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The Verses on the Hijab

But there is another verse in this Surah which relates to our discussion. "O Prophet! say to your wives and daughters and the believing women that they draw their outer garments (jilbab) close to them; so it is more proper that they may be known and not hurt. God is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate. Now, if the hypocrites do not give over and those in whose hearts there is a sickness and they make commotion in the city, We shall assuredly set you against them and then they will be your neighbours there only for a little while."1

All of the commentators agree that there were certain events occuring to which this verse is related to in Madinah. There was a group of hypocrites and corrupts who bothered people and in particular, slave women and others. Then when they were asked why they were doing this, they said: "We thought they were slave women."

Slave women are among the exceptions. They do not need to cover themselves from non-mahram men and if they had outer garments, they did not wear it in a way to cover their hair. Very often Muslim women would walk down the street at night and this corrupt group of hypocrites would bother them. When they were caught, they would always use the excuse that they thought the women were slave women.

The verse was revealed for them to cover themselves and in this way be recognized so the corrupts and hypocrites would not bother them or at least would no longer have that excuse.

Some have commented on this verse in a different way. They say that it means that the women be recognized that they are not this way (to be bought and sold) because they say if a woman maintains her honour and respect and has a serious attitude about herself, even corrupts will show her respect. If they know that she is not among the other women and if she conduct herself with dignity, they will no bother her.

Thus this verse refers to particular events which had occurred (and they are told to make their clothes a sign so that they be recognized apart from slave women). Then the verse threatens those who bother others, that if they do not resist, "We will set you against them".

Now let us see what limits were set so that they are recognized as being separate from the slave women. The verse says: "draw your outer garments close to them": How close? They said they must cover their heads, and some even said their chins so that this be their sign of difference with slave women.

It is not very clear exactly what the jilbab looked like. In the Munjid it says it is a loose flowing dress. If it were a dress, this verse would not then be telling them to cover their hair. Raghib Isfahani in the Mufridat, which is a very reliable book on words, and it has defined the words of the Holy Quran very well, says that it means both dress and scarf.

There is a tradition from Imam Riza, about women who are beyond a certain age, from which it becomes clear that it was something which covered the head. He said they may put aside the jilbab there is no problem if one looks at the hair of an old woman. Here it is not clear if the jilbab covered the hair and head.

In another tradition it would appear that the jilbab differed from the khamur but the difference is not clear. Perhaps it was larger. Imam Sadiq was asked what these woman can take off and he said their jilbab and khamur, i.e., 'their outer garment and scarf'.

There are two points which can be made use of in this verse. The first is that this verse adds nothing more to the verse from Suran Nur. Why? Because the verse refers to particular events which were occurring at that time, not a total ruling for all times and secondly, the verse just says to draw the jilbab closer to themselves.

1. Quran, 39 : 59-60.

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

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