Wednesday, January 27, 2016
MSA asked: Could you please refer me to the Quranic verse or verses that require the Muslim women to cover their heads with what is known as hijab?
Answer: Quran 24:31 mentions the head gear (khumr) directing women to cover their chests with it.
It is variously interpreted as (i) covering the head is mandatory since head gear is mentioned, (ii) not mandatory as it specifies what must be covered, and (iii) covering head is not allowed as the verse does not say so.
Traditionally, till about a century ago, men and women used to wear head gears across most cultures and religions. Even statues of Mary, mother of Jesus, depict her wearing a head cover. People who are more religiously inclined cover their heads as a symbol of devotion or submission, across the spectrum of religions, such as nuns in the convents, and it is customary for brides to wear head gears across many cultures.
Here is how I understand it:
The Quran has been revealed as guidance for all humanity, across cultures, geographic conditions and economic circumstances. Each person has his / her own set of unique challenges and though basic minimum requirements must be met by all, those who can do more should try to reach higher levels of piety.
Surah Noor starts with the statement (24:1) that this chapter has been revealed and ordained, and clear verses have been revealed so that we are reminded/receive admonition. The chapter concludes with the warning (24:64) that Allah knows what your intentions are, and will inform you of your deeds on the day you're brought back to him. In the middle, we are warned (24:21) to not to follow the footsteps of Satan, for he commands what is shameful and wrong, and that had it not been for the mercy of Allah on us, not one of us would have remained pure! A few verses after the verse mentioning headgear (24:31), we are informed (24:35) that Allah is the Noor (the light of guidance) of the Heavens and the Earth, and He guides to His Noor whom He wills.
The verses of Surah Noor contain clear injunctions regarding social interactions and with whom close relations are permissible/prohibited. Punishment for adultery, believers prohibited from marrying adulterers and polytheists, punishment of those who launch a charge against chaste women, order regarding those who suspect their spouses but do not have any proof, making it so difficult to prove such a charge while severely dealing with proven cases, all aim towards a highly moral society. Further, strongly denounced are scandals and gossip-mongering, the broadcasting of evil and slandering, and it is termed as most serious in the sight of Allah, and we are strongly admonished against such thought and speech! Broadcasting of evil itself carries a grievous penalty for those who indulge in it. The above guidance and prohibitions are described (24:10, 24:14, 24:20) as Allah's grace and mercy on us, in this world and the Hereafter, and because Allah is Tawab (Oft-Returning) accepting repentance and forgiving, and because Allah is Wise.
Society is a collection of individuals, and hence it is important that each individual acts aright for the society to be a highly moral society. So, 24:30 first orders men to lower their gaze and guard their modesty, and then 24:31 orders the same to women. As the desire for women has been beautified for mankind (3:41), thus women are further ordered to not to display their zeenat (beautification/adornment), except what is apparent thereof, to non-Mahram men, clearly listing the mahram relations, and defines two exceptions: (i) male domestic staff who are free of such physical needs and (ii) young children unaware of the nakedness of women. The verse concludes with:
وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
And turn to Allah altogether O believers! So that you may succeed.
So, what I take from this chapter, and specifically verse 24:31 is that covering the chest is mandatory while covering the head as well is the better thing to do. However, that would vary with the unique conditions of that particular woman's social, economic and geographical environment. The idea is to be modest and not draw unnecessary / unwanted attention to oneself and not use one's feminine charms. It is in the interest of the woman's own personal safety and piety.
May Allah guide us to a better and clearer understanding of the Deen, and the piety to observe it in letter and in spirit.