Hijab: A Muslim Male Perspective


A well-researched treatise on the subject of hijab by guest author T. Husayn.

Hijab: A Muslim Male Perspective

The topic of hijab is one that evokes and provokes. It generates within all of us a plethora of thoughts and emotions. The web and media are replete with opinions of Muslim women and politicians on this sensitive topic. Some non-Muslims have used hijab as a springboard to unleash virile anti-Islamic polemics. Here I wish to share some thoughts on hijab from the perspective of a Muslim male living in America and preempt any perceptions of dogma by providing relevant evidences. Hijab is such a grand concept that one cannot write about it except with awe.

According a 2007 Pew Research Center report on Muslim Americans, only 38% of Muslim women wear hijab all the time whereas 48% do not wear any head covering at all. As a side note and interesting factoid, 48% of Muslim American women pray the obligatory prayers five times a day compared to 34% of Muslim men. The sisters as a whole are undoubtedly keener to hold fast to the religion. Yet the issue of hijab bifurcates Muslim women and creates tension.

Why do the majority of Muslim American women not wear the hijab? What are the reasons that some choose to wear the hijab? What does a Muslim man think of hijab and how does its adoption or lack thereof affect him? These are questions I will attempt to answer below.

Women who choose not to wear the hijab come under many categories, some of which are as follows:

  1. Women who deny the obligation of hijab

  2. Women who think that hijab is “only strongly recommended” but not obligatory

  3. Women who do not feel naturally shy when wearing revealing outfits outside the home and have mentally and physically adopted the dress code of the occident

  4. Women who want to wear the hijab but are afraid of the consequences in the form of occupational discrimination, stares, glares, comments, family resistance, spousal resistance, etc.

  5. Women who state something to the effect of: “I don’t need to wear hijab because Allah knows my heart is clean and I don’t do bad things”

  6. Women who state something to the effect of: “I don’t have to wear the hijab, there is no compulsion in religion”

The first two categories of women should be advised (gently, kindly) and shown extensive evidences from the Qur’an & Prophetic traditions (Sunnah) that unequivocally prove the obligation of wearing hijab. Allah jalla wa ‘alaa states in His Book:

{O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should draw over themselves their jilbab (outer garments) (when in public); this will be more conducive to their being recognized (as decent women) and not harassed. But God is indeed oft-forgiving, most merciful} (33:59)

{And know that women advanced in years, who no longer feel any sexual desire incur no sin if they discard their thiyab (outer garments), provided they do not aim at a showy display of their zeenah (charms or beauty). But it is better for them to abstain (from this); and God is all-hearing, all-knowing} (24:60)

It is amazing that Allah informs us that even for an older woman who is given leeway with hijab, it is better that she still wears it. Then what about young sisters in their teens, twenties and thirties when their charms are still in full bloom?

As for the third category of women who have lost innate shyness, they must also be cajoled gently. The innate modesty and shyness that girls possess must be nurtured early on in life by inculcating the wearing of hijab pre-puberty. Indeed we see many little girls in Muslim countries and in American mosques wearing hijab. It is a most wondrous and dignified sight! While some people see imprisonment in a hijab, the one who possesses haya sees emancipation and protection therein. As these same little girls grow older, hijab becomes a natural part of their attire till they feel extremely shy to take that off except in front of mahrams. We must remind ourselves that Imaan encompasses the concept of modesty and shyness.

There are more than 70 branches of Iman (Faith). The foremost is the declaration that there is no god except Allah and the least of it is removing harmful things from the path. And haya is a branch of Iman. [Bukhari, Muslim]

The innate shyness and sense of modesty is chipped away in Muslim children through a surreptitious onslaught of subliminal messages on television programs. Little Muslim girls may be swayed on one hand to wear the hijab by the parents whilst be swayed to imitate the likes of Hannah Montana and other ‘role models’ who ultimately cause confusion, vacillation, and at times secret rebellion as the girl hits adolescence. Strictly controlling access to or minimizing television viewing to only educational programs and innocuous cartoons may be a way to nurture that innate shyness.

As for those women who use the ‘there is no compulsion in religion’ rule, they misunderstand the context which is intended to address forced conversions into the religion of Islam. In the Sunnah we find our Rasool (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) instructing us to rebuke our children who do not pray Salaah after a certain age. Is that compulsion? No. When the people refused to give Zakaah at the time of Abu Bakr and he fought them, was that compulsion? No. These were examples of ‘compulsion’ only linguistically and semantically but not Islamically.

As for the rest of the categories of women, and for all Muslims for that matter, hijab ultimately is about submission to the will of Allah and his commandments.

