Qur’an AL-NUR 24/32.

But a literal translation and more honest translation of Surah 24: 31 would read: "And say to the believing women to lower their gaze, and guard their private parts, and that they should not display their adornments except what would ordinarily appear. And, that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and that they should not display their beauty except to their husbands..:" The Quranic Arabic instructs that women should take their KHIMARS and cover their JAYB (pl. juyub). The Arabic is 'wal yadribna bi khumurihinna ala juyubihinna' which means that women should take their khimars and strike with it or place it upon their bosoms.

The jurists add that the khimar was a cloth worn by women in pre-Islamic times on the neck and that it was normally thrown toward the back leaving the head and chest exposed. The verse apparently instructs that the piece of cloth normally worn on the head (the khimar) or neck be made to cover the bosom or to descend down to the point of touching the cloth.

Muslim scholars  wrongly interpret that the Qur'an commands Muslim women to cover their head. The Qur'anic command clearly is to cover the bosom using the Khimar.

I totally agree with those who write  that "Islam instills in the believers the spirit to create a society of very high moral standards. Ignoring those moral values the Western culture is entrapped in a vicious circle of higher divorce rate, extramarital affairs, infidelity etc."  However the Quran balances the various rights; the Quran does not expect women to bear the full burden of modesty. The weakness of men cannot be the source of hardship and suffering for women, and any approach that does not acknowledge this fact, in my view, is not true to the spirit or letter of the Quran.

Muslim scholars  seem to be working under a very different set of assumptions. They seem to be under the mistaken impression that the Qur'an aims to eliminate all sources of temptations and enticement in society, and that women should bear the brunt of the burden in this process. Hence, 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.

                 "From the gross liberties taken in translating the text, apparently the translators believe that God wishes women to be like house broken dogs -loyal, timid, sweet and obedient. One can only ponder what type of rotted and foul soul imagines that God wishes to imprison women in a sewer of squalid male egos, and suffer because men cannot                      control their libidos. What an ugly picture they have created of God's compassion and mercy." [Taken from: Conference of the Books, Abou el Fadl, p. 290-301]


 1.  Misinterpretation of some verses of Surah Ahzab-

Renaissance Monthly, Lahore, Pakistan  Feb. 2005

 2.  Abou el Fadl, Conference of the Books, p.290-301 


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