Autopsy of Hijab Controversy!

By Mohd Asif [Student of CLC, University of Delhi]

There are these five terms, Hijab, Scarf, Purdah, Burqa, and Abaya which have drawn headlines and caused controversy in almost entire India. At the outset of this piece of writing, it should be clarified that none of the words except Hijab have been incorporated in The Holy Quran.  

What is that magnetic power in this piece of cloth that the majority want to snatch it and a very few people in a particular minority is adamant about embracing it as their pride and identity?

We, in our constitutional law classes, are taught the natural law as well. The theory of natural law says that an act can inadvertently be taken as unacceptable, for instance, if a thief has stolen something, it will be considered a wrong irrespective of the fact, the culprit is being governed by written law, like in India or not, like in the United Kingdom.

What we are observing today is that these theories are being thrown to the wind. This Hijab row began when a couple of students were barred from attending classes and they were captured sitting on stairs outside their classrooms just because they were wearing a scarf. Can natural law allow to deprive the girls of their education merely due to an extra piece of cloth which they put on? Can the natural law permit to respect every student but humiliate the girls who wear Scarf or observe Hijab? Does natural law urge you to see the rest of the others in the same attire you dress up in?  

What is that progressive mentality that can tolerate and entertain the sight of Bra and Bikinis but the sight of covering through shawl or an extra cloth is horrific to such an extent that it creates commotion? What makes you think that a Bra and Bikini or jeans and T-shirt-wearing girl can be civilized but a Burqa wearing will remain savage?

We have developed a mindset that we have no issue with nudity and adultery and it has been legalized in our country very recently but it seems that the body-covering has become the root cause of all the evils that we face/are facing. Nudity represents liberty as well as progress while the symbols like Scarf, Hijab, or burqa are portrayed as a sign of narrowmindedness, oppression, and retrogression. The human being virtually has been reduced to a commodity specifically a girl and we have measured her intellect and appreciated and applauded her as much as she exposed her body a day came when a woman was considered strong and intelligent only if she is sexy in public.  

The dilemma that modern, elite, educated, outspoken, and Muslim jeans-wearing girls faced was that they were put on auction and now scarf-wearing were thrown out of their educational institutions. The debate is lesser of getting covered their head or face or how much is required to cover or not, it has now more plunged into, why don’t they dress up the way we do and in this way this battle is somehow turning into a battle of supremacy of culture for a section of majority community.

We all Indians have to figure out that we do not celebrate the secularism the West or Europe celebrate. Secularism to them is irreligiosity but to us, secularism denotes, respect for all the religions with the same spirit you respect your religion. The second and the most significant point to mention here is that nobody who is objecting can yet give a satisfactory answer as to why a Muslim girl wearing a Hijab to college is a problem for her Hindu classmates. Is a piece of cloth causing a law-and-order issue? Is wearing it harming anyone or promoting immorality? Is it somehow having any impact on their academic performance? Is their hijab making them incompetent to compete with the rest of the students? Does this piece of cloth cover their brain as well and the brain gets dysfunctional and consequently Hijab wearing girls don’t understand what they are taught?  

The third point which is being raised by lawyers or a section of academicians is, that heaven will not fall if the Muslim girls discard or discontinue Hijab as it is not an essential part of Islam.

The Debate of Essentials or Non-Essentials

The debate, of being an essential or non-essential part of Islam was triggered by so-called scholars and intellectuals, was highly relied upon the Wikipedia search which tells them that it is only five pillars of Islam (Tauheed (Monotheism), Namaz, Fasting, Zakat, and Hajj) upon which the Islam stands and apart from these five pillars what is enjoined there is optional. What the majority perceives is, that abstaining from drinking, refraining from fornication, etc is not that mandatory because it does not fall under the five fundamental principles. does this notion bear some truth to it? When we get to the bottom of it, we come to know that there are two types of commands that the Quranic text uses: Positive Commands, for instance, avoid intoxicants and gambling, treat non-Muslims in a kind and fair manner and Negative Commands, for example, do not engage in bribery, don’t take the property of orphans, don’t commit adultery, etc. Both these commands put an obligatory restraint and urge Muslims mandatorily not to indulge in these activities, yet if somebody neglects or transgresses the word of command, this transgression does not eliminate or expel him/her from the folds of Islam.