{And obey Allah and His Messenger that you may obtain Mercy} (3:132)

{It is not fitting for the believing man or for the believing woman, that when Allah and His Messenger have decreed any matter, that they should have any option in their decision…} (33:36)

Thus the wearing of hijab in its essence is tied to faith. Am I more afraid of what my employer-to-be thinks in an interview because of my beard or my hijab or am I more afraid of the One who created me? Am I worried about losing ephemeral fair-weather friends if I don the hijab or wear a beard or should I rather be happy with earning the favors of the One without whom I would not even exist? Such constant and rigorous self-reminders and trust in Allah are part and parcel of the arsenal of the Muslim.

Of the Muslim women who wear the hijab some don it as a cultural practice. Some don it to fit in with college cliques. Some don it for reasons of identity and for making counter-cultural self-expressionist statements. A few do it out of coercion. Then there are those who do so purely out of faith and submission to Allah. If a Muslim woman wears a hijab for any other reason except submission to Allah, she is liable to fall into self-doubt, confusion, and influence of others who call her to discard her hijab. An article on Slate explores how Muslim women at times abandon the hijab and if one pontificates deeply on the underlying cause, one finds that when they wore hijab the first time, they wore it for reasons other than for pleasing Allah alone.

Why is this important? Because today there are women who don the headscarf and think they are wearing hijab. However, the contours of their figures are evident due to figure hugging dresses or tight jeans. Such sisters are oblivious to the fact that they are not wearing hijab. The loose clothing that is part of hijab is not something that is readily evident to some sisters. During college, I encountered many sisters on campus who wore head coverings but did not have the requisite looseness of the clothes. To compound this problem is a bigger one and that is that some Muslim sisters who have worn the hijab have only worn the hijab on their physical beings but not on their hearts or their minds. Such sisters freely mix, laugh, wear make-up, spritz perfume, and talk softly and coquettishly at length and without good reason to the opposite gender and nothing differentiates them from any other woman except the head scarf that is apparent. Some sisters who do not wear the hijab, actually use the examples of such sisters to decline wearing the hijab! There is a concept of hijab in speech as well.

Allah ‘azza wa jal revealed: O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women; if you fear (Allah), then do not be too pleasant of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should feel desire (for you). (Al-Ahzaab: 32)

The first time I encountered how a Muslim woman practices hijab in speech was when in college, my roommate and I had a visitor from Afghanistan whose wife was a Chechnyan who was covered from head to toe. To give them complete ease my roommate and I stayed with friends for a few days so they had our apartment to themselves as a couple. We would then check in occasionally with the brother to ensure all was well. On one of those check-in calls, the wife picked up the phone because the brother was occupied and she only spoke essentials and had a very strict demeanor and non-softness in her voice. Desire was the furthest thing from my mind at that point and I contrasted her style of speech to that of the short shorts-wearing, smiling, and inviting visage of nightingale voiced college blondes in class. The contrast was stark and immediate. The former crushed desire, whilst the latter required us to practice utmost restraint and exercise patience.

So what does true hijab do for a Muslim man? Firstly, many women are aghast at the very thought that their scanty clothing may lead to lecherous men making advances on them. How can a man dare to shift responsibility for their vile actions to women no matter how liberally the women are dressed? Why is the onus of men’s advances put squarely on women’s demeanor and dress? Can’t men just control themselves? Yes, we can and should but the responsibility is dual – i.e. it belongs to both the man and the woman. Allah tells women to wear the hijab because

{…this will be more conducive to their being recognized (as decent women) and not harassed}.

Is Allah relieving men of their responsibilities for harassing women? Absolutely not! But He, the Creator of both men and women, knows our souls and our inclinations better than we ourselves do. To that end, along with commanding men and women to lower our gazes, He tells us that if women wear the hijab, they will be recognized as decent women and not harassed. This is factually, logically, evolutionarily, biologically, socially, theologically, and empirically true! If there are 20 lecherous men amongst 100 men and a scantily clad young woman passes in front of them, then the vast majority of the men will have a difficult time to control their gaze and 20 lecherous of the 100 may whistle, comment, accost, or even harass the woman whilst the other men even whilst restraining themselves may have their desires provoked. Now compare that to a woman who is fully veiled and walking without her adornments showing. In that case even the lecherous 20 will very likely leave the hijabi sister alone. If they don’t then most assuredly there will be amongst the remaining 80 men who will come to her defense as the sight of hijab on a woman commands respect, dignity, and brings out chivalry in men. I know some sisters will protest vociferously at this ‘idealistic’ view because some of them were harassed in markets in Karachi or Cairo even whilst donning the hijab. Be that as it may, the underlying concept of the proportionality and probability of harassment increasing as the clothing of a woman decreases cannot be denied.

