Hejab: a "right" Not a "duty"

Marvah Shakib
Posted July 14, 2010 from Afghanistan

I was always wondering Why Muslim women should wear hejab? Fortunately, i did a research paper, and i found very interesting facts. wish you enjoy reading it. Thanks Marvah

Hejab or Veil

What does Hejab means? Does it mention in Quran that it is compulsory for Muslim women to wear Hejab? Why do we have to cover our hair? These are the questions that twist in the corridors of my mind since I was a child. Likewise, when I was six years old, I had to wear the long scarf, called Chador to go to masque to study the holy Quran in The Taliban’s period. Every day, I used to ask my Mom, “do I have to cover my hair?” Still I am wondering that, Why do we have to cover our hair? According to The Constant meaning of veil by Zahedi, “Hair in its physical form is sexless, the symbolism and meaning of hair is highly generated, and female hair has become a symbol of sexuality.” On the other hand, “many scholars noted the erotic nature of female hair as a symbol of women’s appeal and power over men” (Ebersole1998). These ideas created the Hejab or veil for Muslim women.

Hejab is an Arabic word which means “curtain or cover”; in fact, it has different meaning in different societies depending on cultural and political context. Many people link the veil to Islam and to Arabic culture. However, research indicates that” Islam didn’t invent the veil; indeed the veil is inauthentic to Islam” (Zahedi, pg2). Veil was not something religious in the past. The history of veil starts in the “Assyrian period, in thirteen century B.C” (Keddie 1991).As it mentioned, “In the Assyrian, Byzantine, and Persian Sasanian empires, the veil was a marker of prestige and statues symbol” (keddie 1991). It means that the royal or the upper class women who didn’t have to work used to wear veil in the public to protect themselves from the gaze of commoners. “The veil signified class distinction, Assyrian law prohibited peasant women, slaves, and prostitute from wearing the veil, and violators were punished” (EI Guindi1999). As we studied veil or to cover your hair is not motioned in Islam, but still wearing veil is compulsory in most of Islamic countries like Iran, Afghanistan and Arab world. I am not saying that Hejab must be banned because it is a controversial topic, but I think wearing Hejab or veil should not be compulsory for Muslim women.

It is a fact that, the holy scripture of Muslims The holy Quran has mention two verses about the Veil. The first citation is from Surah (part) 33; 59 addressed to prophet Muhammad and his family:

“Oh prophet! Tell The wives and daughters And the believing women, That they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): That is most convenient, That they should be known (As such) and not molested.” (trans.ali1997,1077,)

“To be “known” is an indication that others were not veiled” (Zahedi, pg2). I agree with Ms. Zahedi that the word known means that other were not veiled, and that it become easier for people to recognize the prophet’s wives. I think the Covering themselves with an outer garment (jilbab) is to protect these women from sexual harassments. The second Verse is in Surah (part) 24:31 “refers to general rule of modesty” (zahedi, 3).

And say to the believing women That they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: That they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinary) appears Therefore; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms….” (Trans. Ali1997, 873) It is clear that, this citation emphasizes modesty and covering bosoms and neck. There is no reference to cover the hair. the word screen( Jelbab), according to Ali” was a special feature of honor for the prophet’s households,” he reminded that” for Muslim women no screen or Jalbab is mentioned”( zahedi,pg4).

In my opinion what is happening in today’s Islamic world is definitely not what the holy Quran or Islam said. For example, In Iran, which is one of the advanced countries, the major occupation of the police is to keep alive the Islamic dress code. According to Tehran police Chief Brigadier General Murtaza Talaie” 30 % of complains to police involve cases of women not covering up properly…” Moreover, the statistics that Ms Zahedi has used in her article impressed me. She wrote that, “in one week in August 2004, 200 women were arrested in Tehran, 183 were arrested in Northern Province of Gilan, and 1,250 women received verbal warning, and this data is only in two of Iran’s 28 provinces.” You see, Is this a proper way of following Quran and Islam?

Wearing the Hejab is a controversial topic and every individual has her/his own ideas and interpretations. For example, the word “except what appears” in (Surah or part 33; 59 Quran), people interpret differently. Chada Shabanda a human right activist said “I have read Quran many times, what I get is that I am not required to wear the Hejab” (“Inside Quran”, chap 2). It means that she doesn't agree that Hejab is compulsory for Muslim women. But one of the highest Muslim authorities in the world, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tntawy, Grand imam of Al-Azhar, and Sheikh of Al- Azhar University, Interpreted it quite differently and said, “The word except what appears means all the female body should be completely covered except hands and face”. Likewise, Ajmal Mansor, an Imam in London, and sheikh Yosuf are saying the same thing that “all the body of the female and even her face also should be covered” (Inside Quran video, chap4). I think this is a conservative side of looking and interpreting the words of Quran.

