Ambiguity of Dress Code in Islam: Burkha or Hijab (?) 


 By Khurshed Alam Chowdhury

Maryland, USA. 

As we all agree, that there are tremendous controversies in the women dress code in Islam.  Even two Islamic scholars do not agree in the same dress code for women.  In the same Muslim Country, dresses worn by Muslim women are not the same at all.  It varies even in the same family. Therefore, let us discuss this important subject with a view: (a) to determine exactly what type of veil (pardha) should be observed  by Muslim women prescribed by Quran & Sunnah,  (b) how to implement them and,  (c) to determine if this Islamic dress code is, of course, feasible or not, for Twentieth or Twenty first Century’s modern/civilized working/business women ?    

Background and brief History of Veils:  veiling (pardha) women was an aged old practice among the aristocrats and it was practiced thousands of years before the arrival of Islam.  Hindu, Bhudda, Christians, Jews etc were also practicing veiling among their prestigious women.  As far I can discover from various references, this method was adopted mainly as a sign to distinguish the FREE WOMEN FROM THE SLAVE WOMEN, so that none should molest her thinking her to be a slave girl (please read Qur’anic Ayat 33:59 below).  

Veiling amongst aristocrat women was always to cover her Face & body completely (when goes outside home) and with the advent of Islam veiling was made obligatory for all believing women from the age of nine (9) and not the ambiguous age of 7-15 as some authors consider.   Most of all, veiling in Islam (as per Qur’an & Sunnah) was always to COVER ENTIRE BODY EXCEPT FEET AND WRIST,i.e. Burkha was the proper veiling system rigidly obeyed by all Muslim women until early 20th Century.  Begum Rokeya’s “ABRODE BASHINI” is a master piece document of the prevailing situation at that time. We all know very well that even outside education for women was prohibited by Islam.  I urge our honourable readers to read “ABRODE BASHINI” for themselve.   This famous novel will give a true picture of Sub-continent Muslim women until early 20th Century. 

After all where lies the actual beauty of a person?   I consider it is the very “face” or “Chaahara” which identifies whether a person is beautiful or ugly.  Why then we are arguing with “Hijab” and “khimar”?   How one protect her beauty only by covering her hairs?  What happens, if she shaved her hairs, does she still needs to wear Hijab?   To me face (beautiful wide eyes, nose, lips) is the center of her beauty and I don’t need to see her hair. Then , who has invented this “Hijab”?   What is the DRESS CODE for Afganistani women under those pure Muslim Talibani Mullahs?  Surely black-colored Burkhas with only two small holes for two eyes.  The great Mauolana Delwar Hossain Sayeedi calls them windows of the body.   What was the true dress code for Prophet Mohammad ‘s (pbuh) wives?   

Main problems of this subject are: (a)  should women wear burkha to cover their head and face altogether or,  (b) should women cover only their hairs by Hijab?  Let us examine what Holy Quran says about veil:  

In Holy Quran, Allah has decreed system of veiling men & women only in two Suras ( Al- nur and Ahzab). Let me cite here two Ayats relating to veils from famous Quranic translation of Mauolana A. Yusuf Ali for our discussion:   

 Quran-(24:31)—“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 ordinarily) appear thereof ; that they should draw their veils over their bosom and not display their beauty  except to their mahrem men (relationship does not allow legal marriage)”.   Here, let us try to understand, as to, what exactly is the meaning of “beauty & ornaments” that Allah is pointing to? My understanding here is: Beauty is obviously women’s face, and ornaments (her decorative elements: gold, silver etc) which can only add to her natural beauty. In his Sha,ne nazul, Mauolana Yousuf Ali said, “the Arabic word ‘Zinat’ means both natural beauty (face), and artificial ornaments.  I think both are implied here to cover, but chiefly the former (face).”  Then, where in the Ayats God said to cover her hairs???  And how by covering hair she

can hide her God’s given beauty? 

Quran-(33:59)---“ O Prophet ! Tell Thy wives and daughters. And the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (face) when abroad, that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And God is oft-Forgiving, most merciful.”  That they should be known as such, and not molested’-- exactly coincide what I have said in my brief history of veils.   Here in this Ayat,   there are two important things to note:  (1)  Arabic word “Jilbab” which means Outer garments  over their persons (appearance, face)—a long gown covering the whole neck, head, and bossom.;  (2) and that they should be known ,as such, and not molested—so that aristocrat women are not molested like a slave girls. .  No where in any Quranic Ayats or any Shahi Hadiths says, COVER THEIR HAIRS ONLY.  

Opinions of various Islamic Scholars:  

In his Shane-Nazul, Mauolana Yousuf Ali quoted: “ The object was not to restrict the liberty of women, but to protect them from harm and molestation under the conditions then existed in Medina.  In the East and in the West a distinctive public dress of some sort or another has always been a badge of honour or distinction, both among men and women in order to separate Aristocrats from that of slaves .  This can be traced back to the earliest civilizations.  Assyrian Law in its palmiest days (7th Century B.C.), enjoyed the veiling of married women and forbade the veiling of slaves and women of ill fame (page-1126)”.   

