In some Arabic-speaking countries and Western countries, the common meaning of hijab currently is of "modest dress for women," which most Islamic legal systems define as covering everything except the face and hands in public. Since the 1970s, hijab has emerged as a symbol of Islamic consciousness "and an affirmation of Islamic identity and morality" in opposition to "Western materialism, commercialism, and values."
According to Islamic scholarship, hijab is given the wider meaning of modesty, privacy, and morality. The word used in the Qur'an for a headscarf or veil is khimār (خمار). Still another definition is metaphysical, where al-hijab "refers to the veil which separates man or the world from God.
According to the Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World, the meaning of hijab has evolved over time:
The term hijab or veil is not used in the Qur'an to refer to an article of clothing for women or men, rather it refers to a spatial curtain that divides or provides privacy. The Qur'an instructs the male believers (Muslims) to talk to wives of Muhammad behind a hijab. This hijab was the responsibility of the men and not the wives of Muhammad. However, in later Muslim societies this instruction, specific to the wives of Muhammad, was generalized, leading to the segregation of the Muslim men and women. The modesty in Qur'an concerns both men's and women's gaze, gait, garments, and genitalia. The clothing for women involves khumūr over the necklines and jilbab (cloaks) in public so that they may be identified and not harmed. Guidelines for covering of the entire body except for the hands, the feet, and the face, are found in texts of fiqh and hadith that are developed later.
Muslims differ as to how hijab dress should be enforced, particularly over the role of religious police that are or have been enforcing hijab in Iran and Afghanistan.
Surah an-Nur ayat 31 states:
In the following verse, Muslim women are asked to draw their jilbab over them (when they go out), as a measure to distinguish themselves from others, so that they are not harassed.
Following verses give special directives to the wives of Muhammad though some commentators believe that all women should imitate their example.
Another verse in the Quran (33:53) talks about the veil as being a separation of two men and spheres of life such as the public and the private, rather than between men and women. This could very well be the definitive verse on hijab as it has been quoted as such by a number of Islamic theologians.
The Arabic word jilbab is translated as "cloak" in the following passage. Contemporary salafis insist that the jilbab worn today is the same garment mentioned in the Qur'an and the hadith; other translators have chosen to use less specific terms:
Ghamidi believes that Qur'an mentions khamr or khumūr in 24:31 only as a 7th century Arabian dress, and gives no specific command for women to wear it. He argues that the context of verse indicates that women are directed to wear jalābib only in specific situations.
Other verses do mention separation of men and women but they refer specifically to the wives of the prophet:
Abide still in your homes and make not a dazzling display like that of the former times of ignorance:()
And when ye ask of them [the wives of the Prophet] anything, ask it of them from behind a curtain.()
According to Leila Ahmed, nowhere in the whole of the Quran is the term hijab applied to any woman other than the wives of Muhammad.
"perfect sense when one recalls that Muhammad's house was also the community's mosque: the center of religious and social life in the Ummah. People were constantly coming in and out of this compound at all hours of the day. When delegations from other tribes come to speak with Muhammad, they would set up their tents for days at a time inside the open courtyard, just a few feet away from the apartments in which Muhammad's wives slept. And new emigrants who arrived in Yatrib would often stay within the mosque's walls until they could find suitable homes.
When Muhammad was little more than a tribal Shaykh, this constant commotion could be tolerated. But by the year 627, when he had become the supremely powerful leader of an increasingly expanding community, some kind of segregation had to be enforced to maintain the inviolability of his wives.
That the veil applied solely to Muhammad's wives is further demonstrated by the fact that the term for donning the veil, darabat al-hijab, was used synonymously and interchangeably with `becoming Muhammad's wife.` For this reason, during the Prophet's lifetime, no other women in the Ummah observed hijab."
Muslim women probably began wearing the veil "as a way to emulate the Prophet's wives, who were revered as `the Mothers of the Ummah,` but the veil was neither compulsory nor, for that matter, widely adopted until generations after Muhammad's death." In the Muslim community "there was no tradition of veiling until around 627 C.E.
Sunnis recommend that women wear loose clothing that is not form fitting to the body either modest forms of western clothing (long shirts and skirts), or the more traditional jilbāb, a high-necked, loose robe that covers the arms and legs. A khimār or shaylah, a scarf or cowl that covers all but the face, is also worn in many different styles. Some Salafi scholars encourage covering the face. Many of them say it is mandatory to cover the face. Other scholars oppose face covering, particularly in the west where the woman may draw more attention as a result. These garments are very different in cut than most of the traditional forms of ħijāb, and they are worn worldwide by Muslims.
