Obligation or Mere Personal Choice?
December 26, 2007 7 Comments
With the recent death of Aqsa Parvez, may Allah have mercy on her, a number of issues have been raised with regards to the various details surrounding her death that have been reported in the media. In my earlier post regarding it (linked to above), I mentioned that not enough is known yet regarding what happened and the circumstances leading up to the killing to justly comment on it. For that reason, I’ve tried to refrain from commenting on the “right” and “wrong” of those involved and throughout the various comments I’ve posted to other blogs about it, I have maintained that we shouldn’t jump to any conclusions with regards to what happened. By this I do not mean that we shouldn’t say her death was wrong, because it was; her life was taken unjustly, whether it was done intentionally (i.e., murder) or unintentionally (i.e., manslaughter). In an authentic hadîth, Prophet Muhammad said that «the blood of a Muslim person [who] testifies that there is no god [worthy of worship] except Allah and that I am Allah’s messenger is not lawful except for one of three: the deflowered adulterer (i.e., one who is or has been married), the soul [of the murderer] for the soul [of the murdered], and the abandoner of what he has—the opposer of the Congregation (i.e., the apostate).» There are other justifications for when a life may be taken (defending yourself from an attacker, for example), but none of them include the possible motives behind Aqsa Parvez’s death that have been mentioned in the media thus far—and even if there were a justifiable reason behind her death (i.e., some sin or some infraction of Islamic law she committed), the punishments legislated in Islam are only to be carried out by the authorities (e.g., government, Islamic courts, etc.) after trying the accused and getting a conviction for the offence. The law is not to be taken into our own hands; vigilanteism is not condoned in Islam.
With that said, I wanted to touch on an issue that was mentioned in the media as a possible cause behind Aqsa Parvez’s death: the hijâb, or rather, her decision to stop wearing it. I wanted to address this and some of the things related to it since there have been various statements made by several misguided Muslims claiming the hijâb is a cultural symbol (i.e., not from Islam) and merely a personal choice rather than an Islamic obligation, despite the clear Qur’anic and prophetic injunctions regarding it.
The word hijâb in English means veil, curtain, partition, or barrier. In Islamic terminology, it refers to the veil with which a woman covers herself in front everyone other than those mentioned in v. 24:31 of the Qur’an. Thus, contrary to the popular misconception, the hijâb refers to the Muslim woman’s entire dress rather than just her headcover; this is more apparent when you take what is mentioned in the verses of hijâb quoted below.
As mentioned above, there are those who have made the assertion that the hijâb is not obligatory, but merely a personal choice (as this lady has), while others have gone as far as claiming that “none of this is actually mandated by the Koran. The Koran, while speaking generally of modesty in dress and demeanour, falls short of specifying the details of that modesty” (as these two have).
It’s All About Choice
Off the bat, it should be mentioned that just about everything in our lives is about choice. Even in some of the situations where we are compelled and coerced into doing things against our will, situations where we would not be held accountable for any wrong doing, we still have the choice to comply with what is demanded of us or to refuse and possibly suffer the consequences that go along with such refusal and defiance. So to say that wearing the hijâb is a personal choice does not really negate the fact that it is obligatory to wear it, because with all religious duties in Islam, we have the choice to obey and comply, fulfilling our obligations, or the choice to disobey and defy, failing to meet them. And as with all choices in life, there are rewards and consequences that go along with them, be they good or evil. As Allah says, «Say: “The truth is from your Lord,” so whoever willed, then let him believe and whoever willed, then let him disbelieve. Surely We have prepared a fire for the oppressors, whose canopy will encompass them» (18:29). He also says, «Say: “Obey Allah and obey the Messenger, for if you turn away, then certainly what is upon him is what he is burdened with, and upon you is what you are burdened with. If you obey him, then you would be guided, and upon the Messenger is only the clear conveyance» (24:54), and «O those who believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger, and do not render your deeds invalid» (47:33).
A Sign of Piety?
Mississauga News reports that
Farzana Hassan-Shahid, president of the Muslim Canadian Congress (MCC), who was at the vigil, said she was aghast that some imams (Muslim spiritual leaders) are propagating the use of hijab, saying women who wear them are more pious than those who don’t don it.
“That is absolutely not true. The statement is creating false hierarchies in the community,” she said. “However, the hijab has become a very contentious issue and we need to face it upfront rather than prevaricate that perhaps this tragedy is a result of culture clash.”
“We need to insist that this type of preaching that goes on in the mosque now has to stop,” she continued. (Source).
It should be mentioned that Farzana Hassan-Shahid (on the left, Tarek Fatah is on the right) is a so called “progressive” Muslim woman who does not wear hijâb, so it’s not surprising that she would take offence to the suggestion that Muslim women who wear the hijâb are more pious than those who don’t.
