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Understanding Hijab

What does a young woman demonstrate about herself when she dons a headscarf, but ties it so that bits of hair hang out or her neck or chest are not fully covered, and then matches it with make-up, form-fitting tops, skin-tight jeans, bare forearms, bare feet, heavy perfume, nail polish, high-heels and a $200 handbag?

What does a young man demonstrate about himself when he openly eyes women and talks to his buddies about their bodies, shows off in front of the opposite sex, and looks for chances to engage in physical contact with women freely?

Hijab is a state of mind enjoined upon both men and women in Islam. At the heart of its purpose, Hijab is about maintaining or elevating the dignity of every individual regardless of gender and preserving the ability of individuals to feel the natural sense of modesty, the loss of which is a serious spiritual sickness.

There are two overarching principles to Hijab for men and women according to the Qur'an:

1. Lowering your gaze: This means you should avoid looking at, listening to, or otherwise observing anything that damages your natural sense of modesty and shame, as well as anything that causes you to feel temptation to sin or causes attraction toward someone with whom you could not lawfully act on it.

2. Guarding your modesty: This means you should avoid revealing anything about yourself, whether through how you dress, how you speak, what you say or write, or other means, that would cause damage to your natural sense of modesty and shame, or tempt you to sin, or cause you to be attracted to or to attract someone with whom you could not lawfully act on that attraction.

The requirements of Islamic modest dress are based upon these two principles. Dress should be such that it guards your modesty and aids you in lowering your gaze and does not make it unnecessarily difficult for someone else to lower their gaze and guard their own modesty.

The basic requirements for female dress in public are four:

1. Extent: Everything but your hands and face must be covered. Feet should be covered, as should hair, neck, ears, and arms. Make-up and adornment should be covered, even if that means covering parts that would not otherwise have to be covered. Most scholars say that wedding rings and religious rings need not be covered, but in general, jewelry is adornment and should be concealed.

2. Looseness: The garments should be loose enough so that the shape of your body from at least the shoulders to the mid-thighs is not apparent. Even for the legs, clothes should not be skin-tight. If the fabric follows your curves, it is too tight.

3. Thickness: The clothing should be thick enough that the color of your skin and hair underneath cannot be discerned through the fabric.

4. Style: The clothes should not be of a color, style, or decoration so as to serve the purpose of drawing attention, being adornment, or showing off. Thus, clothes with bright colors, fancy decorations, and expensive fabrics should be avoided. Further, clothes that would be considered as belonging to the opposite gender or to followers of another religion are also excluded. Also, it is improper to be a slave to fashion, spending wastefully for the latest trend, judging and being judged based on style, etc. Simplicity is better for your soul, mind and body.

Men's clothing requirements are exactly the same as women’s, except for the extent that needs to be covered. Jurists' rulings differ slightly in this matter, but as a general guideline, men should cover from navel to knees at a minimum, although a greater extent is preferable in the presence of women, since a greater area than this can be attractive to the opposite sex.

All four requirements hold in the presence of non-mahrams (unrelated members of the opposite sex). It should be noted that, in addition to people of the opposite sex who are not related to you, some relatives are no-mahram as well, and thus Hijab should be observed in front of them. For example, you need to observe Hijab in front of cousins of the opposite gender. If you are a woman, you should observe Hijab in front of brothers-in-law and uncles related by marriage rather than blood. And if you are a man, you should observe Hijab in front of sisters-in-law and aunts related by marriage rather than blood.

When in the presence of mahram individuals only, the requirements for Islamic modest dress are different. Except between spouses, who are permitted to see all of each other's bodies, the extent of covering required between mahram individuals is such that all private areas are covered. Looseness and thickness of clothing should also ensure coverage of the private areas. Adornment such as make-up and jewelry are generally permitted, but if the purpose is to attract, it should be reserved to be shared between married couples only. As for style, the requirements about showing off and about wearing clothes of the opposite gender or of another religion hold at all times.

Hijab requirements do not block women and men from doing business or from attending meetings in the same room as long as they are observing Hijab. However, the lowering of the gaze means when in the presence of non-mahrams, one should avoid looking at them in such a way as to be attracted to their bodies, or listening to them in such a way as to be attracted to their voices, etc. And in turn, the guarding of modesty means that one should behave so as not to be trying to attract the opposite sex, or showing off, or discoursing with them in a familiar way or about private topics.

Even the enemies of Islam have recognized that Hijab of men and women gives dignity to humanity and thus empowers those who observe it. This is one of the main reasons that they systematically attack it and try to convince Muslim men and women to abandon true Hijab. Observing Hijab begins and ends with its two over-riding principles – lowering your gaze and guarding your modesty. These two acts are greatly beneficial to you in both this world and the Hereafter – they protect you from hardship, sin, and confusion and they elevate you spiritually –  and this is why many people who observe Hijab describe it as being very freeing and something they truly love. Examine your interactions and your wardrobe with these two principles in mind, change anything that is out of line, and you will soon be enjoying the benefits in your own life.

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