Is the Hijaab a means of oppression against women?

Answered according to Hanafi Fiqh by DarulUloomTT.net

Q. It is often said that the Hijaab is a means of oppression against women. What is Hijaab? Explain the position of the Hijaab/Niqaab.

A The above statement is often said out of ignorance of the true teachings of Islam. Many non-Muslims make this claim that it is a symbol of dominance and subjugation against women. They often depict and paint the picture of the cloth on the head, as a mark of ancient uncivilised customs and habits. They often portray such cultures and nation as backward and one against progress. While this might be the view of some non-Muslims, ignorant of the true teachings of Islam, as well as, of their own history, it is worth mentioning that even some Muslims, maintain the same view.

The Hijaab/Niqaab in reality is a mark of dignity for women as against ignominy; a means of freedom from the yolks of ignorance; a statement of modesty in an overwhelming lewd world. It is a protection and fortification of women against exploitation of their nakedness.


What is Hijab?

Different meanings have been drawn from the word ‘Hijab’ in different societies through the ages. It is however, mostly and grossly misinterpreted in societies lacking Divine Guidance. The usual understanding of such people is that it is outdated, uncivilized, and a way of depriving women of any advancement and progress. Many of these people see Hijab as ‘hiding away the woman’, and it is understood to be ‘an old fashion of women’ that is not keeping with the times of the modern world. For some, Hijab prevents one from excelling in different ways and is seen to be a hurdle in fulfilling one’s objectives and goals in this world.

The list goes on and on with such remarks and statements, and it seems that every new generation gives a new interpretation of this teaching in Islam.

It is however, strange to note that while these critics have taken the time to investigate and give their thoughts on what hijab is, they have failed to investigate the disastrous and horrible results of ‘No Hijab’ in the world.

There is no doubt that adherence to religious teachings requires a certain amount of discipline and self-restraint from an individual. However, this is the sacrifice one makes to live a life of respect and integrity, chastity and purity. On the flip side of this, it has to be admitted that the non-adherence to religious teachings has brought about such freedom and loose behavior among human beings, that it has taken ‘man’ out of the respect, dignity, honor and decency with which he was created.

The absence of Hijab has brought about nakedness, nudity and lewdness in the society. Shamelessness among men and women has become the order of the day. Indecent and immoral behavior have become so widespread that ‘fornication’ and ‘adultery’ have become ‘normal’ and ‘OK’ for the masses. These along with many other shameless reasons, are the disastrous effects and results of there being ‘No Hijab’ which our critics fail to see, due to their internal blindness. In summary, Hijab is none of what the critics have written. Instead, it is a sacred institution that involves a wide range of measures to safeguard the chastity of the woman, the home and the family life. This cannot be considered as oppression to women, but rather, it is what every decent society wants and desires.

Hijab brings womanhood back to a woman, it returns to her the chastity, dignity, prestige and respect which was given to her by Allah, the Almighty.

History bears testimony to the fact that civilizations were at the sublime when Hijab was being observed by them in one form or the other. The curves of their downfall rose with the gradual banishment of Hijab (decency and respect) from them.

Anyone who goes through the annals of history would find that the Greek Civilization was at its peak of grandeur and glory when the Greek woman was queen of the home.

Her sphere of duty was restricted to the four walls of that kingdom where she held a position of authority. Her chastity was held in high esteem. To guard it, female apartments in their houses were segregated from those of males and there did not exist any misconception of mixed gatherings, and the phenomenon of equal job opportunities for both the sexes, unwed mothers and children out of wedlock were nearly unheard of.

The Greeks, however, could not maintain those standards and gradually fell victim to the human weakness, thus allowing their womenfolk to leave the home and quench the thirsty wandering eyes and hearts. They destroyed the sanctity of the Hijab, and with the destruction of this indispensable institution, they soon lost the sanctity of womanhood. With immeasurable loss, the Greek nation started regarding matrimony as an unrealistic and unnecessary restriction, and considered adultery and fornication as lawful.

The uncontrolled sex and licentiousness soon started covering the natural course, and with the passage of time, illicit relations and unlawful indulgences came to be regarded as part of religion. Appreciation and pride became the lot of these women who failed to remain faithful to their husbands. Prostitutes and vagabond ladies started influencing decisions upon which depended the very life and death of the Great Greek kingdom.

In a nutshell, the destruction of the chastity of womanhood destroyed the very nature of womanhood itself, which in turn led to the destruction of the Greek home. Once the Greek home was destroyed, the Greek Empire came down with a thud. History bears clear testimony that having suffered this heavy blow, the Greeks have not been able to recover their past glory until this day.

