The Hijab: Just the Facts

Oday Baddar


Based on thousands of deliberations and interpretations by themselves and their predecessors, the contemporary Muslim self-appointed clergy have ordained a very specific dress code for women, not as an opinion, but claiming that this is God's commandment (أمر) and obligation (فريضة)!

The woman's dress code; the hijab (الحجاب), also known as the legal uniform (الزي الشرعي), adheres to the following rules, as can be seen in this viral poster which was translated from an Arabic poster:

The correct hijab must:

  • cover the entire body apart from face and hands
  • not contain adornments in and of itself
  • be made of thick non-transparent material
  • be loose, not tight, so as to conceal the shape of the body
  • not be perfumed with any fragrance
  • not resemble the clothes of men
  • not resemble the clothes of infidel women
  • not be designed to look unique or stand out in any way.

The Top Four Arguments for Hijab in Islam:

1 - God Said So

Let's start with the first screaming rocket of truth: God did not state any of these rules, much less ordain hijab. If God said it, then it should be in His verses.

While the Quran never uses the word hijab in relation to clothes, it does discuss women's clothing in three verses:

1 - The Light النور (Ch. 24):

"And tell the believing women to lower their gaze, guard their modesty, and not reveal their zeenah except that which is visible; and to draw their veils on their chests; and not reveal their zeenah except to their husbands, fathers, ..., and not strike their feet in order to draw attention to what they hide of their zeenah. Turn to God, all of you believers, in the hope that you would do well (31)" وَقُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا ۖ وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَىٰ جُيُوبِهِنَّ ۖ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَائِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَائِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي أَخَوَاتِهِنَّ أَوْ نِسَائِهِنَّ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُنَّ أَوِ التَّابِعِينَ غَيْرِ أُولِي الْإِرْبَةِ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ أَوِ الطِّفْلِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يَظْهَرُوا عَلَىٰ عَوْرَاتِ النِّسَاءِ ۖ وَلَا يَضْرِبْنَ بِأَرْجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعْلَمَ مَا يُخْفِينَ مِن زِينَتِهِنَّ ۚ وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّـهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ (31)

In essence, this verse is simply stating that, as a general rule, women should be modest in their appearance (as men were also instructed in verse 30). It then goes into two particularities: (1) that they cover (يضربن) with their veils (بِخُمُرِهِنّ) the opening of their gowns (جيوبهن) - because if they bend forward (for example during prayer), their breasts may accidently be revealed - and (2) that they don't reveal their zeenah aside from that which is already naturally visible.

1 - Khimar

As for the first particularity, clergymen claim that the veils (خمرهن) refer to the traditional Arab head cover for women. Actually, it would be the traditional head cover for free Arab women only. Enslaved women, both Muslim and non-Muslim, were forbidden from covering their heads or faces (more on this later). Thus, in the clergy's interpretation, there was no need to instruct the prophet to instruct free Muslim women to cover their hair, because their hair was already covered. What they were commanded to cover was the opening of their gowns (جيوبهن), by drawing the extended cloth of their veils over them, which means that the head cover is indirectly ordained.

This is the strongest Quranic argument the clergy use for imposing head covers on women. Yet, this argument is problematic from many angles.

First of all, that the word khimar (خمار) refers to the head cover is only one possible interpretation. But as far as the Arabic language goes, and according to the oldest of Arabic dictionaries, khimar means any garment that covers anything1. In essence, a head cover, a face mask, and a gown can all be referred to (and indeed they have been referred to in many old texts) with the word khimar. That's also why alcoholic drinks are called khamr خمر, because alcohol covers (i.e. blocks) the mind. Thus, the verse could just as well be instructing women to cover their bosoms with any of their garments, not necessarily a head cover. The word khimar is not mentioned again in any other verse.

Secondly, the instruction is to cover the chest (opening of gown; bosom; cleavage), not the hair or head. Suppose you read the instruction "for your safety, make sure you fill your car up with gasoline before you start a long road trip" at a time in the future when all cars have switched from gasoline to natural gas. Isn't it obvious that the point of the instruction is to have enough fuel for a long trip, regardless of the composition of that fuel? Likewise, the instruction is to cover the bosom. What does it matter if it was covered by the extension of the head cover or with a turtle-neck sweater? Isn't it obvious that the point is to have the breasts covered?

