Letter to the Editor of Muslim Link on Hijab

August 16, 2000
The Muslim Link
5301 Edgewood Road
College Park, MD  20740


In the Jan. 2000 issue (v.2 #1) of The Muslim Link,staff writer Sadia Razaq rightly expresses  concern  with what she calls the obsession over hijab, but her article only perpetuates the problem.  I am reluctant to contribute further to the obsessive literature myself, and therefore I will not attempt to correct all the errors in her article.  However, two misrepresentations, one regarding a quote from me and another about the text of the Qu'ran itself, demand a response.  

The writer complains that "the Washington Post, in it's Dec. 9, 1999 issue unfortunately found Muslims … that were prepared to emit … a negative image of hijab."  She then offers as an example my statement that "It's an inference on the part of Islamic jurists to say that because modesty in the Prophet's day meant covering the hair that it is therefore immodest for women today to leave the hair uncovered."  It is beyond me how my simple and true statement about the position of the jurists "emits a negative image of hijab."  

More disturbing than the misrepresentation of my statement is her suggestion that the verses in the Qur'an in which the word hijab appears constitute a rebuttal to those who question whether it is mandatory for women to cover their hair.  She states categorically that "Allah (Subhanu wa ta`ala) revealed the verses of hijab in the Qur'an, which is eternal, for all peoples and places" without mentioning that in not a single one of these seven verses does the Arabic word hijab refer to a hair covering!  Here is Yusuf Ali's translation of the verses in which the word hijab appears with the word left untranslated so that the reader may see the obvious:

Between them [the companions of the garden and the companions of the fire] shall be a hijâb and on the heights will be men who would know everyone by his marks: they will call out to the companions of the garden "peace on you" they will not have entered but they will have an assurance (thereof.) (7:46)

When thou dost recite the Qur'an We put between thee and those who believe not in the Hereafter a hijâb invisible: (17:45)

And he [Solomon] said "Truly do I love the love of Good with a view to the glory of my Lord" until (the sun) was hidden in the hijâb (of Night): (38:32)

They say: "Our hearts are under veils (concealed) from that to which thou dost invite us and in ours ears is a deafness and between us and thee is a hijâb: so do thou (what thou wilt); for us we shall do (what we will!)." 41:5

It is not fitting for a man that God should speak to him except by inspiration or from behind a hijâb or by the sending of a Messenger to reveal with God's permission what God wills: for He is Most High Most Wise. (42:51)

She [Mary, mother of Jesus] placed a hijâb  (to screen herself) from them [her family]: then We sent to her Our angel and he appeared before her as a man in all respects. (19:17)

O ye who Believe! enter not the Prophet's houses until leave is given you for a meal (and then) not (so early as) to wait for its preparation: but when ye are invited enter; and when ye have taken your meal disperse without seeking familiar talk.  Such (behavior) annoys the Prophet: He is ashamed to dismiss you but God is not ashamed (to tell you) the truth.  And when ye ask (his ladies) for anything ye want ask them from before [warâ'] a hijâb: that makes for greater purity for your hearts and for theirs.  Nor is it right for you that ye should annoy God's Apostle or that ye should marry his widows after him at any time.  Truly such a thing is in God's sight an enormity. (33:53)

Only the last of these constitutes a command for a hijab and that is a command for men to ask from behind (warâ' means "behind", not "before" as translated by Ali) a screen when they ask for things from the Prophet's (pbuh) wives.  This is a command for men when in the presence of the Prophet's wives, not a clothing prescription for women.

The fact that the Qur'an contains no explicit command for women in general to "wear" hijab does not in itself mean that it is not mandatory to cover the hair.  One could interpret the verse of khumr [24:31] to refer to hijâb, or one could interpret the verse of jilbâb [33:59] to refer to hijâb.  Either way, as I was quoted saying in the Post article, Islamic jurists have inferred that it is mandatory.  It was on my recommendation that the Post reporter interviewed Dr. Taha Jabir al- Alwani, the president of the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences to get an authoritative view on this issue.  It is unfortunate that the editors of The Muslim Link did not ask a scholar of his stature to present the ahadith and legal reasoning on which the jurists base their conclusions rather than printing a staff writer's reckless statement about the "verses of hijab."

It is ironic that the writer, having conjectured an interpretation of these verses without bothering to quote them, then goes on to denounce those "who call themselves Muslims … who interpret the Qur'an using their opinion and conjecture."    The fact is that there is nothing backward about a Muslim woman covering her hair.    The backwardness of Muslims today lies, rather, in our willingness to substitute freewheeling assertions for well-reasoned opinions such as our best jurists produced for centuries when they issued their fatwas.  I pray Allah will give us the wisdom to have at least as much concern for the clarity of the thoughts within our heads as we seem to have for the opacity of the cloth on top of them.

As-salâmu `alaikum!

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D., President
Minaret of Freedom Institute

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