Wearing of the veil among Muslims has remained a debatable and controversial issue for decades, across the world. Different people have taken varying positions in explaining the origin and significance of the veil, which is a key symbol of identity among Muslim women. This is the case, with some of the people under this practice, unable to explain and defend the origin of Hijab. Moreover, the veil has gained massive popularity among Arab countries, as almost all women cover their faces.
While this is the case, some communities around the world view the use of the Islam veil as a way of oppressing Muslim women and depriving them their rights and freedom. This mindset has strongly been held by Western countries, which find no basis of the Hijab, neither in culture nor religion, but a self-imposed practice. This essay discusses the significance of the veil in Islam, and why it has become popular in most Islamic countries around the world.
Even though the word “veil” could be used to explain a wide range of headscarves and clothing, the term has found important meaning and application among Muslims throughout history. In general, a veil can be described as a piece of clothing worn by women to cover sections of the body like face and head. In most cases, veils are common among religious communities, where women are expected to wear them for various reasons, which have immensely contributed to the debates and stereotypes linked to the practice.
Within the context of Islam, there are several veils that are recognized, with most of them having been borrowed from the Arab countries, where Islam is believed to have originated from. Nevertheless, the veil has continued to face criticism from other cultures, which view it as a practice imposed on women by men as a way of oppressing and promoting their power in the society.
History of the veil
According to historians, the veil has a strong history, with evidence showing that it was first used in the 13th century BC. During this time, the veil was mainly used by good women in the society, as other classes of women like prostitutes remained restricted from using it. Elements of women using veils were also recorded among Persians, who were mainly leaders at that time.
Additionally, statues which have been discovered during the Classical and Hellenistic periods show the use of veils among Greeks, even though it was compulsory for all women to cover their face and head. Unlike today where every Muslim woman covers her face and head, early Greek practices targeted high class women, who were expected to remain humble in the society.
Moreover, the popularity of the veil grew in 1175, among married women, who used veils that ensured complete covering of the necks, hair, and chins. This continued until 1485, when these veils were overtaken by the popularity of woods. Initially, sheer veils were worn by women on specific occasions or during a particular season, say, mourning a family member or in funeral ceremonies.
In other instances, the veil was commonly used to hide the identity of a woman, especially in cases where she was expected to meet her future husband. Besides this, women concealed their identities in cases where they were involved in a secretive event, which was supposed to remain private. Furthermore, the veil was historically used to protect the beauty and skin of women from being exposed to harsh environmental and climatic conditions like scorching sun, strong wind, and dust.
Veil in Islam
Islam puts strong emphasis on the manner in which women are supposed to present themselves in the society. This is primarily guided by Hijab, which is based on presentation of women in a modest way. These headdresses are commonly known as veils, and are widely used by Muslim women all over the world.
This has however been interpreted differently, with a section of Muslims arguing that veils are important in preventing women from attracting men sexually. The veils come in different shapes, with others covering the head and the face alone, while others cover the entire body, from head to toe. The Hijab is the commonest, especially in Western countries. This covers the neck and head alone. However, most women outside these countries are required to use the traditional veil, mainly in the Arab World.
Besides Hijab, there are other veils like the niqab, which covers the whole body, leaving tiny openings on the head to allow the person wearing it to see through. These veils have gained popularity in the Arab World even though they are common in Gulf States. They have also triggered debates in most parts of Europe, where they have been highly criticized.
In some cases, a section of politicians have recommended its ban, arguing that it poses security threats by concealing the identity of Muslim women. Critics further argue that the use of the veil among women affects proper communication especially in cases where the entire body is covered, leaving tiny holes for the eyes.
Chador is another type of veil used by Iranian women, and in other countries in the Middle East. Unlike the niqab, chador leaves the face of a woman exposed even though the head and the rest of the body remain covered. They are mainly black in color, and are also common in countries where Islam in not deeply rooted.
The last type of veil worn by Muslim women is the burqa, which covers the entire body, including the whole face. However, they are designed with a mesh on the head to allow women to see through. This type is widely used in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and it was enshrined in the constitution during the reign of Taliban in Afghanistan, between 1996 and 2001.
This made it criminal for women to be found in public without the veil. Despite these types of veils, it is worth noting that they drive towards the same point of covering the face of Muslim women. As a result, critics have questioned the Quranic support of the veil. What does the Quran say about clothing and Modesty?
Modesty is a key component of Islam, requiring women to dress in a particular way. This is highly emphasized in cases where the woman is in public, say, in the company of strange people who might not know her or understand her religion. Importantly, Islam is composed of a host of prohibitions and conditions, which define one’s way of dressing, as dictated by Islamic teachings.
Above all, the awra’ has to be completely covered, even though the manner in which it is done varies widely from one country to the other. According to Islamic teachings, Muslims are supposed to be careful with their appearance in terms of decency and level of dignity, for the purpose of enjoying the creation of Allah.
