"Why Should I Wear Hijab?"
This article is intended for my Muslim sisters who don't wear hijab and are not sure they want to. Sisters who have already decided to wear hijab but are nervous about actually doing it should read my article Tips for Beginning to Wear Hijab instead.
Islam: Submitting our will to the will of Allah SWT
The Arabic word islam simply means "surrender (to Allah)". The essence of our religion is this surrender or submission. It requires trust on our part. Trust that Allah SWT will be there for us, trust that He knows what is best for us.
Submission to Allah SWT requires that we put Him before ourselves. That we put our desires second to His desire for us. That we acknowledge that He knows better than we do what is right for us.
Very often, such submission is difficult. Sometimes it seems that everything that happens is bad, and we wonder how Allah SWT could desire this for us. And sometimes the things He asks of us are difficult to do, either because it seems too much to ask, or because it seems pointless or out of date. In times like this, submission becomes a struggle. We really have to work to find our trust in Allah SWT. We really have to do battle with our souls to admit that what we want or what we think doesn't seem to be what's right or best. Should we bother?
For me, the answer is yes, we should bother. Allah SWT tests us. He sends difficulties our way to see how we cope. He wants to see if we will keep trying even when it's a challenge. He wants to see if we will maintain our faith in Him, and trust in Him. If we do continue to have faith and to trust in Him, then He may reward us with Jannah for our sabr, inshallah. And Jannah is the everlasting reward. Any difficulty we face in the world will seem as fleeting as a nightmare when we look back from the Hereafter, and any ease we face in the world will also seem as fleeting as a dream. We shouldn't set these fleeting states as our goal; we should set the ultimate happiness as our goal. And the ultimate happiness is Jannah.
So if we have hope of Jannah, we should persevere even when it's a struggle for us, and we should keep on trying to perfect our submission to Allah SWT. This is what the religion is about: sabr, jihad, and islam.
Quran and Sunna: The way that Allah SWT has commanded
I mentioned above that part of Islam is trusting that Allah SWT knows what is best for us, and it is submitting to His judgment even if we don't think we agree. If Allah SWT has commanded something that we don't understand or don't like, we shouldn't reject that thing. Instead, we should try to seek its wisdom for ourselves and to change our own minds.
Now, the testimony of faith that we make to become Muslims, or when we assume adult status in the deen, has two parts: laa ilaha ill'Allah and Muhammadan rasul Allah. The first of these, none has the right to be worshiped except Allah, is a statement of our belief that Allah SWT is ruler of all, judge of all, all-knowing, all-powerful. It is He who must be obeyed, and obedience to anybody else is merely conditional and must not be done if they ask us to disobey Allah SWT. And Allah SWT has given us everything we have, our existence, our life, our capabilities, our goodness. If He took any of it away, there is no power that could help us get it back. And we could never repay Him to match what He has given us, or even begin to. However, in his infinite mercy, Allah SWT asks of us only that we obey Him. Isn't it the least that we can do for Him after all that He has done for us?
There is also the second testimony, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah. The Prophet (sAas) would not be a messenger if he did not come with a message. And his message is the Quran. We are really also testifying that the Quran is a message from Allah SWT, and therefore, obedience to Allah SWT entails obedience to the Quran, because it is His word.
The Quran also tells us to obey the Prophet (sAas) as well as Allah SWT (see for example Surah an-Nisa ayah 59). It tells us that if we have faith we will take the Prophet (sAas) as the judge of any dispute (Surah an-Nisa ayah 65). It tells us that when both Allah SWT and the Prophet (sAas) have decided a matter it is not for a Muslim or Muslimah to have any further say in that matter (Surah al-Ahzab ayah 36). It tells us that what the Prophet (sAas) has given us, we should take and what he has prohibited to us, we should refrain from (Surah al-Hashr ayah 7). And it tells us that the Prophet (sAas) has been sent not just to deliver the Quran but also to explain it (Surah an-Nahl ayah 44).
How do we determine what the Prophet (sAas) has ordered, in order to obey it?
How do we find out what he judged in disputes so that we can abide by it?
How do we know what he has decided on matters, so that we can submit to it?
How do we discover what he has given, so that we can take it, or what he has prohibited, so we can abstain from it?
How do we learn how he has explained the Quran, so that we can follow that explanation and not other explanations?
The answer to all these questions is that we look at the Sunna. The Sunna is the Quran put into action by the Prophet (sAas). It shows what he ordered, judged, and decided. It shows what he has given us and what he has prohibited to us. It shows how he explained the Quran.