In addition, if we have a deep look in the history, these controversial opinions about Hejab is a cause of using Hejab as a political tool. For example, in Aceh, the government implemented the compulsory veil because it is what visible to prove that if they can apply the Syariah (Muslim law) and Hejab. They will also success in managing other areas of the government as well. According to Ma. Theresa R. Milallos , “veiling by removing the element of free well, becomes a political project and transcends Question of choice in Aceh.” This means that the Aceh government used the veil as a political tool, to show his power. It is not only Aceh but also Afghanistan; The Taliban imposed Burqa on Afghan women to show their power. However, the Taliban have left Afghanistan, but we still can see its effects. Many Afghan women still use Burqa in the rural area of Afghanistan, and this has been affected on their position of speaking. According to the Securing the Afghan women article “Especially problematic is the ventriloquism of Afghan women by discourses speaking for them.” (Article).Hence, besides using veil as a political tool, Taliban also took many opportunities and created many problems for Afghan women.

Conversely in Turkey, Ataturk sharply reversed the compulsory dress code from veiling to unveil. “He used veil as a symbol of national libration and indigenous identity, not Patriarchy.” But many women were not happy about it. As Azar Majedi, the Human right activist said” I have problem with the veil ban in Turkey, such a ban then doesn’t allow adults to exercise their conscious well.”(Majedi) Likewise in Iran, Hejab is always used as a political tool on women. Raza shah also banned veil, some of the Iranian women were very happy. They could wear any stylish clothes that they want, and they felt they have achieved their libration, but for many this felt like being naked, and it drove them deeper in to purdah (being stricter on veiling). As Ms Zahedi wrote, “All the elements of desired social change and placing unveiling at its core did not serve Iranians well.”(Zahedi). Interestingly, as I studied the history of this period, one cause of Shah’s failing from government was banning of veil in Iranian society. In many cases, Hejab has played a very important role in women’s’ life and in political field too.

To analyze the data that I have studied for this paper, the meaning of the veil depends on your point of view, practicing once beliefs take different dimensions. For example, the idea of unveiling that has been practiced in Iran and some other Muslim countries outraged the conservatives, and it was a huge religious offence and emotional challenge for many women who were not ready or welling to appear unveiled in the public because many women in the Muslim world believe that their veil is their pride, virtue, and modesty.

On the other hand, You and I may also don’t feel easy to accept very conservative ideas that have some power or political backgrounds. For example, according a conservative Islamic view,”It has been proven that the hair of women radiates a kind of ray that effects a man, exiting him out of the normal state” (Tabari). First I cannot accept it, and then if a woman’s hair has a kind of power why she should cover it? Why that man shouldn’t guard his gaze? Moreover, in another argument I noticed that, Mir-Hosseini, an Irani scholar, points out, “there is no ruling to force men to “guard their gaze” so it becomes an ethical and personal choice for men.” Now I have a question, why he didn’t discuss about Hejab in terms of an ethical and personal choice for women? Why many people, many Islamic scholars and Sheikhsa instead of questioning the culturally, and religiously justify the uncontrollable sexual appetite of some men, force women to conceal their hair and bodies to protect those men?

Despite, The forcing, obligatory Hejab is not only against many women’s wishes but also it has limited the opportunities for women. For example, After Shah Raza’s period the unveiled women could not claim for social, political and economic spaces and they were not allowed to enter in a shop, restaurant or any public places without veil. Likewise, Burqa in Afghanistan also has taken many opportunities from Afghan women. We have many sayings about Hejab in Afghanistan that people use it in their daily life. Like,” the worth of a woman is in her veil” or “veiling is divine duty”. These saying also effects on women to keep the veil. Even, the Burqa has become “the universal symbol of women’s oppression in Afghanistan” (Kensinger2003,).

To sum up, in my opinion Hejab should not seen as women’s” duty” but as her “right”. These verse in Surah (33; 59, and 24; 31) the holy Quran proves that women’s hair is not required to be covered. Thus, it shouldn’t be forced on women to cover all their bodies, hair, face, and even hands. Moreover, wearing Hejab has been practiced for many years. It becomes a part of Muslim culture and a part of Muslim women’s life. Many women love to wear the Hejab, and they worth for it, which I think we should respect for them. It is their opinion and their right to chose, but also some women are not very strict on Hejab. By not wearing Hejab, they are not doing a sin, so we should respect their ideas too. Hence, the issue of veiling spans a diverse range of belief system and ideologies from liberal, moderate to conservative and radical. We cannot judge who is right and who is wrong; it is all just a matter of interpretations. I believe that, we should not accept all the Taphser books (the books that have the ideas and translation of Quran by Sheikhs), because all these books are not Quran so they can’t be perfect, they are just a Scholar and a Sheikh’s ideas and interpretations. In addition, amazingly most of the Taphser and religious books are by men. I have hardly ever seen a woman’s perspective on a religious topic. As in the article Muslim veil as Politics was written, “There are no discourses initiated by women, majority of the existing Islamic public discourses were made by men, usually chief in the office of Ayariah Islam”. I suggest that, we should read the holy, pure, Quran, a book without any mistake, by our self, think about it, and we should have our own ideas and interpretations. We don’t have to accept everyone’s ideas and interpretation all the time.



