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What Everyone Needs to Know about the Hijab/Veil in Islam | What the Patriarchy?! (Script)

Next episode of What the Patriarchy?! is now published!

In this video, we talk about all things hijab/veil (the head-covering). This include Muslim men and women’s and non-Muslims’ conversations about it; its origins; why some Muslim women wear it; the problem with the word “choice” in whether Muslims wear it by choice; the hijab/veil in the Qur’an and hadiths (and how the head-covering isn’t fardh in the Qur’an, actually); and more. If my talking speed is too fast for you, I’m so sorry! I promise I’m still trying. I recognize that makes it inaccessible for some. You can read the script here:

If you’d rather listen to only specific parts, here’s some tips (take or give some seconds):

– Beginning until 5:50, intro to the video, outline of the discussion, the ways that Muslim women, Muslim men, and non-Muslims talk about the hijab, and definition of hijab.
– until 7:11, why the hijab is worn.
– 7:11- 8:20, my critique of the whole “identity” and “solidarity” explanation of the hijab.
– 8:20 – on why the word “choice” is problematic and  why it’s an invalid question to ask if someone wear the hijab by “choice”; on social pressure; and is the hijab a human rights issue?
-13:50 –other people do it too! And the history and origin of the veil; relationship between status and covering; Muslim jurists on the awrah of the enslaved woman vs the free woman; some Muslim jurists didn’t even allow enslaved women to cover their hair during prayer!
– ~23-ish: the Qur’an on the hijab.
– ~29-ish: the whole point of this discussion on the hijab in the Qur’an (positionality, interpretive choices, no objective standards of modesty, what about male awrah, why weren’t women consulted during these interpretations, etc.)
– ~end of 31: the “context” of the qur’anic verses on hijab/covering
– ~35-ish: the bottom line
– ~37ish: other hadiths on covering; let’s make men cover and stay at home so that they’re not causing fitnah, etc. And why don’t men wear the hijab (head-covering)? Not like they’re forbidden from doing so.
– ~39: recap.

(Video and rough script below – may be off by some here and there.)

Bismillah irrahman irrahim. Hello, salaam, and welcome to What the Patriarchy, where we work to destroy the patriarchy – from its roots.

Today’s episode is going to be the most popular topic related to Islam – the hijab or the veil. I’m not a fan of talking about it much because, well, everything I’m about to say here. So pay attention cuz I’m doing this only once.

When Muslim women talk about the hijab, they usually ask if it’s obligatory – i.e., does Islam require that we cover our hair; in other words, will God punish us if we don’t. (The quick answer is no, but details to follow soon.) We usually talk about it if we’re pressured to do so – are we supposed to, why do we wear it, why do we not wear it. No matter what we do, our decision is political, open to speculation, somehow never the correct decision, and somehow a statement on all Muslim women and Islam.

When Muslim men talk about it, it’s usually to either say we’re supposed to be wearing it, so mostly mansplaining – I don’t care if it’s your favorite male scholars saying that; that’s still mansplaining – or to praise us for wearing it (and irony here because they comment with “you look so beautiful with the hijab” while also talking about modesty???) or to challenge us and say we shouldn’t be wearing it because, well, more mansplaining. I don’t trust men’s opinions on the hijab. You shouldn’t, either. The good ones will just say they can’t speak on the issue because not only do they have no experience with it but it’s not their place to speak on it. If they’re male scholars, whom I also don’t recommend trusting btw (they’re prolyl not scholars anyway), the good ones should give you a wide range of opinions. So their opinions are irrelevant.

