Part 1: Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah on hijabs and headscarves

I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, Chairman of the Board & Scholar-in-Residence at the Nawawi Foundation, a non-profit educational foundation based in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Abd-Allah offered me his insights into the growing phenomenon of Muslim women taking off their headscarves. The first part of a four part interview is published here:

 

 

 
The hijab is a highly charged symbol. How can we talk about a Muslim woman’s obligation to cover without the discussion implicating the other things that hijab has come to symbolize, such as identity and cultural resistance?

Well, to begin with I think that we need to get rid of the word hijab because it is a cognitive frame and it carries with it lots of implications. It is not precise. What you are really talking about is the scarf and the Muslim woman’s obligation to cover her hair with a headscarf.

The use of the word hijab to describe a Muslim woman’s obligation to cover has made it possible for this obligation to become a touchstone by which a woman is judged as acceptable or unacceptable. Many prefer to use the word hijab in describing this obligation because it is in the Qur’an and because of the fact that it is enforced by the Qu’ran.

But the question is what is the hijab? The hijab is a way of living in which our families live in privacy and there is separation between private and public space. And now to take that reality which is very good and very helpful and which almost all of us follow and to attach that to the scarf, that’s not fair, that’s not right because then a woman’s covering becomes an issue of identity and an issue of highly politicized agenda.

And I think that all of this needs to be set aside so that we can speak very honestly about the way that Muslim women should dress. We have to set our own cognitive frames. In setting our own cognitive frames we have to do so very honestly and very fairly. Islam is a religion of definition and everything that we believe in we define and it is so important to do that.

So because we are talking about the scarf, we must remember that we are talking about an item of clothing. And this item of clothing and a woman’s obligation to cover her hair in public space is obligatory according to the four Imams. If she doesn’t do that then she’s failed to meet that obligation. In some cases she may be justified in failing to meet this obligation. In others she may not. Now we’re talking about something very concrete.

To clarify, hijab is something very different from the question of whether or not a Muslim woman wears a scarf to cover her hair. Hijab is essentially a mode of living in which those members of your family who are women and who are children and who are maharim – who are forbidden from marriage to you because of their close kinship – live privately in your home. In most of our homes and in our traditional architecture we have public areas in our house like a guest room and then we have a private area. That’s the hijab.

During the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), the hijab was a veil, a curtain that was put in the room of the Prophet because …it was a simple one-roomed house and so when people would come to visit him they would be sitting with him and his wives would be sitting in the corner. And people obviously wanted to look at his wives to see what they looked like, to see if they were beautiful. And that’s not proper, so God put down the veil, the curtain, so that the Prophet’s wives would be put behind the curtain. So hijab in the sense that we have privacy in our lives cannot be challenged.

Another aspect of hijab is that Islam requires us to live very upright lives. In order for us to live this kind of life of dignity, we endorse covering – because we all cover, men and women. Shyness and a desire to be covered, these are essential psychological and moral values of Islam.

Now that we’re speaking specifically about the question of a Muslim woman wearing a scarf to cover her hair in public, what is the nature of this obligation?

A woman’s covering and the scarf are highly regarded in Islam and it is obligatory for a woman to cover her hair and wear the scarf according to the four Imams.

But, it is not an act of worship. It is one of those aspects of law that is essentially rational and that pertains to social and private behavior. It has rulings that pertain to it, but it is something to which exceptions can be made and must be made in certain situations.

And to say that a woman’s wearing of the scarf is just an issue of women’s sexuality and so forth, that’s not what this is about at all. …[Yes,] the four imams do say that a woman should cover her hair and wear a scarf, but a woman can also go out into public [and] engage in society.

How, if at all, is the obligation to cover affected by the mounting pressures that women face when they do publically identify as Muslim by wearing the headscarf?

Again, the four imams say that it’s obligatory. But even if it is obligatory that does not mean that there cannot be licenses in which a woman doesn’t wear a scarf. So, for example, after 9/11, Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayah and other prominent scholars were asked about women wearing scarves in public, which could expose them to danger and even to physical attack. And, Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayah as I recall, and I heard this from him and from others directly, said that if wearing the scarf in public threatens the woman’s life or brings her into danger, she should not wear it. And if she cannot take it off, then she should stay at home.

And any jurists, any legists, who takes rulings right out of the book without looking at the social reality, the psychological reality, the personal reality of our society and just says, “This is the rule,” they turn this religion into a procrustean bed. …They make Islam completely unworkable.

