The Hijab Dispute: What do the Qur’an and the Hadith say?

In the country’s media, Hijab for school girls has unnecessarily become the subject of controversy for the past few days. The entire social media has been discussing certain aspects which are neither helpful in maintaining social harmony of the country nor are they conducive to the constitutionally acquired individual freedom and religious freedom; on the contrary, it has hampered the image of the country globally, as it has managed to attract the attention of the global media. Interviews of a few individuals – who either present the entire case in a wrong context, or deliberately misinterpret the manifest position of the Qur’an and Hadith, and consequently mislead the commoners – are playing a big role in damaging the issue further.

We, in this article, would like to present the position of the Qur’an and Hadith on hijab clearly because it is very important to see and learn it in its correct context. The constitution of our beloved country has guaranteed and protected the position of Islam, like it has done with regard to that of other religions. Thus, we present to you the clear position of Islam on Hijab in the form of points.

Hijab is a word of Arabic language the meaning of which is “to veil”. Today, it is being used to mean “to cover the head” while it actually only means “to veil”. 

The Qur’an uses the word “Hijab” to mean “to veil” and “to cover”. There’s an Ayah (something like a verse) of the Qur’an which indicates that Allah talks to a human from behind a veil. (Surah Ash-Shuura, 42: 51). Surah Maryam (19: 17) has that Maryam (May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon her) had veiled herself from people. The Qur’an, while mentioning the day of judgment, says that there would be a veil between the people of Paradise and that of Hellfire. (Surah Al A’raaf, 7: 46). Thus, there are seven places where the word Hijab is used in the Qur’an to mean “veil” and “cover”. 

One must understand that a word in one language doesn’t quite have the same connotation in another. For instance, in Urdu, we use the word “Aurat” for a woman, while the word “Imra’ah” is used in the Arabic language for a woman; while the word “Aurah” in Arabic means something different from that in Urdu.

Islam has commanded for the covering of body parts. This command is mandatory, not optional, and it is for both men and women. However, the body parts that must be covered are different for men and women. Covering them becomes obligatory after adulthood.

The Islamic rulings pertaining to the parts of the body that a woman must cover when she steps out of the house are:

A woman can keep her face, head, neck, feet, and hands uncovered in front of the members of her family that are Mahrim. (A Mahrim is someone a lady, by law, cannot marry.)

A woman may choose to keep her face and palms uncovered, is what Imam Abu Haneefa (may Allah have mercy on him) opines, while the other notable Imams and Ulema are of the opinion that a woman’s entire body is to be veiled with the exception of her eyes, so she can walk around comfortably. While the difference in opinion lies in the area of whether the face can remain uncovered or not, there’s no permissibility, whatsoever, of keeping the head and/or hair uncovered.

There is clear guidance in the Qur’an and Hadith regarding this ruling, and the Hadith explains the commandments of the Qur’an. That’s why, in order to arrive at the right inference, it is necessary to combine the Qur’an and Hadith. Thus, the Shariah means the rulings that are based on the Qur’an and the Hadith together. The inferences drawn by the Prophet Muhammed Sall’Allahu Alaihi Wasallam also form the rulings of the Shariah.

The Qur’an on two occasions has specifically talked about the veil pertaining to women (while there are other instances of it elsewhere in the Qur’an too). One of them is in Surah An-Noor while the other is in Surah Al Ahzaab. The one in Surah An-Noor commands both men and women to lower their gaze and guard their chastity. Thereafter, women are specifically addressed regarding their adornment and beautification and those in front of whom they’re allowed to be relaxed about their cosmetics. In continuation of it, women are commanded to cover their bosom with an additional garment, referred to as Khimaar (mantilla). (See, Surah An-Noor, 24: 30, 31)

“Jayb” in Arabic is chest, the plural for which is “Juyuub”. Thus, this Ayah talks about two things, one, ornamentation, and two, covering the chest with an additional garment.

Surah Al Ahzaab is the 33rd chapter of the Qur’an. Ayah 59 of this Surah addresses the Prophet Sall’Allahu Alaihi Wasallam saying: O Prophet, tell your wives, your daughters, and the wives of the believers to draw over themselves their outer garments. It’s more likely that they will be recognised (as chaste women) and not be troubled..

“Jilbaab” in Arabic is a loose garment, the plural of which is “Jalaabeeb”. Thus, they’re commanded to draw over themselves a garment which covers their head, face and comes further down. They’re commanded to cover themselves with what in Hindi is called a Ghoonghat. Every believing woman is commanded to observe this order. 

Therefore, in the light of the aforementioned Ayahs, it can be concluded that women conceal their beauty from those men that are not Mahrim to them, that they cover their chest with Dupattas, and use something like a Ghoonghat to cover their head and face.

Let’s now examine a Hadith of the Prophet Muhammed Sall’Allahu Alaihi Wasallam: Ayesha (may Allah be pleased with her) says that Asma’ entered upon the Prophet Muhammed All’Allahu Alaihi Wasallam wearing thin clothes. The Prophet All’Allahu Allaghi Wasallam told her: O Asma’ when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it is not correct that her body parts are visible except this and this, and he pointed towards his palms and face. (Abu Dawuud: 4104)

Therefore, collective ruling from both the Qur’an and the Hadith is that women shouldn’t keep their heads uncovered in front of those who aren’t Mahrim to them; that they must not exhibit their beauty and adornment; and that they cover themselves with what is known as Jilbaab, and Khimaar. Whether you cover your face too is optional, as per some Ulema.

Now, whatever garment can help achieve this purpose is absolutely required. What’s prevalent today is called a Hijab or a headscarf, and it is used to cover the head. Some women cover their face and some don’t; however, everyone of them invariably covers their head, which is what is obedience to the ruling of the Qur’an and the Hadith.

This makes it unequivocally clear that Hijab or the headscarf is in line with the ruling of the Qur’an, and asking someone to not abide by it is equivalent to stopping them from adhering to the teachings of the Qur’an. 

Our country has long witnessed the tradition of women covering their head and face out of modesty as this practice has been observed in every community for several thousand years now. Many women in various states of India cover their head and use a Ghoonghat too. Women from Sikhism cover their head too, and in fact, men can’t enter their religious places and shrines without covering their head either. Many Christian women and nuns cover their heads, as this is a part of their religious culture. Same is the case with Muslim women too. Schools, colleges and universities have seen that generations have followed this practice of Muslim women covering their head for several hundred years here. Christian nuns cover their head in schools and colleges even till date. 

A Muslim woman covering her head is her religious obligation, much like how the followers of other religions enjoy it. The very constitution of our beloved India grants everyone right and freedom to practise their religion. As far as the dress code of a school is concerned, the headscarf can be of the same colour as the uniform. Besides this, there’s no violation of laws when a Muslim girl wears the Hijab, neither does it inconvenience anyone else. A few handful elements from some right wing fundamentalists want to use this non-issue to disrupt social harmony, and perhaps to create a scuffle in the otherwise-well-balanced social unity. Such miscreants must be dealt with a strong hand.


Article written by: 

Prof. Akhtar-ul-Waasi’, Professor Emeritus of Islamic Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia

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