When non-Muslims ask about it – and in my experience as a blogger, it’s almost always non-Muslim men who ask me about this – they usually wanna know why women cover their hair—or to pity us for wearing it, because don’t we know, that’s the ultimate sign of oppression. And they associate this oppression ONLY if Muslim women are wearing it, not anyone else. Nuns, for example, or Christians around the world also wear it, so do Jews and Hindus and Sikhs and so many other religious groups. Bee tee dubz, if you’re not Muslim and you associate the hijab with oppression and the repression of female sexuality, you’re buying into colonialist ideas of the veil, and you should correct that asap. There’s a lotta books you can read on this – like Leila Ahmed’s book on Women and Gender in Islam, AND her book The Silent Revolution, AND Joan Scott’s book The Politics of the Veil. And just listen to Muslim women when they talk about it. One piece of advice: don’t EVER read anything that has the word “unveil” and Muslim women in the title. Like, literally, stop trying to unveil us, wtf?!

So let’s not lemme get ahead of myself.  What I’ll do is first briefly answer the question of why some Muslim women cover their hair – my intended audience there is non-Muslim folks who’re listening. For the remainder of the video, my intended audience is primarily Muslims. Non-Muslims are welcome to listen, but don’t you dare misunderstand anything I say here as Islam is patriarchal because my whole argument in this channel is that patriarchy, not religion, is the root cause of problems that women and lgtbq+ people face. Whatever problem you can find in Islam that’s related to patriarchy, I assure you it exists in every other religion, too, sometimes in identical ways.

Then I’ll address the historical background of the veil, like why did people historically wear the veil, etc. Then we’ll talk about the Qur’an and what it has to say about the veil. And hadiths too because, you know, Islam. And random thoughts and fun facts about veiling practices throughout.

Oh, and by “veil” here, I mean the head-covering, aka hijab. I don’t mean the face-covering, which I think most Muslims understand isn’t required in Islam. Even if some totes false translations of the Qur’an might use words like “cover everything except one eye so you can see the road” – what the fuck is up with that?!

And, Muslims, I’m gonna give you a bunch of references you can look up in the Description of this video.

Why It’s Worn

Why do women wear it? Why do women not wear it? For all kinds of reasons. Some believe it’s an expectation from God Herself. Others don’t believe that but do believe it’s a great symbol of modesty. Some believe both. Some feel more pious, more religious that way. Some do it to resist the sexualization and objectification of their female bodies – in patriarchies, we are expected to look sexy and show skin, and wearing the hijab, depending on how you wear it, for some women, helps prevent that objectification.

For some women, it’s an assertion of their Muslim identity, especially in a context where their Muslim faith is constantly on trial or where they are marginalized or persecuted for being Muslim. So the hijab then becomes a form of resistance to oppression. For other women, it represents solidarity with those oppressed and margins because of their Muslim identity.

So all kinds of reasons.

In my opinion, the way that Muslim patriarchy talks about the hijab and requires that it be worn, a ridiculous effort to completely erase the woman’s body, means that the hijab also can be understood as rooted in sexualization: your body is inherently an object of desire, and so it needs to be covered. The responsibility falls on the person wearing the hijab rather than on the onlooker, men, who are considered too irresponsible to respect a woman’s choice not to wear it.

If it’s about identity, which is totes valid and everything, I have to ask, how are Muslim men supposed to display their identity as Muslim? I’m just not cool with the fact that the burden of representation of identity and culture and faith falls on women – universally, not just among Muslims. E.g., in South Asian cultures, you wanna show your culture off – what do you do? The women wear their traditional clothing. Muslim communities anywhere seem to think that it’s okay for men to wear pants and shirts and non-loose clothing, but if a woman does it, she’s immodest. THAT is where I think the hijab, too, can easily represent the sexualization and objectification of women. But we have to be careful here – this isn’t necessarily the case. It only can be the case. That is, the hijab isn’t inherently, in and of itself, a source of objectification OR a source of freedom – it can go either way.

