The Holy Qur’an speaks of the hijab. The verses 30-31 in Surah 24 of the Holy Qur’an, which give the meaning of:

*{Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is Aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands’ fathers, or their sons or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or sisters’ sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigor, or children who know naught of women’s nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that ye may succeed.}*

Also verse 59 in Surah, which give the meaning of:

*{O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them [when they go abroad]. That will be better, that so they may be recognized and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.}*

The above verses very clearly show that it is Allah Almighty Himself, Who commands the women to wear hijab, though that word is not used in the above verses. In fact, the term hijab means much more than the covering of the body; it refers to the code of modesty outlined in the verses quoted above.

The expressions used: “Lower their gaze”, “be modest”, “not to display their adornment”, “draw the veils over their bosoms” “not to stamp their feet” etc.

It must be clear to any thinking person what is meant by all the above expressions in the Holy Qur’an. Women in the Prophet’s time used to wear a kind of dress that covered the head, but not the bosom properly. So when they are asked to draw their veils over their bosoms so as not to reveal their beauty, it is clear that the dress must cover the head as well as the body. And hair is considered by people in most cultures of the world – not only in the Arab culture – as an attractive part of a woman’s beauty.

Until the end of the nineteenth century, ladies in the west used to put on some kind of head gear, if not a cover for the whole hair. This is quite in conformity with the Biblical injunction for the women to cover their heads. Even in these degenerate times, people pay more respect to the more modestly dressed ladies, than to the scantily clad ones. Imagine a lady prime minister or a queen wearing a low-cut blouse or a miniskirt in an international conference! Can she command as much respect there as she would get if she were in a more modest attire?

For the above reasons, the scholars of Islam are unanimous that the Qur’anic verses quoted above clearly mean that women must cover the head and the whole body except for the face and the hands.

Does the hijab prevent a woman from performing her day-to-day duties?

A woman does not normally wear hijab in her own house, so it shouldn’t get in the way when she’s doing housework. If she is working in a factory close to machinery or in a laboratory, for example—she can wear a different style of hijab that doesn’t have dragging ends. Actually loose trousers and a long shirt for instance lets her to bend, lift, or climb steps or ladders more easily, if her work allows that. Such a dress would certainly give her more freedom of movement while protecting her modesty at the same time.

However it is interesting to note that the very same people who find fault with the Islamic dress code for women do not find any thing improper in the dress of nuns. It is evident that the “hijab” of Mother Teresa did not prevent her from social work! And the western world honored her with the Nobel Prize! But the same people would argue that the hijab is a hindrance for a Muslim girl in a school or for a Muslim lady working as a cashier in a super market! This is the kind of hypocrisy or double standards which paradoxically some “sophisticated” people find fashionable!

Is hijab an oppression? It could certainly be so, if someone forces a woman to wear it. But for that matter, semi-nudity also can be an oppression, if someone forces a woman to adopt that style. If women in the west – or east – have the freedom to dress as they please, why not allow the Muslim women to prefer a more modest dress?

*by Shahul Hameed