Rafed English

The Social Reason of Development of Hijab

Another cause which has been given for the observance of the hijab is the sense of insecurity. They say that the hijab appeared because of the lack of security which had developed.

There were times in history when those who had power and force held the keys to everythings. If people had money, property and wealth, for instance, if aristocrats had jewels, they had to hide them so that none would know what they had because whenever it become known what so and so had, powerful persons would forcibly take it away. People who had great wealth would hide it. They would hide it so well, even from their own children, that when they died, no one knew where it was. They were afraid to tell their children for fear they would tell their friends, etc. and then everyone would know what they had. The person would then die and thus everything that he had remained hidden.
Lack of security was very extensive in the past. Just as there was no security in relation to wealth and property, there was no security in relation to women either. Just as men were obliged to hide their money and their wealth, they were obliged to hide their women. History records that in Sassanian Iran, the high priests and prince would seek out and take any beautiful girl that they heard about. The idea of the hijab then was to hide women so that no other man would come to know about her.
Will Durant in the "History of Western Civilization" writes about the situation in ancient Iran. Count Gobineau also wrote abou the hijab. "The hijab which presently exists in Iran basically relates to pre-Islamic Iran and not Islamic Iran."1 He believes the difference between the hijab in Iran and the hijab in other places is the national character of Iranians.

Thus, in ancient Iran, as history tells us, the man had no assurance with regard to their women. I read a story about the time of Anushirawan, the Just, who had a major in his army and even though the major had hidden his wife word of her beauty had spread. One day when the major was out of town, Anushirawan went to his wife and then he returned to place. The woman told her husband. The man saw that not only would he now lose his wife, but his own life as well if he tried to keep her. He let her go. Anushirawan was informed that major so and so had divorced his wife. When he saw the major, he said, "I understand you had a beautiful garden and that you sold it. Why?" The major said, "Your majesty, I saw footprints of a lion in the garden and I was afraid the lion would eat me." He laughed and said, "No, that lion won't be found again in that garden."

Thus, there was no security. Everyone lived in fear and because of this, they say one of the causes for the appearance of the hijab was insecurity. Then they say that this cause no longer exists. No one takes another's wife through force. Therefore, since insecurity in this sense no longer exists, there is no reason for the hijab. Just as people can now put their money in the bank where no one will touch it, there is security. Since security exists, there is presently no need for the hijab.

We have to compare this with the philosophy of Islam. This was the reason why Islam brought the hijab because of a lack of security or not? When we look at the issue, we see that neither in Islamic analysis has such an issue appeared nor does it conform with history. The hijab did not exist among the Arab bedouins during the Age of Ignorance and, at the same time, security existed. That is, at the same time that individual insecurity and aggression against women had attained the greatest extent possible in iran and women covered themselves, this type of aggression did not exist among individuals in the tribes in Arabia. The very tribal character protected the women.

The security which did not exist among the tribes was social or group security and covering does not solve this kind of problem. When two tribes fought, they not only took the men, but the women, their children, and every thing as well. Covering would not have protected the women.

In spite of the obvious differences which the Arab bedouins had with our industrilized life, it resembled our life in the sense that adultery, in particular by married women was rampant. But because of a certain type of democracy and lack of a tyranny no one would forcibly take the wife of another man. Yet the individual insecurity which a person in the industrilized West senses was lacking among the bedouins.

The 'covering' prevents the aggression of a person who lives in one place. This kind of aggression does not exist among the tribes. Therefore we cannot say that Islamic precepts established the hijab simply to provide security.

The Islamic philosophy for covering is other than this and will be explained later. At the same time, we do not want to say that the security of a woman against the aggression of a man is not at all to be considered. We will discuss this when we refer to the verse on Jilbab. We also do not feel that this issue is irrelevant today and that women have total security against the aggression of men. All one has to do is to read the newspapers about the crimes committed against women in the western world.


1. Count Gobineau, Three years in Iran.

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

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