Is it a choice? That depends on a lot of factors, but before I get to those, I want to unpack this word “choice.” What exactly makes something a choice, and why are we so obsessed with it? See, the problem with thinking that something’s okay – no matter what it is and no matter its impact – just because a person “chooses” to do it is that we aren’t contending with the fact that choices don’t occur in a vacuum. No choice is a natural, objective choice. And we don’t define what that means and why that matters. So, can we talk, for example, about the fact that having to show skin is not always a choice either? The western beauty standards that we are smothered with daily are not choices we are given – they’re expectations. They are social requirements that come with consequences if we do not live up to them. Breast reduction, breast enlargement, clitoridectomy – the idea that your clitoris, your private parts, your genitalia need to look a certain way in order to be appealing to someone out there. These are not inherent choices; they’re responses to expectations, to pressure, to things we have to do in order to be considered attractive and desirable.

The way that we sexualize the female body is such that even if you’re not comfortable wearing a bikini when swimming, for instance, you still HAVE to – because it’s an expectation, a thing that society and people around you expect you to do, so it’s not really a choice. People might look at you weird, or they’ll ask you questions, or they’ll make assumptions about you that you’re not comfortable with. And this sexualization begins so early on that if you pay attention to what toddler female babies and little girls who have no breasts are still socially required to cover their chest when in public. And you have to understand – this is not a universal thing. It’s not a natural or normal thing to expect baby girls with no breasts to cover their chest! When I was a kid in Pakistan, my cousins and I would go to the river or swim in public, totally topless, all of us, boys and girls. Because we had no breasts! Our chest was completely flat.

So, choice? Interrogate that some more. Question what you’re taught is a choice and what isn’t. Ask yourself, how many of us “choose” to wear dresses of a certain length when in professional spaces? Are comfortable in those? How many of us “choose” to wear blazers? I hate blazers!

How many of us choose to wear high heels and make-up in order to look attractive and sometimes professional in certain settings? How many of us choose to not come to work in pajamas? I mean, I’d love to live in my pajamas. They’re very comfortable.

Or how many women choose, quote and quote, to change our last names after marriage to a man? Similarly, how many of us choose, again, supposedly, to give our children the last name of our husbands’ instead of our own? How is that a choice when it’s so explicitly gendered? Who is this supposed choice available to, exactly? Why don’t men in heterosexual marriages ever seem to choose to change their last names and/or to give their kids their mother’s last name? See what I mean about choices?

So the point I’m making here is that what we call choices are actually not really choices choices. They’re more complicated than that.

Non-Muslims sometimes ask me if the hijab is a violation of human rights or in any way related to human rights issues. This is interesting. I mean, not inherently, but it can be. When it’s forced on you and when it’s denied to you, yes. You have to understand, being denied the right to wear the hijab is just as much about the control of female body as being forced to wear it is.

Now, just like I just mentioned that sometimes we have to look certain ways or behave certain ways or dress certain ways because otherwise, we might get weird looks or be treated in a way we’re not comfortable with, the hijab works very similarly. Depending on the kind of space you are in, the hijab may be the appropriate or better choice versus not wearing one. In other spaces or contexts, it may not be. It’s not necessarily a permanent decision, and many Muslim women take it on and off, depending on context and location. Some try it on for a few months and decide it’s not for them; others never try it. Some do decide to wear it permanently and have been doing so since their teenage years.

Me, personally, I wear it sometimes and sometimes I don’t. I generally don’t wear it permanently because I don’t look good in it TO ME. And, you have to understand, I need to look good to me.

 Now, for the History

First, head-covering has historically been a thing in so many cultures and religions, and it still is in many of them. E.g., Hinduism, Jainism, Sikhism, Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism. Most cultures around the world have thought that the head needs to be covered, and actually not just women’s. So many religions even require or recommend that men cover their head in some kind of way, even if a small symbolic covering on just a portion of your head. Think the kippah for orthodox Jewish men, for example. Which for at least some Jews, represents the idea that there’s a God above you so it’s supposed to indicate humility, an awareness of God, and this applies to married and unmarried Orthodox Jewish men; whereas, Orthodox Jewish women have to cover their head only when married. In Jewish history too at different times, the head covering was a way to distinguish themselves from non-Jews.

