by Justice Qazi Faez Isa, Chief Justice, Baluchistan Hight Court, Pakistan
A member of the provincial assembly of the NWFP has introduced a resolution requiring that wearing a veil should be made compulsory for every girl above 12 years of age (Dawn, May 2). Without citing any Quranic text in support of the resolution, Pir Muhammad Khan of Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal assumes that Islam ordains the veil for women.
If God directs women to veil their faces, then Muslims have no option but to abide by this command. But if on the other hand our Benevolent Creator has not imposed any such injunction, no man can impose it. An attempt to add to the commands of God Everlasting is an abomination and completely unacceptable in Islam. No matter how well intentioned a man may be such desire cannot be substituted for God’s law and it is not permissible to diverge from the truth.
God commands to judge among them by what Allah has revealed, and follow not their vain desires, diverging away from the truth that has come to you. To each among you, We have prescribed a law and a clear way (5:48). And again in the chapter entitled ‘The Clear Evidence’ (Al-Bayyinah) after referring to the purified pages of the Quran, God the Eternal tells us that the Quran contains right and straight laws (98:3) thereby removing any discretion to add or subtract therefrom.
Those advocating the veiling of women do so by prescribing the hijab. Hijab is the Arabic word for ‘veil’ and may also be used to describe a screen, cover(ing), partition, division, mantle, curtain, drape or divider. The word hijab appears seven times in the Quran, five times as hijab and twice as hijaban. Let us commence by examining each of these verses wherein the term hijab or hijaban appears in the Holy Quran.
The term hijab is used as a barrier or screen separating the dwellers of Paradise from the dwellers of Hell in verse 46 of Surah Al-Araf. How to behave in the Prophet’s (pbuh) house is contained in verse 53 of Surah Al-Ahzab, which states that when you ask for anything you want, ask them from behind a screen (hijab). Forgetting the time for prayer and the imagery of (the sun) hidden in the veil (hijab) (of night) is used in verse 32 of Surah Sad. The term hijab is used as an analogy in verse 5 of Surah Fussilat; those who have not opened to the truth say – “Our hearts are under veils from that to which you invite us; and in our ears is deafness, and between us and you is a screen (hijab)”.
In the Surah which follows (Ash-Shura, verse 51) the Creator informs us that He does not speak to any human being unless by Revelation, or from behind a veil (hijab). God places an invisible veil (hijaban) between the Prophet (pbuh) and those who do not believe in the Hereafter (verse 45 of Surah Al-Isra). Maryam (Mary), the most revered amongst ladies, placed a screen (hijaban) from them when God sent His Ruh to her, we are told in verse 17 of the Chapter of the Quran named after this great lady.
In none of the aforesaid seven verses the word hijab is used to indicate a dress code for a Muslim lady. Allah the Merciful in His Infinite Wisdom did not use the word hijab for women’s apparel or dress code but Man did and having done so insinuated the veil. These men use the word (hijab) out of context, and in a context that God Himself does not, and then its meaning (veil) is applied to women’s dress, a meaning that the Creator does not.
The application of the word hijab to women’s attire is all the more surprising since the Quran uses specific terms to describe what is appropriate dress and such description does not use the word hijab. The word khomoorehenna is used in verse 31 of Surah An-Nur to describe how women should dress. In this verse God requires women to conceal their bosoms with a cover. The term khomoorehenna is derived from the word khumar (plural khimar) and could be a shirt, shawl, blouse or any other covering. Again the verse stipulates the covering of the bosom and not the face, head or the hair. The word used is juyubihinna, derived from the word jayb (plural juyub), meaning bosom. If the intention of the Creator was to impose the veil there was nothing stopping Him from mentioning the face and the veil in this verse. But the verse does not use the Arabic word for face (wajh, wujah, qubul), head (raas) or hair (shaar) nor uses the word veil (hijab).
The aforesaid verse may also suggest that the face should not be covered since women may not show off their adornment except that which is apparent. If there is any part of the human body which in the words of the Quran is apparent it is the face. The face is required to be exposed since through the nose one breathes and smells, from the mouth one breathes, drinks and eats, through the eyes one sees and from the ears one hears. Both sight and hearing is impaired if the eyes or the ears are even slightly covered. Eating or drinking is also not possible if the face is covered and eating and drinking are not practised in a closet. The use of the veil constitutes a difficulty and our Merciful Creator tells us that He has not placed in religion any difficulties (22:78).
The only other verse specifically dealing with women’s attire is verse 59 of Surah Al-Ahzab. This is addressed to the Prophet (pbuh) and he is directed to tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their jalabib over their bodies. The word jalabib is the plural of jilbab and means a shirt, covering or a cloak. The question arises whether the meaning of this word (jalbib / jalabib) can be extended to mean covering the face or being veiled. Clearly not, because God, the Wise, would have used words stating so, after all if the ocean were ink for the Words of my Lord, surely, the ocean would be exhausted before the Words of my Lord would be finished (18:109). Again the context in which the word (jalabib) is used excludes such possibility.
Women are told to cover their bodies so that they should not be molested and that they should be known. If a woman’s face is veiled she cannot be known. The only apparent part of the body by which everyone is distinguished and recognized or known is the face. All other methods of identification whether by finger or genetic printing or retina examination are only possible with the aid of extraneous tools.
There is not a single verse in the entire Quran that requires women to veil their faces. The Holy Quran is significantly silent. In fact the above cited verses may be interpreted to even mean that a veil must not be used, because these verses stipulate that women must be apparent and known and if their faces are concealed by veils they are neither apparent or known. Even in present day strictly veiled Saudi Arabian society, the true faith is witnessed during the Hajj, when no face can be concealed. If the Hajj is an exception, as the veil-lobby contends, it is inexplicable and a contention that is not supported by the words of the Quran.
The beauty and majesty of the Quran is limitless. Through it God, Most Kind and Most Gracious, tells us that the intention of the believer is very important. O children of Adam! We have bestowed ‘libas’ (clothing or raiment) upon you to cover yourselves and as an adornment; and the raiment (‘libas’) of righteousness, that is better (7:26). And the only judge of the raiment of righteousness is our Creator. The matter is therefore taken away from man’s nitpicking ways and laid for consideration before the Master of the Highest Kingdom.
Those who want to blacken the faces of women and reduce them to mere objects must remember that God the Omnipotent directs believing men to lower their gaze (24:30). If women were veiled there would be no need for men to lower their gaze. The Commandment to lowering one’s gaze is often brazenly flouted. Would it then not be more appropriate to legislate for affixing blinkers on men’s eyes, like those on a mule or donkey, rather than having the effrontery to put rags on the faces of 12-year old-girls?