- This is in response to Tazeen Javed’s article: A Woman’s Clothing Is Her Own Business
By Muhammad Yunus, New Age Islam
Co-author (Jointly with Ashfaque Ullah Syed), Essential Message of Islam, Amana Publications, USA, 2009
One may wonder what kind of hypocrisy has possessed the Muslim ladies in Pakistan that of all the things expressly Islamic (charity, generosity, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, fair wages to the domestic hands, good deeds, excellence in lawful pursuits, unremitting jihad for developing once potentials, eschewing greed, arrogance and bigotry for example), they are debating today about the configuration of ‘hijab.’ Did their mothers and grandmothers ventured out in public without proper hijab? Have they suddenly become conscious of the sexual appeal of their head, ear and chin – that the present day model of medieval nun style headgear represents? Don’t they realize the very gaze (Nazar) of a woman can be far more provocative than her head, ear or neck? Have they not heard the popular Indian songs – “nazar ka teer maara jo, muhabbat usko kehten hain”; “aankho hi aankhon may ishara ho gaya” and the likes – there are hundreds of such songs. No wonder the Qur’an asks men and women to guard their gaze (Nazar in Urdu) (24:30).
Traditionally Pakistani women, as in the subcontinent, wear Quamiz, Pyjama and Dupatta to observe the hijab – that is to hide their private parts - God given constitutional charms (Zeenat) in public. Those who want to reconfigure the hijab into the medieval nun style head-ear-chin wrap-around should be free to do so while those who want to stick to their traditional Quamiz-pajama-Dupatta should carry on with their traditions. The real hijab is in the gaze (24:30) after covering the Zeenat (God given structural beauty) (24:31) and not in covering or revealing head, ear and chin or what is normally apparent of the body (maa zahara minha, 24:31).
However, those who think the medieval nun style headgear is more conducive to purity, must give up their luxurious life style which does not go with the lifestyle of the pious nuns they are trying to emulate. The modern Pakistani women in its flourishing cities live in posh houses - fully tiled or carpeted, well lit with electric lights, lamp shades, and chandeliers; often centrally air-conditioned, with all kinds of modern furnishings in all rooms, bathrooms, kitchen, lobby and what have you. They avail of numerous utilities and services from gas, electricity, telephone, cell phone, I-pad, I-pod, Internet, to insurance, modern banking and safe electronic cash. They visit beauty parlours where the attendants virtually bathe them with all kinds of exotic lotions and perfumes for their personal beautification. They shop in glittering malls, move in plush cars, go on grand vacations, throw lavish parties and enjoy all kinds of recreations and entertainments. They also avail of by far the best quality of medical services and partake of finest cuisine that no medieval nun would have ever dreamt of. In a word, the personal life of a modern Muslim lady of this era – Hijabi or non-Hijabi, Pakistani or Arab is incomparably more comfortable and luxurious than that of the medieval nun they are trying to emulate.
And if the nun-style Hijabi women think that they are emulating the nissa al bait (the women folk of the Prophet’s household) they are fooling the world or being knowingly hypocritical. Tradition tells us that in those days men and women mostly possessed only one piece of clothing with which they barely wrapped themselves around. There was such an acute scarcity of cloth that women, including those from the Prophet’s household had to use practically the same swathe of linen during their periods by sparingly and selectively rinsing off the stains [Sahih al-Bukhari, English translation by Mohsin Khan, New Delhi, 1984, Vol.1, Acc.305, 309, 348-358, 360, 361, 366]. It will be a grand mockery to lead an unimaginably more luxurious life than the azwje mutahhirin and then wear a medieval nun-style head-ear-chin overwrap to emulate them, though conceivably those pious ladies never wore such superfluous coverings.
The truth is, until the advent of Islam, women were oppressed and subjected to various forms of restrictions in practically all the major civilizations. Therefore, all the Christians (including the Romans and Greeks), Zoroastrians, pagans and Hindus who embraced Islam brought notions against women from their previous religions. This inevitably influenced their interpretation of Qur’anic exhortations on modesty. With time, this gave rise to imposition of varying restrictions upon women, including their full veiling, medieval nun style head-ear-chin over-wrap and segregation when outside the house – a custom borrowed understandably from “the Greek Christians of Byzantium, who had long veiled and segregated their women in this manner” [Karen Armstrong, Islam, A short history, New York 2002, p. 16.].
Hence, wearing a medieval nun-style head-ear-chin overwrap or simply the traditional modest dress must be left to personal choice and the external environment and dressing norms. None should claim any piety or expect any divine blessings for observing any particular style of hijab as long as they conceal their Zeenat (private parts/ God given structural beauty) and guard their glances (24:30-31).
A more elaborate discussion on the theme is presented in the following article that those who have some unanswered questions may consult for enlightenment:
Muhammad Yunus, a Chemical Engineering graduate from Indian Institute of Technology, and a retired corporate executive has been engaged in an in-depth study of the Qur’an since early 90’s, focusing on its core message. He has co-authored the referred exegetic work, which received the approval of al-Azhar al-Sharif, Cairo in 2002, and following restructuring and refinement was endorsed and authenticated by Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA, and published by Amana Publications, Maryland, USA, 2009.