Christians, too, many around the world and in the U.S. up until this past generation of women had to cover their hair in some form in order to attend church. Many churches around the world still require a woman to cover her head when entering the church. I had an experience with such a church in the Republic of Georgia in summer 2019.

So, for me, given that so much of human history, the idea of a covering on the head has been so prominent, it’s not at all unusual or weird that the Islamic tradition, too, interpreted Qur’anic verses on covering and modesty to mean that covering the head is required. Or that hadiths exist that talk about covering the head. Again, because that was also very much the norm at the time and it probably would’ve been weird to NOT mention head-coverings. So just as it was once considered mandatory for women to cover their head during prayer in many other religions, it makes sense that it was so in Islam as well. But that wasn’t God talking – that was men who didn’t have to cover their heads talking. We don’t have to listen to them, thankfully.

Now, let’s talk about the where the hijab comes from.

This is incredibly offensive because patriarchy, but here’s the fact: historically, it’s about hierarchies, power, status – who’s better than whom, who’s body is the public entitled to and whose not. And veiling practices are, of course, very, very gendered, and not in a way that’s helpful to women. RICH and upper-class women wore the veil because that meant being hidden from the public view; the rich woman’s sexuality and body was too sacred and private, but the poor woman was meh, so poor women, women who had to work outside the home, etc. weren’t expected to cover their bodies the same way rich women were.

And what I’m about to say next is also very offensive and violent. Enslaved women were also not expected to cover their bodies, not just their hair but also literally their breasts (it’s connected to being seen as an object, property, being bought and sold, etc.). Wait, not expected – they weren’t allowed to. There are reports attributed to Umar where he hits an enslaved woman for covering, for wearing a jalbab. In these reports, he’s not okay with women covering themselves if they are enslaved by someone because how dare they resemble free women, how dare they “adorn” or “beautify” themselves with a hijab. In one such report, he enters the house of the Prophet’s wives and says why the hell this enslaved woman covering her body, or literally beautifying her body with the jalbab, and who’s she, and the women are like a slave of ours or someone else’s, and he’s like you just let an enslaved woman leave the house all dolled up in a hijab?!

This idea that enslaved women are not to cover the way that free women do, totes a normalized thing in Assyrian laws, ancient Middle Eastern laws; it sometimes came with very violent punishments for those who broke this rule.

But here’s the most fascinating part: Muslim jurists did think and write about Umar’s opinion on the hijab for enslaved women, but y’all… they literally concluded that enslaved women were not allowed to cover their heads AND that they could even pray without a headcovering!! AND – it doesn’t end – that they could walk topless in public. In fact, some made such offensive comments like, “the enslaved woman is offensive in a top, in a shirt.”

An enslaved woman’s awrah has always historically been defined differently than the free woman’s awrah. Awrah is an Arabic word that literally genitalia or private parts but generally refers to anything that a person is supposed to cover in front of others. And some reports even describe the WHOLE woman as awrah!

What’s so ridiculous is that I’ve seen Muslims on the internet, or patriarchal Muslims who promote the hijab uncritically, casually pointing this slave/free distinction as if it’s nothing. So here, in this example from Reddit, we have a Muslim dudebro conveniently using these references of past Muslim dudebros who explicitly prohibited enslaved women from covering by making it about symbolism: our Reddit dudebro thinks it’s about symbolism and all women who cover are like free women and all women who don’t cover are like enslaved women, but he’s totally not doing his homework and research and isn’t understanding what his patriarchal ancestors actually said and meant. These quotes are nothing to be proud of – we can’t be throwing them around like they just mean to show how important covering is when that’s not what they’re doing, and when they actually mean to pit women against each other and create a hierarchy that’s nonexistent in the Qur’an. When I die, I’m gonna tells on these patriarchal enslaving men that some Muslims mistakenly identify as scholars and authorities of Islam.

