Allah (swt) has created human beings to act as His vicegerents on earth and, like all other forms of living beings, human beings cannot be complete unless they are in a pair. This is incomparable to Allah (swt) Who indeed has no need of a partner. Even the most perfect human being is in need of a partner. Allah (swt) says in the Holy Qur’an:
And of His Signs is that He created for you mates from your own selves that you may take comfort in them and He ordained affection and mercy between you. There are indeed signs in that for a people who reflect. (30:21)
One of the signs of Allah (swt)’s wise creation is that He has created spouses for us from ourselves. A man needs a woman to be complete and vice versa. Even when people go to Heaven, they need to be there with their spouse. When Adam (a) was asked by Allah (swt) to go to Heaven, Allah (swt) said:
.....O Adam, dwell with your mate in paradise..... (2:35)
Thus, the formation of a family, initially consisting of a man and a woman, is one of the fundamental elements in Allah (swt)’s design for human life. He (swt) blesses us even more by giving us children. Children can only be well protected and well brought up in the atmosphere of a family where there is a father and a mother who love each other and their children, and who regard their children as a gift from Allah (swt), bringing them even closer to one another.
Given that the family is a crucial aspect of creation, marriage is considered as a sacred covenant between the husband and wife and Allah (swt) is the witness above them. Keeping their marriage and family ties strong is essential. In a well-known hadith, the Prophet Muhammad is quoted as saying:
ما بنی فی الاسلام بناء احب الی الله عزوجل واعز من التزویج
No construction has been built in Islam more beloved in the sight of Allah (swt) than marriage.1
On the other hand, divorce is considered as the most disliked permissible act. The Prophet Muhammad said:
ما من شی ء ابغض الی الله عزوجل من بیت یخرب فی الاسلام بالفرقة
There is nothing more disliked by God than a house which is destroyed by separation. 2
Hence, marriage is a sacred unity on which we need to build society and needs to be very strong. To establish and strengthen this unity, Allah (swt) has observed certain aspects in His creation and others observed in His legislation. These two are very much in harmony with each other.
In His creation, Allah (swt) has made us in such a way that we desire the opposite gender, that is, a man for a woman and a woman for a man, at various levels. Some people may only experience this at the shallowest level, which is sexual desire. But the desire of a man for a woman or the other way around should not only be about sexual desire, because it can be experienced at deeper levels, first psychologically and then spiritually.
Therefore, those who go to Heaven will still be in need of having a partner not merely because they want to have a sexual relationship but because they find complete comfort and tranquillity on the overall relationship with their partner. We find that our missing element, the only thing that can make us feel complete, is a woman for a man and a man for a woman. Thus, Allah (swt) has made us in such a way that we have this deep desire for a partner and their somewhat different yet similar natures make for a perfect match with one another.
This desire brings a man and a woman together despite the fact that everyone loves to be free and loves to have neither commitments nor responsibilities. However, Allah (swt) has made us so much in need of this that we are ready to endure all kinds of difficulties and undertake the many responsibilities involved in finding and keeping our match.
Of course, people who are more compassionate and spiritual do not find it very difficult to accommodate another person in their own sphere. However, for those who are selfish and self-centred, marriage is a great challenge. Being used to doing everything as they wish and wanting to be free from any responsibility, it is difficult for them to be somewhat restricted and responsible. In any case, sexual, psychological, and spiritual desires lead people of the opposite gender towards one another.
Not only do human beings have a desire for the opposite gender, but in His Wisdom, Allah (swt) has created men and women with different personalities. There are many things that men and women share and therefore they are a good match for each other. If a man did not share anything with a woman then they could not be good partners for each other but at the same time the beauty is that there are also some differences between them because if a person is exactly like us, why would we need them and how could they give us comfort? We need someone similar to us in some aspects and yet different in other ways.
So the personality of a man is different to that of a woman but not so much so that they cannot understand one another. It is possible to understand each other because we have many things in common but we need to also understand and appreciate the differences that we naturally have. If a man wants his wife to think and behave exactly like him then this is missing the point. In the same way, if a woman wants her husband to think and behave exactly like her then this demonstrates a lack of understanding. What is important and crucial is for a husband and wife to make efforts to understand and appreciate these differences and work together to use them to the advantage of their family and society.