Again, I stress that the fact that women should wear scarves if they can and they should be respected for wearing them. But men also, especially those who stress the scarf, have to change their dress too. Don’t expect women to go out dressed a certain way if you are not going to do something that publically identifies you as Muslim as well. Our modesty and shyness is one of our badges of honor. But to invert this and to make the woman exposed in public by the very act of her wearing a scarf, this is not right.

 

Rabea Chaudhry was an Associate Editor of Altmuslimah. This article was originally published on June 30, 2010.

 

Photo Credit: Lamp Post Productions.

30 Comments

  • Saadia says:

    The interview makes a number of good points that I agree with on a personal level.

    Many people can universally agree on the basic need for separation between a protected private space and public living spheres. Its not a crazy or “out there” thought.

    This framework illuminates the reasoning behind the “hijab” verse in the Prophet’s home. It has long needed an explanation because people have thought that it meant that women have to stay behind a curtain all the time.

    Muslims themselves become confused over it, but Americans should also understand the idea when dealing with Muslims in America or in Muslim countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • Saadia says:

    The four traditional imams made the head covering a mandatory part of what I think is called “khimar” in the Quran, and not “hijab”. (Please Correct me if I am wrong).

    In high school and college I began to search for my own modality because I realized that gender relations and women’s covering were the primary point of difference for young Muslims, girls especially, growing up in the U.S. Once a girl wears hijab, it becomes apparent that many people in movies, TV, magazines and everywhere else is not.

    I started to believe that modesty is relative, that healthy activities shouldn’t be limited due to clothing, and that a blase or “bored” attitude shouldn’t be created towards women because of overexposure. A Christian freind in college once remarked that modesty carries beauty. This was more in line with Muhammad Asad’s interpretation – he suggest women cover more when the environment is more dangerous.

    That said, I think hijab has its benefits for those who choose to wear it full time or even part-time. One is to liberate women from having to be subjected to beauty standards of random men, and another is to symbolize that men should stay away.

  • Saadia says:

    My last sentence isn’t to suggest that not wearing a hijab does not mean random men should stay away.

  • tucompay1976 says:

    Dr. Umar says: “And to say that a woman???s wearing of the scarf is just an issue of women???s sexuality and so forth, that???s not what this is about at all. ??[Yes,] the four imams do say that a woman should cover her hair and wear a scarf, but a woman can also go out into public [and] engage in society.”

    This leaves me with the question that, I think, still plagues quite a few of us, namely what is the justification for the head scarf?  If it’s not about sexuality, then what is it about?  One is probably tempted to say “it’s about religion and spirituality.”  But that still begs the question: how does the act of “covering” reflect something religious and spiritual?

  • Saadia and Tucompay1976,

    Thank you both for your comments. Saadia, I think your posts are very insightful and echo a sentiment that a lot of women are beginning to feel – that modesty and women’s dressing does have to respond to social realities.  Unfortunately, I do not know about the use of the word “khimar” by the four imams.  Someone more knowledgeable on the subject will have to answer that question. 😉

    Tucompay1976, I think that Dr. Umar was stipulating that to use a woman’s sexuality as a reason to contain her (as we see in more conservative Muslim countries, like in Saudi Arabia where a woman’s sexuality is used as a reason why she should not be allowed to drive because it would be too distracting for men) is wrong, and cannot be justified by the obligation to wear the headscarf.

  • asmauddin says:

    Rabea, I think tucompay1976 is raising a broader question though: what is the rationale behind wearing a headscarf?

  • tucompay1976 says:

    Indeed I am Asma.  Earlier in the interview, Dr. Umar says: “A woman???s covering and the scarf are highly regarded in Islam and it is obligatory for a woman to cover her hair and wear the scarf according to the four Imams. But, it is not an act of worship. It is one of those aspects of law that is essentially rational and that pertains to social and private behavior. It has rulings that pertain to it, but it is something to which exceptions can be made and must be made in certain situations.”

    So, in this quote, Dr. Umar is referring to the practice of covering the hair as something other than an act of worship.  It is, according to this passage, an “aspect of law that is rational.”  I don’t doubt that there is a rational justification (indeed, what else can a justification be if not rational?) for the practice but I want to understand what it is.  Exactly what is the rationale—the assumptions and premises—upon which this legal requirement is based?

    If there are exceptions to the law, then what is the root for the “normal” state of affairs in which the practice must be fulfilled?