Comments 6

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Jodi Williams
Aug 30, 2010
Aug 30, 2010

Thank you for sharing this information on such a controversial issue. I agree wholeheartedly.

To wear the hejab is an honour and it is a terrible shame that a beautiful garment has become such a powerful force of oppression.

I hope you are well.

In Solidarity,


Marvah Shakib
Sep 07, 2010
Sep 07, 2010

Dear Jodi thanks for comment, I am very happy for having such friends that encourages my thoughts, well it was whatever i have experienced and researched about Hejab, which is a symbol of honor and respect for women in my community.by the way, wish to be in contact... marvah shakib

Sep 24, 2010
Sep 24, 2010

thanks for this analysis. Your use of religious texts is easy to get for a non-Muslim girl as I am :) I cannot totally make my mind on this question of the veil but I deeply share your ideas about how the basic text adn the interpretation are two different things. I'm Catholic and I think it's the same thing in my religion, that's why I allow myself to disagree with some declarations of bishops or even the pope, cause though they studied the text and dedicated their life to religion and must be respected for that, they are still men and everybody can make mistakes.

Religions become dangerous when people practicing it think they are ABSOLUTELY right in their way to see the whole thing. I deeply hope the dialogue will go on to understand how people see things in different ways.

Anyway, thanks very much for this article. I truly admired your sense of demonstration. Hope you're right in Afghanistan, I admire you for writing such things in such a context.

From France, with love Aurore

Atifa Nahid
Feb 21, 2011
Feb 21, 2011

I am an Afghan woman and first of all I am a Muslim. I read your article today and I am very regretful that what Afghan Muslim women are thinking about Veil (hejab), Hejat (Veil) is not decreasing opportunities for Afghan women to participate in society, I am an Afghan and working in an NGO. The president of this NGO is Prof. Sakena Yacoobi who has completed her Higher education in USA and she is wearing Hejab, she attends most important international conferences as speaker and wearing Hejab. You wrote about Sura Alhazab Verse 59. You clearly wrote that the believing women. The believing women means all Muslim women should obey this and this is fair for them, if you see the problems of women in west countries, then you must accept that all women should do their duty and wear veil and hejab. Men also have their duties to do They have to keep lower their gazes. In Holy Quran Sura Al-Noor Verse 30:"Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is aware of what they do." The important point for a Muslim is to know that the Holy Quran is for all over the time and each century, and it has a relation with science and technology. Tafsirs are to help Muslims learn easily the Holy Quran and a person who wants to write a Tafsir; there are complete rules for them. Who can write a Tafsir and how steps he must follow. These men tried to follow these steps specially Tabari, Ibn Kasir…… to get completer reward (to be Mushib) Hope you do not impress by other theories, because Islam is the complete religion which is a complete guide for happy life. Good luck

Sep 12, 2011
Sep 12, 2011

hello to you and thank to write up this way so wan can share and write about it too . 'We don’t have to accept everyone’s ideas and interpretation all the time.' i think you 're right , what if women themselves re-write the Quraan or the text , introducing their own interpretations and start implement them . women is to think over herself and over being trapped and dominated by out sider minds . what about a man that has a 'long hair' and it is beautiful and it is the woman with visual senses looking at it .. man should cover his hair ? cover his flesh ? women too desires, she is a subject too ! this is so much oppressive to frame woman this way and to frame her voice, to start raising the issue is a good start in my opinion . even if i do not like this dichotomy into reducing gender and its performance into very settled versions as pre-structured boxes ..

Rumbidzai Dube
Sep 12, 2011
Sep 12, 2011

Dear Marva

A week ago I read one other article by another one of my sisters here on Pulsewire in which she defended wearing the Hejab and she said it was part of her identity. At first I could not understand why she said that because all the previous articles I had read on the wearing of the Hejab painted it as a religious practice that oppresses Muslim women. After listening to her views and your views in this article I think I can say I have been educated and my mindset has been transformed about what the Hejab means in terms of the Koran and in terms of interpretations of the Koran as well as what it means to the women who wear it. Thank you for this very well researched paper. Insightful!!!

Best, MaDube