More than anything else, a man is responsible for making sure that his family does not lose its direction in life. Therefore, he is responsible, for example, for showing some sort of power and strength in protecting his family against poverty, enemies, problems caused by natural catastrophes, and so forth. The man brings security to his family by the virtue of this power. On the other hand, the woman brings peace to her family by showing love and affection. These two elements need to come together to create a balanced family.
Allah (swt) has both attributes of Glory (sifat al-jall) and attributes of Beauty (sifat al-jaml). The power of a man and the love of a woman are manifestations of these two important attributes of Allah (swt). Man manifests the Glory of Allah (swt) more and woman manifests His Beauty more. Of course this beauty is not merely a physical beauty because spiritual and psychological beauties are more important in bringing peace and tranquillity to a husband and children.
As discussed above, Allah (swt)’s legislation is in harmony with His creation. According to Allah’s plan, the role of women is more the role of acting as the internal support for the family whereas the man’s role is its external support. It can be found not only in Islam but throughout the history of mankind, apart from the modern age which is in many ways not natural and somewhat incompatible with human nature.
Women have always acted as the internal support, maybe because there have been prophets for all nations or maybe because women have a natural tendency to do so. The beauty, attraction, and love of a woman are meant to serve the family to keep it firmly connected. The love and care she shows to her husband, children, brother/s, sister/s, father and mother keeps the family together and gives them so much power and strength that when they are exhausted from being outside facing the daily struggles of life, they can always find comfort and relief at home.
Thus man’s role is mainly to act as an external element, that is, to go out and face all the challenges and difficulties in the outside world. Though this may sometimes result in him becoming exhausted and tired, he always knows that there is someone at home who can bring joy and comfort, giving him a newfound strength.
Of course, women are not banned from going outside or from being publicly active. Indeed, as it will be explained later on, the very reason that hijab is legislated is to create an opportunity for women to be active in society.
However, there are two different functions expected from men and women. Though in some cases the man may need to act as a mother and be responsible for the internal aspect of the family and sometimes the woman may have to work outside the home, the man’s essential role is to protect the family from the outside and a woman’s is to protect it from the inside.
Therefore, this beauty and attraction of a woman, which is a manifestation of Allah (swt)’s Beauty, should serve the family from inside the home. It should not be made available or presented to outsiders. Indeed, if it is presented to outsiders then it will be used against the stability of the family.
For example, in a mixed-gendered environment, it is very likely that a man may become attracted to a woman other than his wife because it is rare that a man’s wife is always the most beautiful or the most attractive one and even if she is, people who are not spiritually purified always underestimate what they have and look for something new.
Thus, in a mixed environment, the beauty of women would be working against the stability of the family which is the foundation of human society. As a result, the disaster of the breakdown of the family will occur as has indeed been witnessed in many societies throughout the world. Allah (swt) wants this beauty and this attraction to be used as a powerful means of keeping the family intact.
As previously said, we are not only talking about the physical or sexual aspect of beauty as it has many other aspects. For example, there is great beauty and power in the loving and affectionate voice of your wife, mother, or sister, and therefore it is not merely the sexual aspect of a woman that matters.
The concept and legislation of hijab can be found in all divine religions. It ensures that this great power of attraction is not used against human life and society and so that women are protected against strangers who have not been proven to be trustworthy and may result in taking advantage of a woman. Interestingly, we find that before Islam, and even before Christianity and Judaism, there has always been a long history of hijab. This is especially emphasised in Abrahamic religions, so much so that up until today we find traces of hijab in different Abrahamic traditions, though it is practised more so in Islam.
When we look at the Holy Qur’an we find that it has addressed the issue of hijab in about ten verses and in none of these verses does Allah (swt) introduce hijab as a new command. It is not a new command. Islam did not introduce hijab for the first time; rather, Islam tries to remind us of that which has always existed and ensure that we understand and practise it in its proper way.
