Does Islam require women to wear hijabs?
- A modern hijab is a garment worn by Muslim women to cover their hair with respect to “interpretations of Islamic law, geographic location, civil law, and personal choice.”
- In Arabic, ‘hijab’ means “barrier or partition,” but it is broadly understood as a principle of modesty. Many scholars have interpreted the Holy Qur’an, verses 30-31 in the Surah, for women and men of the Islamic faith to dress modestly.
- Statista reported that about 60 countries regulated women’s religious head coverings in 2021. Iran still mandates hijabs in public, while Saudi Arabia requires an abaya or long-sleeved over-garment.
- According to a World Hijab Day 2019 survey, about 60% of women respondents said they experienced discrimination due to their hijabs. However, most did not feel forced to wear their hijab. The hijab was seen as empowering for almost all women surveyed.
Islam (which means to submit) revolves around unconditionally submitting to God's will. Therefore, when told to observe modesty, Muslims follow this rule without hesitation. Many Quranic verses and prophetic hadiths indicate that the Almighty commands women to wear hijab. For instance, Sura Al Nur verse 31 translates to 'And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; and that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands…' (Holy Qur'an 24:31)
This verse, as well as many hadiths, reveal some of the reasons why women are instructed to wear hijab. It protects women from male sexual desire and promotes decency and modesty in the interaction between members of the opposite sex. As it indicates women are off-limits to men aside from their mahram, it compels men to focus more on their personality rather than beauty.
If a woman doesn't wear the hijab, Muslim scholars deem her as openly disobedient and deserving of His punishment. However, no Quranic verse or Hadith indicates how she may be punished in this life or the afterlife. Even women's fathers or spouses—who serve as protectors and maintainers—can't enforce harsh punishment. As the Prophet PBUH was against domestic violence, disobedient women were admonished and advised at first. Their husbands can then refuse to share their beds and, eventually, be separated from them.
Therefore, Muslim women should wear the hijab to prove their submission to His will and protect themselves and their relationships with others.
Who would have thought that a small piece of cloth used by women would stir controversies and lead to the loss of lives? What's worse is that all these acts are caused by the lack of understanding of the rule around women wearing the hijab.
The term 'hijab' isn't limited to the scarf women hide their hair by. The Holy Book reiterates the term seven times, each of which means anything that hides, masks, and protects something. Some of the verses used to support the concept of hijab may also be generalizing a ruling that concerns the wives of the Prophet. For instance, Surah Al Ahzab (verse 33:53) teaches respecting the Prophet's private life rather than specifically mandating that women wear scarves.
Another thing to remember is that many verses indicate that Muslims shouldn't be coerced into something. The Quran mentions this: 'Let there be no compulsion in religion' (verse 2:256). Therefore, forcing women to wear hijab is far from Islamic.
Moreover, niyyah, or intention, is one of the important aspects of Islam. The value of a person's actions is based upon their intention. Even salah, (prayer) can be rejected without one having the purest of intentions.
Finally, not wearing the hijab isn't a symbol of a woman's lack of religiousness. Islam is based on five pillars—Shahadah, Salah, Zakat, Sawm, and Hajj. Without these, a person can't be considered a full Muslim. Therefore, irrespective of the hijab, the five pillars on which Islam is based aren't affected. Like Islam itself, Muslims, too, need to have a different stance on a woman's choice to wear a scarf.