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 The Quranic Concept of Hijaab

The Quranic Concept of Hijaab
By: Shehzad Saleem

Islam has based its social structure on the institution of family. For the development of such a society in which the basic unit is the family, it is essential to regard chastity and modesty as fundamental values. It is to safeguard and protect these values that the Shariah has laid down a whole code of social etiquette and communal conduct. These directives have been discussed in the Quran very minutely. Since, their interpretation, in recent times, has often touched the two extremes, it is, once again, necessary to contemplate on the Quran in quest for the ariston metron - the golden mean.

A deep deliberation on the Quran reveals that these directives, which have been dealt with in detail in Surah Ahzaab and Surah Noor, are basically of three categories. Following is a brief analysis of these directives.

The first category of directives pertains to safe and secure places. According to the Quran, such secure places may either be residential ones (bait-i-maskoona) like houses and apartments or non-residential ones (bait-i-ghair maskoona) like offices and schools. It says that if some friends, relatives or acquaintances visit one another, they should follow a certain decorum. If the visited place is residential in nature, the visitor should first of all properly introduce himself by paying salutations to the residents of a house. In this regard, the Prophet (sws) has instructed the visitor to knock three times at the door and if he hears no reply, he should turn back and not start an incessant session of pounding the door. Furthermore, if the residents are not in a position to welcome him and they ask him to return, he should withdraw without any ill-will towards them. However, in case the visited place is non-residential, no formal permission is required. Once a person has entered his destination, the men and women who are present, should observe two regulations: they should guard their gazes from taking undue liberty and take care that the dress they are wearing properly covers them. Women should observe one additional regulation as well: they should not display their finery except those which is evident, that is their clothes or any adornments worn on the face and hands. For this purpose, the Quran says they should cover their chests by their head-coverings and should not strike their feet in a manner which draws attention to any ornaments they may be wearing. Furthermore, the Quran says that it is not necessary to observe this third regulation with mahram relatives, but as far as the first two regulations are concerned they must be observed without exception to anyone whosoever. It is evident, therefore, that men and women while observing these regulations can eat and converse together. The Quran says:

"O ye who believe! Enter not the houses other than your own until you have introduced yourselves and wished peace to those in them. That is best for you that you may be heedful. If you find no one in the house, enter not until permission is given to you. If you are asked to go back, go back, for it is purer for you. Allah has knowledge of all which you do. It is no sin for you to enter non-residential places in which there is benefit for you. And Allah has knowledge of what you reveal and what you conceal.  [O Prophet!] tell believing men to restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. And Allah is well aware of what you do. And tell the believing women to restrain their eyes and to guard their private parts and to display of their finery only that which is apparent by drawing their coverings over their bosoms. They should not reveal their finery to anyone save their husbands or their fathers or their husbands` fathers or their sons or their husbands` sons or their brothers or their brothers` sons or their sisters` sons or other women of acquaintance or their slaves or male servants lacking in physical needs or children who have no awareness of the hidden aspects of women. [In order not to reveal their finery except which is apparent], they should [also] not stamp their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. Believers turn to Allah in repentance that you may prosper." [24:27-31]

The second category of directives pertains to places which are not secure and unprotected from people of lewd character. Markets, road sides, shops and parks are examples of places where such people might create nuisance for women. The Quran tells Muslim women to wear large cloaks when they go out so that a part of the cloaks covers their faces as well, for this is the way dignified women dress up when they go out. This dress will identify them as decent women and they will not be teased. The Quran says:

"O Prophet! tell your wives and daughters and the wives of the believers to draw a part of their cloaks on their faces [when they go