For example, Prophet Muhammad (s) was asked by Allah (swt) to tell ladies that they should keep their covering, or jilbab, close to themselves, so that it covers them properly:
O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the faithful to draw closely over themselves their jilbāb... (33:59)
Allah (swt) did not say that they should wear a jilbāb because this was a known and understood idea at the time, but they did not know how to practise it correctly so sometimes they wore it so loosely that the parts of the body supposed to be covered were visible.
Through the Holy Prophet (s), Allah (swt) asked them to keep their jilbāb close to their bodies so that it suitably covered and protected them. Allah (swt) also told the Holy Prophet (s) to ask the believing men to be cautious about their approach in looking at women because this is another aspect of a woman’s protection.
Thus, part of the protection of her beauty derives from the lady wearing proper hijab and part of the protection comes from Allah (swt) asking men to respect a lady by not having bad intentions when looking at her and by not looking at the parts of her body that are not to be seen. To protect the beauty of a lady, Allah (swt) says that men of faith, principles, and high values should be careful about the way in which they look at her, all of which is done out of a sense of care, respect and honour for a lady.
Contrary to how some people think, if a woman is considered as a sexual object, there would be no reason to be so careful about the beauty of a lady and trying to safeguard and protect it from anyone who may have bad intentions.
Islam regards this beauty as a manifestation of Allah (swt)’s Beauty and only some clearly defined people can look at, touch or have contact with. These are either the people who have no sexual intention at all like a father, brother, uncle, young children, or the one who has proven himself trustworthy and reliable and has made vows and commitments to protect her, which is her husband.
Therefore, in Islam, hijab is not merely related to clothing.
It also regulates the manner in which women should look, how contacts should be formed and maintained, and the manner in which they are to speak. For example, Allah (swt) says in the Holy Qur’an that the wives of the Prophet (s) should speak very carefully to people who are not their close relatives. They should not speak in a way that might attract those people to their beauty or to their privacy.
Allah (swt) says:
O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women: if you are wary (of Allah), then do not be complaisant in your speech, lest he in whose heart is a sickness should aspire, and speak honourable words. (33:32)
The wives of the Prophet (s) are asked not to speak very humbly and softly to men who are not related to them by birth or marriage in case they have a sickness or weakness in their heart and who therefore may think that the lady is giving them an improper signal.
Another important part of hijab is reducing unnecessary contact with unrelated members of the opposite gender. A man and woman who are not related should keep their contact to a minimum. As previously stated, Islam is not against women being active in society and, indeed, hijab facilitates this.
However, men and women should not form and increase unnecessary contacts without having specific and useful aims and intentions. For example, if there are men and women working together in the same office they should keep their contacts at a reasonable level. They must not openly and freely speak to each other, and this includes laughing, joking, or doing everything apart from, for example, physically touching each other.
Hijab is a special outfit of honour. Historically, there has been a custom among kings to give special clothing to people who had done a great service to him or to those who were highly revered in his court. This clothing was considered very respectable and was not used, for example, in the house or when going to buy something from the market.
It was an outfit of respect and was normally only used in official ceremonies, to receive guests, or to visit the king. Hijab is this clothing of honour given to women by Allah (swt) indicating that is more than a protection. The following are a few examples that further portray its reverence:
When a woman prays in her home while no one else present, not even a child, she must still wear hijab when she is standing before Allah (swt), the Lord of all the worlds. If hijab was something only intended to protect a woman from men who are not relatives and may have bad intentions, then why should she wear it when she is standing alone before Allah (swt)?
This shows that hijab is clothing of honour and should be worn when we meet those who are very important. So a woman should wear her best dress i.e. her hijab when she stands before Allah (swt) in prayer, when she visits the shrines of the Holy Prophet (s) and the Imams (a), a masjid, and going out into the public. A woman at home does not need to wear hijab the same way the beneficiaries of the king wear it. Indeed, sometimes she should not wear it at home. It is only when she goes out that she should observe it.
A further piece of evidence is as follows. Slavery was a phenomenon that existed all over the world and Islam managed to end it relatively quickly and indeed centuries earlier than it ended in other parts of the world. During the era in which slavery still existed but was being tackled and was finally stopped by Islam, the female slaves were not obliged to wear hijab. For them, hijab was not compulsory though they could choose to wear it.
