What is Hijab? Why Do Muslim Women Wear Veils?

In today’s modern vernacular Arabic, the word ‘Hijab’ refers to a ‘headscarf.’ Yet in classical Arabic and the language of the Holy Quran, Hijab refers to a physical curtain, a screen, a partition, or a barrier, that separates one from others when they stood behind a curtain. The one that is being covered by or that is found behind the Hijab is not only covering their head and whole body but also the space around them as they stand behind a curtain, a screen, a partition, or a barrier. According to the Holy Quran, this covering was an extra layer of coverage required to be worn only by Prophet Muhammad’s wives

“…And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a partition. That is purer for your hearts and their hearts…” (Quran 33:53)

Not only did the Prophet’s wives have to cover their heads and body, but they were required to place a cover or a curtain in front of them to conceal their space when speaking to people other than their mahram (a person whom that individual may not marry because of their close blood relationship such as a brother, uncle, nephew, etc..). The Almighty gave additional rules of etiquette pertaining to how one should speak to the wives of the Prophet peace be upon him, dictating that there should stand a physical separation of the noble Women from the common folk, by a barrier that would be opaque, not see-thru, and impenetrable. It provided an extra layer of privacy and is simultaneously a symbol of their high status and dignity. It’s essential to express that the classic meaning of the term ‘Hijab’ in the Holy Quran is not the same as how we understand and use the term today. The wearing of the Hijab was not required by anyone other than the Prophet’s wives, as is outlined in the Holy Quran. As for all other Muslim women, the Quran explicitly instructs that women should wear a headscarf in a different verse.

“And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed” (Quran 24:31)

The Holy Quran uses the word ‘Khamar’ to refer to a headscarf — that which covers your head. The word Khamar comes from a root word which means to cover something. The word Khamar is similar to the Arabic word Kha’mir which is the word for alcohol, as alcohol impairs one’s intellect — -one cannot think straight while under the influence of alcohol, as it creates a barrier between the mind and the power of speech and reasoning.

God states in his Book to tell the believing women to wear their Khomar (the plural of Khamar) over their bosom as in throwing their shawl over and cover their chest area. So, besides covering one’s chest, the head should be covered too — as the covering of the head is already implied by the use of the word Khomar in this Verse. So, the essentials of the Khamar dictate that the hair is covered, and that cloth cover the chest of the women.

Whereas generally the women of the days of the Prophet peace be upon him would wear headscarves, some of them would push their veils back exposing their chest area. So, God commanded them to cover their chest as well.

Besides covering the head, neck, and chest area, God instructs the believing Muslim woman to throw unto themselves a Jilbab — which references a loose outer garment which does not define their body shape and conceal their beauty. This is regarding a situation in which a Muslimah leaves her home or is in the presence of those who are not her Mahram.

“O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful” (Quran 33:59)

Because these Verses in the Holy Quran are explicit and direct, no disagreements or disputes have been posed to this edict by representatives of Islamic scholarship in the past; unless it concerns whether women should also cover their face and feet.

The primary reason why a Muslim woman wears the Hijab can be attributed to a Muslima’s belief that her true purpose in life is to worship God the Almighty according to His instructions; as revealed in God’s final Revelation to mankind, the Holy Quran and through the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, the final Messenger of God. God made the wearing of the Hijab an obligation and instructed the believing women to wear the head covering in the Holy Quran. So, wearing it is an act of righteousness and an act of obedience to God. A Muslim woman wears the Hijab to gain the pleasure of her Master.

It is the core teaching of Islam that whatever God instructs one to do; it is always best for them to follow the instruction — whether or not one may understand the logic behind it or not. A Muslim woman trusts God and does whatever He instructs her to do, believing that it is best for her, as God knows what’s best for her more than she knows herself. God is the Creator of everything and is All-Knowing, All-Wise. Only when she submits to God and obeys His commands, does she reap the benefits and feel tranquility and contentment of life; as she knows that God is pleased with her. By focusing on and submitting to the demands of God, she is set free and is no longer a slave to and prisoner of society’s pressures and desires.

“Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer — We will surely cause him to live a good life, and We will surely give them their reward [in the Hereafter] according to the best of what they used to do” (Quran 16:97)

Islam stresses the relationship between the body and the mind. In covering her body, a Muslim woman shields her heart from spiritual impurities. A Muslim woman wears the Hijab to uphold Islam’s code of modesty. Islam’s code of modesty extends to all aspects in one’s life, including their dress and how they carry themselves. A Muslim’s clothing is an outer manifestation of inner purity, beauty, and humility, as wearing the Hijab embodies moral conduct, character, manners, and speech. A Muslim woman guards her modesty and does not attract unnecessary attention from people, such as a second look, admiration, praise, or sexual attraction from those other than her husband.

Whereas attention from others may boost one’s ego for a short period, a Muslim woman acknowledges that this attention might lead to consequences in the long term, such as jealousy from others, envy, competition, affairs, being a bad role model for children, and possibly a marriage break-up; as we see all so often in the west and around the world where dressing immodestly is common. A Muslim woman boasts the trait of Hayaa’ (modesty, bashfulness, and a sense of shame) within her and values her beauty, so she veils herself as the Hijab diverts attention away from her and conceals and protects the Muslimah. God also instructs women to lower their gaze when the opposite gender is present, which shows the trait of Haya.

“And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts (by being chaste)…” (Quran 24:31)

A Muslima is honored in Islam and Sharia (Islamic Law). Islam elevates the one that covers herself, safeguarding her integrity by not allowing herself to be treated as a sexual object; to be valued and judged externally based solely on her appearance, rather than internally on her righteousness, character, mind, and intellect. A Muslima woman does not desire to adorn her body for men, sexualizing herself to gain attention from those other than her husband.

“…That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused (molested). And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful…” (Quran 33:59)

According to this Verse in the Holy Koran, a Muslima should wear a Hijab and dress modestly so she can be recognized as a Muslima, a woman that is chaste and serious about her modesty. A Muslima sets a standard for herself and sends a message for everyone around her she is not one to sell herself cheap and knows her value, that she is a strong woman with courage, inner strength, endurance, and is a practicing Muslima that would not harm, oppress, or cheat anyone. The Hijab is a shield that helps prevent a Muslima from being a victim of molestation, taunting, humiliation, or teasing. Not only does she wear modest garb to protect herself, but she wears it to protect men and society at large.

Contrary to popular belief, many assume that the Hijab is worn solely to restrain men’s illicit desires. It is not the women’s responsibility to regulate a man’s behavior. Every man is responsible and accountable for their conduct and action. The Holy Qur’an also instructs men to be modest, lower their gaze, guard their modesty, and to handle themselves sensibly in every sphere of their lives. God states:

“Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do” (Quran 24:40)

The Holy Koran instructs men to observe modesty first before addressing women. While many often incorporate the concept of the Hijab with wearing a headscarf, that is only one application of the idea. The Hijab is much more than a head covering, but the overall concept of being modest and humble in other aspects of life as well.

A similar instruction is given in the Bible: ‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Gospel of Mathew 5:27–28)

In the Holy Quran, the Almighty specifically addresses women when He asks them not to show off their adornments, except that which it is proper and easily apparent, and to draw their veils over their bodies due to the physical and biological distinctions that exist between males and females and their modes of attraction to one another. This is evident in today’s world, where the disgraceful exposure of sex-appeal is catered overwhelmingly to men as opposed to women — by corporations and industries mindful of how their advertising and selling of products influence their purchasing behavior.

Some feminist movements and media outlets portray the Hijab as a depiction of oppression and slavery of women. While sadly some Muslim women are oppressed in some Muslim countries even though it goes against the teachings of Islam, the overall oppression of women happens in many parts of the world regardless of the oppressor’s religion or culture, even if they are atheist in faith. While one can say that a particular government or group of people generally oppress women, it is not truthful to say that Islam oppresses women. No Islamic laws oppress women, Islam states women have every right to a decent life without facing aggression or abuse of any sort.

If women were indeed granted their God-given rights, oppression would not exist in the manner it does today. Unfortunately, Islam is not being practiced as it should be — even in Muslim land. Islam honors women; yet sadly across the globe, Muslim women fall victim to cultural aberrations that have no place in this beautiful, perfect faith.

A Muslim woman who covers her hair or places her religion above worldly pursuits is sometimes labeled oppressed; but in reality, oppression is not defined by a piece of material on one’s head, but by a weakening of the heart and mind. Liberation means freedom, but not freedom to do as one pleases. Freedom must never come at the expense of oneself or others. When a Muslim woman fulfills the role for which she was created, to find God, build a relationship with, and follow His guidance and commands, not only is she liberated — but is empowered and honored. She is liberated and freed from the shackles of society, the pressures of society, and the unrealistic stereotypes and images dictated by the media. Muslim women who chose to cover their hair and dress modestly view the act as a right, and not a burden.

