Muslim women wear hijab — which is more than just a head cover — because God ordered them to do so in two places in the Quran, and because Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) also ordered it. The Quran says in Chapter 24, verses 30-31:
Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is Aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands fathers, or their sons or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or sisters sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigor, or children who know naught of women’s nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that ye may succeed.
These verses tell us that Islamic dress is not just a matter of covering the head alone, but also of covering the bosom, which is attractive to men, and of lowering the gaze and walking in a way that does not attract attention. Note that the order to lower the gaze was addressed first to men…
Also read the other verse about the same point, which is verse number 59 in Chapter 33. It may be translated as:
O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them when they go abroad. That will be better, that so they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.
The above verses very clearly show that it is Allah Almighty Himself, Who commands the women to wear hijab, though that word is not used in the above verses. In fact, the term hijab means much more than the covering of the body; it refers to the code of modesty outlined in the verses quoted above. Look at the expressions used: “Lower their gaze”, “be modest”, “not to display their adornment”, “draw the veils over their bosoms” “not to stamp their feet” etc.
It must be clear to any thinking person what is meant by all the above expressions in the Holy Quran. Women in the Prophet’s time used to wear a kind of dress that covered the head, but not the bosom properly. So when they are asked to draw their veils over their bosoms so as not to reveal their beauty, it is clear that the dress must cover the head as well as the body. And hair is considered by people in most cultures of the world — not only in the Arab culture — as an attractive part of a woman’s beauty.
The above verse also indicates that one of the reasons for hijab is to distinguish the believing woman from the non-believing. This relates to the logic behind hijab.
• Ask yourself, if a female judge walked into the courtroom wearing a tight miniskirt and low-cut blouse, would you take her seriously? Who would you respect more, a woman dressed like that or one dressed modestly? The Quran was revealed for all times, and though circumstances change, human nature does not. The fact is that men do like to look at women’s bodies, so a woman who covers herself is more likely to be respected as a person than looked upon as a piece of meat!
Up until the end of the nineteenth century, a Western woman who had any self respect covered her head—though perhaps not all her hair — in public. Your audience may argue that a woman who does not cover her hair is no longer looked upon as a loose woman. That may be true, but women still know that men look at them. Otherwise, why would they spend millions of dollars every year to style, colour, and treat their hair?
• It is true that men don’t have to cover their heads, but there is a dress code for them, as well, although it is not so widely publicised as the women’s dress code. Men must at least be covered from the navel to the knees with loose fitting clothing. The rules for men are different because women are less likely to ogle men than the other way around.
• Do women feel hot in hijab? To be honest, sometimes, yes, so smart women wear cotton. But overall, loose dresses are much cooler and healthier than pants (trousers) or pantyhose.
• Some women cover their faces either because they think it is required of them — only a minority of scholars say so — or because they think it is better for them to protect their modesty. Others do not think it is required, but they prefer to act as the wives of Prophet Muhammad did, for they take them as a model in their every day life. Those, believe that such act is a fadl (extra good deed), which would earn them more heavenly reward.
• Does a head cover prevent a woman from practicing her daily activities? A woman does not normally wear hijab in her own house, so it shouldn’t get in the way when she’s doing housework. If a long head covering would get in the way in her work or pose a danger to her — if the woman were working around machinery or in a laboratory, for example — she can wear a different style that doesn’t have dragging ends. Actually, hijab — perhaps loose trousers and a long shirt if her work requires her to bend, lift, or climb steps or ladders — gives a woman more freedom of movement while protecting her modesty than does a short dress.
• Is hijab an oppression? Quite the contrary. Dr Fatima Naseef, author of Women in Islam, sees hijab as a woman’s right to maintain her modesty and to be respected as a person. If one woman has the right to go half naked in public, why doesn’t another woman have the right to cover herself in public? Why is it looked upon as an oppression if she chooses to be modest?
Islam means total submission to Allah — in mind, heart, body, and soul — total acceptance of His laws and rules without doubts or arguments, total obedience to Him and His Messenger, and total refusal of shirk (associating anyone with Allah) in all its forms. The Quran states:
It is not for a believer, man or woman, when Allah and His Messenger have decreed a matter that they should have any option in their decision. And whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he has indeed strayed into a plain error. (Al Ahzab 33:36).
Muslims should not argue the commands, rules, or laws of Allah and His Prophet (PBUH). They do not need proof from Allah for everything He asks of them. Their obedience is the mark of their true faith. In addition, Islam is a complete way of life that should be wholly adhered to by its followers. Thus, Muslims are not supposed to worship selectively, picking out whatever rules or rituals appeal to them and leaving the rest. Denying a basic Islamic rule or ritual is a serious sin.
Hijab in Arabic means “barrier” or “screen” and thus it appears in various Quranic verses, referring to many things besides the woman’s head cover. For example: Allah Almighty says in the Quran that He only talks to humans from behind a hijab.
It is not given to any human being that Allah should speak to him unless by revelation, or from behind a veil (Ashura 42:51).
The Virgin Mary worshipped behind a hijab: She placed a screen (to screen herself) from them. (Maryam 19:17).
And, on Judgment Day there will be a hijab between the residents of Paradise and the residents of Hell:
And between them will be a barrier (screen). (Al A’raf 7:51). In all these verses, the Arabic word hijab was used to mean different things. In this light, let’s ponder the logic of hijab. The Quran teaches us to look around us with open eyes and minds, to think, rationalise, and reach logical conclusions. If we look at the universe, from the tiny atom to the huge celestial bodies, don’t we see how everything important or precious is protected and concealed with a cover? Think of the skin to the human body, the womb to the baby, the plasma wall to the cell, the bark to the tree trunks, the shell to the egg, even the entire planet we live on is enjoying the protection of a “hijab”—which we call the atmosphere—against the dangers of asteroids and harmful cosmic rays. Think how other planets—Mars for example— deprived of their “hijab” have suffered much harm.
The Arabic word khimar means “top-cover” and it also applies to many things besides women’s head covers. For example, it applies to the top covering a pot or jar, to any head cover worn by people even men. Notably, that’s where liquor and narcotics got their Arabic name khamr because they “cover” the reasoning when a person is intoxicated.
Khimar is the word used to prescribe the head cover of Muslim women in the verse you referred to. The Quran says:
And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what must ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons... (Annur 24:31).
The meaning apparent to the Arabic reader is that in the presence of men who are not mahrams to a Muslim woman, she should wear a head cover that extends long enough to cover the bosom, not that only the bosom is covered. Another verse in Chapter Al Ahzab clarifies this further. The Quran says:
O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their persons when abroad; that is most convenient, that they should be known as such and not molested. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Al Ahzab 33:59).
The Arabic word used here to indicate the cover is the plural of jilbab. Ibn Taymiyyah stated in Majmu` Al-Fatawa 22:110-111: “The jilbab is a cover which is large enough to cover the woman’s head and the rest of her body hanging from the top of her head.”
Islam uplifted women, gave them equality, and expects them to maintain their status. The status of women in Islam is often the target of attacks in the secular media. The hijab or the Islamic dress is cited by many as an example of the “subjugation” of women under Islamic law. Yet, the truth is that 1400 years ago, Islam recognised women’s rights in a way that grants them the utmost protection and respect as well, a combination other systems fail to offer. Islam granted them freedom of expression, political participation, business and financial rights, and asked the rest of society to hold them in high esteem and offer them due respect as mothers, sisters, wives, and daughters.
Islam expects women to maintain their status by following Allah’s rules designed for their advantage. Hijab is one such rule.