    These questions are grounded in my own concerns over the meaning of gender according to Muslim laws.  The four Imams are said to have agreed that the head scarf (for women) is mandatory.  If it doesn’t apply to questions of worship, meaning that covering is not an expression of devotion in the way prayer would be, then what does it have to do with? 

    My hunch is that some ideas about sexuality linked to gender are at work here.  If so, then I think we are back where we started: back to a point at which a shared understanding of gender needs to be developed such that the head scarf can be practiced in a way that reflects some non-discriminatory views of women and men.

  • Saadia says:

    Tucompany: You asked – If it [hijab] doesn???t apply to questions of worship, meaning that covering is not an expression of devotion in the way prayer would be, then what does it have to do with? 

    I think this is the response that was provided:

    “But the question is what is the hijab? The hijab is a way of living in which our families live in privacy and there is separation between private and public space. And now to take that reality which is very good and very helpful and which almost all of us follow and to attach that to the scarf, that???s not fair, that???s not right because then a woman???s covering becomes an issue of identity and an issue of highly politicized agenda.”

  • Aslam says:

    Why Hijab, why scarf ??? search for answer leads to the dawn of Islam, Prophet???s wife before Islam, way before Prophet declared that he was a messenger, Khadijah was a business woman, not just a business woman selling some nick nacks from her run down hut, was a successful woman, her business caravans were going in all directions, she was managing a phenomenally profitable business, if I equate her to today, she was Martha Stewed of her time.  She kept doing it after becoming Mrs. Mustafa, was not stopped and not told to show modesty and stop this nonsense, sit down in the house, let man taken care of you.

    After Prophet???s death, every thing fall apart, within 35 years, Muslim killed everybody, including Prophet???s grand children, caliphs – Amir Maavia started a parallel caliphate against Caliph Ali, he couldn???t wait for his tern that killed the democratic selection process established by Prophet ??? that was the beginning of kings, dictators, illegal power grabbers ??? hang on to ill legitimate power they found a successful mix ??? create group of religious leaders who would agree with them, spread ignorance and rule ruthlessly – make sure women remains under watchful eyes. An educated mother is like fertile land that would produce educated nation that was not the goal. 

    Now the challenged was how to control and suppress women, they were progressive, intellectuals, were sitting in front of Prophet and asking questions ??? best way was to control women, confuse them, deny them education, don???t let them read Quran in a language that they can understand and create threat the to authority, spreading ignorance it the most effective tool of destruction and eliminates fear of challenge. For fourteen hundred years, ruthless suppression of Muslimahs has created a nation of ignorant. If a mother is uneducated, ignorant and on the top of it, she is suppressed what type of nation it would create? Just look around – from Morocco to Indonesia. What is the contribution of Muslims having in today???s world? It is not a valid argument that when Europe was living in dark ages Muslims were the top nations of the time ??? it is not an intelligent reasoning, when Europe came out of dark ages what caused Muslims to take their place. Today billion and half Muslims have nothing to offer.  Less than fourteen million Jews control the whole world, to make the argument meaningful, there are 280 Jews Nobel prizewinners in Physics alone as compare to how many Muslims—-? 

    Due to systematic, intentional suppression by these ruthless kings, emperors, dictators and religious nuts who wanted to stay in power, the smart, educated and free spirited Muslims started emigrating. Europe and America were experiencing a new dawn, age of science and technology. The Muslim men, religious leaders, control freak got panic ??? O, my God, Muslimahs would be going out of our control, they would regain their roll, they would start leading just like Khadijah again and that was not acceptable – the ground work was laid out for centuries ago – Muslimahs were uneducated, ignorant they were imprisoned in homes and in burqas when they were out of the home, had no self esteem. The task to keep them where they belong, was not a challenge, just has to be ingenious, simple and transparent ??? so these four Imams (millions like them) came up with a simpler and tested idea, confuse them with modesty concept, scare them, point out, look how corrupt western women are? These western women are destroying the society ??? they were afraid to point out that these women have struggled to gain and created a place in the society once again, they are winning up hill battle in the male dominated world. Today more then 25% women are corporate CEOs in America and climbing, women are self made billionaires, scientists, engineers, architects, leading in space, fighting in combat ??? in Scandinavian countries 53% women are leading corporations. Are all these women corrupt, threat to morality? No the real threat is that men would have to share his world with women and it is hard to swallow but for Muslim men and religious goons it is a nightmare. 