  In the Sha’nenazul by Mauolana Mirza Golam ( Bengali translation of Holy Qura’n, page- 730,731) said, “ the Arabic word ‘Zalabib’ means outer garments which should be pulled /hanged from head up to chest, so that it covers entire body.  As per the Ayat 33:59, it is clearly evident that, (a)  if women goes out of the house, she must cover with Zilbab (Burkha) ; (b) and if women stays inside the house with her relatives, then she must only wears Khimar (head covering) which is like ‘Ghumtah’.   It should be clear now that, in the purpose-(a): dress must cover  head, face (appearance), and bosom area; and in the purpose-(b):  she will cover her head and bosom area but not the face (appearance)”. 

As per (ibid. 2:155 and ibid. 2:156) , the face is part of the natural Zina (charm) which is the main source of temptation and seduction.   As to the acquired Zina (ornaments) it is the clothes, the beautification, and the dyes that the women puts on herself to improve her appearance.   They hold that it is not permissible to look at the face of a woman for fear of temptation, since temptation caused by the face is much greater than that caused by the feet, the hair, or legs.  Therefore, it is more appropriate not to look at the face, as it is the origin of beauty, the source of temptation and the place where danger hides.  

 Let me cite one scenario to make it more clear :  Say, you went to New York to select a bride for your oldest son. Could you determine whether the bride is beautiful or ugly by not seeing her face?   You could have seen her hairs from behind, as hairs are more visible from behind, but how in the world you could determine her beauty by seeing only her hairs? 

According to Mauolana Mohiuddin in his Bengali translation of Holy Qu’ran (Ayat- 33:33) stated: “ needless to say that, women should wear veils (Burkha) so that it covers her entire face (mukha-mondal) because it is the center of her beauty.  Actually, Allah will not like to see women outside her home, because, she was created to stay home for the purpose of house-hold jobs.  Therefore, it is not only forbidden to get out of the house, but it is also HARAM to go out of her house”.  

Some Sahi Hadiths regarding veils: 

Sahihi Hadiths (Bukhari Sharif): Abu Huraira narrated, “  in the battle Khaibar,  when Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) recived Safiyya Bint Huyay Ibn al- Akhtab as BOOTY ( ganimatter Maa’l) one of His ‘Sahaba’ asked , O Messenger of God, what will be the status of Safiyya ?  Then Messenger of God replied, “tomorrow if you see her covered with veil than she is my wife; if you see her without veil than she is a slave girl (Books of al-Sira).”   It can be noted here, Safiyya was the 10th wife of Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) and was, of course, veiled head to foot to separate from an ordinary Slave girls.   Here is another proof what I have mentioned in veil’s history above.  

Sahi Bukhari Hadiths (Chapter-27, #108):  This is regarding the defaming incident occurred about Hazrat Aysha Siddiqa (R.A.) when she got lost while returning from the Battle field of Muray’ishi.  Ibne Shihab narrated: “Hazrat Aysha (R.A.) said, when she was traveling with the messenger of Allah, she (Aysha) was always inside a ‘Haodha’  ( a covering all around by black cloths so that nobody can see her)  and in one nightly journey,  the Caravan left the place without Aysha being inside ‘Haodha’ by mistake (Aysha was out for natural call).    Next morning they found that the Haodha is empty and  Aysha (R.A.) was not there.   One soldier named Shafoan ibne Muathal  was out on that night  to  search for left out articles of war  in the desert.    After some times, Muathal saw Bibi Aysha sleeping  alone in the open desrt’ sands, and he recognized Bibi Aysha’s by seeing her face.   When Aysha awoke up she immediately covered her entire face by her ‘chaddar’.  Ibne Muathal took her on the camel’s back and joined the caravan afterwards.   When Shafoan ibne Muathal was asked how he was able to recognize that she was the Bibi Aysha , he (Muathal) replied, “ because I saw her face before the veiling system was adopted in Islam.”  Now, let me ask my honorable readers—what you have learned  about veils from this authentic Hadiths ?  It was the very FACE which used to be veiled not just hairs.  

Tabrani, Majhari:  Hazrat Amar Ibnul Ash (RA) stated, “ Prophet (pbuh) forbade women even to talk/converse with others without her husband’s permission 

What I read in Qur’an and Hdiths is:  “women do not exhibit their BEAUTY in front of non-mahrem men, period.    Now, what is women’s beauty ?    Or did Allah ask to cover only the partial beauty leaving main beauty exposed ?   My thirteen year old girl ask me repeatedly, “abba, what is wrong with our hairs, why Qur’anic teacher always bothers about our hairs?”

 Color Restriction of veil: 

There is, of course, a strict color code in Islamic dress.   Ministry of  Education in Iran, specifies the color code for girls students covered from head to toe for children as young as 6 years of age.   Islamic Mullahs sets the rules of women clothing for older women, only black, brown and dark blue colors are allowed.   Bright colors, especially red color are strictly prohibited.  In Afghanistan, only black and white colors are allowed.   In 1998, one young woman was whipped harshly in Kabul ,for wearing red color clothing.    There are some sahi Hadiths about forbidden colors in Islam.   