But all of this said, fortunately, the Islamic tradition IS diverse and there ARE multiple opinions on almost everything, and so, no, this idea that enslaved woman must not wear the hijab when praying isn’t shared by all scholars. Most of them distinguished between a jalbab and khimar. The khimar is what we call the hijab today, and the jilbab covers the whole body and not necessarily the face. So many scholars claimed that an enslaved woman could cover her body overall, but not her hair.

All of this to say that the things you’ve been taught about the Islamic view on the hijab is probably wrong; it’s not about modesty like we’re taught it is; the rules are different for free and enslaved women, AND they’re different for young and older women!

So fun fact, did you know that women who are considered not sexually desirable and post-menopausal don’t have to cover their hair? Yeah. I have a friend who loves to troll people with this. When she attends Islamic events and there’s young girls or boys giving her weird looks for not covering her hair, she tells them, “Well, technically, Islam allows me not to cover my hair anymore because I’m old and sexually not desirable, so.”

Bottom line is: Historically, both in Islam and outside of Islam, ideas of covering are rooted in a person’s status in society, whether you’re free, enslaved, a concubine, a rich person, working outside of the home/not wealthy, age, and so on. They’re also rooted in specific groups of men’s assumptions about what’s desirable in a woman and therefore requiring for that desirable thing to be covered. In Islamic history specifically, you should know that it was actually Umar who insisted on women covering more than the Prophet himself did.

Now for the Qur’an. What does the Qur’an say about the hijab?

I should probably mention that the Qur’an doesn’t use the word hijab to mean a head-covering. It actually uses it mean a curtain or a barrier, and the word appears a few times in the Qur’an, like in Surah Maryam and in the context of the Prophet’s marriage to Zainab. This doesn’t mean, however, that because the Qur’an doesn’t use it that way, we can’t either. Language is a fascinating thing and meanings and uses of words change all the time, and this is one example of it. And, of course, someone could easily argue that the hijab as in a head-covering indicate the barrier between the woman who’s wearing it and sources of evil and temptation, etc. So it becomes symbolic. In this video, I’m using the word hijab to mean a head-covering.

The hijab isn’t obligatory in the Qur’an, objectively speaking. Surah Noor (ch. 24) and Surah AHzab (33) are where we read about what we call the hijab today. Here’s what the verses commonly believed (falsely) to be about head-covering are:

Surah 24:31 which is a continuation of 24:30, in which God has just told men to lower their gazes, reads: “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their private parts [note that it’s not defined what “private parts” means! furujahunna is the Arabic]; that they should not display their beauty [zeenah in Arabic – note it’s not defined] except what must ordinarily appear thereof [or except what is apparent] [what does that mean?] that they should draw their khimār over their breasts and not display their beauty [again, not defined – the arabic is Zeenah] except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or men who have no physical desires of women [and this is very important! Basically gay or queer men!], or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments [the arabic here is zeenah again].”  … And it goes on. That’s the most relevant part of the verse.

Surah 33:59: “O Prophet! Enjoin your wives, your daughters, and the wives of the believers that they should draw their veils [jalaabihinna] over themselves [some translations add “when abroad” here but that’s not in the text itself]. That is most convenient, that they may be distinguished and not be harmed [sometimes harmed – yu’dhaina – is translated as “harassed” or “molested” or “so that they’re identified (recognized”].”

And I’m going to add here verse 33:60 because it’s directly related to 33:59 and no one ever talks about it! 33:60 says that the men who keep harassing the women, because of whom apparently 33:59 was just revealed, will be banished if they continue to cause harm.

Okay, now, before we take a moment to process these verses, lemme give you a couple quick definitions.

Khimar: too many conflicting definitions that include: just a piece of cloth, like even a table cloth, to a piece of cloth that covers just the head, to a piece of cloth covering the head and breasts AND the face, … and so on. In reality, we actually don’t know what the khimar was supposed to cover. We just know that it was a covering.

