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Hijab and Muslim Customs

This itself is an issue that the customes and habits of Muslims oppose something which is clear from the verses of Quran and the traditions. The customs of the Muslims are not something which can be easily put aside. There is a need for an analysis as to what it is.

If we asume that Muslims have acquired a custom from the beginning of Islam whereby it is discovered to be from the customs of the Holy Prophet and the Imams, which is a lesson they learned from them and if this, then this is a custom which goes back to the time of the Holy Prophet which is a thing he practised, it is clear that it is something which should be preserved. However, a custom of the people is not proofin itself except when it is discovered to be among the customs of the Holy Prophet. Then it becomes proof and must be observed.

For instance, take the beard. Some people say that the real proof for it is that men from the time of the Holy Prophet and later all had beards. Thus, we rely upon this. Now note what they answer. If someone had said that it is forbidden to grow a beard we would have said that people in the past, according to custom, had a beard and this existed from the time of the Holy Prophet. Thus, it was not forbidden to have a beard. If it had been forbidden, it could not have become the custom. But the question then arise whether growing a beard is obligatory or recommendatory. We assume the possibility that it is a part of custom which is at least, recommendatory or unspecified. Custom only dictates when there is a lack of respect involved. Therefore it is either obligatory or recommendatory.
A thought has occurred to me here which is a historical social point and most often the reason why the religious authorities become fixed here is because they do not attend to the social issue. The hijab did not exist among the pre-Islamic Arabs. Islam brought the covering of the head, neck and chest, etc. and the forbidding of looking with lust. But a part of that which Islam brought existed in non-Arab areas. It was a very strong influence in Iran, in particular, among the Jews and people were influenced by their way of thinking.

Islam did not make it obligatory to uncover the face. It said it is obligatory to cover the hair, not to display the face. Clearly, those nations which came to accept Islam were following their own customs because Islamic precepts did not say it was obligatory to display the face, except in the haram. Nor did they say it was forbidden to cover the face, it gave a choice. It left it up to the various nations to practise their own customs of hijab if they so desired.

History shows that non-Arabs felt it was obligatory to cover the face. Thus this custom of covering the face, as we find it now, is not a custom of the Holy Prophet and the Imams.

Another point which is very sensitive and should also be considered, relates to caution. Every religious jurisprudent speaks this way out of caution. They all know that these two things exist, one in a woman and one in a man. That which exists within a woman is the desire to show herself off, it is a part of her nature. That which exists within man is an inclination towards looking, not just looking but flirting and receiving pleasure from it. Both of these exist. Will Durant says that there is nothing in the world more firm and more persevering than a man's desire to look at a woman. It exists no matter how much it is restrained and it is referred to in the traditions. It is because of this that a religious jurisprudent does not find the courage, in spite of the fact that all of these reasons and proof exist, to issue a religious edict. They say caution should not be put aside. The caution relates to human nature itself.

This brings up another issue. Some people follow a philosophy and that philosophy is that in those areas which are ruled by customs; whatever one does not say to the people is better. It is better not to say it than to say it.

I may have mentioned that I once received a letter in praise of the book I wrote called "Stories of Good People". The ritual prayer leader in Khuzistan read the book. He said that he looked up all of the stories. Although not one idea was changed and they had been presented in a very readable, pleasant style, he had two criticisms. The first criticism related to a story about Hazrat Fatimah and Hazrat 'Ali, peace be upon them. Their work had been devided so that Hazrat 'Ali die the work outside of the house and Hazrat Fatimah, the word within the house; a division which the Holy Prophet had made at the very beginning of their marriage. When Hazrat 'Ali was home, he helped Hazrat Fatimah within the house and when he was not home, Hazrat Fatimah did the work outside the house as well. One day she was covered from head to toe in shoot from having started the fire and because there was no flowing water in Madinah, it had to be carried from the wells, often at some distance a way, the pressure applied by the straps of her water bag remained on her body because of all the water she had carried to her house. This man said that even though this story was true and was part of the traditions, I should not have mentioned it because it could be misused.

I do not deny the general principle that if telling the truth will cause the people to deviate, it should not be said because the reason for telling the truth, in the first place, is to guide the people, not to turn away from it. Of course, the Holy Quran tells us, "Those who conceal the clear (Signs) we have sent down and the Guidance after we have made it clear for the people in the Book ... on them shall be God's curse and the curse of those entitled to curse ..."1 The tone of this verse is very strong. There are very few verses in the Holy Quran where such a strong and angry tone is found. At the same time, I believe the purpose to be that people should not conceal the truth because of their own interests but to conceal the truth because the truth itself under very limited, temporary and definite conditions so that it is not misused and does not pertain to this verse. In other words, it is forbidden to lie but it is not always obligatory to speak the truth. That is, there are occasions when one must remain silent.
I am of the belief that this kind of prudence, when it is based upon the real issue of the truth has no problem but, not when it is based on individual, personal or group interests. Now the point is whether or not it is prudent thinking not to issue a religious edict about buying or selling a radio or that it is not obligatory for a woman to cover her face and hands. It is correct kind of thinking? Is it intelligible? Does it produce the correct result or not? Will some women who cover their face and hands then uncover their face and hands and finally their whole form by saying this truth? Or is the opposite true?

That is, many men and women think that the bases of the religious viewpoint is that the face of a woman should not show for when the face shows, there will be no stopping the rest. On the other hand, the covering of the face is impractical and, from the point of view of logic, it is indefensible. No reasoning or deduction can be given for it being so. Therefore, they will then completely uncover themselves.

Some sociologists believe that the cause for the extremity in woman's dress and their lack of modesty is because of the erroneous belief that society had about the hijab. Yet the error was that the truth was not spoken! If it had been expressed just as the Islamic precepts express it, things would never have reached this point. It is here that one should refer to the proverb, "being, more Catholic than the Pope", or jumping "from the frying pan into the fire".

The Holy Quran says in Surah Hujarat, "O believers, advance not before God and His Messenger".2 What is meant by 'advance' is a point beyond which God and His Prophet said there by, 'advancing before God and His Messenger'.

Amir al-Mu'minin, 'Ali, peace be upon him, said, "God has given limits. Do not aggress beyond them. (He has specified the forbidden, do not disobey). He has specified the obligatory and the precepts; do not shun them and so to the things for which He remained silent about (neither forbidden nor oblige it was not because He forgot them but rather He wanted you to be free in regard to them. Therefore, do not restrict yourself there and make something your duty in the name of God's religion and God."

The Holy Prophet said in a tradition recorded in Jama' al-Saghir, "Just as God dislikes that which He prohibited, people should obey and He likes them to do what is allowed; whatever is without any problem should be considered to be such and they should not forbid anything which God has not forbidden ..."

This tradition has also been recorded as the following, "God loves people who allow whatever He has allowed and prohibit whatever He has prohibited."

Perhaps I am mistaken. As I have mentioned, in areas covered by religious edicts, each person must follow the edicts of their own mujtahid.

But, in regard to that which is mentioned as prudent thinking and saying it is not advisable to mention something even though it is the truth, I disagree with this prudent thinking. I believe it is advisable to express the truth and that which is advisable is to counteract the concept that women today express, "The hijab is impractical." We must prove to them that the Islamic hijab is logical and practical.

Secondly, we must make efforts to establish cultural, social, and health activities, particular to women, and resist the mixed activities which are limitated from Europe. It is only in this way that women will rediscover their real personality and the possibility that they will no longer be a tool, a toy and means to men's lust in the name of freedom and equality.

1. 2:159

2. 49:1.

Adopted from the book : "On the Islamic Hijab" by : "Murtaza Mutahhari"

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