Hijab Has No Basis in Islam – Or Does It?

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How do you answer the claim that there is no basis in Islam for hijab? Is there any possibility hijab was not commanded by Allah? A sister asked the following question, and we decided to share the answer for everyone’s benefit.

Question:

I have a question concerning the hijab and I was wondering if you can provide some insight about this.

I was discussing with a colleague of mine, she’s non-Muslim and we were talking about the hijab. She does respect my beliefs and values and the fact that I wear the hijab, etc. But what she is having trouble understanding is: Why do Muslim women have to cover the hair? Why the hair especially? She is asking if there is a specific verse in the Quran that says that we need to cover the hair? She said: “Who decided that hair was sexy? Why can’t you just dress modestly without covering the hair?” I told her that covering the hair reminds a Muslim girl to dress modestly for other parts of her body and I also told her about the verse in the Quran that says Muslim women need to cover their bodies (especially the bosom area) and their ‘awra. Is the covering of the hair perhaps only in a hadeeth and not mentioned specifically in the Quran? She basically wants me to prove to her that it mentions in the Quran that our hair needs to be covered. I am having trouble explaining to her why we need to cover the hair. Every time I present an argument, she seems to refute it and thinks that the covering of the hair was just something we misinterpreted.

If you can please let me know what you think about this issue and how I can explain to her why we need to cover the hair, that would be great. Jazakum Allah khair.

Answer:

Jazaki Allahu khayran for coming to us with your questions. You should know that IGIC is a group of volunteering sisters, and our knowledge is limited. I think the answer to your question falls under “general knowledge,” so I’ll try my best to answer it, based on what I’ve learned from people of knowledge, and based on evidence from the Qur’an and Sunnah.

I’m answering your questions in a roundabout way because it’s important. First things first:

Focusing on Tawheed

Firstly, it is always the advice of scholars, shuyookh, and callers to Islam that if we engage in conversations about Islam with non-Muslims, we should focus on tawheed – calling to the Oneness of Allah. This is based off the hadith in Sahih Muslim, when Mu’adh was going to Yemen as a delegate for Islam, and the Messenger salla Allahu alayhi wasallam instructed him to start by calling the people to “La illaha illa Allah.”

Basically, if you can convince someone of the truth of “La illaha illa Allah,” then you’ve both won. But if the person is not convinced of the shahadah, then why should they be convinced about the other rulings of Islam? And if a non-Muslim is suddenly convinced of the rulings, they’re still not Muslim… so nothing changed.

So my advice to you, if possible, would be to steer the conversation away from hijab, and towards tawheed, towards the truthfulness of Islam, and the Oneness of Allah. In other words, take it back to the root of everything.

Why We Wear Hijab

Honestly – and I’d like you to reflect on this – the real reason we wear hijab or obey any of the commands of Allah is, first and foremost: because Allah told us to. Why do we pray? Because Allah said so. Why do we fast? Because Allah said so. Why do we wear hijab? Because Allah said so. Worshiping Allah and obeying His commands is Allah’s right, and it’s the duty of everyone to fulfill that right as best as possible.

Later on, we can look for the wisdom of hijab – oh, it protects our modesty; oh, it shelters us from men, etc. But all those things are secondary. This is so critical to remember, because even if we don’t see a wisdom behind a ruling of Islam, we still have to follow it.

For example: A lot of people ask why Muslims don’t eat pork. The right answer is: “Because Allah forbade it.” The wrong answer, which is too often given: “Because there’s a bacteria/worm/something that grows in the flesh, and eating it is harmful.” It turns out that if you cook the pork well, that no longer applies, and it’s “safe” to eat (according to scientists). So does that mean – now that our “reason” for not eating pork is no longer there – we can eat pork so long as we cook it well? Of course not. Why? Because the reason for not eating pork is still there: we don’t eat pork because Allah told us not to!

The same applies to hijab: We wear it because Allah told us to. And we have to wear it in the way Allah told us to. It’s not for us to say, “Oh, hijab is about modesty, therefore it’s up to us to decide what modesty is.”

This is not to say that there is no wisdom behind the rulings of Allah. Undoubtedly, there is. Sometimes we understand and know the reasons and wisdoms, and sometimes we don’t. Alhamdulillah, with hijab, some of the wisdoms behind it are clear – that it is about modesty and protection, and we know this because Allah told us so. But in the end, wearing hijab is even more an issue of Muslim women obeying Allah. That’s why we do it.

How much does your co-worker know about Islam?

Secondly, it’s very interesting that your co-worker is, herself, interpreting Islam and the texts of Islam. Indirectly she is arguing that as a non-Muslim, she has a better understanding of Islam than: 1) yourself as a Muslim; 2) the majority of Muslims all over the world, and over the course of many centuries; 3) the scholars of Islam who have much more knowledge of the texts and have dedicated their lives to studying Islam and its rulings.

