Let me start by stating that I am not a scholar and several volumes of books have been written on this topic. This piece is meant to enlighten those of us that are too busy to find out the details.
The hijab is a kind of clothing that muslim women wear, covering their heads and other parts of their bodies, sometimes including the face. However, this is a shallow definition. The hijab is a phenomenon. It’s a spectrum. It’s a code of conduct, with many branches, which every true Muslim should abide by. It encompasses everything from the attitude to the practice; all of which must be complete for the purpose to be achieved. The literary meaning of hijab is “a screen”. Hence, any behaviour, action or object that is used to screen oneself from immorality can be referred to as hijab.
One of the branches is the mode of dressing and appearance in public. The importance can’t be overemphasized because this is the most visible manifestation of the phenomenon. It is being observed in several shades in different parts of the world. Whatever the interpretation, expression or shade, the goal is the same: to maintain a high level of modesty, self-restraint and morality in order to please our Creator. We should never forget that the ultimate goal is to earn Allaah’s pleasure. The mode of dressing is a symbol, obviously. Women who don it need not introduce themselves as muslims again, in most cases. It helps to curb sexual harrassment and molestation (Quran 33 verse 59).
So what are those things that the hijab entails?
1. For men: covering their nakedness (minimum of the navel to the knees), not extending their garments below the level of the ankle, getting married as soon as it’s physically and financially possible, fasting to suppress their sexual urge if they can’t afford marriage yet,
2. For women: covering their nakedness (the whole body but the face and the hands are optional); avoiding the use of perfume, wearing flashy dresses and heavy trinkets that make audible sounds when going out; no wanton display of their bodies and adornments; avoiding frivolous outings and staying at home unless there is a genuine reason to go out,
3. For men and women: lowering the gaze and avoiding lustful glances; avoiding garments that are tight-fitting, transparent and revealing, usually worn by the opposite sex, or known to be worn by other religious groups; avoiding extravagance and show off in dressing; no shaking of hands between *opposite sexes*; no seclusion with the opposite sex; no sexual activity outside the confines of wedlock.
*exceptions are stated in Quran chapter 24 verses 30-31 (father, husband…)*
So you see, we are all in it together: men and women. The men are not supposed to go wild because the women are all covered up. Similarly, the women should not use the men’s presumed modesty as an excuse to flaunt it as they like. It’s a mutual arrangement.
Many people wonder: “why all these strict rules?”, “why the restrictions on women?”, “God is not wicked”, “God is All-Merciful”, “but God gave us free will”… The simple response to this and similar queries is that God wants us to enjoy our lives, but we have to accept His terms and conditions. Islam is all about submission to His Will. So we can’t eat our cake and have it. We can’t be Muslims and fail to submit to the codes of the Almighty. We’re not supposed to cherry pick the laws and obey only the ones that look suitable. At the end of the day, these laws are for our own good, individually and communally.
There is a need to let the general public know how precious the hijab is to us, so that we won’t have to always explain ourselves every time. We are peaceful and law-abiding citizens/residents. The hijab doesn’t stop the women from contributing their quota to the society, especially in fields like education and healthcare. We may have a few clauses that disagree with the sociocultural values, yet, that doesn’t preclude a perfect coexistence.
May Allaah rectify our errors and make us better Muslims who submit to His Will wholeheartedly.