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Why Muslim women wear the headscarf (hijab)

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Within the religion of Islam Muslim women are commanded to wear the hijab. This is a command that God has made within the Noble Quran:

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty (24:31)

The Quran makes this command elsewhere as we read:

O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful. (33:59)

So in both of these verses we read about the requirements for the Muslim lady to cover herself up, i.e. wearing a hijab. Now a question that is often raised the following: Why does Islam require Muslim women to wear the hijab? The answer is contained within the very verses we have just read. In both references, chapter 24:31, and 33:59 we see the reason that is given for the women to cover up is for modesty.

The reason for the hijab is not meant as an oppression to the woman, or to make her feel imprisoned, rather it is as it says, to guard her modesty and beauty from strangers, and so she is not harassed by men due to her beauty. So in essence, the hijab is a form of protection for the lady, a protection from men who often like to harass women they find to be attractive.

A common response that is often brought up in response to this is the following: Well why should women cover up and dress modestly, men should have respect themselves, and women shouldn’t be forced to cover themselves up just because some men cannot restrain themselves, men should learn to control themselves however way a women chooses to dress.

Now in an ideal world this would be true, women wouldn’t have had to cover up, there wouldn’t be a need for them to cover up in order to avoid harassment from men and the gazing eyes. Sadly we don’t live in this ideal world, in fact it would almost be like saying the following: Why should we have a police force? People should know better themselves to not break the law and do bad things, so we don’t need the police. Yet as we all know, such reasoning is fallacious, and the same applies here. Yes, men should not harass women, but sadly men do it anyway, when they see a very pretty lady on the street they gaze and harass, and this is well known unless we want to pretend it does not exist.

We must make it clear though, men don’t simply get a free pass, the Quran commands the men to not harass the women:

Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. (24:30)

The Quran commands the Muslim man to lower his gaze, so a Muslim man must not gaze and harass a lady, he doesn’t simply have a free reign to do as he pleases.

Another point that must be established is that the hijab is not only meant as a form of protection for the women, but it is also a form of granting her more respect. In our society from the past to this very present day, a woman is always looked and often judged by her looks, how beautiful and pretty she is. We continuously read stories about how females are committing suicide just because they don’t look a certain way, or because they didn’t fit in or succeed in what was deemed to be pretty to become successful. We also hear about stories of how females, young girls, are starving themselves so they can be as slim as possible just to be able to make those photo shoots and fashion shows, and these stories are well known. We also constantly see it on our television screens and magazines, how a pretty lady is always used to advertise a product! When a car is being advertised, a pretty lady is used for it! When a drink is being advertised, a pretty lady is used to sell it! So this is well known, and this is something that isn’t new, women are constantly looked at in terms of their beauty and looks, now we can pretend that this isn’t the case, but we would be lying to ourselves.

So when Islam commands the female to cover up, to hide her beauty, it is precisely to avoid the very things I just wrote about. Islam is looking to avoid the situation in which a lady is simply appreciated or judged due to her looks, Islam is looking for a situation in which a lady will be respected for who she actually is, not for how she looks! Hence the hijab is a form of self-empowerment being given to the female!

A great example of this would be the Virgin Mary, it is well known that the Virgin Mary covered up and dressed as many Muslim women dress, and she is regarded as one of the greatest females according to Islam. The Quran has the following to say about the Virgin Mary:

Behold! the angels said: "O Mary! Allah hath chosen thee and purified thee- chosen thee above the women of all nations. (3:42)

Her Lord accepted her with a good acceptance and made her grow up a good growing, and gave her into the charge of Zakariya; whenever Zakariya entered the sanctuary to (see) her, he found with her food. He said: O Marium! whence comes this to you? She said: It is from Allah. Surely Allah gives to whom He pleases without measure. (5:37)

The Virgin Mary has a very esteemed position within Islam, she is a role model for Muslim women, and the reason for this is not because of her looks or how beautiful she is! So Islam as I said seeks to empower women, it seeks to empower women not through the vain and materialistic way, but through a way in which the lady is appreciated and respected for who she is.

Something we must also be very clear on is that just because a female does not wear a hijab, does not give any man, whether he is Muslim or not, the right to harass or sexually abuse that lady. This is a misconception that is often raised by the critics of Islam, that if a lady does not wear the hijab, then she is fair game. This is something false and nowhere within Islam does there exist such a teaching, any man who sexually abuses any female, with or without a hijab is a committing a heinous sin, and there is no excuse for it.

So in conclusion the command of the hijab was revealed to protect the women, and to make her more respected and appreciated, the command of the hijab is not meant to oppress the Muslim lady or to make her feel bad.

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