Detailed scholarly attention has been focused on prescribing female dress. Most scholars agree that the basic requirements are that when in the presence of someone of the opposite sex (other than a close family member - see mahram), a woman should cover her body, and walk and dress in a way which does not draw sexual attention to her. Some scholars go so far as to specify exactly which areas of the body must be covered. In some cases, this is everything save the eyes but most require everything save the face and hands to be covered. In nearly all Muslim cultures, young girls are not required to wear a ħijāb. There is not a single agreed age when a woman should begin wearing a ħijāb; however, in many Muslim countries, puberty is the dividing line.
In private, and in the presence of mahrams, the rules on dress are relaxed. However, in the presence of husband, most scholars stress the importance of mutual freedom and pleasure of the husband and wife.
Some contemporary Muslims take a relativist approach to ħijāb. They believe that the commandment to maintain modesty must be interpreted with regard to the surrounding society. What is considered modest or daring in one society may not be considered so in another. It is important, they say, for believers to wear clothing that communicates modesty and reserve in the situations in which they find themselves.
Along with scriptural arguments, scholars argue that head covering should not be compulsory in Islam because the veil predates the revelation of the Qur'ān. Head-covering was introduced into Arabia long before Muhammad, primarily through Arab contacts with Syria and Iran, where the hijāb was a sign of social status. After all, only a woman who need not work in the fields could afford to remain secluded and veiled.
Traditionally Muslims in general, and Salafis in particular believe the Qur'ān demands women wear the garments known today as jilbāb and khumūr. However, Qur'ān translators and commentators translate the Arabic into English words with a general meaning - such as veils, head-coverings and shawls. Ghamidi argues that verses teach etiquette for male and female interactions, where khumūr is mentioned in reference to the clothing of Arab women in the 7th century, but there is no command to actually wear them in any specific way. Hence he considers head-covering a preferable practice but not a directive of the sharīˤah (law).
As a practical matter, however, the opinion that Muslim men must cover themselves between the navel and the knees is predominant, and most Muslims believe that a man who fails to observe this requirement during salah must perform the prayer again, properly covered, in order for it to be valid. Three of the four Sunni Madh'hab, or schools of law, require that the knees be covered; the Maliki school recommends but does not require knee covering.
According to some hadith, Muslim men are asked not to wear gold jewellery or silk clothing. Some scholars says that these prohibitions should be generalized to prohibit the lavish display of wealth on one's person.
In Iran many women, especially younger ones, have taken to wearing transparent Hijabs instead of Chadors to protest but keep within the law of the state.
The colors of this clothing varies. It is mostly black, but in many African countries women wear cloths of many different colours depending on their tribe, area, or family. In Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India, a lot of Muslim women wear bright orange and red garments which look similar to the Hindu Sari.
In Turkey the majority of women do not wear any kind of veil, except when they attend Friday Salat, while in many of the western Nations, there has been a general rise of hijab-wearing women. They are especially common in Muslim Student Associations at college campuses
Some Muslims have criticized strict dress codes that they believe go beyond the demands of hijab, using Qur'an 66:1 (which is usually interpreted to apply to asceticism) to apply to dress codes as well; the verse suggests that it is wrong to refrain from what is permitted by God.
Bloom and Blair also write that the Qur'an doesn't require women to wear veils; rather, it was a social habit picked up with the expansion of Islam. In fact, since it was impractical for working women to wear veils, "A veiled woman silently announced that her husband was rich enough to keep her idle.
Some Muslims believe hijab covering for women should be compulsory as part of Sharia law. Wearing of the hijab was enforced by the Taliban regime, and is enforced in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The Prosecutor-General, Abolfazl Musavi-Tabrizi, has been quoted as saying: "Any one who rejects the principle of hijab in Iran is an apostate and the punishment for an apostate under Islamic law is death. The Taliban's Islamic Emirate required women to cover not only their head but their face as well, because "the face of a woman is a source of corruption" for men not related to them. While some women wholeheartedly embrace the rules, others protest by observing the rules in slipshod or inconsistent fashion, or flouting them whenever possible.
