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Veiling in Islam (3)

In the previous article, we discussed the ruling of the verse that commands the headscarf. In this article, we will evaluate the other rulings related to veiling in general in the Qur’an and Sunnah for a better understanding of the subject. Because the headscarf is a part of modesty (veiling). Without understanding modesty, the headscarf cannot be fully understood.

This verse indicates that clothing is a great blessing and gift from God and explains its wisdom: “O children of Adam, we have bestowed upon you clothing to conceal your private parts and as an adornment. But the clothing of righteousness – that is best. That is from the signs of Allah that perhaps they will remember.” (Surah Al-A’raf, 7/26)

The verse first expresses that God has sent down clothing for the children of Adam. The first meaning given to the word “sent down” here is to create. Accordingly, it can be understood that God created different materials suitable for making clothes such as cotton, wool, linen, silk, and presented them for the benefit of humanity. Another meaning of the word “sent down” is inspiration. That is, God not only created materials for making clothes but also inspired and taught humans how to benefit from them, or endowed humans with certain skills and abilities in this regard. In addition to these two meanings, the term “sent down” also indicates that clothing is a great divine favor and blessing, exclusively provided to humans among all creatures, and that it contains great benefits for humans.

The verse continues with the benefits of clothing. After saying, “O children of Adam, we have sent down clothing to you,” it describes clothing as “covering your private parts.” This praises the clothing for covering the private areas, stating it as the fundamental feature of clothing, and also indicates that the worn clothing should have this feature. There is no distinction between men and women here. Because veiling is necessary for both men and women.

Particularly when considering the context of the verse, it indicates that veiling is a requirement of nature. As the previous verses describe, when Satan deceived Adam and Eve, they realized their nakedness and immediately covered their private areas with leaves of Paradise. (Al-A’raf, 7/22) God then bestowed clothing as a response to this natural desire.

The term وَرِيشًا in the continuation of the verse draws attention to the fact that clothing is also a means of adornment and beauty. The literal meaning of “Rîsh” is bird feathers. Therefore, there is a metaphor here. Just as feathers are a garment and adornment beautifying birds, so is clothing for humans. As emphasized in different verses, the Qur’an does not neglect beauty and aesthetics, drawing attention to this aspect of some of the blessings created. The following prayer recommended by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) for someone who wears new clothing also draws attention to these two aspects of clothing: “Praise be to Allah who has clothed me to cover my nakedness and to adorn myself in my life.” (Ibn Abi Shaybah, al-Musannaf, 6/95)

The verse also mentions the clothing of righteousness, لِبَاسُ التَّقْوَىَ, and emphasizes that it is superior. The clothing of righteousness is mostly interpreted as a “sense of righteousness” and it is stated that clothing only finds its true meaning and function with righteousness. The explanation made by Elmalılı for this verse expresses this: “The sense of righteousness or dressing with a sense of righteousness, that is, the dress worn with a sense of modesty and fear of Allah, and with Allah’s permission, will protect a person from physical and spiritual disgrace, evil, harm, and danger. Such clothing of righteousness is an absolute good, a complete benefit. The real benefit from the blessing of clothing is with it.” (The Religion of Truth in the Language of the Qur’an, 4/76)

From the relationship established between clothing and righteousness in the verse, it is understood both that the main purpose of veiling is righteousness and that clothing will protect people from all kinds of sin, immodesty, disgrace, ugliness, and defamation; and that righteousness will result in veiling.

In the continuation of the verse, Almighty God warns with the expression, يَا بَنِي آدَمَ لَا يَفْتِنَنَّكُمُ الشَّيْطَانُ “O children of Adam, let not Satan tempt you.” Then, the verse mentions that Satan deceived Adam and Eve to show them their nakedness by removing their clothing. Putting aside the interpretations related to the story of Adam, the lesson from this verse is that Satan tempts towards nudity and does everything to deceive humans in this regard. While God commands veiling, declaring that veiling is the physical and spiritual adornment of humans, Satan, on the other hand, commands openness and exposure.

Another verse in the Qur’an that commands veiling is: يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُل لِّأَزْوَاجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَاء الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِن جَلَابِيبِهِنَّ “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” (Al-Ahzab, 33/59)

Just as the 31st verse of the Surah An-Nur introduces the ruling for the headscarf, this verse, known as the “hijab verse” or “jilbab verse,” regulates how women should dress when they go out of their homes. The fact that the verse starts with a direct address to the prophet saying, “Tell your wives, your daughters, and the women of the believers,” indicates that the jilbab (outer garment) is obligatory. Indeed, after this verse was revealed, Umm Salama narrates that the women of the Ansar covered themselves with black cloaks. (Abu Dawood, Libas 32) What Umm Salama emphasizes here is not the color or type of the dress; rather, it is that the female companions immediately implemented the ruling of the verse without delay.