    They came up with a novel idea, wrap them in scarf, imprison them in hijab and naqab ??? slap them with modesty fear, invent more Hadiths, hire more lunatic Imams, give references from Quran ??? Quran has become most effective tool to create fear ??? they know for sure, 90% Muslimahs (and Muslims also) have not read Quran in a language that they would expose their false quotations. Just a reference from Quran would shut them up and to that matter everyone else, effectively.

    Someday somehow, I hope and pray, soon, the Muslimahs would realize and understand what is their role? Just remaining uneducated and stay within the boundaries Muslim men have created for them would keep them in the same trap. All Mighty has given this unique opportunity to American Muslimahs to become the roll model for Muslimahs of the world.  Show the modesty doesn???t come from clothes, it comes from education, it come from heart, it comes from the right roll they would play. Please don???t miss this opportunity ??? women are mothers of goodness, their main roll is to build nations, the soil where nations sprout. If it is not true than Pakistan should been most an exemplary country or Saudi Arabia where women cannot even drive. Muslim women diving car are against modesty and dignity, give me break.

  • tucompay1976 says:

    Saadia, regarding the quote you provided: “The hijab is a way of living in which our families live in privacy and there is separation between private and public space.”

    I’m not asking about the conceptual background on the “hijab.”  I’m asking about the act of covering. This could be both for men and women but because men don’t have to cover their heads, I’m asking about women.  Exactly why, if unrelated to sexuality, do women have to cover their hair?  What about the hair is such that it must be covered in front of most males? 

    Aslam, you say: “They came up with a novel idea, wrap them in scarf, imprison them in hijab and naqab ??? slap them with modesty fear, invent more Hadiths, hire more lunatic Imams, give references from Quran ??? Quran has become most effective tool to create fear ??? they know for sure, 90% Muslimahs (and Muslims also) have not read Quran in a language that they would expose their false quotations. Just a reference from Quran would shut them up and to that matter everyone else, effectively.”

    This is extremely cynical.  Most of your post lacks any credibility. I encourage you to rethink this and, if you feel history bears witness to such accusations, then write about it using historical evidence.  The way I understand your ideas, it would seem that Muslim women are nothing short of the passive, subservient stereotypes many people say they are.  Moreover, the idea of a male conspiracy is simply too easy.  I wish it were that simple; at least then we could deal with it more effectively.

  • edabdalghafur says:

    “But, it is not an act of worship. It is one of those aspects of law that is essentially rational” 

    This is either really ambiguous or Dr. Faruq who is a very intelligent man is digging himself in a ditch, from which there is no escape.  The moment you say its essentially rational is the moment the question arises, “its rational according to whose rationality?” 

    “echo a sentiment that a lot of women are beginning to feel – that modesty and women???s dressing does have to respond to social realities.”

    Rabea, modesty is no longer a real virtue in our society.  Our society values self-assertion, not self-restraint.  This is why Shalit wrote “A return to modesty.”  It’s a virtue not really rewarded anymore, not just because of some general selfishness, but also because of the social and economic arrangements in place.  So how exactly is modesty supposed to adapt to new social realities? By abandoning itself? 

    Very few suggest that women’s dress shouldn’t adapt in some way.  For instance, many Muslim women wear American clothing instead of shalwar kameez or burka.  This is adaptation.  So the question isn’t adapt versus no adapt, but how to adapt.  Using which principles, what methodology? 

    Many people use the methodology of a woman should be able to choose to wear whatever she wants according to how she interprets modesty.  That’s not Islam, thats liberalism, and on this point and many others they are incompatible.

    Aslam, you are smoking crack buddy. Stop reading your present obsessions into the past.  Martha Stewart is no Hazrat Khadija (a.s.).

  • Tucompay1976 and Asma, thanks for the clarification.  As far as the reasons why the four imams agreed that women should cover their hair in public, we need a scholar to answer that question.  Dr. Umar’s main focus was to establish a framework in which the question of women taking off their headscarves can be discussed and understood from a compassionate standpoint.  But he does talk about (in future installments of the article) the need for both sexes to be modest in public, and to dress distinctly. I assume modesty is a quality valued in Islam because, like humility and generosity, it quiets the ego. But this of course begs the question of why a woman’s hair and not a man’s?  From my understanding, the male head covering was traditionally highly revered and stressed as well.  But given that bias made its way into some of the doctrine, maybe the male head covering began to be overlooked when it became more difficult for men to cover? 