Piety is defined as “reverence for God or devout fulfillment of religious obligations” (Source). Faith originates in the person’s heart and although its true condition and state is only known by Allah, mighty and sublime is He, there are indications with which we can judge the apparent strength or weakness of a person’s faith. This is because there is a direct and very real correlation between what is in one’s heart and one’s outward aspects, whether they be his statements, his deeds, or his outward appearance; what is in one’s heart should manifest itself on one’s outward deeds. Being that the hijâb is a religious duty upon (mature) Muslim women (as we will see below), not wearing it is a clear indication of a woman’s relative weakness in faith and godliness, just as a man’s shaving or excessive trimming of his beard is a clear indication of his relative weakness in faith and godliness. However, even if it were not obligated and merely a desired and recommended act, a woman who wears the hijâb would still apparently be more pious than one who doesn’t—at least in that regard; an old friend, Ibn Abee Omar, posted about the relationship between acts of worship, godliness and piety, thankfulness, and blessings some time ago on MuslimMatters.
Hijâb & Its Obligation
Those who claim that the hijâb’s obligation is something that is not mandated by the Qur’an are either ignorant or liars—or worse, both. In v. 24:31 of the Qur’an, Allah commands Prophet Muhammad to
«tell the believing women to lower their sights; to preserve their genitals; to not display their adornment—except what is visible from it; to draw their headcovers over their bosoms; to not display their adornment except to their spouses or their fathers, or their spouses’ fathers or their sons or their spouses’ sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or what their right hands possess (i.e., slaves or captives), or their servants from the men [who are] not possessors of desire, or the children who have not become cognizant of women’s private parts; and to not strike their feet in order that what they hide of their adornment be known. And repent to Allah collectively, O believers, in hopes that you may be successful.» (emphasis added).
The word translated here as “headcovers” is the word khumur (خُمُر), which is the plural of the word khimâr (خِمَار). In his lexicon titled al-Qâmūs al-Muhît, Imam Majd ad-Dîn al-Fairūzâbâdî (d. 817H) defines the khimâr as “the veil … all of what conceals something, then it is its khimâr.”
In v. 33:59, Allah commands Prophet Muhammad,
«O Prophet, tell your wives, your daughters, and the women of the believers to display their outer garments (Ar. jilbâb, pl. jalâbîb) over them; that is more appropriate, that they be recognized and not harmed. And Allah is Forgiving and Compassionate.»
The word here translated as “outer garments” is the word jalâbîb (جلابيب), which is the plural of jilbâb (جلباب). al-Fairūzâbâdî states that it is “the shirt and the wide gown for the woman, beneath the wrap; or it is what she covers her gown with from above, like the wrap; or it is the headcover.”
In his Sunan, Imam Abū Dâwud as-Sajistânî reports that ‘Â’ishah bint Abî Bakr narrated that her sister
Asmâ’ entered upon Allah’s messenger and on her were thin clothes. Allah’s messenger (may Allah send salutations and peace upon him) turned away from her and said, «O Asmâ’, surely when the woman reaches the [age of] menstration, it is not appropriate that [anything] be seen from her except this and this» and he pointed to his face and his two palms.
These texts are just a few of the legislative texts concerning the hijâb, and they are more than sufficient in proving those who claim that the hijâb is not a religious duty upon women wrong.
Some may argue that the word hijâb is not mentioned in any of these texts. This argument doesn’t hold any water, especially when you consider that the very garment that they refer to as “hijâb” (i.e., the khimâr) is mentioned in the first verse I’ve quoted. As for the assertion that the Qur’an falls short of specifying the details of a woman’s modesty, I’ve posted previously about the conditions for proper women’s Islamic dress. The conditions outlined in that post all have their textual evidences to support them taken from the Qur’an and the Sunnah. As I mentioned in that post, Shaikh Muhammad Nâsir ad-Dîn al-Albânî discusses these conditions and their evidences in his book, Hijâb al-Mar’ah al-Muslimah; I read recently on one of the mailing lists I’m subscribed to that an English translation of a summary of this book has been completed and should be published sometime in the near future, if Allah wills.
For those interested in reading more about the evidences for the hijâb, you can refer to the following articles written by a sister who goes by the nickname al-Muhajabah:
These are some of the best and most detailed articles in English I’ve seen on the topics, may Allah reward the sister greatly for her efforts.
 Sahîh Muslim (no. 1676).
 ash-Shâfi’î, Majd ad-Dîn Muhammad bin Ya’qūb bin Muhammad bin Ibrâhîm al-Fairūzâbâdî ash-Shîrâzî. al-Qâmūs al-Muhît. Beirut, Lebanon: Dar al-Kotob al-Ilmiyah, 1999. vol. 2, pg.79.
 Ibid. vol. 1, pg.63.
 Sunan Abî Dâwud (no. 4104). See Hijâb al-Mar’ah al-Muslimah by Shaikh Muhammad Nâsir ad-Dîn al-Albânî for this hadîth’s authentication.
 Reported by Ahmad in his Musnad, at–Tabarânî in al-Kabîr, al-Hâkim in his Mustadrak, and al-Baihaqî in Shu’ab al-Îmân. See Shaikh al-Albânî’s Sahîh al-Jâmi’ as–Saghîr (no. 2708).