A transcription of an interview that Shaykh Mohammed Daniel had some time ago over the Hijab-Niqab controversy that can be found in many countries.
These are some of my thoughts on the subject for the
argument is lengthy and cannot be tackled in one small interview.
In essence, the veil is nothing new. It has been prescribed upon Muslim women for
the same reason that Jews and Christians before practiced it, which is
modesty. And as Prophet (pbuh) said:
“Modesty is a part of faith.” References
to it can be found in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, one such example
from the Holy Bible is:
If a woman does not cover her head, she should have her hair
cut off; and if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut or shaved
off, she should cover her head. (1 Corinthians 11:6)
Q. Why do
you think that there is so much controversy related to the veil in the West?
reason that there is so much controversy around the seemingly simple act of
wearing the veil is that it is misunderstood in Western culture. The reason is that in Judeo-Christian
theology, the backbone of Western belief, the wearing of the veil for a woman
was not only a sign of modesty and honour, but was also a sign of subjugation
of the woman to man. This causes many
women’s rights advocates and others to campaign for the removal of the veil
when in fact there is no such stigma attached to the wearing of the veil in
Islam. If you take an encyclopedic look
through the Islamic texts, you will find no proof that the rationale behind the
injunction of the veil is for such an old-fashioned notion. If I may add that in the same vein, Islam
does not require that a woman take the last name of her husband to display his
“Headship” as is common in Christianity.
you give me an idea of why there is some much debate about the veil and what is
the most correct opinion regarding it?
Why do some Muslim women observe it and others not?
A. Before we
can understand the argument of each position we have to understand that in
Islamic Law there are two main sources of legislation that have jurisdiction
over the lives of Muslims. The Qur’an
and the Sunnah. The Sunnah, roughly
translates into the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh)
Firstly, we have to ascertain the definition of the three
most commonly used words in relation to the veiling of women in Islam.
The word hijab literally means ‘conceal’ ‘partition’ or
‘barrier between things’ and is best understood as having the function of a
‘curtain’ that keeps out prying looks and maintains privacy. Khimar comes from the root word khamara which
means to cover something up and is the same root for liquor because it ‘covers
the mind’ And niqab or burqa means that which covers the face completely
leaving slits for the eyes. Some may ask
what is the difference between the hijab and the khimar. The difference is that the hijab covers all
of a woman’s body, whilst the khimar is something particular with which a woman
covers her head.
Regarding the Hijab (veil) in Islam there are three main
positions that I will discuss succinctly:
The first opinion is that the veil is not obligatory in
Proponents of this view amongst the secular ranks of Islam
do not recognize the significance of the Prophetic tradition and merely say
that in the Qur’an there is no mention of the word hijab. They say that the word ‘khimar’ (cover) that
is mentioned, applies specifically to the wives of the Prophet (pbuh) and
people in the 7th century. This argument
is relatively new and none of the scholars of the 5 traditional Schools of
Thought in Sunnism or Shi’ism accept this view.
In fact, this is one of the few areas of Islamic law that both Sunnis
and Shi’ites have a consensus on.
After discussing the first stance in which there is a
consensus, let us move on the slightly more complex argument.
During the ages, Muslim theologians have differed on the
ruling regarding whether or not it is obligatory to cover the face. This controversy stems primarily from their
interpretation of verses in the Qur’an and their understanding of the Prophetic
traditions. What I am about to mention
is by no means exhaustive as hundreds of scholars have debated and tens of
books have been written on the subject:
The second opinion is that the realm of the Hijab
encompasses every part of the woman’s body barring her face and hands. This is based on their interpretation of the
verses of the Qur’an, as covering the face is not explicitly mentioned. The main verse that deals with this issue is:
Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their
private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what
they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their
private parts and not expose their adornments except that which [necessarily]
appears thereof and to draw their headcovers over their chests and not expose
their adornment except to their husbands… (24:30-31)
Firstly, they contend that there would be no injunction for
‘believing men to lower their gaze’ if there was nothing of the woman’s body
that they could observe.
Secondly, they interpret that the word ‘adornments’ to mean
a jewelry such as braclets, anklets, necklaces etc and not to mean a women’s
intrinsic adornment or beauty.
Thirdly, they interpret ‘that which necessarily appears’ to
mean the face and hands of a woman and not the shoulders and outer frame of a
They also augment their stance by various prophetic
traditions that I will not go into detail about for purposes of brevity. These scholars however maintain two
things. If the face is to be exposed a
woman must not wear make-up - a tool of attraction- as this defeats the very
purpose of the hijab, which is to be modest and not alluring. It therefore is understood, that if women
cannot wear make-up, they cannot wear skimpy outfits that reveal the shape of
the body and expose flesh. They also
maintain that if a woman fears that she will be a cause of temptation for men
or risk the possibility of harassment it is better for her to cover her face
and that those who choose to do so earn more reward.
The third opinion is that the veil includes the complete
covering of the face.
