I am a spiritual agnostic. But I grew up in a muslim family and even visited Quran school in our mosque. Although I stopped going there after a while I was still a very god-fearing child. Later on in my early teenage years I stopped believing in the concept of religion and started to walk my own path. Still interested in all kinds of beliefs ‘though, I started reading a lot about different faiths and practices.
Being born a muslim I never questioned the presence of hijabi women. But I also never thought that wearing the headscarf was mandatory since a lot of women didn’t wear it. “If you want to wear it, wear it. If not, don’t. It’s sunnah – God will be pleased but not angry” is what everyone around me believed in. So I didn’t question it.
At present times even the most ignorant people have heard about the word hijab somewhere. Most likely in the middle of some burkini media hullabaloo. The big question concerning the hijab being mandatory or not seems to be very important a the moment. A lot of Muslimas do choose to wear it, others don’t want to and do not really know if they are doing something haram if they put their headscarf aside.
I wanted to know. There are scholars out there defending both sides. And both sides argue with the same words from the Quran:
[24.30] قُلْ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ يَغُضُّوا مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِمْ وَيَحْفَظُوا فُرُوجَهُمْ ذَلِكَ أَزْكَى لَهُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا يَصْنَعُونَ
[24.30] Say to the believing men 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.
[24.31] وَقُلْ لِلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّعَلَى جُيُوبِهِنَّ وَلا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَائِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَائِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِيإِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي أَخَوَاتِهِنَّ أَوْ نِسَائِهِنَّ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُنَّ أَوِ التَّابِعِينَ غَيْرِ أُولِي الإرْبَةِ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ أَوِ الطِّفْلِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يَظْهَرُواعَلَى عَوْرَاتِ النِّسَاءِ وَلا يَضْرِبْنَ بِأَرْجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعْلَمَ مَا يُخْفِينَ مِنْ زِينَتِهِنَّ وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
[24.31] And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; 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, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments…
After reading those lines it’s pretty clear what it means, right? That’s what everyone says and they still come to different conclusions. That’s because there are many things to consider, like specific meanings of those used expressions:
- Guarding their Modesty
- Beauty and Ornaments
- Must Ordinarily
Another issue which leads to even more confusion is different translations.
Guarding their Modesty
What does that even mean? It’s very unspecific. Since I don’t speak any arabic, I have to go with everything that I’ve read about it. I’ve learnt that the closest translation to the original text would be “guarding their private parts” – well that’s specific. But it doesn’t say anything about how to dress other than not letting anybody see your love glove.
Beauty and Ornaments
No translation issues with that one, but it delivers too little information on what to include in those terms. Are hair part of your ornaments? Who knows.
If you leave it like that you could interpret this as everything can show that isn’t part of your beauty and ornaments. Which again is dependent on what your definition of beauty and ornaments is. Some other translations say “must necessarily”. This sounds more like you shouldn’t show anything which isn’t necessary like your hands, which you need to be able to use.
Some people argue that Allah doesn’t speak in riddles. He’s very clear all throughout the Quran – why would he be that vague on this specific topic? If he doesn’t say “hair” and “body” it doesn’t mean hair nor body.
This is the most interesting one. In this translation you only read; they should draw their veils over their bosoms. Beside your private parts, please do cover your breasts – this makes sense. Other translations say “headscarf” instead of veil. And whoops you have a whole different meaning. But let’s take a look at the original arabic word: khumur, plural of khimar.
In pre-Islamic Arabia women wore a loose headscarf, which endings just hung down behind their head or loosely in front of them. This headscarf was called khimar.
By using the word khimar in arabic and understanding the historical context it becomes clear that the veiling of the head didn’t need any further explanation for it was already in use. So the only thing that needed to change was the covering of the bosom. This is the only argument which makes perfect sense. But we’re not done yet.
Further on the Surah Al Ahzaab:
[33.59] يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُلْ لأزْوَاجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَاءِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِنْ جَلابِيبِهِنَّ ذَلِكَ أَدْنَى أَنْ يُعْرَفْنَ فَلا يُؤْذَيْنَ وَكَانَاللَّهُ غَفُورًا رَحِيمًا
[33.59] O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
The IRFI – Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc. explains it this way:
“According to the Quran, the reason why Muslim women should wear an outer garment when going out of their homes is that they may be recognized as “Believing” women and differentiated from streetwalkers for whom sexual harassment is an occupational hazard. The purpose of this verse was not to confine women to their homes, but to make it safe for them to go about their daily business without attracting unsavory attention.”
Some translations changed should to must, which once again changes the whole meaning.
My Personal Conclusion
I do believe wearing the hijab (used as headscarf, which also covers the bosom) is mandatory. Dressing modestly without showing too much of ones body also makes a lot of sense to me reading all this. Khimar is the key word that convinced me.
I do not believe, that the outer garments or hijab (used as full body cover) are fard, they seem rather sunnah to me. A recommendation not an obligation.
This is at least what I would think if I were a practicing Muslima, who’d think the Quran is meant to be followed word by word.
I don’t believe in Dogmas
But I’m not. I’m an agnostic because I think God (if there is one) is bigger than this. So if you are a Muslima not wearing hijab: Great! If you are wearing a lot of make up and love to show off your kick ass waist, while wearing a headscarf: Great! If you wear niqab, hijab, jilbab or burka and you’re rocking the shit out of it: Great!
Believe me, what’s in your heart matters way more than what you wear. Allah will understand.
The big question whether the hijab is mandatory or not will be ongoing. At least I solved it for my personal understanding.