How much knowledge does she actually have about Islam to say that covering the hair is something we misinterpreted? Maybe you can have her consider that question. How much does she know about Islam that makes her confident we got it wrong?

Incorrect Questions

Part of the reason you’re having troubles answering is because the questions themselves are incorrect: “Why do Muslim women have to cover the hair? Why the hair especially? Is there a specific verse in the Quran that says that we need to cover the hair? Who decided that hair was sexy? Why can’t you just dress modestly without covering the hair?”

There is a problem with all of these questions, and I’d like to address two points in them them separately.

>> It’s Not Just the Hair!!!

Why do Muslim women have to cover the hair? Why the hair especially? Is there a specific verse in the Quran that says that we need to cover the hair? Who decided that hair was sexy? Why can’t you just dress modestly without covering the hair?

Hijab is not just about covering the hair, or even “hair especially.” Hijab is a code of conduct involving what a Muslim woman wears, and the way in which she behaves. It includes covering everything of her body, except the hands and face (some scholars even included the hands and the face – meaning, everything, everything – under what is necessary). But it also includes lowering her gaze, not speaking to men in an enticing way, interacting with them modestly, etc. [1]

Even if we’re only talking about the physical, clothing aspect of hijab, it includes so much more than just the hair. I’d like to refer you to this article listing the physical requirements of hijab.

So the question would be, “Why do we also cover the hair, in addition to everything else?” The same reason we cover everything else: Because Allah said so.

I know your co-worker is asking about the evidence, as well, and I’m getting to that.

>> Qur’an and Hadith

The second incorrect question your co-worker is asking is this:

Is there a specific verse in the Quran that says that we need to cover the hair? […] She basically wants me to prove to her that it mentions in the Quran that our hair needs to be covered.

The reason this question is problematic is because your co-worker seems to only want evidence from the Qur’an, to the exclusion of the Sunnah. This is a huge mistake, and I’m hesitant, because she’s insisting “Qur’an only” to give evidence from the Qur’an only.

A Muslim cannot separate between the Qur’an and Sunnah. Anyone who denies the importance of the Sunnah and the role of hadith in establishing the rulings of Islam is not a Muslim. The Qur’an and Sunnah carry equal weight when it comes to legislation. Certainly, the Qur’an is more sacred because it is the words of Allah; nothing can compare to it, and it has its own virtues not shared with the Sunnah. However, the words of the Messenger, salla Allahu alayhi wasallam, were also inspired. It says in the Qur’an, speaking of the Messenger, “Nor does he speak from [his own] inclination” [53:3].

In many verses of the Qur’an, the translation says, “…obey Allah and obey the Messenger…” [4:59, 5:92, 24:54, 47:33 and 64:12].

Elsewhere, we read, “And whatever the Messenger has given you – take; and what he has forbidden you – refrain from” [59:7].

So when somebody says “show me in the Qur’an only,” we should say with confidence, “It doesn’t have to be Qur’an only.”

Something interesting to note about evidence in the Qur’an vs. evidence in the Sunnah is this. Many times in the Qur’an, you’ll see general rulings: establish prayer; give zakat; perform hajj. But where in the Qur’an does it state that prayer should be five times a day? Where in the Qur’an are the movements and phrases for prayer? Where in the Qur’an are we told that zakat is 2.5% of wealth above a certain amount that’s accumulated for a year? Where is the complete description of Hajj? The fact is, all those things are in the Sunnah.

This is why many scholars say: the general rulings are in the Qur’an; the details are in the Sunnah.

One of the scholars of Islam even said, “The Qur’an is more in need of the Sunnah than the Sunnah is need of the Qur’an” [2]. This is because the Sunnah – as a body of evidence – can stand on its own, while the Qur’an is often interpreted by the Sunnah. The Sunnah, in fact, is also revelation from Allah in a different form. The Sunnah – the words and actions and life of the Messenger salla Allahu alayhi wasallam – are the best interpretation of the Qur’an we have!

So if the general command for hijab is in the Qur’an, and the details are in the Sunnah, this should not present a problem to us in the least.

And the hadith that many scholars use as evidence is the hadith of Asma bint Abi Bakr:

Aisha radiya Allahu anha reported that once her sister, Asma radiya Allahu anha visited her in finery while the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wasallam was at home. He turned away from her and said, “O Asma, when a woman reaches puberty it is not lawful for her to uncover any part of her body except this,” and he then pointed, salla Allahu alayhi wasallam, to his face and hand palm. [Abu Dawud]

Why do we need something more?

