While reading some opinions offered so far on issue of Hijab, some people made it appear as if it is only Islam or Muslims that mandate women to cover their heads in public. These opinions have provoked me to embark on an intellectual journey into the aqua of research. Let me quickly say without fear of contradiction that using Hijab or head cover or veil by a woman is not only restricted to Islam. In fact, it did not originate from Islam, rather Islam adopted it and becomes a Commandment for Muslim Women.
The first recorded instance of veiling or covering the hair for women is recorded in Assyrian legal texts from the 13th century BCE. Its use was restricted to noble women. Therefore, prostitutes, slaves and poor women were forbidden to cover their hair/heads. In both the ancient empires of Greece and Rome there is evidence that points to various degrees of head coverings worn by females.
Particularly in Rome head coverings were associated with prayer and devotion. While in Greece evidence determined by sculpture and pottery from that time leads many to believe that respectable woman covered their heads outside the home. Jewish women who cover their hair ascribe various meanings to the act. For some it is a sign of marriage, for others it is a symbol of piety and humility, perhaps an act of deference to the will of God.
It is also thought of as a sign of modesty. In Biblical times, in the Middle East and the ancient Greco Roman worlds it was customary for the hair to be covered, at least by married, respectable and free women. The Old Testament (Torah) mentions head or hair covering only briefly but these few words have evolved into a complex hijab ritual practiced by devout Jews across the globe.
Historically and theologically, head-covering is found among certain Christian and Jewish sects and is supported in these traditions with textual injunctions which are far more clear and determinative than in their Islamic counterpart. St. Paul in the New Testament made some very interesting statements about the veil:
“Now I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head – it is just as though her head were shaved. 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 off or shaved off, she should cover her head. A man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but the woman is the glory of man. For man did not come from woman, but woman from man; neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. For this reason, and because of the angels, the woman ought to have a sign of authority on her head” I Corinthians 11:3-10).
“But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with [her] head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. 1 Corinthians 11:5
“For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered” 1 Corinthians 11:6
A further research also reveals that During the Tannaitic period the Jewish woman’s failure to cover her head was considered an affront to her modesty. When her head was uncovered she might be fined four hundred zuzim for this offense. Therefore, veil of the Jewish woman was not always considered a sign of modesty. Sometimes, the veil symbolized a state of distinction and luxury rather than modesty. The veil personified the dignity and superiority of noble women. It also represented a woman’s inaccessibility as a sanctified possession of her husband.
According to some famous ancient Rabbis saying,” It is not like the daughters of Israel to walk out with heads uncovered” and “Cursed be the man who lets the hair of his wife be seen…a woman who exposes her hair for self-adornment brings poverty.” Rabbinic law forbids the recitation of blessings or prayers in the presence of a bareheaded married woman since uncovering the woman’s hair is considered “nudity”.
It is also wrong to argue or assume that hijab is forced on Muslim women because of the few who reject it. It is a Divine Commandment. Some people both Muslims and non-muslims have insinuated that using hijab does not mean a woman is holy and those who use it do worst things. In response, it is submitted that, in Islam the hijab is a sign of modesty which safeguards the personal integrity of women. The Quran strongly emphasizes the protection of women’s reputation and condemns men to be severely punished if they falsely accuse a woman of unchastity:
“And those who launch a charge against chaste women, and produce not four witnesses (to support their allegations)- Flog them with eighty stripes; and reject their evidence ever after: for such men are wicked transgressors” (Quran 24:4).
Furthermore, the Quran urges the believing men and women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty and then urges the believing women to extend their head covers to cover the neck and the bosom:
“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty…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 ordinarily appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms…” (Quran 24:30,31).
This verse highlights three points: That a woman shouldn’t show her beauty except when faced with uncontrolled factors, like the wind blowing her clothes; that the headscarf should cover the hair, neck, and the bosom; and that women need not cover up in front of certain men (husbands, fathers, sons, etc.).
Further hadiths give other details. One of the most quoted is the following:
“Ayesha reported that Asmaa, the daughter of Abu Bakr came to the Messenger of Allah (SWT) while wearing thin clothing. He approached her and said, ‘O Asmaa! When a girl reaches the menstrual age, it is not proper that anything should remain exposed except this and this.’ He pointed to the face and hands.” (Abu Dawood)
The Quran is quite clear that the veil is essential for modesty, but why is modesty important? The Quran is still clear:
“O Prophet, tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments over their bodies (when abroad) so that they should be known and not molested” (Quran 33:59).
Those who choose to follow Islamic dress codes do so for myriad reasons: They feel compelled to honor what the Qur’an asks of them. Or they feel covering up will identify them to the world as a Muslim woman. Or they feel that covering up will give them safety and the liberty to move about freely.
Another issue of concern is, some people are of the opinion that the person in question should have taken it off since the event does not last so long beyond 3 hours or what she the only one? It is admitted, the event does not last for more than 3hours, but her religion does not allow her to open her head in the public which she is entitled to practice, why then do we want to deny her that right? the fact that some other persons have compromised their religious beliefs on this matter is not enough to crucify the person who chose not to, what harm will it cost?
Religion is not practiced based on what people think or say. It should never be the case that we alter our practice of Islam or our worship for the sake of other people, or what they might think or assume. People may be quick to judge or jump to conclusions, but whatever thoughts or opinions they have are strictly their responsibility, and not something we should be overly concerned with.
Adam Muhammed Ndakudu