In its applied and conventional sense, Hijab means the headscarf by which a Muslim woman covers her head, hair and the neck area. The examples of hijab in this sense, is what we regularly see, worn by Muslim women, in the streets and the super markets around Australia.
The parallel to this is what is known in public as Niqab and Burqa where a Muslim woman would, out of her free will, covers her face and the entire body. The Burqa and Niqab are the conservative traditional practices in some Muslim societies.
Legally, the Niqab and Burqa cannot be proven as the Sharia’h requirements.
The Hijab on the other hand, is the Islamic requirement of an adolescent Muslim woman’s public dress code. Many compelling legal proofs do exist in the Qur’an and Hadith, making the Hijab obligatory.
On her free will, a lady may decide to cover her full body, head to toe. This is her personal choice and must never be confused with the Sharia’h requirement of hijab.
As we all know, after 21 years of American and NATO occupation of their country, millions of Afghan woman following their cultural practices, are still wearing the Burqa!
There are many verses in the Qur’an along with many Hadith of Prophet Mohammad (s) that deal with the requirement of Hijab in Islam. Collectively, these verses of the Qur’an and Hadith are categorised as the relevant Islamic legal text on this issue.
But then, behind all these legal texts, there are overarching legal objectives of the Shari’ah (Maqasid Shari’yyah مقاصد شرعية). In the in the light of these objectives, the relevant legal texts must be analysed and applied.
The legal objective behind the Hijab has been clearly set out in the Qur’an.
“Advise O’ Prophet, all the believing women that they must lower their gaze, preserve their modesty, (guarding their desires/lusts), and that they don’t expose their beauty in public, except what is to become apparent of it….” (وقل للمؤمنات يغضضن من أبصارهن، ويحفظن فروجهن، ولا يبدين زينتهن، الا ما ظهرمنها…”). (Qur’an 24:31)
The Qur’an 24:31, also orders “the believing women to wear their covering garments on their chest areas…” (وليضربن بخمرهن علي جيوبهن) and that they must only expose their beauties to their husbands, fathers, father in-laws, their sons…”.
From the context of these verses however, it is clear that the orders of hijab are relevant only when Muslim women go to public places.
Clearly thus, Islam does not bound Muslim women to the corners of their houses only. Instead, as humans, they would socialise with others in the society, including working, studying, making a living and procuring the means of life.
But in doing so, Islam regulates the lifestyle of Muslim women, a part of which is not to expose their beauties to others in public.
Some countries in the West, have made the law prohibiting Hijab when they work for their governments. But if a Muslim country makes it obligatory, why should it be a big issue?
Should it be a dress code for another nation, so be it! Just for an argument, a practising Muslim woman may still score 98% of points, missing only 2% for not wearing hijab! Let’s be realistic and not emotional about it.
In the same way it regulates the public life of Muslim women, the Qur’an (24:30), also regulates the public life of Muslim men. It orders them to “lower their gaze and preserve their modesty (the physical lusts and desires)….” (وقل للمؤمنين يغضوا من أبصارهم ويحفظوا فروجهم).
Looked critically, the operation of the verses 24:30-31, makes it outstandingly clear that the order of ‘lowering the gaze’ for both male and female, means that in a moving lifestyle situation, they both will be mixing and interacting with each other at their work place, the public streets and market places! Otherwise, lowering the gaze, for both the genders, will have no meaning.
The Qur’an was revealed to reform a lifestyle. It is therefore common agreement among the Islamic legal scholars that all the rulings relating to the issues of life and living has an underlying objective.
Within the constraints of life, living and the evidentiary strength of their arguments, the legal scholars at different time and place, would come up with the relevant objectives behind each and every ruling, including how to secure relevant public interests.
Before anything else, the revealed directive of the Qur’an 24:30-31, needs to be both understood and considered in the applied context of a human life and living.
More importantly, its application must also be seen from the view point of the Shari’ah’s objective behind the ruling. Upon this, it would be found that a Muslim woman’s hands, face and feet are exempt from this ruling.
Evidence for the exemption of covering face, hands and feet
In Hadith No. 4104, of the Sunan Abudawood, it is narrated from Ayesha (r) Prophet’s wife: Once her sister Asma bint Abu Bakr, visited the Prophet (s), ‘wearing the transparent garments on her’ (وعليها ثياب رقاق). The Prophet then turned himself away from her, saying: “O’ Asma when a woman reaches the age of puberty, it is not befitting that her body be seen by others except this and this. While saying this, the Prophet (s) indicated to his face and two palms” (يا أسماء ان المرأة اذابلغت المحيض، فلا يصلح ان يري منها الا هذا وهذا وأشار الي وجهه وكفيه).
According to Abudawood himself, there is a legal disconnect (حديث مرسل) in this Hadith, as Khaled bin Duraik, who narrated it from Ayesha, ‘did neither meet her nor did he live at the time of Ayesha’.
As such and legally speaking, it was not right for him to imply that he heard this Hadith directly from Ayesha herself. The floodgate was thus, opened among the legal scholars, arguing whether this Hadith was weak or strong. But then, there is that much bigger and the most relevant aspect of the legality that must have been considered as well.
Relating a hadith to the Prophet (s), using the linking chain to him ‘in their context and not necessarily in their exact text’, was a prevalent practice among the narrators.
This is known among the legal scholars, as the practice of ‘narrating a hadith in meaning and not in words’ (رواية الحديث بالمعني). This is the reason that a particular topic is often narrated in the same book of hadith, under the same section, in varying words and differing phrases!
But the most significantly, the relevant and the legal aspect of considering the Ayesha’s hadith about her sister Asma’s encounter with the Prophet, has gone missing. Here it is: A legal scholar must maintain a holistic and critical view to all the relevant legal texts on the issues related to hijab in public.
In revealing the missing link, the following hadith provides the direct explanation of the exclusion clause contained in the verse 24:31 of the Qur’an: “… and that the believing women must not expose their physical beauty in public, except what is to become apparent of it….” (…ولا يبدين زينتهن، الا ما ظهرمنها…”). The Qur’an 24:31.
Naturally, the above hadith of Ayesha (r), would provide the applied meaning of the exclusion clause termed in the Qur’an (24:31) itself as: “…except what is to become apparent of it….”.
In the contemporary domain of the applied legality, the encounter of Asma with the Prophet (s), would be categorised as the relevant circumstantial evidence. Such an evidence would be welcome given the value it provides as to the applied meaning of the verse 24:31 of the Qur’an.
In presence of the Qur’an’s 24:31 exclusive clause, there is no need for the encounter of Asma with the Prophet (s), to be used as the primary proof or source on the issue of Hijab. Instead it will be used as the subsidiary proof to explain the Qur’an’s exclusive cause in the verse 24:31.
Hence, the argument as to its authenticity by continuously linking the chain of Khaled bin Duraik to Ayesha and the Prophet, is neither relevant nor necessary.
Besides the expressed exclusion clause of the Qur’an above, this applied argument is also supported by many legal scholars of Islamic Jurisprudence, both modern and traditional.