Similarly, if somebody does not perform Namaz, neither he/she gives charity nor keeps fast and nor he goes on the pilgrimage, because of non-observance of all these obligations he/she will certainly be considered a sinful person theologically, still he is a Muslim until he refuses the existence of God openly. Therefore, the perception, that five principles are essential for the survival of Islam and what Muslims adhere to, apart from the five cardinal beliefs is voluntary or non-compulsory, does not hold ground as the amalgamation of affirmative as well as negative commands is also essential to the extent of acting upon them. Hence to categorize the debate of Hijab into essential or non-essential is a preposterous idea.

This debate of essentiality is not at all required but once it was sparked, it is necessitated to corroborate the requisiteness with the Quranic verses

The observance of Hijab in the light of Quranic verses:  

O prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers that they should draw down their shawls over them. That will make it more likely that they are recognized, hence not teased. And Allah is Most-Forgiving, Very-Merciful. [33:59].

The verse above uses the Arabic word “Jalabib” plural of “jilbab” which has been interpreted by Sayyidna Ibn Mas’ud as a shawl which is worn over the scarf (Ibn Kathir) and Sayyidna Ibn ‘Abbas described its form in the words given below:  

“Allah commanded women of the believers that, when they go out of their homes to take care of some need, they hide their faces with the long shawl/Dupatta (hanging down) from over their heads leaving only one eye open (to see the way).” – (Ibn Kathir) and Imam Muhammad Ibn Sirin says: ‘When I asked ‘Ubaidah Salmani about the meaning of this verse and the nature of Hijab, he demonstrated it by hiding his face with the long shawl pulled from the top of his head and left to hang in front of it – and thus, by keeping only his left eye open to see, he explained the words: ‘idna’: (bring close) and: jilbab (long shawl) practically.” Largely around the world, and attire with which a woman covers herself today is called Burqa, though it hasn’t been mentioned anywhere in the Quran it serves the purpose of what has been specified in the Quran.  

Another verse that instructs first to men how to maintain modesty and chastity is verse 24:30-31 of Surah Noor which goes like this “Say to the believing men that they must lower their gazes and guard their private parts; it is more decent for them. Surely Allah is All-Aware of what they do. And say to the believing women that they must lower their gazes and guard their private parts, and must not expose their adornment, except that which appears thereof, and must wrap their bosoms with their shawls, and must not expose their adornment except to their husbands or their fathers or the fathers of their husbands, or to their sons or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers or the sons of their brothers or the sons of their sisters, or their women, or those owned by their right hands, or male attendants having no (sexual) urge, or to the children who are not yet conscious of the shames of women. And let them not stamp their feet in a way that the adornment they conceal is known. And repent to Allah, 0 believers, all of you, so that you may achieve success”.  

In the verse, an Arabic word زينه (Neenah) was used. A great commentator of the Prophet’s time, Sayyidna ‘Abdulla Ibn ‘Abbas has interpreted that it is purported for face and palms. there is a difference of opinion among the religious scholars on the issue of whether it is permissible to uncover the face and palms before non-Mahrams (with whom marriage is allowed) or not. But all agree that if there is a risk of fitnah (i.e., stimulation of illicit desires) by looking at feminine face and palms, then its uncovering is not allowed, and women are not permitted to uncover their faces and palms in that situation.

A significant part of the verse is “وليضربن بخمرهن على جيوبهن (they ‘must wrap’, their bosoms or breasts with their shawls’) خمر(khumur) is the plural of خمار (khimar). It is the piece of cloth that women used to cover their heads with, and it also covers up the neck and bosom. Juyoob (جيوب) is the plural of جيب (jayb) which means the upper part of the shirt just below the neck.

The verses stated above make it imperative to observe Hijab covering their head and breasts agreeably to all the scholars and covering their faces when there is apprehension that uncovering of face, which is the most attractive part of a human being’s body, may lead to illicit desires.

What is so intimidating about young women who want to learn and wish to wear what they choose is yet to be grasped by the majority of us. By letting students’ hijab come in the way of their education, aren’t we robbing the future of the daughters of India?  

It is expected by the judiciary at this trajectory to show some mercy to the young scarf-wearing students instead of tyranny, be an aid to them, not an obstruction, and pave the way for furthering their education instead of blocking the way banning Scarf or Hijab. This will not only infringe the right to choose, but it will affect their mental growth as well at this juncture. The young students anticipate that the court of justice will render justice freely and fairly with no prejudice to the Purdah system.

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