The Consensus of Scholars

I also wanted to mention something – for your own benefit – about the consensus of Muslim scholars. Consensus is a definitive proof in Islam, and some scholars say that the strongest form of evidence for an Islamic ruling is consensus [3]. This is because scholars aren’t giving personal opinions when talking about rulings; rather, they are looking at the Qur’an and the Sunnah as evidence before arriving at their conclusions.

In many situations, the scholars will differ – they look at the an ayah or hadith, and interpret it differently, or they study a body of evidence and arrive at different conclusions. But if all the scholars can look at the evidence of what Allah and His Messenger said, and arrive at the same conclusion, this means the evidence is so clear, that it leaves no room for further interpretation. And if the scholars of the earlier generations are in agreement about something, later generations cannot come later and break that consensus, or “reinterpret” the evidence.

And the fact is, there is solid consensus on the hijab of the Muslim woman. The only thing scholars differed over was whether or not the hands and face had to be covered. Some said it was a must to also cover the hands and face, some said it was recommended but not necessary – and they each have evidence and valid arguments, and the debate is well-known. Only in recent times, however, have we seen people trying to claim that covering the hair is not part of Islam, and that dressing “modestly” is enough. Even these people are few and far between, and they are generally people who have little knowledge of Islam.

Covering the Hair in the Qur’an

Finally, to comment on covering hair in the Qur’an. Although there is the hadith mentioned above clarifying hijab (covering everything except the hands and face), there are also details mentioned in the Qur’an. Some ayahs to consider —

>> Ayah 1:

“And abide in your houses and do not display yourselves as [was] the display of the former times of ignorance.” [33:33]

– Understanding this ayah requires some understanding of history. In the “times of ignorance,” the women used to leave their homes dressed in a particular way. They wore gowns that might reveal part of their lower legs and lower arms, as well as their necks and the area above the chest. They also had a khimar (which was very well known at the time) draped over their heads, so part of their hair/head was covered, and part was showing [4].

– By today’s standards (especially in the West), these women were dressed modestly! However, Allah commands us not to display ourselves the way they were displayed. This means the whole arm, the whole leg, the whole neck and the whole head should be covered. It’s not about what we think is modest – it’s about what Allah said.

>> Ayah 2:

“O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves their jilbabs (outer garments).” [33:59]

– This ayah led many scholars to say that a woman should actually wear a jilbab/abaya which goes over her normal clothes.

>> Ayah 3:

And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their khumur (headcovers) over their juyoob (chests) and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers… (the rest of the ayah)… [24:31]

– This ayah contains several details of hijab, but I’m concentrating on just the underlined part. We can learn two things from it: 1) that the headcover should come down and cover the chest, as you mentioned, and 2) that there is a headcover!

– If you look at the ayah, it contains two different words people in our times might not be entirely familiar with: jayb (chest area) and khimar (head covering). Why are people (especially those without any knowledge of Arabic) willing to accept the translation for jayb as chest area while rejecting khimar as head cover? Understanding these words requires linguistic and historical knowledge. And historically, as mentioned above, it was well known that women wore a head covering called a “khimar,” even before the Messenger salla Allahu alayhi wasallam was sent!

– Linguistically, as well (even if someone doesn’t have much historical knowledge) the word “khimar” means head cover. It’s related to the word “khamr” in Arabic, which is wine/alcohol/any-intoxicant. The name for alcohol is derived from the verb “khamara,” meaning “he covered, hid, or concealed” [5]. So the intoxicant covers up the intellect, the mind, the head of its drinker, therefore it’s called khamr. Likewise, the khimar of a woman would logically cover her head!

I know this very last part alone would have answered your question. However, I felt it was more a case of explaining certain principles about Islam and evidence in Islam than it was simply “justifying” to your co-worker why we cover our hair. Wa Allahu a’lam.

May Allah show us the truth as truth and enable us to follow it, and may He show us falsehood as falsehood, and enable us to avoid it. Ameen.

—–

[1]  See this post, Hijabi-Checklist, for a list and evidences of things the hijab encompasses.

[2] This is the statement of Imam al-Awza’i, rahimahu Allah.

[3] Evidence that consensus is a definitive proof in Islam can be found in the hadith of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wasallam, where he said, “My Ummah will not agree on falsehood” [Narrated by Ahmad, Abu Dawood and at-Tirmithi].

[4] Ibn Kathir states in his tafsir, regarding ayah 33:33, “‘Tabarruj is when a woman puts a khimar on her head but does not tie it properly.’ So her necklaces, earrings and neck, and all of that can be seen. This is Tabarruj, and Allah addresses all the women of the believers with regard to Tabarruj.”

[5] The ayah in the Qur’an  uses the word “khumur,” which is the plural of “khimar.” The definition of “khimar” as something which covers the head can be found in Lisan al-Arab.

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