Rafed English

The Word 'Hijab'

We believe in a particular philosophy in Islam for woman's hijab or modest dress which forms our intellectual point of view and in regard to analysis, it can be called the basis for the Islamic hijab.
Before we begin our discussion, it is necessary to look at the meaning of the word hijab which is used in our age to refer to a woman's covering. This word gives the sense of 'covering' because it refers to a veil or a means of 'covering'. Perhaps it can be said that because of the origin of the word, not every covering is hijab. That 'covering' which is referred to as a hijab appears behind a curtain. The Holy Quran describes the setting of the sun in the story of Solomon. "... until the sun was covered (bil-hijab) and time for the afternoon ritual prayer was over"1. The diaphragm separating the heart from the stomach is also called 'hijab'.

In the advice given by Hazrat Ali to Malike Ashtar, he states, "... prolong not your seclusion (hijab) from your subjects, for a ruler's seclusion from his subjects is a kind of constraint and (results in) a lack of knowledge of affairs. Seclusion from them cuts rulers off from the knowledge of that which they have been secluded ..."2

Ibne Khaldun syas in the Muqaddamah, "Governments do not consider a separation to exist between themselves and the people at the beginning of their formation but little by little, the separation and distance between the ruler and people grows and finally it causes unpleasant results"3. Ibne Khaldun used the word 'hijab' in the sense of meaning 'curtain' and 'separation' and not 'covering'.

The use of the word satr, in the sense of 'covering' was used instead of hijab, especially by the religious jurisprudents. The religious jurisprudents, whether in the section on the ritual prayers or in the section on marriage, refer to this issue and use the word satr and not hijab.

It would have been best if this word had not been changed and we had continued to use the word 'covering' or satr because, as we have said, the prevalent meaning of the word hijab is veil. If it is to be used in the sense of 'covering', it gives the idea of a woman being placed behind a curtain. This very thing has caused a great number of people to think that Islam has wanted women to always remain behind a curtain, to be imprisoned in the house and not to leave it.

The duty for covering, which has been established for women in Islam, does not necessarily mean that they should not leave their homes. It is not the intention of Islam to imprison women. We may find such ideas in the ancient, pre-Islamic past of some countries like Iran and India but no such things exists in Islam.

The philosophy behind the hijab for woman in Islam is that she should cover her body in her associations with men whom she is not related to according to the Divine Law (na-mahram) and that she does not flaunt and display herself. The verses of the Holy Quran which refer to this issue affirm this and the edicts of the religious jurisprudents confirm it. We will refer to the extent of this covering by using the Quran and the Sunnah as sources. The relevant verses do not refer to the word 'hijab'. Verses which refer to this issue, whether in Surah Nur (Light, 24) or Surah Ahzab (Companions, 33), have mentioned the extent of the covering and contacts between men and women without using the word hijab. The verse in which the word hijab is used refers to the wives of the Holy Prophet of Islam.
We know that in the Holy Quran there are special commands about the Prophet's wives. The first verse addressed to them begins, "O wives of the prophet! "You are not as other women..."4 Islam held the speical relationship of the wives of the Prophet in such a great esteem that they were to remain at home for basically political and social reasons during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet and after his death. The Holy Quran says directly to the wives of the Prophet, "Remain in your houses."5.

Islam desired that the honour and respect of these 'Mothers of the Believers', who were held in great respect by the Muslims, not be misused and that they do not become a political and social tool for selfish and ambitious men.

I think that the reason why the wives of the Prophet were forbidden to marry after the Prophet's death was for this very reason. That is, a husband after the Holy Prophet might misuse the dignity and respect of his wife. Therefore, if commands are more emphatic and severe in regard to the wives of the Prophet, it is because of this.

At any rate, the verse in which the word hijab is used is, "... and when you ask his wives for any object, ask them from behind a curtain (hijab) ..." 6. According to history and Islamic tradition, whenever you see the 'verse of hijab' referred to, for instance, 'such and such was the case before the revelation of the verse of 'hijab' or 'such and such was the case after the revelation of the verse of 'hijab', it refers to this verse which relates to the wives of the Holy Prophet and not the verses of Surah Nur which states, "Say to the believing men that they cast down their look and guard their private parts, that is purer for them. Surely God is Aware of what they do. And say to the believing women that they cast down their look..."7 or the verse of Surah Ahzab which states, "O Prophet! Say to thy wives and daughters and the believing women that they draw their outer garments (jilabeeb) close to them; so it is more likely that they will be known and not hurt. God is All-forgiving. All-compassionate". (33 : 59)

But there is a question as to why, in the recent era, did the current expression of the religious jurisprudents, that is star not become prevalent instead of 'hijab'? The reason is unknown to me. Prehaps they mistook the Islamic hijab for the hijab which is traditional in other countries. We will give further explanation about this later.

1. 38 : 32

2. Letter to Malike Ashtar, the Nahj al-Balaghah. Translated rom the Arabic by William Chittick in Shi'ite Anthology.

3. Ibne Khaldun, "The Muqaddamah", translated form the Arabic by Franz Rosenthal.

4. Quran, 33 : 32. Also see "Sahih Muslim", vol.4, p.148-151.

5. Quran, 33 : 33.

6. Quran 33 : 53.

7. Quran 24 : 30-31.

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

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