As mentioned before, Hijab/Purdah is a sacred institution that embodies a wide range of measures that are all focused on the protection and preservation of the chastity, modesty and purity of women.

These measures incorporate a woman’s dress and clothing, her conduct in open and public places, her manner of speech, the intermingling with the opposite sex and being alone with such people. It also comprises of a woman’s traveling alone to distant places, protecting her modesty and adopting the ways of the opposite sex. These are just a few which are part and parcel of the concept of Hijab and the law of Modesty which have been given to Muslim women.

In the matter of dress and clothing, the Holy Quran has spoken in great details regarding the dress of a woman, identifying to her the manner of covering herself and what areas of the body can be exposed (due to necessity).

In Islam, a Muslim woman has been ordered by Allah to cover her entire body with the exception of the face and the hands up to the wrists. In this regard, Allah says, ‘O Prophet! Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must (ordinarily) appear thereof’. (Sura An Nur verse 30-31).

As mentioned by many great scholars, the head of which is Abdullah bin Abbas (RA), the above verse gives an allowance for women to expose the face and hands up to the wrists. According to him and other great commentators, the phrase ‘that which appears thereof’ refers to the face and hands up to the wrists. There are other great scholars who hold the opinion that covering the face (Niqaab), as well as the hands is compulsory. This difference of opinion however, is only with regards to the face and the hands (up to the wrists). Besides these areas, there is the total agreement of all the scholars of Islam which includes the Sahabahs, Tabieen, Tab’ut Tabieen and those after them, that the other areas of the body of the woman must be covered properly. This is clearly established from the verses of the Holy Quran and the teachings of the Holy Prophet (SA). It therefore means, that while covering one’s head with the head-cover (khimar, scarf), a woman must not expose her ears, neck, nape, chest, etc. All these parts must be covered since they are all concealable areas of the body, and exposing them is sinful.

With respect to the manner of dressing, a woman is not allowed to wear tight-fitted clothing. The dress of a woman must not reveal the shape of her body nor should it reveal the parts of the body. It must be loose to the extent that it does not show up the body. Wearing such tight-fitted clothes are against the teachings of Islam, and instead of covering the area of one’s body and maintaining self-dignity, it serves more to show off the body and provide attraction to the opposite sex. It is for this reason, Allah has commanded the Prophet (SA) to order the believing women to cover their bodies with their outer and loose garment. The verse states, ‘O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over them’. (Sura Ahzab verse 59). As mentioned by the scholars, the purpose of this order/command is to ensure that Muslim women cover themselves properly so that the parts of their body are not revealed.

With respect to wearing thin clothing, this has been out-rightly prohibited in the Shariah of Islam. In this regard, Imam Baihaqi has recorded the tradition of Aisha (RA) in which she said, ‘Once my sister Asma (RA) came to visit me. She was wearing a dress made of some thin Syrian material. When the Prophet (SA) saw her, he said, ‘These are the kinds of clothes which have been prohibited in Sura Nur’. He then asked Asma (RA) to change into something different’. (Baihaqi)

In another tradition, Dihya Kalbi (RA) said, ‘Once the Prophet (SA) was presented with some material fromEgyptcalled Qibitiyah. He gave me a piece of it and said, ‘Make a shirt for yourself and give the rest to your wife to make her scarf, but ask her to put a lining underneath so that her body cannot be seen through it’. (Abu Dawood)

Once Aisha’s niece, Hafsa bint Abdur Rahman (RA) came to visit her. She was wearing a scarf made of thin material. Aisha (RA) took it and ripped it up and gave her one of her own scarves made of a thicker material’. (Muatta of Imam Malik)

On another occasion, some women from the tribe of Banu Tamim came to visit Aisha (RA). They were wearing dresses made of thin material. When Aisha (RA) saw them, she said, ‘If you are believers, this is not a type of dress suitable for believing women. But, if you are not believers, then do as you please’. (Tafseer Al Qurtubi).

All these traditions clearly indicate that it is not permissible for women to wear such thin clothing through which their bodies can be seen.

These laws are not made by man, but by the Creator of everyone and everything – Allah. Who knows best our nature better than Allah? Therefore, when a Muslim woman adheres to the laws of the Hijaab, she is not being oppressed, but rather she gains the pleasure of Allah and she uplifts her own dignity.

And Allah knows best

This answer was collected from DarulUloomTT.net, which is operated under the supervision of Mufti Waseem Khan from Darul Uloom Trinidad and Tobago.