The concept of Hijab is not a concept unique to Islam. Both Christianity and Judaism share many beliefs, including covering one’s hair in public with a veil. It was the custom of Jewish women and Catholic Nuns to go out in public with their heads covered. As recently as 40–50 years ago, it was unheard of for a Christian woman to go to church without covering her head nor wearing a long skirt.

In fact, the concept of a female head covering is found in the Bible stating a woman must cover her head and if she shows her head uncovered, she dishonors her head — and should have her head shaved off: ‘But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one las if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be ma shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered’ (1 Corinthians: 11: 5–6)

Unlike related passages found in the Holy Qur’an, Paul in this verse presented the veil as a sign of man’s authority. A woman wearing her headscarf, in his view, should do so to show her subordination to a man. This sexist view of women covering their heads reflects the influence of certain individuals in the west, who think the Hijab is oppressive and a symbol of inferiority and degradation. This is because they subconsciously are reacting to the Judea-Christian concept of the veil which is the symbol of woman’s subjection to her husband. This is not the case in Islam at all.

The concept of the Hijab comes with necessary conditions which should be followed by Muslima women. The terms are that the whole body, except for the face and hands, should be covered, and by clothing that is loose, not tight, and not transparent. The dress should not attract attention or accentuate the body, should not be perfumed, and should not resemble clothing worn by men or unbelievers — nor should it be overly elegant nor ornate.

God has given an exception to this rule to those who are no longer capable of bearing children, who no longer desire marriage or sexual relations, and who cannot excite the passions of men. These ladies do not need to cover themselves to the same degree as other women do. They are allowed to remove their outer garment, known as a Jilbab in Arabic.

“And women of post-menstrual age who have no desire for marriage — there is no blame upon them for putting aside their outer garments [but] not displaying adornment. But to modestly refrain [from that] is better for them. And Allah is Hearing and Knowing” (Quran 24:60)

The Prophet of God peace be upon him praised modest women, who guard their chastity, and the beauty bestowed upon them by God. Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him also cursed those women that display and flaunt their beauty in public, stating that those women will not smell the fragrance of Paradise. Our Prophet peace be upon him has warned us that towards the end of time, women will exist who are dressed yet naked, he warned us of women who will turn away from righteousness and will be inclined to do evil, leading others astray — including their husbands.

To my dear believing sister, let not the whispers of shaitan (satan) mislead and misguide you. And let not satan drag you from your Creator, the All-Merciful, All-Loving. You need to recognize that you are not in a position to negotiate your faith, what you should accept and what you should decry. You need to submit fully and willingly. And realize, my dear sister, that you are blessed and honored to be amongst the people of La Ala Ila Allah (There is no deity worthy of worship except Allah). Do not procrastinate, as your death can occur at any moment, bringing with it an end to the test of your faith and actions.

The act of not wearing a Hijab or not dressing modestly is a sin, but to justify your actions is much worse. When you are honest with yourself and will admit your transgressions, you gain the chance for repentance, change, and forgiveness. Feeling guilty of sin is the first step of repentance.

Like any other act of worship, the act of dressing modestly and wearing Hijab will require faith, sacrifice, discipline, and patience. Dressing modestly strengthens the relationship between you and your Lord.

To my dear sister who is struggling through her journey of Hijab, strengthen your prayer rituals and connection with God and His Holy Book. Supplicate to Him and beg for His Help. Pray and enhance your relationship with Him, as these acts will keep you away from sins and unlawful acts — giving you the power you need to resist evil elements. Take the first step now and never give up on your quest for faith.

Wear the Hijab for the sake of God alone and ignore the outside noise, ignore people’s stares and comments, and realize that this journey is worth the struggle. Realize that pleasing people is a goal you can never achieve and that pleasing your Creator is the road to contentment and peace. Our Prophet peace be upon him narrated: ‘Whoever seeks Allah’s pleasure by incurring the wrath of the people, Allah will suffice and protect him from the people. And whoever seeks the people’s pleasure by Allah’s wrath, Allah will entrust him to the people.’ Surround yourself with righteous, practicing sisters, realizing that you are too precious to be on display for each man to see. And realize, my dear sister, that you and your believing sisters are the last true representatives of femininity on this Earth.

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