Similarly, when a woman asked the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) if there was any harm in a woman without a jilbab going out to the prayer place to perform the Eid prayer, she received the following answer: لِتُلْبِسْهَا صَاحِبَتُهَا مِنْ جِلْبَابِهَا “Let her companion clothe her with one of her jilbabs, so that she may also be present in the good assembly and the prayer of the Muslims.” (Bukhari, Idain 20)

This hadith also confirms and affirms the ruling of the verse: “A woman who takes off her clothes in a place other than her house tears the veil between her and Allah Almighty.” (Abu Dawood, Hammam 1)

Before the advent of Islam, Arab women did not dress properly. As a result, they were sometimes subjected to harassment and inappropriate behavior by wicked/immoral men and complained about their situation. The verse was revealed in response to complaints presented to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) about such harassment and molestation incidents.

Understanding what the jilbab mentioned in the verse means also clarifies how women should dress. Asim Effendi defines the jilbab as follows: “It is a kind of wide dress specific to women, which is smaller than a shawl. It is what they call an overgarment. According to one view, it refers to a shawl, which women in Arabia call a jilabiya. In these lands, it is equivalent to a ferace.” (Translation of Kâmusu’l-Muhit, 1/321) Many commentators like Imam Baghawi and Ibn Kathir have explained the jilbab as an outer garment worn over the headscarf and shirt, referred to as izar and rida. Al-Qurtubi, after narrating various definitions of the jilbab, states the most accurate view as it being a garment that covers the entire body.

Other definitions of the jilbab have also been made. Looking at the relevant explanations, it is understood that the jilbab is different from the dress worn inside the home or in the presence of mahrams, and it is used for wide and loose garments that cover a woman’s private parts. According to the verse, it is such a garment that it will introduce the woman with dignity and chastity and protect her from lustful looks, verbal attacks, and physical harassment. The jilbab does not have a concrete and fixed shape and type; it can vary from culture to culture.

As emphasized by commentators, fulfilling the commandment of covering in the verse is only possible by wearing a garment that does not describe the body, i.e., does not reveal its characteristics and qualities. This depends on the garment not being tight enough to show the contours of the body or transparent enough to reveal the skin. Some hadiths focus on this matter. For instance, the Prophet Muhammad referred to women as “clothed yet naked” and issued severe warnings about them. It is explained that this refers to women who wear clothes that are so thin as to show their skin, tight enough to outline their body, or too short to cover their private parts. Garments that describe the features of the body are considered as non-existent; people who continue to expose the beauties of a woman through their clothing are termed “naked” in the hadith.

Similarly, the Prophet Muhammad gifted a garment to Usama bin Zayd, and upon learning that he dressed his wife in it, he advised: “Let her wear something underneath it, for I fear it may reveal her body.” The Prophet also instructed men to keep their izar (a garment worn on the lower body) short and women’s long. When Hafsa bint Abdurrahman entered Aisha’s presence with a thin headscarf revealing her hair, Aisha removed Hafsa’s scarf, folded it to make it thicker, and placed it back on her head.

It is important to note that the Qur’an, in verses commanding head covering and modesty, instructs women not to display their adornments openly four times. Adornment refers to things that are pleasing and attractive. For instance, one verse describes children, heaps of gold and silver, fine horses, livestock, and crops as adornments for people. The purpose of adornment is to make these things appealing and desirable. Thus, the Qur’an’s command for women not to display their adornments means they should not present themselves in an alluring or attention-seeking manner. The primary purpose of covering is to shield women’s adornments (their bodies, ornaments, and beauties) from the gaze of others; the clothing and style of dress should fulfill this purpose.

Lastly, let’s consider the verse in the Ahzab surah addressed to the Prophet’s wives, “Do not display yourselves as [was] the display of the former times of ignorance.” Although the address is directly to the Prophet’s wives, other Muslim women are also expected to follow this command. The term “teberruj” used here is prohibited, which refers to a woman intentionally exposing parts of her body that should be hidden, walking in a flirtatious manner, mingling among men, wearing headscarves that leave the neck and chest exposed, seducing men, wearing perfume and ornaments in public, and showing off their ornaments to non-mahram men. Teberruj is the opposite of modesty.

The Qur’an, while commanding covering in the aforementioned verses, also prohibits teberruj, a practice of ignorance. Generally, covering has been a practice in ancient cultures and religions, while behaviors included in teberruj have been considered shameful and against moral norms in many cultures and civilizations.

In the next article, we will explain why Islam commands covering and discuss the wisdom behind the commandment of covering.

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Professor Yuksel Cayiroglu is a scholar focusing on Islamic Law and Religous Studies.


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