If we do not obey what the Prophet (sAas) has ordered, or abide by what he has judged, or submit to what he has decided, or take what he has given, or refrain from what he has prohibited, or follow his explanation of the Quran - then we have disobeyed Allah SWT.
That is why, if we are sincere about obeying Allah SWT and following His commandments, we should follow both the Quran and the Sunna.
Hijab: A commandment of the Quran and Sunna
In the first part of this article, I have argued that part of our commitment to Allah SWT is to trust that He knows what is best for us and that what He has commanded is what is right. I said that if we find ourselves disliking the way that He has set for us, our challenge is not to ignore or to try to change His command, but rather it is to seek for ourselves the wisdom in the command and to surrender to His will. If we don't like what He has commanded, we should try to change ourselves not Him. We should try to find reasons why His command is right and will be beneficial for us, and we should try to motivate ourselves through this to obey the command.
In the second part of the article, I have established why the Quran and Sunna are where we look to find what Allah SWT has commanded. Neither one can be taken alone but they both go together.
So, what do the Quran and Sunna say about hijab? There are two ayat of the Quran that deal with hijab. These are Surah an-Nur ayah 31 and Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59. Let's look at what these ayat say, and how the Prophet (sAas) has explained them.
Surah an-Nur ayah 31 says:
Wa qul li al-mu'minat yaghdudna min absarihinna wa yahfazna furujahunna wa laa yubdina zenatahunna illa maa zahara min haa wal-yadribna bi khumurihinna ala juyubihinna; wa laa yubdina zenatahunna illa li bu'ulatihinna aw aba'ihinna aw aba'i bu'ulatihinna aw abna'ihinna aw abna'i bu'ulatihinna aw ikhwanihinna aw bani ikhwanihinna aw bani akhawatihinna aw nisa'ihinna aw maa malakat aymanu hunna aw at-tabi'ina ghayri ulu'l-irbat min ar-rijal aw at-tifl alladhina lam yazharu ala awrat an-nisa wa laa yadribna bi arjulihinna li yu'lama maa yukhfina min zenatahinna. Wa tubu ilaAllahi jami'an, ayyuha al-mu'minun la'allakum tuflihun
And say to the faithful women to lower their gazes, and to guard their private parts, and not to display their beauty except what is apparent of it, and to extend their headcoverings (khimars) to cover their bosoms (jaybs), and not to display their beauty except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband's fathers, or their sons, or their husband's sons, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their womenfolk, or what their right hands rule (slaves), or the followers from the men who do not feel sexual desire, or the small children to whom the nakedness of women is not apparent, and not to strike their feet (on the ground) so as to make known what they hide of their adornments. And turn in repentance to Allah together, O you the faithful, in order that you are successful
Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 says:
Ya ayyuha an-Nabiyy qul li azwajika wa banatika wa nisa al-mu'minin yudnina alayhinna min jalabib hinna; dhalika adna an yu'rafna fa laa yu'dhayn. Wa kana Allahu Ghafur Rahim
O Prophet! Say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the faithful to draw their outergarments (jilbabs) close around themselves; that is better that they will be recognized and not annoyed. And God is ever Forgiving, Gentle.
Together, these two ayat lay out seven commandments for Muslim sisters:
It can be seen that three of these commandments relate to behavior. These are:
Lowering the gaze means not looking at what is forbidden to be seen of others. Guarding the private parts means that only the husband is allowed to see or touch them. Not giving knowledge of what is hidden means not posturing or strutting around so as to jangle hidden jewelry or make men think about hidden body parts. All of these are part of what Allah SWT has commanded in regard to hijab.
The other four commandments relate to dress, and can really be expressed as three rules:
What exactly is the meaning of each of these rules? For this, we need to look to the Sunna, because the Sunna shows us how the Prophet (sAas) explained the Quran.
The Prophet (sAas) explained to Asma bint Abu Bakr (rAa) that the phrase "what is apparent of it" refers to the face and hands. This is narrated by Aisha Umm al-Muminin (rAa), Qatada (rAa), and Asma bint Umais (rAa). This has been confirmed as the explanation of the phrase by the following scholars:
Sahaba: Aisha Umm al-Muminin (rAa), ibn Abbas (rAa), Anas ibn Malik (rAa), and Miswar ibn Makhrama (rAa)
Tabi'un: Ata (rAa), Qatada (rAa), Sa'id ibn Jubayr (rAa), Mujahid (rAa), al-Hasan (rAa), and al-Dahhak (rAa)
Commentators on the Quran: Imam Tabari, Imam Zamakhshari, Imam Razi, and Imam Qurtubi
In fact, the majority of scholars have agreed that the phrase "what is apparent of it" refers to the face and hands. For further information, please see Opinions of Scholars in Favor of Displaying the Face and Hands.
