The Origin of Veiling Women in Islam and its Present Role
Recently in Toronto, Canada, a Pakistani taxi driver killed his own daughter due to the reason that she refused to cover her body with hijab or veil and wanted to live like other Canadian girls. Sixteen year old Aqsa Parvez died in a local hospital on Monday night (December 10) after she was allegedly strangled by her father Muhammad Parvez, 57, in a Toronto suburb, where many Pakistani lives. Police spoke with the students of Applewood Height Secondary School, where the girl studied. Students said that Aqsa was afraid of her father and she was arguing with her devout Muslim family for several months over her wish to shun the veil. “She was always scared of her father and brother”, said her classmate Ashley Garbett.
In the present context, it should be mentioned that, Hojatulislam Ghulam Reza Hassani, a top cleric of Iran, said on December 19, that a Muslim woman in Iran, who does not care to wear hijab or Muslim head scarf, should die. “Women who do not respect the hijab and their husbands deserve to die,” said Hassani, who leads Friday prayers in the city of Urumieh, in Iran. “I do not understand how these women who do not respect the hijab, 28 years after the birth of the Islamic Republic, are still alive,” he added. One should also recall that, when Talibans were in power in Afghanistan, the punishment for disobeying Islamic dress-code by women, was death by shooting them in the head from point blank range.
Most probably, Turkey is the only country where veiling of Muslim women was prohibited by law. But its new Prime Minister Mr Tyyiap Erdogan said in a press conference on September 19, that he was going to bring an amendment to the existing constitution that bans on wearing veil and head-scarf by the women of Turkey. Mr Abdullah Gul, the present President of Turkey, is a devout Muslim, and is determined to re-introduce veil in the country. The opposition leaders are afraid that President Gul had other hidden Islamic agenda that he would try to impose in future. They are afraid that such an attempt would blacken the country’s secular image.
On October 28, 2006, the renowned film actress Ms Sabana Azmi, while receiving the coveted International Gandhi Peace Prize in the House of Commons of the British Parliament, said, “The Quran speaks about women wearing clothes to cover her modesty. A woman is supposed to cover herself to be modest. She does not need to cover her face”. But back home, clerics called her a non-Muslim and questioned her understanding Islam. “Who has authorised Azmi to interpret the Quran? Her profession is to sing and dance. She has no right to mislead the Muslim women”, thundered angry Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the Imam of Delhi’s Jama Masjid. “Azmi is not a Muslim, she is just an entertainer. She does not represent the mainstream views. … Sura (chapter) 18 and Sura 22 of the Quran clearly ask Women to wear veil”, the Imam continued.
The controversy over wearing veil by Muslim women living in Britain began in October, 2006, when Ms Aishah Azmi, a Muslim teaching assistant at the Headfield Church of England Junior School in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, refused to remove her veil during lessons. The school authority said that a face to face communication was essential for her job. The Kirklees Council ultimately suspended Ms Aishah Azmi, 24, from her job. Ms Azmi then filed a case against the authorities on the ground of ‘injury to feelings, victimisation, direct and indirect discrimination and harassment. On 19th October, the court awarded her ₤1,000 as compensation of her ‘injury to feelings’ and dismissed her other complaints of discrimination and harassment.
Meanwhile, the Prime Minister Mr. Tony Blair waded into the controversy on 17th October, 2006, calling the practice of wearing veil as a ‘mark of separation’ which has to be tackled as part of a wider debate on integration of Muslims into British society. At his monthly press conference he said “It (the veil) is a mark of separation and that’s why it makes other people from outside the community feel uncomfortable. Nobody wants to say that people don’t have the right to do it. … But I think we do need to confront this issue about how we integrate people properly with our society”.
In the pre-Islamic days of Arabia, veil was unknown and the practice originated in Medina, after the Prophet Mohammad took shelter in the city. One should recall that the fundamental teachings of the Quran is to divide the humanity into two groups, momens and kafirs. The Arabic word Islam stands for unconditional surrender, not peace. Who surrender to Allah’s Quran Allah’s apostle Muhammad, are momens and those who refuse to do so belong to the category of kafirs (or nonbelievers). It has been pointed out earlier that, according to the Quran, these kafirs are no better than animals and Allah instructs the believers to wage war or jihad against these kafirs. The doctrine of jihad includes indiscriminate killing of the kafirs, setting their houses on fire, looting their valuables, raping their women and finally to prevail over the kafirs and occupy their land and thus create an empire of Islam.
When the prophet migrated to Medina in 622 AD, he became the chief administrator, chief of army, chief of judiciary and chief law maker in Medina and according to the self invented doctrine of jihad, started oppressing the original non-Muslim inhabitants of the city. But sometimes it happened that Muslims erroneously fell victims to Muslims, and Muslim women were molested and raped by their own believers (as in the eye of Allah, raping a kafir woman is merit for the rapist Muslim). So, necessary arose to distinguish Muslim men and women so that they could be easily identified from the non-Muslim kafirs. The problem for the male believers was solved by the Prophet by asking them to keep beard and shave moustache. But it became difficult to distinguish the women.