Jilbab: “any outer garment worn by men or women that covers unspecified parts of the body” (Khaled Abou El-Fadl)

Zeenah: literally beauty, but what is considered beautiful and therefore hidden, the scholars have never agreed on.

This idea of the zeenah, or beauty or charms, of a woman, have been discussed extensively by men, in the past and today. Their definitions vary – for some, it includes the kajol or eyeliner of a woman! Any accessory like jewelry. Or even the clothes she’s wearing if they’re pretty becuz then they need to be covered up by another layer of covering! Some schools literally required women to cover their faces because the WHOLE face, who would’ve thunk, is awrah too! Only a woman’s, that is. Historically, the face-covering was actually considered pretty essential. The Hanafi school was weird for not requiring the face-covering. Somehow, conveniently many who required face-coverings for women said that during hajj, she is PROHIBITED from covering her face! But multiple opinions on this, too, because 1400 years of scholarship.

Khaled Abou el Fadl has a fatwa on the hijab that I’m giving a link to in the description of this video. And he, too, reads these verses to mean that the head-covering isn’t required. To quote him on Q. 33:59: “The only thing that the verse allows us to say conclusively is that Muslim women were called upon to draw a piece of cloth (khimār) over the juyūb (bosoms)—whether it covered the hair or the face, we don’t know. In other words, the Qurʾan in this verse calls upon women to cover their bosoms. Anything beyond that would require extensive research into the social practices of khimār dressing at the time of revelation, and the historical evidence is far more diverse and complex than many contemporary scholars assume it to be.”

What I want us to get out of this discussion and from these two verses and their translations is that interpretation is a very, very human process. The verses themselves don’t define the key terms like zeenah or beauty or charm or “what must ordinarily appear thereof.” The interpretations are going to be subjective and they have to be because these verses are not setting an objective standard of modesty. Very easily, anyone can argue that the head is something that in most cultures “must ordinarily appear thereof.” Who decides what these terms mean and why weren’t women historically consulted before these interpretive decisions were made? I mean, I have opinions on men’s voice and certain men’s laughter and certain men’s faces and certain men’s recitation of the Qur’an. But the historical Islamic tradition even decided that a woman’s voice is awrah! What even?!

And this is why we have to be critical about the positionality of the people who created, often literally invented these rules. Their identity, their experiences, their assumptions, their biases, the impact that these particular rules would have on them or the people they were being created for. Cis-heterosexual men in a specific time period, a specific culture, with a specific worldview and a specific set of realities making decisions about what is and isn’t attractive in a woman, what’s charming and desirable in a woman? Where are the women’s opinions about, I don’t know, how attractive a man’s voice can be and therefore they shouldn’t be allowed to recite the Qur’an in public because #maleawrah so the listener can concentrate? #AskingForAFriend

In terms of the context of these verses – we actually can’t know that for sure, ever for any verse, but – scholars have historically claimed that the context of verse 33:59, the one about covering so they’re identified a certain way, is that men were harassing women who weren’t covered because these men didn’t know that those women were free women, and so God sent the verses on women’s covering telling them to cover so that they can be identified as free women and not as slave and therefore respected and left alone! (Because apparently, it’s okay to harass enslaved women?!? Apparently, it’s okay to disrespect and abuse and harm enslaved women?!)

Y’all, do you not see the problem with this?! Yeah, that doesn’t sound like God. The way God talks about enslaved people in the Qur’an vs how male scholars think and talk about enslaved ppl, esp women, is dramatically different. There’s literally nothing in the Qur’an that suggests that free and enslaved people are different, except for the punishment for adultery for a free person vs an enslaved person (the Qur’an says it’s half for the enslaved person that of the free person – which, separate topic, but clearly means that it’s not death or stoning). So this whole explanation is sus.

