The most prominent justifications for veiling entail, quite simply, the idea that veiling is prescribed in the Qur’an (see Arat 1994; Dragadze 1994; Hessini 1994; Sherif 1987; Shirazi-Mahajan 1995 for reviews). Several Muslim Scholars place a strong interpretive emphasis on a Qur’anic passage (S. 24:31) that urges women “not [to] display their beauty and adornments” but rather to “draw their head cover over their bosoms and not display their ornament.” Many of these same defenders of the veil marshal other Qur’anic passages that bolster their pro-veiling stance:
“And when you ask them [the Prophet’s wives] for anything you want ask them from before a screen (hijab); that makes for greater purity for your hearts and for them” (S. 33:53); “O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over themselves, that is more convenient that they should be known and not molested” (S. 33:59).
In addition to these Qur’anic references, pro-veiling Muslim Scholars highlight hadiths intended to support the practice of veiling (see Sherif 1987 for review). Many pro-veiling Muslim clergy maintain that the veil verse was revealed to Muhammad at a wedding five years before the Prophet’s death. As the story goes, three tactless guests overstayed their welcome after the wedding and continued to chat despite the Prophet’s desire to be alone with his new wife. To encourage their departure, Muhammad drew a curtain between the nuptial chamber and one of his inconsiderate companions while ostensibly uttering “the verse of the hijab” (S.33:53, cited above). A second set of hadiths claim that the verse of hijab was prompted when one of the Prophet’s companions accidentally touched the hand of one of Muhammad’s wives while eating dinner.
Yet a third set of hadiths suggests that the verse’s objective was to stop the visits of an unidentified man who tarried with the wives of the Prophet, promising them marriage after Muhammad’s death.
A majority of Muslims also see the hijab as mandated by Allah. However, the term “hijab” is never used in the context of a woman’s clothing in the Holy Qur’an (El Guindi, 1999). Surah- al-Noor 24:31 is the one surah (passage) which most people point to for an illustration of the requirement of hijab. This passage states that women should dress modestly and should not reveal themselves to men outside their family. Including the surah here is problematic because of the translations. Many Islamic scholars translate differently, and there are Islamic scholars who feel that hijab is not mandated by the Holy Qur’an. Different translation in English will use different words. For example, here are two different translations of the same passage:
“ [24:31] And tell the believing women to subdue their eyes, and maintain their chastity. They shall not reveal any parts of their bodies, except that which is necessary. They shall cover their chests, and shall not relax this code in the presence of other than their husbands, their fathers, the fathers of their husbands, their sons, the sons of their husbands, their brothers, the sons of their brothers, the sons of their sisters, other women, the male servants or employees whose sexual drive has been nullified, or the children who have not reached puberty. They shall not strike their feet when they walk in order to shake and reveal certain details of their bodies. All of you shall repent to GOD, O you believers, that you may succeed.” This is taken from http://submission.org, which is an authorized English translation of the Holy Qur’an online (2007). But it does not mention the hijab or the veil for women at all, and commands women simply to dress modestly and “cover their chests”.
This next version, taken from a Yusuf Ali translation (2001), uses the word veil:
“ And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze...