In many Western nations with Muslim minorities these days, prejudice and suspicion against the religious beliefs and cultural traditions of the Muslims are openly out on display. The 'Hijab' (-a form of dress covering the head and the entire body worn by Muslim women, in its various manifestations in diverse cultural traditions- burqa, niqab, chador, abaya, etc.) – has been made into a volatile political issue, with many in host societies dubbing the veil to represent Muslim women in stereotypical terms.
Islamic teachings on social etiquette and dressing promote decency and propriety, recognizing the need for modesty, privacy and dignity of individuals, especially women. The Islamic rules on lowering of gaze by both men and women, concealing nakedness and not sexualizing one’s appearance, etc. seek to achieve modesty and public chastity. The Qur’anic guidance on ‘Hijab’ can thus be seen as a significant part of a profound framework on ‘garment of piety/raiment of righteousness’ for all believers, men and women (7:27).
The teachings on ‘Hijab’ seek to liberate women from the male gaze while allowing them to remain socially engaged as active participants with integrity, agency and God consciousness. In our unfortunate era where male weakness and proclivity for sexual lasciviousness is actively promoted through commodification of culture and the consequent objectification of women’s bodies, ‘Hijab’ stands for the anti-thesis of the consumer capitalism and atheistic materialism on offer, pointing to the stark contrast between competing visions of ‘freedom’ in Islam and the 'post-truth' societies.
Extracted below is a Speech delivered by Ummul Mu’mineen Sadr Saheba Hazrat Fazli Amena Varsally on the value of Hijab, delivered at the Siraj Makin Conference in Mauritius in August 2016.
Referring to the ongoing, manufactured controversy over the right of Muslim women to wear what they want, Hazrat Saheba points out that the Islamic dressing norms are rooted in modesty and chastity, and that the ethical framework is shared by all religions of the past. The irony of Christian nations ignoring and insulting the dressing choice of Virgin Mary is highlighted.
Hazrat Ummul Mu'mineen calls our attention to a latent challenge that lies hidden behind the controversies surrounding the right to wear Hijab in our times: the very identity of Muslim women is under threat of being reconfigured in the western conceptions of freedom and women’s rights. She argues that it is ultimately for Muslim women themselves to assert their human right to fundamental freedoms of choice in dressing up in Hijab so as to profess and practice and propagate the beliefs and convictions they deeply care for.
Read the Speech below:
'Hijab' in a milieu of anti-Muslim prejudices
Today, we see that the Hijab (veil) of the Muslim woman has become a menace for people who view Islam as a religion of terrorism.
The Islamic Hijab in itself does not only mean the small piece of cloth which covers our head, but it also encompasses the whole clothing which covers our bosoms and private parts in a such way as to protect our dignity as women and as a sign of our obedience to the commandments of Allah and His Messenger Hadhrat Muhammad (pbuh).
Allah says in the Noble Quran:
“O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons: that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not be molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Al-Ahzab 33: 60).
What do we see happening nowadays? We see that the women and young girls who are dressing themselves in western style, without any shame are gaining much more value in the world society than ladies and girls who are clothing themselves in chaste habits. In their urgency to blame Islam for all the evils which are seizing the world nowadays, the ignorant ones and even people from the political arena in the various countries of the world are seeking to stigmatise the Muslim woman and bar her from enjoying her right to preserve her dignity and honour as a respectable woman in society. Today, she no longer feel herself secure whenever she goes. People mock her in a disgusting way, without paying her any respect.
Virgin Mary, the exemplar of modesty
They forget their own teachings which also stipulate that they respect women and that women need to preserve their chastity. They forget the chastity of the one whom they worship as a divinity (besides Allah), like the mother of Jesus, Mary (Maryam).
Mary was an extremely chaste lady and her habit was altogether - 100% - Islamic. The Christians say that they have lots of love and respect for the Virgin Mary, but then why is it that when a Christian sees a Muslim woman who clothe herself exactly like the Virgin Mary, he rips from her, her veil (Hijab) without any shame when that woman was on an airplane? Why is it that the man in question sees that it is not catholic for a Muslim woman to dress herself like the Virgin Mary used to dress?
“And she who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her of Our Spirit and made her and her son a sign for the worlds.” (Al-Anbiya, 21: 92).
Satans induce the Loss of modesty
There are men who have become so much under the influence of the Satans of this world that they make the vital teachings of their religions become like a puppet in their lives: As and when they wish, they change those teachings to please their own ego (their abased temporal desires)!