Not to mention, it doesn’t address the problem at hand, which is men harassing women.  And then of course, such an explanation raises all kinds of problems and questions, like wait, how were women covering their bodies in public, actually? And why the need to make sure an enslaved woman is distinguished from a free woman? And is that giving men permission to go ahead and harass women because hey they’re choosing to be viewed similar to enslaved women? I mean, whoah, it’s a whole can of worms.

BUT the good news is that this is not true. It’s not from God, just some patriarchal man’s opinion. And we know not to take those seriously.  

Other hadiths tell us that the khalifa Umar really, really kept begging Muhammad to make his wives cover. Muhammad kept ignoring. And then one night, Umar saw Sauda, Muhammad’s wife – who’s said to have been large, fat – and Umar tells her, “Hey, I recognize you, O Sauda!!!!” And so the verses on women’s covering were revealed to make women cover and not be recognized. (Sahih Al Bukhari vol. 1, book 4, n.146
https://sunnah.com/urn/253950
https://sunnah.com/muslim/39/24
https://sunnah.com/muslim/39/25 )

Don’t tell me we’re going to accept this as a legit thing and not ask a bunch of qs about the problem with Umar here.. Someone should compile all the list of reports about and by Umar and check for his opinions on women and whether he’s a reliable source of Islam or not. We need to recognize that men who speak this way about women should never be trusted for Islamic knowledge.  Umar’s also the same guy, btw, who absolutely hated that his wife kept going to the mosque, and she was like yeah I can go because God gave me the right to go; who are you to stop me? So learn from his wife – she didn’t take his opinion seriously, and we shouldn’t either.  

Bottom line:

So, yeah, no, the Qur’an doesn’t talk about the hijab in the sense of covering the head, but “covering” is – understandably? – necessary, and really, it’s “covering the body.” But I think we can conclude for sure that it’s promoting an idea of modesty in the context of clothing (because, of course, modesty is beyond clothing). Sure, we can problematize these gendered notions of modesty as well as this idea that women need to not bring too much attention to themselves, but before we do that, we’ll have to acknowledge that this isn’t something exclusive to the Qur’an or Islam, and that only very, very recently, in the last couple decades, have we begun to give language to the patriarchy of asking women to be more modest than men are or to not take up space.  

Back to the Qur’an, tho, modesty doesn’t look the same way everywhere in all times, and it shouldn’t, so it doesn’t provide specific guidelines – like Muslim patriarchy does, which is for women to cover the outlines of their bodies, and basically look very unappealing cuz I’m sure we’ve all heard a Muslim dude saying, “What’s the point of the hijab if you’re going to look that beautiful?”

As for other hadiths, there are a few hadiths that mention covering the body. Some of them are disturbing and should be discarded. And many of them supposedly explain the context of the hijab verses mentioned earlier – and the general context, as we discussed earlier, is that Umar was obsessed with making women cover and no one listened to him so God took his side and said okay women need to cover because Umar is right – so women should be hidden in public, the idea goes in these particular hadiths. Objective speaking, no one cares what any man thinks about women’s covering, so. Or we shouldn’t.

And objectively speaking, men who want women to cover in public should be the ones staying at home so they’re not “tempted.” That’s the obvious, natural, and logical thing to do since no matter what women wear, it’s men who are the problem, right? They’re the ones harassing us, commenting on what we’re wearing, wanting us to cover, raping us, etc. Or maybe they should be the ones to cover themselves because apparently the purpose of the hijab is to prevent women from doing inappropriate things!

And besides, even if hadiths DO say that we have to cover our hair or our face or whatever else, lots of issues there – like, so what if they say women should cover their hair? Is that a universal and permanent rule or a statement on how women at that time probably covered? I reject the idea that Arab customs should be a source of Islam. I have my own culture, thank you.

Final Thoughts

I need to end this, but I have to say, I don’t know why men don’t wear the hijab. I haven’t received a compelling and convincing answer. And also, sure, men don’t have to wear the hijab, according to what apparently all the male scholars of Islam have decided. But are they forbidden from wearing it? No. They’re not. Why don’t they?

