O children of Adam, we have provided
you with garments to cover your
bodies, as well as for luxury.
But the best garment is the
garment of righteousness…
The majority of the so-called Muslim countries use the Arabic word “Hijab” for “Muslim” dress, and it has come to mean that women must cover everything except their eyes. This is exemplified in Afghanistan now, or more moderately, in Iran and some other “Muslim” countries where the women cover all of their bodies except face and hands. But the word “Hijab” has nothing to do with Muslim dress. As we will see, “Hijab” in the Quran means a combination of physical and spiritual barriers. In some “Muslim” countries, a woman’s space is also decreed by using the word hijab. She is asked to stay home and not leave the house. All the above restrictions have come about because of the misunderstanding of the verse 33:53 where the Almighty says to speak to the prophet’s wives from behind a barrier (hijab). Let us go to the source.
What is Hijab?
The word hijab has been used in the Quran seven times:
1. The dwellers of paradise will call the dwellers of hell: “we have found our Lord’s promise to be the truth, have you found your Lord’s promise to be the truth?” They will say, “yes.” An announcer between them will announce, “God’s condemnation has befallen the transgressors; …who repel from the path of God and strive to make it crooked, and with regard to the hereafter, they are disbelievers.” …A barrier (hijab) separates them, while the purgatory is occupied by people who recognize each side by their looks, They will call the dwellers of paradise, “peace be upon you.” They did not enter (paradise) through wishful thinking [7:44-46].
God barred the disbelievers from heaven. Therefore the barrier (hijab) here is spiritual as well as physical.
2. When you read the Quran, we place between you and those who do not believe in the hereafter an invisible barrier (hijab) [17:45].
3. Mention in the scripture Mary, she isolated herself from her family, into an eastern location. …While a barrier (hijab) separated her from them, we sent to her our Spirit. He went to her in the form of a human being [19:16-17].
Mary isolated herself from her family and relocated while a “barrier” (hijab) separated her, spiritually and physically, from them. At that time God sent Gabriel to her.
4. A scripture whose verses provide the complete details, in an Arabic Quran, for people who know…. A bearer of good news, as well as a warner. However, most of them turn away; they do not hear. …They said, “our minds are made up, our ears are deaf to your message, and a barrier (hijab) separates us from you. Do what you want and so will we” [41:3-5].
Because they put on themselves a physical barrier of refusing God’s message, God placed a spiritual barrier on them, making them deaf to the message.
5. No human being can communicate with God except through inspiration, from behind a barrier (hijab), or by sending a messenger through whom He reveals what He wills…. [42:51].
6. O you who believe, do not enter the prophet’s homes unless you are given permission to eat, nor shall you force such an invitation in any manner. If you are invited, you may enter. When you finish eating, you shall leave; do not engage him in lengthy conversations. This used to hurt the prophet, and he was too shy to tell you. But God does not shy away from the truth. If you ask his wives for something, ask them from behind a barrier (hijab). This is purer for your hearts and their hearts…. [33:53].
7. He then said, “I enjoyed the material things more than I enjoyed worshipping my Lord, until the sun was gone (tawaret bel-hijab). [ 38:32]
The prophet’s wives, while at home and relaxing, were not to be disturbed by men during their private times. God made their lives easier by commanding the men to speak to them, if at home, from behind a barrier (hijab). Some “Muslim” scholars have interpreted this to mean that only from outside walls could a man communicate with the prophet’s wives. They also understood from the same verse that the prophet’s wives never left home. They, therefore, wrongly concluded that their wives too must stay at home.
The Arabic word for walls in the Quran is “al hujrat” not hijab. “As for those who call on you (Muhammad) from outside the walls (al hujrat), most of them do not understand” [49:4]. If women were supposed to stay home all the time, there would not have been a need for commandments concerning the dress code for them.
Are Women Men’s Property?
Unfortunately, in some so-called Muslim countries, women are referred to as the “private part,” and that is why they have come to see themselves as man’s private property. The word “private part” goes hand in hand with the word (hijab). When scholars are asked what is the “private part” of the woman, the answer is the whole woman is a private part. In Arabic the private part is “awraat” and this word has been used in the Quran in three places.
1. In [24:31], “awraat” means puberty, the state in which you become aware of the other’s sex physically.
2. O you who believe permission must be requested by your servants and the children who have not attained puberty (awraat) (before entering your room). This is to be done in three instances before the dawn prayer, at noon when you change your clothes to rest, and after the night prayer. These are three private times for you. At other times it is not wrong for you or them to mingle with one another [24:58].
In this verse, “awraat” means puberty also.
3. A group of them said, “O people of Yathrib, you cannot attain victory; go back.” Others made up excuses to the prophet, “Our homes are exposed (awraat).” They just wanted to flee [33:13]. In this verse awraat means vulnerable to attack.
It is obvious from the above verses that the word “awraat” has nothing to do with women. In the Quran women are called “nisa.” Although women are vulnerable to attack by unrighteous men, God protects believing women who follow His commandments.
Whether we are created in the form of a man or woman, we are responsible individually in following God’s commandments. We learn from the Quran that we all are equal in the sight of God. Therefore,
what will distinguish us in the Hereafter will not be our gender, race or color, but our righteousness:
O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of God is the most righteous. God is Omniscient, Cognizant. [49:13]
Senobar Tafozali & Naima Turner