A woman who hears hijab has the collective recognition and protection of honorable Muslim men. I refer the reader to the famous incident at the time of our Rasool (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) where the hijabi sister in Madeenah was harassed by jewelers such that part of her ‘awrah was revealed as she stood up. A Muslim man nearby witnessed this and came to her aid and was killed by the ones who pulled the prank on the poor sister. When our Rasool (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) heard about this, he laid siege on the tribe of the trouble-making lechers. Imagine that! A whole regiment of our Rasool (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) rose to protect the dignity of one Muslim woman and to avenge the chivalrous Muslim man who came to her aid.

There is no doubt that women possess an overpowering and intensely strong allure that affects men. Famous Rutgers University anthropologist and leading researcher of “love” Dr. Helen Fisher states about men: “Men fall in love faster than women…they are so visual.” We find that even noble Prophet Yusuf (‘alayhis salam) pleaded to Allah to save him from the temptation of the beautiful wife of ‘Azeez. A man with his pure heart and perfection was afraid of a woman’s temptation, so who are we the normal ordinary Muslim men?

{He said: My Lord, prison is more to my liking than that to which they invite me. And if You do not avert from me their plan, I might incline toward them and [thus] be of the ignorant} (Yusuf 12:33)

Similarly, we also find our own Messenger (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), the best of humanity, instructing us on the allure of women and how to deal with it if one is already married (and in other narrations in how to deal with it if one is unmarried).

Narrated Usama bin Zaid: The Prophet (salAllahu ‘alahyhi wa sallam) said, “After me I have not left any affliction more harmful to men than women”.  [Sahih Bukhari 7:62:33]

In an extended hadeeth in Sahih Bukhari (Vol 1, Book 6, Hadeeth 301) our Rasool (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) speaks to women after Eid prayers and says: “…A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you…” and in another narration of the same episode he (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) states “…O women, some of you can lead a cautious wise man astray…”  (Vol2, Book 24, Hadeeth 541)

Jabir reported that Allah’s Messenger (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) saw a woman, and so he came to his wife, Zainab, as she was tanning leather and had marital relations with her. He then went to his Companions and told them: The woman advances and retires in the shape of a devil, so when one of you sees a woman, he should come to his wife, for that will repel what he feels in his heart. [Sahih Muslim 8:3240]

After reading this, when I see a woman with full hijab or niqaab, can I not but have extreme respect for her and make du’a for her? The role of the man in controlling himself cannot be understated. Some Qur’anic exegetes have expounded upon the glance which is the opening to the heart and it leaves an image in the heart that may incline one towards it. This is so true. I myself remember being in a supermarket at the Hilton in Makkah buying some necessities when my eyes laid upon the face of a young nubile Arab woman for barely half a second. The extreme beauty remained sealed in my mind for years thereafter and all this due to one glance. So along with a Muslim man heeding the call to lowering the gaze, the Muslim women who wear the hijab serve as a safety valve by preventing his glance from turning into a conflagration that destroys him. A Muslim woman who wears hijab defeats the satan who beautifies her when she is unveiled.

The Prophet (salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said: “The women is object of concealment, when she leaves the house, Shaytaan (the Devil) beautifies her.” [Narrated by Abu Ahwas from Abdullah, recorded in Tirmidhi 1173, Ibn Khuzaymah 1685-1687, Tabaraani 10/132, Abdur-Razaak 5116, authenticated sahih by Shaykh Al-Albaani in Sunan of at-Tirmidhi 1173]

The honorable Muslim man also loves that his wife preserves her beauty to be enjoyed only by him. In doing so, she appeals to his sense of gheerah (protective jealousy). And by that, she wins his love, respect, and admiration. She is a shining example of faith, dignity, honor, and all that accompanies that in goodness. The opposite is true as well. A woman who refuses to wear the hijab despite her husband’s entreaties puts him off, disrespects him, and earns his disfavor and by extension makes her status with Allah precarious.

“There are three at whom Allah will not look at on the day of Resurrection: (1) the one who disobeys his parents, (2) the woman who imitates men, and (3) the duyooth (a man who has no protective jealousy towards his womenfolk). “ [Narrated by ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Amr, collected in Ahmad, An-Nasaa’i & Al-Haakim. Authenticated in Saheeh Al-Jaami’ As-Sagheer 3/74, hadeeth 3066]

A woman without hijab is like one who stands in a storm under hail and lightning – little is her protection, and harm may befall her at any moment. A woman with hijab is like one who takes shelter inside a fortified home next to a fireplace on a cold dreary night – protected, graceful, content, empowered, and emancipated.  I hope a Muslim man’s viewpoint on hijab serves to color this grand concept in a positive light and motivates many more sisters to explore the beauty of mind and body inherent in embracing complete hijab.