Hijab in Islam

By: Allamah Sayyid Sa’eed Akhtar Rizvi
May it please Your Excellency,
1. On behalf of our various Muslim communities and organizations, we take the liberty of making this submission for Your Excellency’s kind consideration.
2. In this submission we are confining ourselves to two matters which have been agitating our minds since long. They are: Hijab for Muslim girls in educational institutions and Islamic laws pertaining to Will and Inheritance?
3. Your Excellency! We all are citizens of a free country, and we have given ourselves a Constitution which, inter alia, guarantees freedoms of worship, religion, association and expression. We particularly refer to the Articles 18(1), 19(1) (2) and 20(1) of the Constitution which are as follows:
18 (1) Without prejudice to expression the laws of the land, every person has the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and to seek, receive and impart or disseminate information and ideas through any media regardless of national frontiers and also has the right of freedom from interference with his communication.
19 (1) every person has the right to the freedom of thought or conscience, belief or faith, and choice in matters of religion, including the freedom to change his religion or faith.
(2) Without prejudice to the relevant laws of the United Republic the profession of religion, worship and propagation of religion shall be free and a private affair of an individual; and the affairs and management of religious bodies shall not be part of the activities of the state authority.
20 (1) Every person is entitled to freedom, subject to the laws of the land, to freely and peaceably assemble, associate and cooperate with other persons, express views publicly, and more specially to form or join associations or organizations formed for the purpose of preserving or furthering his beliefs or interests or any other interests.
4. Allah has said in the Qur’an, His last word: “And I have not created jinn and men except that they should serve Me.” (Surah 51, verse 56) All Muslims right from the beginning agree that the word “li ya ‘budun ” which is derived from ‘ibadah, and is translated here as “serve”, means total obedience.
Your Excellency! No body can be more aware than your good self that “ibadah ” in Islam is not merely a set of some rituals to be performed at certain times or days. It encompasses a Muslim’s whole life. Islam means surrender to the will of Allah and when we pledge to do so we are called Muslims. To guide us in our worldly life, and help us to reach near Him in the hereafter Allah has sent to us, through His Last Prophet (s.a.w.), a comprehensive set of Laws embracing all walks of life — domestic, social, financial, moral and spiritual.
5. Your Excellency knows very well that the Qur’an has treated no subject of law so elaborately and in such detailed manner as the laws of matrimony, will, inheritance and other related matters, including manner of dresses for women.
6. Hijab: It should be made clear at the outset that rules directing women to dress in such a manner as it covers their whole body and preserves their dignity is enunciated in the Qur’an. It is a common heritage of all Muslims and not confined to a certain sect or community. Also, it is not a cultural tradition; it is a compulsory divine law, and cannot be discarded without incurring a sense of sin and guilt.
7. There are not less than nine verses in various chapters of the Qur’an elaborating the rules of hijab. With Your Excellency’s permission, we quote only two of them here: “And say (O Prophet

unto the believing women that they cast down their look and guard their private parts, and they display not their adornment except what becomes apparent of it; and they draw their head-covers over their bosoms; and they display not their adornment except to their husbands, or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brother ‘s sons, or their sister ‘s sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants void of sexual desire, or the children who have not yet attained the knowledge of women ‘s secrets; and they should not strike their feet so that what they hide of their adornments becomes known; and turn you all unto Allah, O you believers, .so that you may be successful (in the hereafter). (Surah 24, verse 31)
O Prophet! say unto your wives, and your daughters and the women of the believers that they let down upon them their “jilbab”, so that they may be distinguished ….. (Surah 33, verse 59) (Jilbab = A robe bigger than veil and shorter than shawl, which covers woman’s head and breast.)
8. Basing on these and other Qur’anic verses and authentic traditions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.), the Muslim jurisprudents, without any sectarian difference, have decreed that:
(a) Muslim women should keep their whole body covered when going out of house. Only face (but not head or hair) and hands up to wrist may remain open.
(b) There are special and stricter rules of dress for prayer and hajj.
(c) The dress should not be tight to show the contour of body, nor flimsy to defeat the purpose of dress.
(d) Women should not wear a dress generally used by men, nor men the dress of women.
9. Your Excellency! The Ministry of Education in our country has selected a uniform for girls of primary schools, which is a copy of the western dress. We wonder why such a decision was taken. Blouse and skirt are not African, nor are they Christian or Islamic, Why that style of dress is so sacrosanct as it can’t be changed? It would have been more in keeping with our national aspirations to prescribe long frocks and bui-bui instead, as it is a dress millions of African women wear. Is it not high time that we rid ourselves of the attitude that all that comes from the West is good for us, while our own values are “barbaric.”?
10. In view of the above facts, we humbly request Your Excellency to direct the Ministry of Education to prescribe such a uniform for school girls as covers their heads and whole body, leaving open their faces and hands. It may be simplified to consist of: Scarf, frock, trousers and socks.
We believe that it will be a more dignified uniform, and will even allow the girls to participate in athletics and sports freely without fear of any embarrassing exposure.
11. Your Excellency!
If for any reason it is difficult to introduce such a uniform for all girls, then the Muslim girls should be allowed throughout the country to wear such uniform without any let or hindrance, as it is a law of their religion and not just a tribal or cultural tradition.
12. Before going to the other subjects, we would like to bring to Your Excellency’s kind notice that Muslim girls in U.K. and France have gained the right to wear hi jab in schools although it took court actions (and in case of France, intervention by the European Human Rights Commission) to achieve that right. Nearer at home, in Kenya, this year an African Muslim girl won court case against school authorities when they refused to let her enter school with hijab. The official KANU newspaper, The Kenya Times (Nairobi) wrote an editorial on 2/2/1990 in which it, inter alia, wrote: “For a democratic country like ours, where freedom of worship for all religions is enshrined in the constitution, it is difficult to believe that some people would find it fit to deny others this freedom.
“Religion, as we know, is a subject very close to the hearts of some people and to deny them the freedom to express their feelings whenever they want to is being against all efforts in creating a peaceful and harmonious society.
“Take Islam for instance. It is a complete way of life. To ask any staunch follower of this religion to discard some aspects of this life is actually asking him to defy- what is written in the Holy Quran. And who are we, in whatever capacity that we operate, to interfere with other people’s private lives and their religion? The issue of this Muslim girl being asked to uncover her head while in the school compound should not arise. Similarly denying children their right to education because they are wearing turbans is intolerable.”

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