In general, clothing has two major meanings, according to Islamic teachings. Firstly, clothing is necessary to cover human body from nakedness, an element, which is upheld by human beings everywhere. Secondly, Muslims believe that clothing is an essential component that enhances beauty, especially in women. As a result, Muslims are required to cover their private parts at all times.
Of great significance is the fact that Islam does not allow women to wear any type of cloth, depending on fashion; they must adhere to the teachings and standards of the religion. For instance, women ought to wear clothes, which cover the whole body and do not reveal any part.
In this context, women are not allowed to wear tight clothes, which may arouse men sexually. Under this, Muslims are required to enjoy life, including clothing, without any signs of pride or extravagance. This therefore gives the limits, within which women are allowed to present themselves in public.
Among other body parts, the head has been given a lot of emphasis, when describing clothing among women in Islam. This has been the center of controversy especially in Western countries, where it is argued that this practice undermines women in the society and may promote security threats.
Generally, clothing is widely mentioned in the Quran, and explanations have been given to clarify the need for a particular code of dressing in the society. The Hijab is also emphasized, requiring women to cover their heads and the entire body, using veils and headscarves. At this point, it is important to explain the importance of the veil in Islam, as it has grown to become a requirement for all Muslim women.
Significance of the Veil in Islam
According to Islam, the veil has immense significance, which is believed to be supported by the Quran, the holy book of Muslims. This segment discuses some of these factors, which have made Hijab to be common in the Arab World, and in other countries, where Islamic practices are observed.
Firstly, the veil is considered as a sign of obedience among Muslim women. According to the Quran, men and women are supposed to obey Allah wholly by respecting his commands and responding to the message of his messenger appropriately.
It is also believed that the Quran requires women to avoid looking at certain things, which have been forbidden by God. In other words, there are specific things, which Allah does not expect believing women to look at. As a sign of obedience, they are also expected to draw their veils, and avoid showing off their beauty, apart from that which has been allowed by the law.
Even though the veil is mentioned in the Quran and Muslim women ought to wear it, there are scholars who have differed on whether the veil should cover the entire body or not. This is based on the fact that some veils are designed to cover a woman’s body completely, including the head, face, and hands.
Secondly, the use of the veil by Muslim women is considered to be a sign of being modest. According to Allah, women are supposed to cover themselves with veils whenever they are not in their houses. This ensures that they are not harassed once they get into the public.
Even though it is Allah who creates beauty, it is important for women to know that they can be harmed by men, when they dress in a manner that does not conform to Islam standards. However, the threat is likely to end in cases where beauty has been lost as a result of old age. Nevertheless, they are expected to remain modest regardless of their age, and whether they cover themselves or expose their heads, faces, and hands.
Besides obedience and modesty, wearing of the veil is also seen as a sign of purity among Muslim women. It is believed that the Hijab has a lot of wisdom, which has to be upheld by women at all times.
As a result, men and women remain pure in their hearts because they are able to communicate without being overtaken by lustful thoughts. In the absence of the veil, one’s heart may be torn between remaining pure and committing evil things, which are not acceptable in the presence of Allah. As a result, the veil helps in eliminating dirty thoughts, which commonly characterize wicked hearts.
Besides being covered, communication between men and women is supposed to be honorable to avoid triggering evil thoughts. Based on the fact that the veil covers the woman’s body, it acts as a shield from external harm exposure to the sinful hearts of men. According to Islamic teachings, Muslim women who take off the veil or refuse to wear them go against God’s laws and disables Allah’s shield, which is supposed to protect them from harm.
The veil is also considered as a sign of righteousness among Muslim women. It is a command that women were given by Allah after creation, in order to remain pleasing and acceptable in his sight. This has also been supported by scholars who believe that the modern world is largely driven by pride, which is demonstrated in different fashions, which fail to protect the body of a woman.
In other words, some of the dresses worn by women expose them to the evil eyes of men and may result into lustful thoughts. By covering their faces and the rest of the body, women demonstrate an act of righteousness, which is a requirement from God.
Additionally, it is worth noting that the Quran addresses Muslim women who believe in Islam. This therefore excludes members of the public who may be in an environment dominated by Muslins. By wearing the veil, a woman demonstrates to the rest of the world that she is a believer. Those who do not believe in this religion can therefore exercise their freedom by dressing in any type of attire, regardless of whether they are in public or private.
Nevertheless, most Arab countries have made it a rule for all women to wear veils regardless of whether they believe in Islam or not. This is why Hijab critics believe that it is a way of oppressing women, since the Quran does not require all women in the society to use it. The only people that Allah is concerned with are those who believe and subscribe to the teachings and doctrines of Islam
Another reason why wearing of the veil is common in some countries is that it is considered to be a sign of bashfulness among women. In essence, this emanates from one’s belief, which is highly regarded as the Islamic paradise. By covering their bodies, Muslim women demonstrate inherent bashfulness, which is widely viewed to exist naturally in women. On the other hand, this has highly been criticized as women are intimidated, making it hard for them to fight for their rights.
Hijab in non-Arab Countries
Hijab is widely criticized in non-Arab nations around the world. In fact, some countries have banned the use of veils for various reasons related to security and poor communication. On the other hand, several countries have integrated Muslims in their culture and accepted them, without focusing on religious beliefs and practices. In Britain, some women are seen to struggle with the British identity as they are torn between honoring the foreign nation or being loyal to their religion and mother country.
The integration of Muslims in Britain has made them to be part of the nation as they share with Britons the task of advancing the country’s economy, through development projects and as a source of labor. Many leaders also argue that there is need to embrace multiculturalism, in order to appreciate the differences in cultural and religious identities around the world.
Even though the Islamic veil is not banned in the United Kingdom, the law allows learning institutions to craft their dressing codes, which may prohibit or authorize Hijab. Some people argue that the United Kingdom does not have the mandate to dictate what people should wear on the streets. However, there are other groups, which have banned full veils citing cases of insecurity.
Generally, the veil is a major component of Islam, which has been carried from one generation to another. Throughout these transitions, the original meaning of Hijab has been diluted by leaders for their interests. The veil is common in the Arab World, even though several countries, which do not subscribe to this, have adopted the idea as a way of integrating Muslims and making them to be part of the development process.
Importantly, the Hijab has a wide range of implications, especially to women. Among other reasons, the veil is a symbol of purity, obedience, righteousness, and a shield from lustful eyes of men. However, some countries have used these factors to oppress women and ensure that their voices are not heard.
Ali, Syed. “Why Here, Why Now? Young Muslim Women Wearing Hijāb.” Muslim World 95, no. 4 (2005): 515-530.
Borneman, John. “Veiling and Women’s Intelligibility.” Cardozo Law Review 30, no. 6 (2009): 2745-2760.
Boulanouar, Aisha. “The Notion of Modesty in Muslim Women’s Clothing: An Islamic Point of View.” New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 8, no. 2 (2006): 134-156.
Bullock, Katherine. Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil: Challenging Historical & Modern Stereotypes. United Kingdom: IIIT, 2002.
Guindi, Fadwa. Veil: Modesty, Privacy and Resistance. United Kingdom: Berg, 2003.
Haque, Mozammel. “Solidarity on the ‘Hijaab.” I-Mag no. 6 (2005): 41.
Layaquot, Hayat. “The Beauty Of ‘Hijab In Concealing Beauty.” I-Mag no. 6: (2005): 32-33.
Sheikho, Mohammad. Islam! What Are the Veil, Divorce, and Polygamy For? UAE: amin-sheikho.com, 2010.
Sultan-ul-Qalam, Majlis, and Lajna Imaillah. “Assessing British MP Jack Straw’s Comments Concerning Hijab in Islam.” Ahmadiyya Muslim Community. 2006. Web.
Wing, Adrien, and Monica Smith. “Critical Race Feminism Lifts the Veil?: Muslim Women, France, and the Headscarf Ban.” University of California. 2006. Web.
- Adrien Wing and Monica Smith, “Critical Race Feminism Lifts the Veil? Muslim Women, France, and the Headscarf Ban,” University of California, 2006.
- Majlis Sultan-ul-Qalam and Lajna Imaillah, “Assessing British MP Jack Straw’s Comments Concerning Hijab in Islam,” Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, 2006.
- Hayat Layaquot, “The Beauty Of ‘Hijab In Concealing Beauty,” I-Mag no. 6: (2005): 32.
- Mohammad Sheikho, Islam! What Are the Veil, Divorce, and Polygamy For? (UAE: amin-sheikho.com, 2010), 9.
- Ibid., p. 32.
- Mozammel Haque, “Solidarity on the ‘Hijaab” I-Mag no. 6 (2005): 41.
- Katherine Bullock, Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil: Challenging Historical & Modern Stereotypes (United Kingdom: IIIT, 2002), 3.
- John Borneman, “Veiling and Women’s Intelligibility” Cardozo Law Review 30, no. 6 (2009): 2745.
- Fadwa Guindi, Veil: Modesty, Privacy and Resistance (United Kingdom: Berg, 2003), 10.
- Aisha Boulanouar, “The Notion of Modesty in Muslim Women’s Clothing: An Islamic Point of View,” New Zealand Journal of Asian Studies 8, no. 2 (2006): 135.
- Syed Ali, “Why Here, Why Now? Young Muslim Women Wearing Hijāb” Muslim World 95, no. 4 (2005): 515.