Successful informal coercion of women by sectors of society to wear hijab has been reported in Gaza where Mujama' al-Islami, the predecessor of HAMAS, reportedly used "a mixture of consent and coercion" to "`restore` hijab" on urban educated women in Gaza in the late 1970s and 1980s.
In France, according to journalist Jane Kramer, veiling among school girls became increasingly common following the 9/11 Attack of 2001, due to coercion by "fathers and uncles and brothers and even their male classmates" of the school girls. "Girls who did not conform were excoriated, or chased, or beaten by fanatical young men meting out `Islamic justice.`" According to the American magazine style="font-style : italic;">Weekly Standard, a survey conducted in France in May 2003 reportedly "found that 77% of girls wearing the hijab said they did so because of physical threats from Islamist groups."
According to a Rand Corporation commentary by Cheryl Benard, "in Pakistan, Kashmir, and Afghanistan, hundreds of women have been blinded or maimed when acid was thrown on their unveiled faces by male fanatics who considered them improperly dressed," for failure to wear hijab. An example being a 2001 "acid attack on four young Muslim women in Srinagar ... by an unknown militant outfit, and the swift compliance by women of all ages on the issue of wearing the chadar (head-dress) in public."
Islamists in other countries have been accused of attacking or threatening to attack the faces of women in an effort to intimidate them from wearing of makeup or allegedly immodest dress.
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On March 15, 2004, France passed a law banning "symbols or clothes through which students conspicuously display their religious affiliation" in public primary schools, middle schools, and secondary schools - aimed at banning hijab. In the Belgian city of Maaseik Niqāb as been banned. (2006) These are seen by some (mostly those who support a conservative interpretation of female hijab) to be part of a general trend of intolerance in the Western world.
Writers such as Leila Ahmed and Karen Armstrong have highlighted how the veil became a symbol of resistance to colonialism, particularly in Egypt in the latter part of the 19th Century, and again today in the post-colonial period. In The Battle for God, Armstrong writes:
“The veiled woman has, over the years, become a symbol of Islamic self-assertion and a rejection of Western cultural hegemony.”
While in Women and Gender, Ahmed states:
“...it was the discourses of the West, and specifically the discourse of colonial domination, that in the first place determined the meaning of the veil in geopolitical discourses and thereby set the terms for its emergence as a symbol of resistance.”
The issue of the veil has thus been “hijacked” to a degree by cultural essentialists on both sides of the divide. Arguments against veiling have been co-opted, along with wider “feminist” discourse, to create a colonial “feminism” that uses questions of Muslim women’s dress amongst others to justify “patriarchal colonialism in the service of particular political ends.” Thus, efforts to improve the situation of women in Muslim (and other non-Western) societies are judged purely on what they wear. Meanwhile, for Islamists, rejection of “Western” modes of dress is not enough: resistance and independence can only be demonstrated by the “wholesale affirmation of indigenous culture”—a prime example being the wearing of the veil.
Some women choose to wear styles that are more ostentatiously restrictive than local mores might require - perhaps as a sign of Islamic enthusiasm, piety, or both.
In her discussion of findings from interviews of university-educated Moroccan Muslim women who choose to wear the Hijab, Hessini argues that wearing the Hijab is used as a method of separation of women from men when women work and therefore step into what is perceived to be the men’s public space, so in this case, when women have the right and are able to work, a method has been found to maintain the traditional societal arrangements.
Some women have dared more pointed protest. As early as 1905, Bengali writer Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain criticised it in her utopian fantasy Sultana's Dream. Iranian-American novelist Azar Nafisi, author of Reading Lolita in Tehran, Marjane Satrapi, author of the graphic novel Persepolis, and Parvin Darabi who has authored Rage Against the Veil are some of the famous opponents of compulsory veiling. Compulsory hijab in Iran was protested when it was first imposed.
"Say to the believing men that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts; that is purer for them; surely Allah is Aware of what they do. And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and not display their ornaments except what appears there of, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms, and not display their or name except to their husbands..."
Muhammad has said, "...the adultery of the eyes is looking at [that] which is not allowed...
He has also said,"A man should not look at the awrah of another man, and the woman should not look at the Awrah of another woman...
Muhammad also said "The glance is a poisoned arrow of shaytaan. Whoever lowers his gaze for Allah, He will bestow upon him a refreshing sweetness, which he will find in his heart on the day he meets Him.