At such a juncture, Umar, a close associate and son in-law of the Prophet, suggested that Muslim women, when went out door, should wear clothes to cover their modesty. And Allah wasted no time to approve the idea by revealing a verse (surah 33, verse 59) of the Quran, that reads – “O prophet, speak unto thy wives, and thy daughters and the wives of the true believers, that they cast their outer garments over them when they walk abroad; this will be more proper, that they may be known to be matrons of reputation, and may not be affronted by unseemly words or actions. Allah is gracious and merciful” . [ KORAN, Translated into English by George Sale; & Published by Frederick Warne Ltd., London- (only word God has been replaced by Allah)].
It is not difficult to notice that Allah had no hesitation to tell that the basic need of such a dress code for Muslim women was firstly, to distinguish them from kafir women and secondly, to escape humiliation and molestation by their own people. In no time, Allah revealed other similar verses – “And speak unto the believing women that they restrain their eyes and preserve their modesty and discover not their ornaments, except what necessarily appeareth thereof; and let them throw their veils over their bosoms and not show their ornaments, unless to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husbands’ fathers, or their sons, or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers , or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or their captives which right hands shall possess, or unto such men as attend them, and have no need of women, or unto children, who distinguish not the nakedness of women. And let them not make a noise with their feet, that their ornaments which they hide may thereby be discovered” (Quran: 24/31). “And sit still in your house; and set not out yourselves with the ostentation of the former time of ignorance; and observe the appointed times of prayer, and give alms; and obey Allah and his apostle; for Allah desireth only to remove from you the abomination of vanity, since ye are the household of the prophet, and to purify you by a perfect purification” (Quran: 33/33) and “It shall be no crime in them as to their fathers, or their sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their woman, or the slaves which their right hands possess, if they speak to them unveiled; and fear Allah; for Allah is witness of all things” (Quran: 33/55). One should not miss the point that the verse (33/33) conclusively proves that a thing like veil was unknown in pre-Islamic Arabia.
Later on, the prophet started to face another serious problem, problem of protecting his harem of 12 (or more) wives and some concubines, or mainly to protect his youngest wife Ayesha (whom he married at the age of 52, when Ayesha was a child of 6) , from the visitors who used to come frequently to meet their beloved Prophet to sort out various problems. Allah took no time to understand the agony of his beloved prophet and spent no time to reveal verses like- “O wives of the prophet, ye are not as other women; if ye fear Allah, be not too complaisant in speech, lest he should covet, in whose heart is a disease of incontinence; but speak the speech which is convenient.” (Quran– 33/32). One day the Prophet saw that one of his associates, while receiving something from Ayesha, touched her hand. Allah could understand the Prophet’s anguish and without delay, revealed, “….. And when ye ask of the prophet’s wives what ye may have occasion for, ask it of them from behind a curtain. This will be more pure for your hearts and their hearts. Neither is it fit for you to give any uneasiness to the apostle of Allah, or to marry his wives after him for ever; for this would be a grievous thing in the sight of Allah” (Quran-33/53). As mentioned above, Syed Bukhari has mentioned that there are verses in chapters 18 and 22 of the Quran that ask Muslim women to cover themselves from head to foot with black hijabs. But the present author has failed to find such commands of Allah in the verses mentioned by him. It should also not escape one’s notice that, through the verse (33/53), Allah has forbidden remarriage of the widows of the Prophet, to console his heart.
In this context, it would be relevant to mention an incident from Indian history. When Afzal Khan, a military commander of the Bijapur state, led a military campaign against Raja Shivaji in 1659 AD, he had 63 wives in his harem. Before the campaign, Afzal slaughtered all his 63 wives, as he was afraid that in case of his death, other people would enjoy his widows. There is no doubt that a similar psychology of the Prophet led Allah to reveal the verse (33/53) of the Quran. After Aqsa was murdered by her father, some authors described Muhammad Parvez as an animal. But the incident and many other similar incidents show that they are worse than animals.
Recently the renowned Islamic scholar Dr Zakir Naik, president of the Mumbai based Islamic Research Foundation, has written an article “Does Islam make the Face Veil Obligatory for Muslim women?” in the December, 2006, edition of the Bangalore based monthly, Islamic Voice. And in that article Dr Naik has conclusively proved, with the help of several quotations from authentic Islamic scriptures, that it is not compulsory for a Muslim to cover her face with a veil. To conclude his article, Dr Naik writes, “Some scholars argue that all the ahadith (plural of hadith or sunnah), which speak of women’s faces being seen, are of the time earlier than the revelation of the verses 33/59 & 24/31 of Al-Qur’an , which make covering the face compulsory. Firstly, as discussed earlier, these Qur’anic verses do not make covering the face compulsory for women. Secondly, to prove that these verses make the covering of women’s face compulsory, they have to quote an authentic hadith for it, which they don’t. Thirdly, most of the ahadith quoted above, are of the time after these Qur’anic verses were revealed”
He further says, “Thus it can be concluded that covering the face is not obligatory for women. However, covering the face was obligatory for the Ummul Mu’mineen, the wives of the Prophet (pbuh) as was Tahajjud (midnight prayer) obligatory for the Prophet (pbuh). … Thus it is not compulsory for Muslim women to cover their faces, but those women, who cover their faces, may continue to do so if they wish”.