Evolution of Veil (Pardha):  

Only at the beginning of 20th Century, Aristocrat & affluent Muslim families all over the World, started modification of this veiling system and perhaps promulgated ,without any uniformity, to “Hijab” only to cover hairs & ears, living the face uncovered.  BECAUSE, MODERN,CIVILIZED WOMEN REFUSE TO COVER THEIR FACE.    SO, TO MAKE IT SOME WHAT ACCEPTABLE TO THE ELITE WOMEN, THIS SYSTEM WAS STARTED.   After all, who wants to be seen’ like a creatures from another planet’. However, this system of covering hairs only was not accepted by Katmullahs, lower class believing women and many others who wants to follow Qur’an & Sunnah. Because, if we judge purpose of true veiling as per Qur’anic view, the Hijab covering only hairs exposing her center of beauty FACE is a pure MOCKERY.  Even now, in  Saudi Arab and other Arab Countries, one can see lower class women wears Burkhas and elite group wears Hijab covering hair only. This picture can be seen equally in all other Muslim Countries including Bangladesh. 

 Another interesting phenomena of veiling are seen frequently among the Arab elite class who wears hijab or Burkha at the Air port but the moment they are boarded the aircraft, immediately they remove their veils altogether and become a perfectly western-dressed lady in front of other male passengers. Wives of some of Bangladeshi Muslims in USA, usually wears ‘hijab’ in front of Bangladeshi males, but in front of American people they do not wear Hijab. These are of course, a total hypocrisy or‘Munafiqi’ and bears no moral value at all.   

Practical perspectives of veil: 

Do we need to put women behind the veil to protect their chastity?  In other words, can a veil alone protect women from the hands of sick minded men? Answer is universally No!

It is not the veiling women but veiling men’s heart should protect chastity of a woman.     We all know that, no country on earth can claim that women are absolutely safe. But I can tell it for sure, in all third World countries (Muslim and non-Muslim) women are more often oppressed by men then western world, even though those countries have more conservative dress system. We all have seen the recent horrible picture of ‘Unruly youths tried to strip a woman of her cloths in Dhaka University campus on the 31st night (Independent photo). UN report says: 47 percent women assaulted by their male partners in Bangladesh.  This type of assault on women was only 22 percent in U.S.A., even though, women in USA, wear mini-skirts, walks alone freely during dead of night, and where hundred percent of cases are usually reported. This assault in Bangladesh, doesn’t include rape.   Institute of Democratic Rights (IDR) reports that 730 women, children raped across the country (Bangladesh) last year. It is obvious, percentage of rape will be much higher if every case was disclosed/reported by victims in Bangladesh.       Will veil alone can protect women ?  I don’t think so !    

 Here in USA , one Muslim wife ( who is fairly beautiful and young) can get out alone with her new car, drive 50 or 70 miles far away , shopping in Malls, eating lunch in a restaurant and, safely return home without any disturbance at all.    Could this same Muslim lady do the same at the Dhaka city, or in big city of any Muslim countries?  Even Burkha will not be able to save her from molestation or else.    

Afghan Talivan  Mullahs have imposed strict and true Islamic dress for women, even though, some bigot Muslims think, Talivani Mullah Ghusti doing wrong or some muslims do not like to discuss this issue very much.  Because, they know very well, that Afghan Talivan mullahs are highly educated from the best Madrasha/Moktab of Pakistan.  Question is-who knows better Islam than this Afghani Talivan ?  Can any Mullah tells us that he knows more than those great Talivan ?   I fervently CAUTION all women to be care full about Islamic utopia, as I can assure them, if Talivani Mullahs can grab power in Bangladesh—Mullahs will never be satisfied with ‘Hair Covering hijab’, rather, they will adopt similar Burkhas like Afghanistan.  They did it in Iran and they are doing it in Afghanistan. They will take the Country to the dark ages.  So, don’t be so hypnotized by sweet fatwa. 

Conclusion:    As we have understood positively that, to satisfy total requirements of Islamic veiling fatwa as per Holy Qur’an & Sunnah, women should wear Burkhas to cover her beauty so that, they can be protected from the hands of weak and sick hearts in the Muslim society, as because, in the minds of Mullahs, WOMEN are the source of temptation and evil, while the poor innocent man (?) plays the role of the victim.   But problems are: Modern civilized women unlike 7th Century’s women do not like to sit idle at home, they needs to compete men in their struggle of survival.  Modern women needs to work outside, drive cars, pilots Airplane, pilot rockets to the Moon or even Mars.   Only Almighty Creator knows, keeping women’s “GAZE DOWN” how in the World, women could drive a car or pilot a Airplane. She would be a dangerous driver of course.   Maybe, Almighty God did not want women to be the driver or pilot of an Airplane. For valid reason this Middle-aged cumbersome, ridiculous, unscientific, senseless, veiling system has, long before, become obsolete.    

Actually, veiling women alone will never solve this problem.  Men should learn to respect women as human being and to achieve that men should wear veils around their hearts

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