So trust Muslim women! I don’t care if they’re giving you contradictory statements – that’s great! That’s human! People don’t do a thing for all the same reasons.

All right, so I’m going to stop here. Just a quick recap of what we’ve covered in this episode:
we talked about the hijab, why do Muslim women wear it or do Muslim women wear it by choice because apparently that’s okay. We talked about what choice means and how choices don’t occur in a vacuum and are informed by larger factors and things beyond our contorl. We talked about the Qur’anic verses on the hijab and discussed the problems with translations and interpretations of those verses, and we unpacked them to show that actually the Qur’an does not require the head-covering. We talked about the history of the veil and how ideas of the veil are historically related to a person’s status in society, whether they’re free or enslaved, their age, their desirability, and so on. And so in other words, these ideas of the veil are rooted in problematic things and this history is important because it makes it into so much of the fiqh and into the Qur’an’s interpretations.

References:

– For the hijab hadiths – incl. those making distinctions between free women and enslaved women, and those where Umar keeps begging the Prophet s. to make his wives cover, and those where Umar tells Sauda “haha, I can recognize you! Go cover yourself!” – see: https://sunnah.com/search?q=hijab

– On Umar’s statements about how enslaved women dare to cover themselves, see the Musannaf of Abd al-Razzaq al-San’ani, an 8th  century hadith collector. Here’s a link: http://www.islamicbook.ws/hadeth/msnf-abd-alrzaq-005.html

– On the hijab of enslaved women: https://islam.stackexchange.com/questions/39109/is-hijab-wajib-obligatory-for-a-slave-woman (this link comes with sources so is reliable – you can just look at the sources and read those)

– That, unlike free women, enslaved women are “offensive” or literally “vulgar” (!!) when they wear a top/shirt and/or a hijab: see tafsirs of al-Jassas and al-Nasafi on Q. 33:59.

– The fatwa by Khaled Abou El Fadl that I reference a couple of times and quote from: https://www.searchforbeauty.org/2016/01/02/fatwa-on-hijab-the-hair-covering-of-women/

– And I don’t know who this person is but they give references for all their claims, so it’s a reliable source: https://selfscholar.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/reflections-on-the-hijab-in-islamic-law/ (they incl the direct quotes of the unacceptable statements like “enslaved women are offensive when they wear a shirt, unlike free women” with links to the references).

– This master’s thesis from San Jose State University, published in 2013, titled “Virtue and Veiling: Perspectives from Ancient to Abbasid Times” provides the history of the veil and how Muslim scholars implemented pre-existing ideas of the veil into Islam: “https://scholarworks.sjsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?referer=https://www.google.com/&httpsredir=1&article=7880&context=etd_theses

– The reddit screenshot where the poster thinks the hijab “symbolizes” freedom: https://www.reddit.com/r/islam/comments/7tef6a/reminder_for_our_sisters_the_sahaba_used_to_view/ 

If I’m missing a reference for another thing, please feel free to point it out.

As for books/articles you can read on the veil, Muslim women, etc.
– Lila Abu-Lughod’s article “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving?” (let me know if you’re unable to access it; I’ll send you a PDF) is a short and powerful read. It’s one of the best things I’ve read questioning the western idea of oppression. (The book version is okay, too; called Do Muslim Women Need Saving?)

– Leila Ahmed’s Women and Gender in Islam, on which I’ve done an episode here at WTP, is a great read for the historical background. The first few chapters in particular.

– Joan Scott’s Politics of the Veil is an excellent read. I’ve assigned chapters of it in classes, and my students have loved it each time.

– Leila Ahmed’s book A Quiet Revolution explains why different women might wear the hijab, for what purposes, etc.

– and google and read from Muslim women, current hijab-wearing ones and former ones, on why they wear or used to wear the hijab; listen to them also on why they took it off, if they don’t wear it anymore, or why they don’t wear it. And believe them.

Categories: Death to patriarchy

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