So it is evident that Islam does not make it compulsory for women to cover their faces and hence Ms. Sabana Azmi has done no wrong by making the comment as quoted above. The question therefore arises, why her comments made the clerics so furious. Why these people are so much inclined to cover their womenfolk with head to foot black garb? The reason may be traced somewhere else. It may be pointed out here that the fanatic clerics who are bent on to cover there women with burqa or veil, also want them to remain indoor, not to receive education and become economically self-sufficient. In fact women, in the eye of Islam, are no better than subhuman creatures, or domestic animals, or simply slaves of their men-folk, or rather an instrument for satiation of lust and procreation of children.
To define status of women, Allah says, “Men shall have the pre-eminence above women, because of those advantages wherein Allah hath caused the one of them to excel the other, and for that which they expend of their substance in maintaining their wives. The honest women are obedient, careful in absence of their husbands, for that Allah preserveth them, by committing them to the care and protection of the men. But those, whose perverseness ye shall be apprehensive of, rebuke; and remove them into separate apartments, and chastise them. But if they shall be obedient unto you, seek not an occasion of quarrel against them; for Allah is high and great” (Quran-4/34). So women should always remain obedient to men as men have pre-eminence over women and this pre-eminence originates from the fact that men spend money for maintaining their wives. And due to this pre-eminence husband has the right to beat their wives up if they seem to be disobedient to the slightest extent and ultimately divorce them by simple oath (Triple Talaq), and kick them out of their houses like domestic animals without paying any alimony. And women should endure all these atrocities without any protest.
If women receive education and get enlightened, and above all, if they become financially self sufficient, it will not be possible for men to treat them as slaves, and that is the reason they are to be veiled, to be confined indoor and should be kept away from education. And that is the reason the mullahs and moulabhies are furiously against discarding veil and imparting any kind of education to them. In this context one should recall what Talibans,when they ruled Afghanistan, had prevented women from receiving education and still are doing so in that country. As soon as they could gain control over the country, they closed all schools and colleges for women and made wearing veil compulsory when they went outdoor. And it has been mentioned above that the women who violated their order were executed in public places by shooting on the head from point blank range. At that time, many women who had lost their husbands due to continuous warfare, were earning there living by doing odd jobs. But Talibans pushed them towards starvation by forcing them to remain indoor and forbidding them from doing outdoor jobs.
On December 9,2006, Taliban fanatics shot down an entire family at the village Ghwando, eastern Afghanistan, because two women of that family, defying their order, continued to educate girls at their own house. A press report says that in the past couple of months, they have killed 20 such educators in Afghanistan. In Kashmir, Islamist fanatics have blinded several girls by throwing acid for the guilt of attending schools. In such an incident on August 6, 2000, Kulsooma 19, a girl of class IX at the Nawakadal Higher Secondary School in Srinagar, was attacked by 4 fanatics belonging to the terrorist outfit Laskar-e-Jabbar and blinded her by throwing acid. On September 15, 2006, Gajala Shahin Bathi and her mother Mumtaz Mai were raped by the fanatics in Pakistan because Gajala tarnished Islam by receiving education up to the post graduate level. In 1998, fanatics in Algeria slaughtered 300 minor girls for their un-Islamic practice of attending schools. In 1997, in Egypt, a 13 year old girl was tortured to death because she raised her veil and made her face visible in a public place. One will find umpteen such incidents in the Muslim countries.
So Muslim women around the world should come forward and raised their voice against all such Islamic gender discriminations and suppression. They should utilise every opportunity to receive education even defying the bloodshot eyes of fanatics like Syed Ahmed Bukhari and others. At the same time, it is the responsibility of the educated Muslim women to educate their illiterate sisters and make them conscious of their rights.
Experts around the world are now fully convinced that the root cause of the backwardness of the Muslim community all over the globe, in every walk of life, is the suppression of their womenfolk. It has been pointed out earlier that the authors of the Arab Human Development Report 2002 (AHDR 2002) agreed that suppression of women is one of the major causes of lack of creativity and backwardness in the Arab world. “How can a community prosper if it stifles half of its production potential”, the report asked.
But the good sign is that, more and more women of the Muslim community are now a days coming to receive education, ignoring the fatwas of orthodox and fanatic clerics, and more and more women have started to raise their voice against the shameful Islamic gender discrimination. In December 2006, Shiite clerics of India have been forced to issue an amended version of Nikahnama, endorsing women’s rights to claim divorce from their oppressive husbands, which is now an exclusive right of the male members of the Muslim society. Last year Kuwaiti women have succeeded to win right to vote and contest parliamentary election. In the eye of Allah, women are a condemned lot. Merciful Allah has therefore forbidden their entry into mosques in this world and into the zannah (paradise) in the next. But women in many countries have already started their tough fight to win the right of entering mosques. So we may hope that within foreseeable future, Muslim women will be able to throw away their veils, get themselves rid of Islamic fetters of severe gender discrimination and establish themselves as an enlightened and advanced community in the world.