However, a free woman, or the mistress of a house, was required to observe hijab. So if hijab is a burden or is only a form of protection, why must a free woman observe it? Many people who do not understand hijab think that it is a sign of a woman’s inferiority and that they are to wear hijab because they are inferior to men or to unveiled non-Muslims. On the contrary, those in higher positions are supposed to observe hijab more. Thus, whoever is closer to Allah (swt) should observe hijab more.
We know that historically people like Lady Fatimah (a) observed hijab more than anyone else. If hijab is a burden then presumably she should have been exempted from it or at least only have to observe it to a very minimum extent. Lady Maryam (a) also observed hijab more than anyone else at her time.
So hijab is an outfit of honour and the people who are closer to Allah (swt) should observe it more. Though real elevation is being close to Allah (swt), those who are considered to be in a high position in society, for example, a lady who is more educated than others, such as doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers or university lecturers should dress in hijab more because Allah (swt) Himself has offered them this clothing of honour.
Women who are educated are expected to appreciate and understand it more than those who are not. If Allah (swt) has given someone more blessings in this world such as intelligence, education, wealth, and possessions, and if someone is given respect because, for example, they come from a respectable family or a large tribe, such people are supposed to observe hijab more because this shows that they know how to appreciate this outfit of honour that Allah (swt) has provided.
It is a matter of disgrace and sheer ungratefulness that the king gives someone something and the beneficiary refuses to take or use it and instead of appreciating it, it is regarded as a burden. This is definitely not the way that hijab is to be regarded.
Furthermore, for women who are not Muslim and do not observe hijab as a requirement of their own faith for whatever reason, a faithful Muslim man, who is not to look at the hair of a Muslim woman, may look at the hair of a non-Muslim woman provided that he does so without wrong intentions.
If a man has bad intentions, he is not permitted to even look at a woman’s clothing that is not worn. However, if a man has to speak for a good reason to a lady who is not a Muslim and therefore does not wear hijab, then he may look at her hair, but of course without any wrong intentions. Thus, if hijab is a form of restriction and pressure, then the non-Muslims who lived in Muslim lands and under Islamic rule would be required to observe hijab more and men would be allowed to look at them even less than at Muslim ladies.
Therefore we can conclude that hijab is not a form of restriction.
Hijab is to be used as a way of protecting ladies and as a means to be active in society. It also reminds everyone that ladies are not to be treated as someone’s wife when they appear in public.
Men must remember that when a lady comes out in public she is not someone from whom they should want to gain something physically or sexually. When a lady appears in public she is to be regarded as a human being. She must be judged, examined, and treated based on her intellectual and spiritual merits.
If a lady is to be employed in an office or as a lecturer, for example, should she be employed simply because she is very beautiful or because she dresses in a way that can attract the youths? Is this the attitude of a rational society? What about those people who are not that beautiful? What about those people who are aging? Should a woman only be treated with respect in public when she is beautiful and when she does not dress properly?
This is obviously wrong. Hijab is there to make sure that when a woman appears in public she would only be treated according to her human qualities such as her good character, good behaviour, intelligence and wisdom.
These human qualities are things that can be easily maintained, promoted and improved by her, but no one can change their appearance without spending large amounts of time and money which are not available to everyone. Hijab assists in creating a proper and rational society in treating people according to the moral qualities they strive to achieve rather than their mere physical appearance.
Furthermore, what is wrong with someone who is not considered by others to be beautiful? Do they have to remain at home and should not appear in public? This is an incorrect idea. A good, proper and rational society would treat people according to the good qualities that they have achieved and not according to their physical appearance. Thus hijab also helps in this regard.
Finally, there are many hadiths from Prophet Muhammad (s) and the Ahlul Bayt (a) about hijab. Some people think that hijab is not something that was taught by the Prophet himself, but was made up by people later on. However it is certainly rooted in the Holy Qur’an. As explained previously, it existed before the advent of Islam.
There are ten verses in the Qur’an specifically about it and then the Holy Prophet (s) mentioned it with so much care and giving so many details. Those who are interested can find tens of hadiths in major collections of hadith. In what follows, I will refer to some hadiths to illustrate how delicately hijab is treated in Islam.