    And Edabdalghafur, you ask “whose rationality”?  I assume that Dr. Umar is speaking about the rational conclusions drawn by the four imams as well as the rational conclusions of the jurists that Dr. Umar talks about (those who do look at the social realities and are able to arrive at legal rulings that respond to the current climate, such as Shaykh Abdullah Bin Bayah).  Because the head covering is a rational legal ruling, it can and should respond to social realities. 

    Also I agree that a methodology would be nice – like how low a neck line should be, how tight a man’s pants should be – but I wonder if our need for finite rulings is evidence of a greater lack confidence in ourselves to make our own decisions based on a moral framework that we are all familiar with.  For me, I think my hesitance to develop a personal relationship with the religion is a symptom of a lack of familiarity with the spirit of our religion and a lack of confidence in my personal relationship with God.  At the end of the day, I should know when I am rationalizing something to myself and whether or not something goes against my gut feeling. Of course, relying on a gut feeling won’t work for all questions of dress.  Some of are really easy to answer – like is a floor-length skirt more modest than a knee-length one (both of equal tightness)?  Some are harder, like is a knee-length loose skirt more modest than skinny jeans that show your entire shape from the waist down but cover the skin? For these harder questions, I do agree that some guidelines would be nice!  But the actual distillation of those guidelines will need jurists actively engaged in creating workable rulings for our lives here in America. I think we will begin to see this soon enough.

  • OmarG says:

    @Rabea: >>is a knee-length loose skirt more modest than skinny jeans that show your entire shape from the waist down but cover the skin?

    As a man, I can say both have the same effect…

    I do think Umar has tried hard to shy away from admitting that headscarves are all about sexuality. In the absence of a rational reason, for which in a non-desert climate I can think of very few, it always comes back to sexuality. The conservatives even proclaim this loud for all to hear (and to obey).

    Also, Aslam is not so far off the mark: the greatest disaster to our formerly simple religion was that the religion died the very day that it became an empire. Our religion, like many others, became little more than a tool for the elites, and such a shame, too.

    Lastly, as a man, I don’t feel under any obligation to wear any sort of head covering, or some ridiculous-looking kufi or any other item of foreign fashions of yesteryear. Muslim women *choose* themselves (in Muslim America, at least) to wear a distinguishing head cover, thus its all on them and not on the men. I do, however, feel strongly against us guys wearing tight clothes and other such immodest behaviors. I’ll give you that.

  • edabdalghafur says:

    “But the actual distillation of those guidelines will need jurists actively engaged in creating workable rulings for our lives here in America.”

    I just wonder what people expect when they desire workable rulings for our lives in America.  The standard ruling is that a woman cover, everything but her face and hands and not wear form fitting clothing.  What’s really supposed to change here? 

    As for finding a rationale.  No one should hold their breath here, there is not going to be a single rationale compelling to all reasonable human beings that works in every situation.  No rationale is going to convince someone that they must cover their wrists and ankles.  That doesn’t mean the hijab is irrational, for we can find using reason benefits to covering, and the value of modesty generally in dress and behavior.  The most articulate expression here, suitable to a western mind is probably Shalit’s “A return to Modesty.”  It is seeing the benefits to modesty in general that give us reason to accept the divine command of hijab.  But for us to understand why hijab as a particular expression of modesty is obligatory, we cannot understand it apart from a divine command.  This is why, when Dr. Faruq says its not an act of worship, he’s digging himself into a ditch, or perhaps I’m just misreading him.

  • tucompay1976 says:

    Omar, I want to offer a bit of advice.  Let’s maintain a respectful attitude towards difference.  “Ridiculous-looking kufi or any other item of…yesteryear.”  That is a fairly polemical statement that reflects the same attitude offered by liberals who have very little interest in understanding who they share the world with.  Let’s be fair, shall we?

  • OmarG says:

    No. I can still respect the people who wear such so-called “religious garb” without respecting the concept, which I will not and need not. Ridiculous is what ridiculous is. Its mere identity politics.

  • ma2010 says:

    I am happy that someone wants to understand what the rationale behind the hijab is,  if it is not a form of worship, or a a way to hide sexuality, then what exactly is it??

    I am leaning towards the way to hide a woman’s sexuality in which case I would like to ask any guy who is willing to answer if he has ever been attracted to a woman in a hijab?

