HEADSCARF AND VEILING
The minimum covering for both men and women has been since times immemorial the covering of the private parts of a person as foreseen in Verses 26-22 of the Sura The Purgatory. There are three verses in the Quran that have reference to a womans attire.
The Arabic word hımar means simply cover. It has a wide range of meanings. It may be any cover such as the table napkin. If it is used to cover the head, it will signify the headscarf. However, if the head had been the target, the expression should have been hımar-ur-ras meaning the covering of the head. However, in the context, one should understand the portion of the body corresponding to the bosom. Therefore it is the low-necked attire that is meant here. Even though the headscarf was the corresponding meaning, one should conclude that it was to be used to cover a womans bosom and not her head.
Another important expression mentioned in the verse is the word ornaments, which, to our own interpretation should mean the bosom. This, we believe, is in harmony with the rest of the sentence in which the covering of the low neck is imperative. Moreover, striking of the feet comes next, which might attract attention to the breasts that would be wiggling as a consequence of the striking movement, considering the brassiere did not exist at that time. Then the verse makes an exception for those ornaments that are self-conspicuous. Big breasts cannot be hidden no matter what one does, as a result of physical movements of the body, or may become even more conspicuous when the dress under the effect of a strong wind sticks to the body. So the verse explains this as a natural phenomenon. We read in other verses that women nursed their children sometimes for two years. When her baby cries she may be obliged to nurse it in the presence of her next of kin like her father. This commentary provides us with the necessary elbowroom under the circumstances. One other point that corroborates our argument is the fact that this word makes no allusion to the hanging objects that adorn a woman since the verse also mentions that they can let their ornaments be seen in the presence of women. Dangling ornaments may, of course, be used to show off rather than be an object for seduction. The striking of the feet would not render conspicuous the finery or the jewelry of the woman. Moreover, there is the fact that adornments may be used everywhere. Even during prayer they may be used, so they dont have to be hidden (see 7 The Purgatory, 31). From all of these it follows that the word ornament is used to refer to the breasts of the woman.
The keyword here is jilbab which means any clothing like chemise, dress, etc. In no way does it mean a covering special to any part of the body. Yet, the interpretations of traditionalist Islamists have ascribed to this word such meanings as to imply the covering of the entire body according to some, of two eyes or one eye according to others and of the body except for the face, hands and feet according to others. Had Gods intention been to see women covered from head to toe, He would have explicitly stated it. A womans covering her head and wearing the veil are nothing but later fabrications of traditionalists. For instance, God has detailed every portion of the limbs that ought to be washed during the performance of ablution. Had He wanted to set well-defined limits, He would have clearly delineated them. The Quran that gives a detailed account of the events related to the tribes in the past would surely not spare mentioning this fact in one single sentence. It is not an omission by God, far from it. It had not been His intention to put on such categorical restrictions. As a matter of fact, the approach in 33 Sura The Purgatory, 59 to the issue is manifestly flexible. The verse implies that the apparel of a woman will reveal her identity and keep her from being molested. It is told that during the era of the Prophet, there were women who went around semi-naked, with breasts generously exposed to view. Before the supremacy of Islam, it is said that the ritual of pilgrimage to the Kaaba was performed by women in a naked state (Kurtubi, al Jami-il Ahkamil Kuran.) We can deduce from the verse mentioned above that during the pre-Islamic period women were used to exhibiting their ornaments (ziynets). The decent woman, who preferred to preserve her chastity, well knew how she should dress in order to avoid harassment by men. However, regardless of the decency of her dress, a woman may be the subject of attacks. The verse addresses the woman to suggest she simply beware of indecent proposals by men who would approach her, attracted by her manifest intention expressed by her clothing. The ideal garments are left to the discretion of the wearer. Again, had it been the intention of God to lay down a categorical principle, He would have revealed the verse accordingly. The only other verse related to the veiling of women is 24 The Light, 60:
Those who stage demonstrations in our day candidly believe that this is prescribed in the Quran. This is coupled with the reactions of the extremists in defense of traditions and the acts of fundamentalists.
This verse shows that the apparel worn by women did not prevent hiding the beauty of a woman from ones scrutiny. Had they been clad in tcharschafs, veiled and wearing a headscarf their beauty would certainly be camouflaged.
The hadiths that served ones purpose were picked up while those that went against ones grain were ignored. In the body of the hadiths it is stated that both men and women used the same water from the same receptacle while performing their ablution (see Bukhari-Vudu, Abu Davud-Taharat, Ibn-Maja-Taharat, Nasai-Taharat), considering that the ablution involved the feet, arms up to the elbows, face and head, men and women had those parts of their bodies uncovered. Yet, the traditionalist Islamists seem to ignore these hadiths and cling to their wishful imaginings.
Had there been a definite prescription as to the manner of the veiling of women it would have been explicitly stated. Yet, according to the communities and times, there have been infinite variations on the issue. In addition to the traditions and customs, the points of view adopted under the Omayyads and Abbasids lead to the development of this custom into a religious issue. One should remember that the Quran addressed all of humanity, to communities living in differing climates and having different ways of life.
There is no end to the absurd conclusions reached by traditionalists about the covering of women. The mentality that says that the place where a woman had been sitting a while ago should not be occupied by a man, that a woman should hold an administrative position, that a woman should be the slave of the man and that women are creatures most of whose ultimate place is hell is the essential attitude that must be condemned. The other minor details like the veiling of women is a consequence of the mentality described in Chapter 21. The wearing of a headscarf has been on the agenda only recently; it is in fact a variant of the issue related to the parts of a womans body that had to be covered. It has also been debated as to whether one or two eyes of a woman could be uncovered. May we once again remind our readers that all these comments do not appear in the Quran.
A man should not cut his beard according to most of the sects. The Quran is the only jurisdiction in which there are no such absurdities by God!