Prophet Muhammad (s) advised ladies to be careful about their hijab when in their homes. For example, sometimes even when a lady is inside her house, her neighbours may still be able to see her when she stands next to the window, goes out into the courtyard, or goes onto the roof (as people do in eastern countries).3
Furthermore, Umm Salamah, the wife of the Holy Prophet, (s) said:
عَنْ أُمِّ سَلَمَةَ قَالَتْ كُنْتُ عِنْدَ النَّبِيِّ ص وَ عِنْدَهُ مَيْمُونَةُ فَأَقْبَلَ ابْنُ مَكْتُومٍ وَ ذَلِكَ بَعْدَ أَنْ أَمَرَ بِالْحِجَابِ فَقَالَ احْتَجِبَا فَقُلْنَا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ أَ لَيْسَ أَعْمَى لَا يُبْصِرُنَا قَالَ أَفَعَمْيَاوَانِ أَنْتُمَا أَلَسْتُمَا تُبْصِرَانِهِ
One day Maymunah and I were with Prophet Muhammad (s) and Ibn Umm Maktum who was blind came to see the Prophet (s). The Prophet (s) asked us to have our hijab. We said: “O Apostle of God! Ibn Maktum is blind and is not able to see us”. The Prophet (s) said: “Aren’t you able to see him?”4
Thus, it is not proper for a lady to appear without hijab next to an un-related man, even if he is blind. Whilst it is true that that the blind man cannot see the lady, it cannot be forgotten that she can see him, and this may have an effect on her. In some cases, it is also possible that the man is pretending to be blind.
In a hadith about Lady Fatimah (a), we find that instead of the Prophet (s) or Imam Ali (a) telling her what to do when there is a blind visitor, she autonomously put on her hijab:
عَنْ مُوسَى بْنِ جَعْفَرٍ عَنْ آبَائِهِ ع قَالَ قَالَ عَلِيٌّ ع اسْتَأْذَنَ أَعْمَى عَلَى فَاطِمَةَ ع فَحَجَبَتْهُ فَقَالَ لَهَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ص لِمَ حَجَبْتِهِ وَ هُوَ لَا يَرَاكِ فَقَالَتْ ع إِنْ لَمْ يَكُنْ يَرَانِي فَأَنَا أَرَاهُ وَ هُوَ يَشَمُّ الرِّيحَ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ص أَشْهَدُ أَنَّكِ بَضْعَةٌ مِنِّي
Imam Ali (a) reports that a blind man asked permission to visit Lady Fatimah (a). Upon hearing this, Lady Fatimah covered herself. The Holy Prophet (s), in order to illustrate her (a) level of understanding and knowing too well what her (a) response would be, asked: ‘O Fatimah! Why are you observing hijab when this man is unable to see you?’ She (a) replied: ‘He cannot see me but I can see him and he can smell my fragrance.’ In response to her wisdom, the Prophet (s) said: ‘I bear witness that you are part of me.’5
So this is the way in which the Holy Prophet (s) and the Ahlul Bayt (a) very carefully observed hijab.
According to another well-known hadith, one day the Prophet (s) asked his companions: ‘What is the best for women?’ No one was able to give the right answer. Imam Ali (a) then asked Lady Fatimah (a), and she replied: “The best for women is not to see men who are not her close relatives (non mahrams) and not to be seen by them.” When the Prophet heard this, he was very pleased, and said: “Truly, Fatimah is a part of me.”6
After their marriage, Imam Ali (a) and Lady Fatimah (a) asked the Prophet (s) to advise them as to what their duties are. The Prophet (s) instructed that Imam Ali (a) should undertake the tasks outside the house and Lady Fatima (a) should undertake the tasks inside the house. Lady Fatimah (a) said afterwards: “Other than God no one knows how happy I became when the Apostle of God saved me from interacting with men.”7
With hijab necessary contacts are fine. From a spiritual point of view, unnecessary contacts should be kept very much to a minimum or if possible completely stopped, even though this may not be obligatory from a jurisprudential point of view.
A woman can be very active in society but this should be only for doing something useful and productive with which she can feel very happy and satisfied such as teaching, nursing and seeing patients.
