Islamic veil (Hijab): between tradition and modernity [Archives:2004/776/Education]

September 27 2004

Dr. Majaid Selah Ibrahim Al-Karatani
Head of the Holy Qur'an Department
Faculty of Education

Praise be to Allah and peace and blessings of Allah be upon His messenger, followers, and those who follow him.

Nowadays, a lot of controversies are surfacing relating to the pros and cons of wearing the Islamic veil. Those who uphold the practice of wearing veil are inspired by the traditional Islamic values whereas those who are opposed to the practice are guided by instinct and the sham glow of modernity.
This is what has prompted me to write this essay and shed light on the history of veil through the centuries. The veil has acquired its significance because it is inherited from our great ancestors. All the Holy Scriptures have instructed people to make veil-wearing indispensable because it harmonizes with good instinct in tune with the Islamic principles.

My dear reader,
The following points bear testimony to what I have mentioned above:

1- Veil with Arabs before Islam:
Before the advent of Islam, Arabs were used to long, decorous dresses that covered the face, head, and the whole body of a woman. This might be traced to AL-HANAFAYH that goes back to Ibrahim (peace be upon him) or they might have been in obedience to the guidelines of religions prior to the advent of Islam.
Wall sculptures that date back to the AL-ASHOORI era (612 BC) had shown women wearing long and thick dresses or veils that covered their necks, heads, and chests that made them look decent and dignified. Furthermore, ancient sculptures and statues confirm that the veil was known in urban kingdoms like AL-MOSAL in Iraq. For instance, prince SHIFFRI statue's and her daughter SAMMI and the statue of Madam ABU BINT DAIMOON that date back to the second century AC.
One of the evidences that confirms about the veil having been known before the prophet's mission is what SAKHER, the brother of AL-KHANSA'A, said to his wife: ” I swear to Allah I won't give her (his sister) the insignificant things because she doesn't put me in a disgraceful position. And if I am destroyed, she will cut her veil.
This was known till the mission of Mohammad (peace be upon him) came.
The veil covering the head and face followed different styles with Arabs before the advent of Islam which are as follows;
a- AL-BURGAH: It is a small square or rectangular piece of cloth that covers the head and the face. If the BURGAH is small, it is called WASWAS and it has two strings that a woman can tie to the back of her head. Another kind of AL-BURGAH is AL-BAKHNAQ which consists of, piece of a cloth a woman can tie to her jaw and sew another on her forehead.
b- AL-NIGAAB: It differs from AL-BURGAH because it is light or punched so that you can see the face. It is a small piece of cloth that is square or rectangular in shape that a woman can put on her face away from her eyes. However, if it is put on the mouth it is called AL-LITHAM.
c- AL-QINAAH: It is a dress that a woman can cover her head with.
As we have already mentioned Veil (HIJAB) has been a part of the female out fit since the old ages.

2- Veil (HIJAB) in the Pentateuch (Torah) and Bible
A lot of texts that refer to the veil are found in the Pentateuch and the Bible. Some of these are mentioned here:
a- In SIFFER AL-TAKWEAR: In the Pentateuch it is mentioned, ” Rifga rose her eyes and saw Isaac then she came down from the camel and said to the slave ” who is this man walking towards us?” The slave said,” This is my sir and she took AL-BURQA and covered herself.” This is evidence that good women knew KHIMAR of the face.
b- In SIFFER AL-ASHIAH: The Pentateuch mentions “The Lord says because the daughters of Jewish are walking proudly with their necks up, and winking the Lord will undress them and the Sir at that day will put off their ornament like anklet, pigtail, bracelets, BURGAH and HASSAIB(veil)”(3)
We can notice in this text a threat against the Jewish women who display themselves.
And this is evident that displaying veil was considered illegal for them.
c- In SIFFER AL-INSHAD: As the Pentateuch indicates ” Oh my beloved, you are beautiful and your eyes are two pigeons under the veil”. And also ” Your lips are crimson, your mouth is sweet and your cheek like a half of pomegranate under your veil” (4)

In these two texts there is evidence that the veil was obligatory.
d- In the message of BULLIS, the first messenger to KORNTHOS nation, the following is mentioned, ” Every woman who prays and whose hair is not covered, her hair should be insulated because she is like the bald. If the woman doesn't cover her hair, it should be cut so the woman should cover her hair for angels.
Also In this text there is evidence to the legality of the veil and if any woman leaves it, she should be punished by having her haircut.
From the previous proofs there is evidence to the illegality of leaving the hair uncovered in Jewish religion and Christianity. Besides, it leads to the Originality of veil. However, the followers of these religions are leafing their law codes that they belong to.

3- Veil in Islam
The texts of the Holy Qur'an and AL-SUNNAH is the unmistakable proof of the legality of the veil. Besides, leaving it is one of the forbidden things that Islam can punish. Some of these texts are mentioned below:
Allah Says” Tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer palms of hands or one eye or dress like veil, gloves, head cover, apron, etc.), and to draw their veil all over Juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms) and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband's fathers, or their sons, or their husband's sons, or their brothers or their brother's sons, or their sister's sons, or other (Muslim)women (i.e. their sisters in Islam), or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigor, or small children who have no sense of feminine sex. ” (2) An-Nur Surah: 30-31
Allah Says “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies (i.e. screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way). That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed. ” Al-Ahzab Surah : 59
Narrated Aishah ” When the passengers were passing by us and we were with the messenger (peace be upon him), we covered our faces and if they are away from us we unveil “(4)
This narration proves the legality of Hijab (Veil). Secondly, this event is similar to the narration of the Pentateuch, as we have mentioned. This proves the unity of the source and the revealed Books.

4- The veil in the human conscience:
The messenger (peace be upon him) has ordered us to take care of the woman He says” Be gentle with the bottles” (1) He compared a woman to a bottle because anyone who touches it, will discolor its appearance. This is like the woman whose reputation and chastity may be affected merely by unveiling her charming parts to people. Also the woman is like a canned sweetsop that can be contaminated or spoiled. However, if you open it on the proper time, it will be clean and good. The same thing with the woman who protects her beauty and dignity from the curiosity of people's sights. This is what the Holy Qur'an tells us. Allah Says” And stay in your houses” (2) Surah Al-Ahzab: 33 It means that the solemnity of the woman is to be in her house because it is a symbol of sedateness. Psychologically, human being want to see the concealed things and look at what is beyond it. Then they get satisfied after looking at it. Besides, it won't stop people's curiosity. This of course doesn't mean a woman can't go outside for education, livelihood, or for any necessary thing. However, it must be in a dignified manner.
After this brief review we come to the conclusion that, all the communities respect high human value systems and follow it and that veil is one of these values. However, if it is invaded by ignorance and is misled, it will result in the erosion of the beautiful time-tested values. Veil is one of these values. Therefore, perceptive men are trying their best to persuade communities to go back to the basics. So be patient those who wear the veil and preserve virtues till the perverted people are led back to the honorable practice. May Allah give us the strength to stick to the righteous path.
Rendered into English by Rizq Al-Sanani