    Now I’m pretty sure it isn’t out of the realm of possibilities that men are in fact still attracted to women even when they hide their hair… the next argument is that a man will respect a women who is wearing Hijab enough to treat her with respect and dignity. I for one do not wear the Hijab and find that being treated with respect and dignity should be reserved for all not just those who choose to cover their hair, so are we not actually socially crippling our men by teaching them that the Hijab is what they should respect rather then just people in general, and in this specific example women.

  • tucompay1976 says:

    Dear Omar,

    The statement that “ridiculous is what ridiculous is” is ridiculous.  Pardon the criticism but I believe we have an obligation to keep the level of discourse on this site within the realm of defensible and, more importantly, interesting debate.  I appreciate your sincerity about the kufi but it doesn’t help us understand anything to learn about what you believe is ridiculous.

    The head scarf is a complex issue.  I am beginning to think that we are beyond the point where we can come to a meaningful conclusion about its relevance in Muslim women’s lives.  Perhaps the issue is too agenda-driven for any satisfying answers.  I’ll remain open.

  • OmarG says:

    @ma2010: >> I would like to ask any guy who is willing to answer if he has ever been attracted to a woman in a hijab?

    For sure, how not! I, too, am not sure how hair can be an awrah. I personally do not find it so more than other attributes. Other men may indeed, perhaps, so your mileage may vary.

    @tucompany1976: Well, walking around a modern American city dressed like a Bedouin is as ridiculous as walking around a Bedouin camp in shorts and a halter top. Its relative, and although I regret that it may lower the level of discourse, perhaps the discourse is too abstract and some plain common sense a la Thomas Paine is in order.

  • tucompay1976 says:

    The entire debate over the meaning of the head scarf—one in which I am admittedly engaged in—has rested on the question “why?”  This is a valid question, to be sure, that asks the authorities capable of explaining the act of covering to do so in terms of what “reason” or “ideas” support the practice.  Perhaps the question could be framed in a different way such that we begin to speak with the women who cover their hair.  We can ask women, for example, “what” covering their hair means to them from an experiential view.  This seems like a much richer discussion since it shifts the question of “covering” from the realm of ideas (reasons) to that of experience.  This will probably shed more light on the question of “covering” than any other approach.

    This, I believe, was addressed in a previous article on this sight about why women didn’t wear the hijab (referring to the head scarf).

  • OmarG says:

    @tucompany1976: >>“what” covering their hair means to them from an
    experiential view.

    That’s a great idea for mutual understanding, and I support that and would be interested in hearing such anecdotes. But, you can’t legislate based on feelings and highly subjective personal experiences.

  • Saadia says:

    The separation between public and private spaces in the home (for example, the rooms vs. the living room where you invite people) does not mean that women should be exposed in any unreasonable way in public either. (I think that is the commentary that Dr. Umar makes in the next parts.)

    It was only to introduce the idea of living space and illuminate the “hijab” verse, giving some reasoning about why it appears.

  • tucompay1976 says:

    Omar: “But, you can???t legislate based on feelings and highly subjective personal experiences.”

    I agree.  You can’t legislate according to feelings.  I guess I’m having a hard time finding a satisfying response about why covering has become a legal requirement.  Some have said it’s not about sexuality, but no one can show how it isn’t.  Others have said it’s not about worship, but no one can show what it is really about.  My own guess is that this puzzle can only be answered from a legal perspective by excavating implicit ideas and assumptions about men and women within the legal tradition that underlie the mandate. I also believe that we will ultimately discover that sexuality is at work here.

    So, since the legal issue seems temporarily irresolvable, we can shift to the experiential side.  I would gamble that most women who do cover their hair don’t necessarily appeal to any legal mandate when formulating their decision.  This is a broad and risky generalization I am making here but I’ll proceed anyways.  I would also gamble that the act of covering has a lot to do with the lived experience of girls and women.  Covering—or not covering—has to do with some kind of ‘feeling’ a woman experiences by doing so.  It represents the extension of some internal state and a discipline that cultivates that state.

  • Saadia says:

    Rabeah: You said

    “Unfortunately, I do not know about the use of the word ???khimar??? by the four imams.  Someone more knowledgeable on the subject will have to answer that question. ;)”

    I am not an Islamic scholar but I think “khimar” has been interpreted in different ways, and is distinguished from hijab although it both indicate fabric.

    In pre-Islamic Arabia women covered their heads, so traditional schools of thought have said that the head covering is part of required dress. A few other interpretations are a little different and say that the verse did not mean the head had to be covered, just because that was the prevailing custom, but rather there had to be the most basic modesty and then whatever was considered normal in the environment.

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