Hazrat Anas (ra) narrated that Hadhrat Muhammad (pbuh) said: “The lack of modesty in a person makes him ugly.” Today, that same absence of modesty is making people around the world become very ugly. Modesty/ Shame is a treasure which we must preserve. The one who is modest, then Allah (God Almighty) shall be with her (and him also). It is Allah who shall protect her.
Nowadays, the Muslim woman with her Hijab has become like a prohibited thing in society. It is forbidden for the women to veil themselves, to put on their Hijabs (and clothe themselves decently)! It is forbidden for women to preserve their chastity. What is going on? In what abasement have they fallen?
Therefore, the Islamic veil is not an innovation of Islam. All religions of Allah, even before the advent of Islam encouraged women to clothe themselves decently and to preserve themselves in their veils, and now it is clear how these religions, except Islam, have suffered alterations throughout the years whereby they lost the nature itself of their raison-d’être.
We notice this (Islamic way of dressing) in the decent way that the Christian nuns dress throughout the world, be it in Islamic countries and in occidental countries and we see this also in the good believing Christian women who clothe themselves decently when they go to the Church whereby they also veil themselves and cover their heads in a decent, respectful manner. Thus, all the outcry which the western countries are lashing out to make Muslim women remove their veils, it is but a disavow of all good teachings of God from Abraham, Moses, Jesus (as) till the pure religion of Islam.
But, we Muslim women and girls, we must not lose courage. We need to stand up for our rights, the rights which Allah and His Messenger, Hadhrat Muhammad (pbuh) has given us. Our Hijab is our protection in our dealings with the exterior world. A woman in her Hijab is free to communicate with people and also to make her Dawa (inviting people to Allah) in a respectable manner. Our Hijab is also a message to all women in the world that we are not oppressed like they think. Our Hijab, our Pardah is an affirmation of our freedom which our Lord (Allah) and our prophet, Hadhrat Muhammad (pbuh) have given us. We need to be proud to be Muslim and assume our role as such. We need not let ignorant people remove from us the right to veil ourselves.
Discrimination Episodes: Wake up to reclaim identity and rights
On the contrary, these bad occurrences which are happening to the Muslim women around the world only because they put on the Hijab must become a warning, a signal for all Muslim women that they need to assume their Hijab and Jilbab. They must not renounce wearing them. And even women who do not veil themselves, but they need to clothe themselves correctly and cover themselves with their clothes decently. We thus need to maintain our right to wear our Hijab because as one force, it is us Insha-Allah who shall make the world take conscience that the Hijab (i.e. the Islamic wear in general) is the habit of paradise and our paradise is found in the obedience of Allah when He has told us to cover our nudity and preserve our modesty/ shame.
Islamic Dressing Norms promote Dignity
Before ending, I put before you an extract of the Friday Sermon (23 August 2013) of the Khalifatullah, Hadhrat Munir Ahmad Azim (atba) on the subject of shame/ modesty and Pardah:
“The spirit of ‘Pardah’ encompasses both chastity and honesty. Whether you are a man and woman you must care for your chastity and teach it to your children. In fact, this high moral quality is a shield against sin. Surely the Islamic Pardah is modesty. If you protect your modesty, the angels of God will remove you from all forms of evil and sin as the best ‘Pardah’ is based on modesty and self-esteem. If you protect your modesty, your sense of living in harmony with the commandments of Allah, then Allah will be your protector against the satanic temptation which is always there to make you deviate body and soul from Allah.
But when it comes to life or death, so do not hesitate by modesty. Hesitation would result in shame or loss of modesty. In fact to any rule there are exceptions which Allah quite understands. Here, the sense of shame is totally different. In a time when all other men give their lives in times of war or jihad, if someone chooses to retreat from it because of a so-called ego, then at this moment his conduct is despicable and shameful.
So the sense of self-esteem should be understood according to the circumstance. Children should not be educated in order to make them timid or cowardly. They must not fall back in front of their responsibilities. They must be willing to fully participate in charitable activities. It is a defect to hesitate to take part in a good cause. So mothers need to teach the true meaning of dignity and self-esteem in their children, that is to say the legitimate pride in the right actions and shame and repugnance for the wrong deeds. Thus, the ‘Pardah’ will then establish by itself.”
So, may Allah help each one of us to learn how to assume our role as believing women, and verily, one of our roles is that we need to remain firm on the Islamic Pardah and through our example give courage to the other believing women who hesitate to veil themselves, in such a convenient way as to please Allah and according to the Islamic norm, since the beginning of creation till the perfection of the teachings of Islam. Insha-Allah.