Therefore, the first rule can really be phrased as "do not display the beauty except for the face and hands around non-mahram men". This is the basic rule of hijab. You must recognize it. This is where it comes from. It is nothing other than the Prophet's (sAas) explanation of the Quran.
The second rule is to extend the headcovering (khimar) to cover the bosom. The commentators on the Quran have explained exactly what this command entails:
Imam Abu Abdullah Qurtubi: "Women in those days used to cover their heads with the khimar, throwing its ends upon their backs. This left the neck and the upper part of the chest bare, along with the ears, in the manner of the Christians. Then Allah commanded them to cover those parts with the khimar."
Imam Abu'l-Fida ibn Kathir: "'Extend their khimars to cover their bosoms' means that they should wear the khimar in such a way that they cover their chests so that they will be different from the women of the jahiliyyah who did not do that but would pass in front of men with their chests uncovered and with their necks, forelocks, and earrings uncovered."
From this we can see that the jahili women wore their khimars kaffiyah-style, with the ends tossed over their backs. This covered most of the hair, but left the forelock (front of the hair), the ears, the neck, and the upper chest uncovered. Then when the commandment, "Extend their khimars to cover their bosoms," was revealed, the women secured their khimars around the circles of their faces, fastened them at the chin, and let the ends drape down toward their bosoms. This would cover the forelock, the ears, the neck, and the upper chest, just as Imam Qurtubi and Imam ibn Kathir have indicated. And the end result is clearly a headscarf.
So what we have is that all of the body except the face and hands is commanded to be covered around non-mahram men (by the clause "not to display their beauty except what is apparent of it"), and the covering of the hair, ears, neck, and upper chest is specifically to be accomplished by the khimar (headscarf).
These are the two rules indicated by Surah an-Nur ayah 31, and once we understand how the Prophet (sAas) explained the meaning of the ayah, we can see that it clearly and explicitly sets out the dress of the Muslim sister around non-mahram men: a headscarf and conservative clothing that together cover everything but the face and the hands.
There is also the commandment in Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 to wear a jilbab (outergarment). According to the majority of the scholars, this commandment applies when a sister is outdoors or in open public places (like the market or the masjid). The jilbab is thus the modest Islamic coat that goes over our modest Islamic clothes whenever we would wear a coat.
To learn more about the jilbab, please read my article Evidences for Jilbab. This sets out dalils from the Quran and Sunna, and the opinions of the scholars regarding the jilbab. To summarize the information in that document, the jilbab is any garment that meets the following conditions:
Again, the jilbab is to be worn outdoors and in open public places. The purpose of wearing the jilbab is to assert our Islamic identity and to provide protection from harassment for us. It is part of our hijab for these locations.
According to the Quran and Sunna, hijab consists of modest behavior in lowering the gaze, guarding the private parts, and avoiding showing off, and of modest dress. The modest dress includes a headscarf and must cover all of the body except the face and the hands. Outdoors and in open public places, a long coat (jilbab) should be worn in addition to the modest dress commanded by Surah an-Nur ayah 31. Each of these obligations is clearly set out in the Quran and has been explained by the Prophet (sAas).
My challenge to you
To me, the obligations of hijab are clear, explicit, and detailed when I look at both the Quran and the Sunna. There is no question in my mind; I am convinced that Allah SWT has indeed commanded hijab. Inshallah, I hope that after you have studied the dalils I have presented, you agree with me on this. Frankly, I don't see any other interpretation.
If we are agreed that the Quran and the Sunna do command hijab, then the real question is: how important is it to you to follow what Allah SWT has commanded in the Quran and Sunna?
It's your choice. Is it important for you to obey Allah SWT? Do you think you should submit your will to His? Do you believe that He knows what is best for you? Do you think that if you dislike what He has commanded, you should be the one to change, not Him? Are you willing to set aside your dislike and to try to seek the wisdom in what He has commanded? Are you motivated to try to surrender to Him even though it may be difficult for you? Is the promise of Jannah worth going through some hardship now?
Please consider each of these questions. If you are sincere in your commitment to Allah SWT, and in your choice of Islam as a religion, don't you think you should give hijab a try?
Afterword: If you're coming to think that hijab is part of the way that you want to serve Allah SWT, but you're not sure how to get there from here, please read my Tips for Beginning to Wear Hijab. Inshallah, it may help you find your way.