Regardless of the history and origin of the veil, it was institutionalized through shari’a, the religious laws of Islam. The hijab was associated with two of the Qur’an’s verses, and imposed upon all Muslim females. The verses include: the verse of 24:30, 31, and 33:59.
Sura Noor (Light) verses 30 -31
The Qur’an lays down the principle of law of modesty in chapter 24- Noor (Light), verses 30-31 – Modesty is enjoined both upon Muslim men and women:
“Say to the believing man that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that will make for greater purity for them; and Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.30
And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; and that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands…31″ (Holy Qur’an 24:30-31)
According to the above verse, Muslim women should cover themselves modestly. It specifies only that their bosoms be covered. The Qur’an does not, however, spell out the details of such a covering. It is important to note that Qur’an does not specify any penalty for a woman who is not veiled!
The respected scholar, Muhammad Asad, commenting on Qur’an 24:31 says: 1
“The noun khimar (of which khumur is plural) denotes the head-covering customarily used by Arabian women as an ornament (not as hijab to cover their head) 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 chest was 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 chest is not included in the concept of “what may decently be apparent” of her body and should not, therefore, be displayed. Covering of the head, therefore is not a requirement. In the matter of hijab, the conscience of an honest, sincere Believer alone can be the true judge, as has been said by the Noble Prophet: “Ask for the verdict of your conscience and discard what pricks it.”
Sura 59 (al-Ahzab) verses 58 -59
The other verse about women’s clothing is the verse 59 from Sura al-Ahzab:
Those who harass believing men and believing women undeservedly, bear (on themselves) a calumny and a grievous sin. O Prophet! Enjoin your wives, your daughters, and the wives of true believers that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad). That is most convenient, that they may be distinguished and not be harassed. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. Qur’an 33:58-59
According to the Qur’an, during that time both Muslim men and women were subject to harassment and aggravation. The reason why Muslim women should wear an outer garment when going out of their houses is not to get harassed. The purpose of this verse was not to cover or to confine women to their houses but to make it safe for them to go about their daily business without being harassed. In societies where there is no danger of a “believing” Muslims being confused with the others or in which “the outer garment” is unable to function as a mark of identification for “believing” Muslim women, the mere wearing of “the outer garment” would not fulfill the true objective of the Qur’anic decree. 2
Apparently, instead of embracing the true message of Islam, the societies carried on with their cultural and tribal practices, and incorporated the lowest meaning of the hijab as a dress code for women rather than focusing on the deeper and vast meaning of Hijab.
Nazira Zin al-Din stipulates that the morality of the self and the cleanness of the conscience are far better than the morality of the veil. No goodness is to be hoped from pretence; all goodness is in the essence of the self. She concludes this part of the book, al-Sufur Wa’l-hijab by stating that it is not an Islamic duty on Muslim women to wear hijab. If Muslim legislators have decided that it is, their opinions are wrong. 3
Veiling has today become a political statement in some countries, a dramatization of the desire for freedom from interference by foreign powers, and for sovereignty.
Whatever one’s views on women literally veiling the face and /or head, there is no instruction to do so in the Holy Qur’an.
- Translated and explained by Muhammad Asad, The Message of the Qur’an ( Dar al-Andalus, Gibraltar. 1984) p.538
- Ibrahim B. Syed, article on Women in Islam: Hijab, (Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc, Louisville , KY. November 3, 1998)
- Nazira Zin al-Din, al-Sufur Wa’l-hijab (Beirut: Quzma Publications: 1928), p 37.