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 and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss.” Many Muslims believe this verse commands women to wear hijab, but there are many other Muslims and Islamic scholars who believe that these verses say only to dress modesty, not to cover their hair.
The Islamic Scholar Abdul Rahman Doi, the author of „Women in Shari‟ah‟, where he claims that although the rules of modesty apply to both men and women, “ on account of the difference between men and women in nature, temperament and social life, that a greater amount of veiling is required for women than for men, especially in the matter of dress” (Doi,A.R.1989:13).
He emphasizes that women should
wear dresses that are loose fitting and do not display their shapes and that women should not appear without modest dress in the presence of anyone “except their
husbands, relatives living in the same house with whom a certain amount of informality is permissible, women, that is in the strict sense, their maid-
servants who are constantly in attendance to them, but in a more liberal sense, all believing women old or infirm male servants and infants or small children who have not yet a sense of sex.” ( Doi,A.R.1989:14)
He concludes according to the hadith, “it suffices too cover the body leaving out the face and hands up to the wrist joints... with the face uncovered” (Doi,A.R. 1989:19). However, he continues that if a woman prefers to wear a face – veil by choice, she should not be discouraged as “this may be a sign of piety and God-consciousness” (Doi,A.R. 1989: 24).
Although Doi is very thorough in clarifying the Islamic dress code, Fatima Mernissi, a popular contemporary scholar, provides a different view in her book “Women and Islam : An Historical and Theological Enquiry”.She defines the concept of “Hijab” as a physical barrier between two men and not as traditionally understood as a separation between men and women.
She goes on to describe the circumstances in Medina causing the revelation of Surah 33 verse 59.
“ O Prophet ! Tell thy wives and
daughters, and the believing women, that
they should cast their outer garments
over their persons (when abroad): that is
most convenient, that they should be
known (as such) and not molested. And
God is oft forgiving, most merciful”.
Women in Medina were being harassed in the streets and were openly solicited by men who saw them as objects of pleasure. Every woman was a victim and the excuse of these harassers was to claim confusion about the identity of the women they approached. The Prophet
(S.A.W.) had to ensure the safety of every Muslim woman in Medina. Allah (S.W.T.) revealed the verse (Qur‟an:33:59) which made Muslim women recognizable by pulling their jilbab over themselves. Although no new forms of clothing were introduced, the mere
wearing of one already in use in a different way made a huge distinction between Muslim and Non-Muslim women. (Mernissi, F. 1989:185)
According to Mernissi, Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) had a dream of a society where women could move around freely because of the faith of the Muslims. However, the customs of the hypocrites who treated women as chattels were the ones adopted by the society of Medina. (Mernissi, F. 1991:191).
Although there have been women in history which have rejected the hijab, they have not achieved much success. Mernissi goes into much detail describing women‟s rights. She discusses the Prophet (S.A.W.)‟s attitude towards women. She highlights a very liberal- minded woman: Sukayna, the great-granddaughter of the Prophet (S.A.W.), daughter of Husain (R.A.). She was a woman that defied the restrictions placed on Muslim women at that time. She never pledged obedience to any of her many husbands and never acknowledged that men had the right to polygamy. However, there have been many attempts according to Mernissi‟s personal experiences, to obliterate the memory of Sukayna, she stands out as an exception to the rule. Other ladies like the prophet (S.A.W.)‟s wives, Ayesha (R.A.) and Umm Salama (R.A.) are also mentioned by Mernissi because of their resistance to be a submissive, marginal creature that only goes out into the world timidly in her veils (Mernissi, F. 1989:195).
Another famous writer, Afzalur Rahman, in the „Role of Muslim women in Society‟, expresses views that take women‟s differentgeographical, cultural, social and economic situations into account before prescribing their mode of dressing.
He quotes the Qur‟anic verse (33:33) :
“ And stay quietly in your houses, and make
not a dazzling display, like that of former
times of Ignorance; and establish regular
prayer, and give regular charity; and obey
God and His Apostle. And God only wishes
to remove abomination from you, ye
members of the Family, and to make you
pure and spotless”. (Ali,Y.1946:1115)
Afzalur Rahman claims that this verse, when specifying the conduct of the Prophet (S.A.W.)‟s wives refers specifically to them because of the situation they found themselves in and not to the rest of the Muslim women in Medina. „In no way could this obligatory duty of the wives of the Prophet (S.A.W.) be forcibly thrust upon other Muslim women as a compulsory duty‟ (Rahman,A. 1986:422). However, he goes on to say that, should women adopt the dress code, that has been prescribed for the Prophet (S.A.W.)‟s wives, as their own choice, it is considered as an „act of charity and a noble gesture on their part‟ (Rahman,A. 1986:422).
Rahman quotes the Qur‟anic verse (24:31):
He questions who has the authority to go beyond the scope of the Qur‟an and prescribe the full hijab, which was only obligatory to the Prophet (S.A.W.)‟s wives. He maintains that the imposition of the face veil has come about through later customs and traditions followed bywomen in the early Islamic era.
Syed Mutawalli Ad-Darsh, author of “Hijab or Niqab:An Islamic Critique of the face-veil.”.believes that the purdah system is not Islamic and calls it a purely non-religious Arab custom. He believes that women in early Islam were not totally confined to their homes because they came out during times of economic, social and religious necessity. However, when they did come out, they did so, dressed in a way that did not draw attention to themselves.
Furthermore, Ad-Darsh believes that when the Qur‟an (33:33) states that women should remain in their homes, it is referring to pre-Islamic Arabia when women moved about freely and mixed with strangers. The aim of this verse was to get women to behave more modestly and pay more
attention to their duties at home (Ad-Darsh,S.M. 2003:40).
He goes on to quote many hadith that claim that the covering of the hands and the face is not necessary. However, “barring the face, the hands and the feet, all other parts, including the neck, should be completely covered and a long over garment put on which leaves no part of the body exposed”.(Ad-Darsh, S.M. 2003:45).
Ad-Darsh provides a thorough discussion on the opinions offered by commentators like al-Tabari, al-Baghawi, Ibn Kathir and al-Jalalayn. Each of these express conflicting views about the need to cover the hands and face, but Ad-Darsh points out that “it seems that the mufassirun generally agreed on uncovering the face and hands, but they disagreed on whether non-Mahrams are allowed to look at them”.(Ad-Darsh, S.M. 2003:48).
The issue of a woman‟s dress has been debated a great detail over the past centuries. However, almost all documented discussion on this issue has been that of males. There is very little or no records of what
women feel on this issue and whether they agree with the respective views or not.
The fact that there seems to be a consensus that the basis of Islamic hijab is that women must wear a separate loose outer covering that does not reveal the shape of her body as well as a head covering that covers the entire ear-neck and bosom area. Going further and covering the hands and face, although not in the Qur‟an, is a common practice among Muslim women in the Middle East. It is a growing trend for some women in South Africa. It is a step taken by women that further testifies to the extent of their desire to please Allah (S.W.T.). They do not see it as repressive or restrictive, instead, it is a way to show their higher level of piety and their devotion to the laws of Islam. Javed Ahmed Ghamdi “