The scholars who argue this use the same verses from the
Quran as above, but interpret them more puritanically. They also add as proof the end of the verse
above which states:
And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they
conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allāh in repentance, all of you, O
believers that you might succeed. (24:31)
As well as the Prophetic tradition, that says:
That if a woman perfumes herself and then walks past people
to draw their attention then she is as adulteress. (al-Tirmidhi)
They argue that it is only logical that if a woman has been
forbidden to stamp her feet as a cause of temptation to men through the sound
she makes or wear perfume for the smell it gives off then is not the temptation
of a beautiful face greater and more deserving of concealment? Now we know through scientific research that
a man is more stimulated through visual cues than he is through auditory ones.
They also argue that the single most compelling part of a
person’s anatomy is their face so why would Allah request that the hair be
covered and the face remain exposed?
Again they pose the question that if a man or woman want to determine
the beauty of their future spouse do they give more consideration to the beauty
of the hair, legs, arms or of the face?
Q. Do you
have anything that you can say related to this constant controversy that we see
worldwide, starting with Jack Straw and Nicolas Sarkozy’s comments and more
recently with that of Shaikh Tantawi in Egypt?
summarizing, I would just like to touch on some points that I strongly believe
Firstly, no party should take the extreme action of
disdaining the other on the premise that they are following the ‘right’ opinion
as both parties of scholars have their own authentic proofs that go in to much
further depth than I have mentioned to you.
Ibn Taymiyah the 14th century scholar said, “The differences in the
understanding of commandments in Islam are more than what we can agree on, and
if every time we have a difference of opinion it becomes a source of conflict
than we would no longer have unity or brotherhood amongst Muslims.
Secondly, if a woman chooses to expose her face then her
husband has no Islamic right to compel her to do something in which there
exists authentic scholarly difference.
If she becomes a victim of such, she is fully within her rights to
complain to the Islamic courts or bodies in her country.
Thirdly, the Muslim nation suffers chronically from their
ignorance of the beauty and adaptability of the teachings of Islam. They think that the teachings are rigid and
many suffer from tunnel vision, others just want to use their faith to stand up
to the powers that be or rebel. No one
is compelling them to live in a secular country and if they choose to do so
they, they must respect the laws of the country they reside in. Therefore, what you find is that they indirectly
cause harm to these wonderful teachings and to the reputation of Islam as a
religion of intolerance and backwardness, when indeed Islam is far more
tolerant than other religions. Let us
take the recent cases of a woman in the courts of Canada or the teacher of
children in England who refused to remove their face veils or risk having their
case dismissed or losing their job. Had
they done some research or asked a qualified scholar, they would have found
that it is absolutely permissible to remove the face veil in order to present
their case. Actually, some traditional
Muslim scholars are of the opinion that if a woman refuses to remove her face
veil then her case is not to be heard.
It is this ignorance and that of people who practice honour killings and
forced marriages in the name of Islam that is damaging Islam much more than the
propaganda of any form of Islamophobia, because it is these irrational Muslims
who fuel the fire of bigotry.
The renowned jurist Ibnul Qayyim al-Jawziyya, said that it
is not permissible for a Mufti or jurist to give a fatwa or Islamic ruling
until he understands the circumstances that people reside in. A scholar cannot simply make a raw ruling
without taking into consideration Contemporary Muslim Jurisprudence (Fiqh Al
Mu’asarah) and Minority Muslim Jurisprudence (Fiqh al Aqalliyyaat).
Based on this, I feel that a common sense approach needs to
be adopted concerning the wearing of the veil.
If a woman finds herself, living in a place that respects her right to
wear the face veil and no detriment will occur to her through it, then she
should observe it as there is a greater reward for her in this. Conversely, if a woman resides in a place
that is intolerant of her choice to wear the face veil she must assess the danger
to herself and if she risks harassment then she should remove it and in doing
this she will earn more reward. Rewards are based upon intentions and God is
aware of all circumstances surrounding actions.
Lastly and in concluding, I would like to give an example
from my personal life. I remember
growing up in London during the 80’s and while commuting to and fro school I
would come across all sort of bizarre people some of them hippies and punks
with neon coloured hair, facial tattoos and rings, sporting slashed trousers
exposing their buttocks, and the malodorous smell of cannabis whom I was
intimidated by. However, many British
citizens, Muslims and I, were tolerant and respected their freedom to dress in
the way that was most comfortable to them even though it may in some way make
us uncomfortable. Therefore, if the West
wants to remain the shining beacon of freedom and pluralism it has to accept
the right of a woman to wear the veil of modesty with which she is comfortable
and not make the excuse that it disturbing them. The argument that the wearing of clothing
different to the social norm somehow impedes their participation in the public
sphere and infringes on people’s lives is nebulous, as what disturbs one person
may be in the comfort zone of another. If we cannot celebrate and tolerate the
colourful differences that our multi-cultural societies offer, the world will
become a very black-and-white and monotonous place.
Mashallah a very well written article/transcript.
May Allah continue to bless Shaykh Mohammed Daniel and his services to the Ummah.
As salam mu alaikum Sayyid Mohamed
May Allah also continue to bless you and your family my dear friend and brother.
I look forward to having you join us in class soon.
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