A woman should not be just wandering around on the streets, going to different places and talking to many people, without any good reason to do so. This is not good for a lady and would also gradually exhaust her because a woman is created like a flower. Imam Ali (a) advised Mohammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah not to assign women difficult tasks and to treat them cordially under all circumstances.8
So a woman should not exhaust herself, and the family should not let a lady exhaust herself, by doing unnecessary things.
May Allah increase our understanding of His creation and His plan for us! May Allah make our families and societies stronger day by day! May Allah bring that peace and tranquillity that He has planned for us into our life!
وَ رُوِيَ عَنْ عَلِيٍّ ع قَالَ كُنَّا جُلُوساً عِنْدَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ ص فَقَالَ أَخْبِرُونِي أَيُّ شَيْءٍ خَيْرٌ لِلنِّسَاءِ فَعَيِينَا بِذَلِكَ كُلُّنَا حَتَّى تَفَرَّقْنَا فَرَجَعْتُ إِلَى فَاطِمَةَ عَلَيْهَا السَّلَامُ فَأَخْبَرْتُهَا الَّذِي قَالَ لَنَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ص وَ لَيْسَ أَحَدٌ مِنَّا عَلِمَهُ وَ لَا عَرَفَهُ فَقَالَتْ وَ لَكِنِّي أَعْرِفُهُ خَيْرٌ لِلنِّسَاءِ أَنْ لَا يَرَيْنَ الرِّجَالَ وَ لَا يَرَاهُنَّ الرِّجَالُ فَرَجَعْتُ إِلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ ص فَقُلْتُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ سَأَلْتَنَا أَيُّ شَيْءٍ خَيْرٌ لِلنِّسَاءِ وَ خَيْرٌ لَهُنَّ أَنْ لَا يَرَيْنَ الرِّجَالَ وَ لَا يَرَاهُنَّ الرِّجَالُ قَالَ مَنْ أَخْبَرَكَ فَلَمْ تَعْلَمْهُ وَ أَنْتَ عِنْدِي قُلْتُ فَاطِمَةُ فَأَعْجَبَ ذَلِكَ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ص وَ قَالَ إِنَّ فَاطِمَةَ بَضْعَةٌ مِنِّي.
عَنْ أَبِي عَبْدِ اللَّهِ عَنْ أَبِيهِ ع قَالَ تَقَاضَى عَلِيٌّ وَ فَاطِمَةُ إِلَى رَسُولِ اللَّهِ ص فِي الْخِدْمَةِ فَقَضَى عَلَى فَاطِمَةَ بِخِدْمَةِ مَا دُونَ الْبَابِ وَ قَضَى عَلَى عَلِيٍّ بِمَا خَلْفَهُ قَالَ فَقَالَتْ فَاطِمَةُ فَلَا يَعْلَمُ مَا دَاخَلَنِي مِنَ السُّرُورِ إِلَّا اللَّهُ بِإِكْفَائِي رَسُولُ اللَّهِ ص تَحَمُّلَ رِقَابِ الرِّجَالِ.
وَ قَالَ أَمِيرُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ ع فِي وَصِيَّتِهِ لِابْنِهِ مُحَمَّدِ بْنِ الْحَنَفِيَّةِ يَا بُنَيَّ إِذَا قَوِيتَ فَاقْوَ عَلَى طَاعَةِ اللَّهِ وَ إِذَا ضَعُفْتَ فَاضْعُفْ عَنْ مَعْصِيَةِ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ وَ إِنِ اسْتَطَعْتَ أَنْ لَا تُمَلِّكَ الْمَرْأَةَ مِنْ أَمْرِهَا مَا جَاوَزَ نَفْسَهَا فَافْعَلْ فَإِنَّهُ أَدْوَمُ لِجَمَالِهَا وَ أَرْخَى لِبَالِهَا وَ أَحْسَنُ لِحَالِهَا فَإِنَّ الْمَرْأَةَ رَيْحَانَةٌ وَ لَيْسَتْ بِقَهْرَمَانَةٍ فَدَارِهَا عَلَى كُلِّ حَالٍ وَ أَحْسِنِ الصُّحْبَةَ لَهَا لِيَصْفُوَ عَيْشُكَ.