2 - Zeenah (ornaments)

As to the second particularity, we must acknowledge that whatever is meant by zeenah, the Quran is distinguishing between two types: visible and invisible. We know this from the words "except what is visible (إلا ما ظهر منها)" which logically means the other type is not visible. Also, the instruction "don't reveal" indicates that it is normally not visible. Had it been visible already, it would be pointless to instruct one not to reveal it. This means that the zeenah that shouldn't be visible is the one that is normally not visible. The conscious act of "revealing" the hidden zeenah can, therefore, be seen as an act of purposeful seduction, the opposite of modesty.

Today's clergymen insist that the word "zeenah (زينة)" here means any part of a woman's body or any ornament she is wearing that is attractive or seductive. In their interpretation, of course, a woman's zeenah is her entire body, including her hair and face. But since they already determined from outside sources (like the narrated hadeeths of the prophet) that every part of a woman's body must be covered, they had no choice but to interpret "except that which is visible (إلا ما ظهر منها)" in the verse as a reference to a woman's face and hands.

But if that's what zeenah means, why does it appear again, in the same verse, as something that can be revealed by striking feet on the ground? Their answer: "here zeenah refers only to jingling ornaments, like ankle bracelets."

What's peculiar is that zeenah was mentioned 17 more times throughout the Quran, in which it never meant face, legs, hair, eyes, or any body part. Contemplate how the word zeenah in those verses could not possibly refer to body parts:

"Sons of Adam, take your zeenah with you to every place of prayer... (7:31)"
"Say: 'who forbade God's zeenah which He had provided His servants... (7:32)"
"Moses said: 'Our Lord, You have bestowed upon Pharaoh and his court some zeenah and money in this life... (10:88)"
"Whoever wants this life and its zeenah, to them the reward of their earthly deeds will be paid in full (11:15)"
"Horses, mules, and donkeys are for you to ride. They are zeenah.... (16:8)"
"We have made what's on earth zeenah to test them on who does better deeds (18:7)"
"Money and children are the zeenah of life on earth.... (18:46)"
يَا بَنِي آدَمَ خُذُوا زِينَتَكُمْ عِندَ كُلِّ مَسْجِدٍ (7:31)
قُلْ مَنْ حَرَّمَ زِينَةَ اللَّـهِ الَّتِي أَخْرَجَ لِعِبَادِهِ وَالطَّيِّبَاتِ مِنَ الرِّزْقِ (7:32)
وَقَالَ مُوسَىٰ رَبَّنَا إِنَّكَ آتَيْتَ فِرْعَوْنَ وَمَلَأَهُ زِينَةً وَأَمْوَالًا فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ... (10:88)
مَن كَانَ يُرِيدُ الْحَيَاةَ الدُّنْيَا وَزِينَتَهَا نُوَفِّ إِلَيْهِمْ أَعْمَالَهُمْ فِيهَا وَهُمْ فِيهَا لَا يُبْخَسُونَ (11:15)
وَالْخَيْلَ وَالْبِغَالَ وَالْحَمِيرَ لِتَرْكَبُوهَا وَزِينَةً ۚ وَيَخْلُقُ مَا لَا تَعْلَمُونَ (16:8)
إِنَّا جَعَلْنَا مَا عَلَى الْأَرْضِ زِينَةً لَّهَا لِنَبْلُوَهُمْ أَيُّهُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًا (16:8)
الْمَالُ وَالْبَنُونَ زِينَةُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَالْبَاقِيَاتُ الصَّالِحَاتُ خَيْرٌ عِندَ رَبِّكَ ثَوَابًا وَخَيْرٌ أَمَلًا (18:46)

Clergymen are surely aware of these verses. Furthermore, in the same chapter (the Light), we have another instruction to old women with regards to their clothing, and the word zeenah is used again:

"For old women who have passed the prospect of marriage, there is no blame in them taking off their clothes, without wearing any zeenah. And to be modest is best for them. God is all hearing and all knowing (60)" وَالْقَوَاعِدُ مِنَ النِّسَاءِ اللَّاتِي لَا يَرْجُونَ نِكَاحًا فَلَيْسَ عَلَيْهِنَّ جُنَاحٌ أَن يَضَعْنَ ثِيَابَهُنَّ غَيْرَ مُتَبَرِّجَاتٍ بِزِينَةٍ ۖ وَأَن يَسْتَعْفِفْنَ خَيْرٌ لَّهُنَّ ۗ وَاللَّـهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ (60)

It is clear that zeenah is something you put on: jewelry, make-up, adornments, glitter, decoratives, etc.

Dr. Shahrour, a reforming scholar of Islam, argues that the verse is not talking about covering the opening of the dress, but covering any part of the body that forms cleavage (جيوب), which he believes is the zeenah the Quran refers to as naturally hidden. So when women are instructed not to reveal their hidden zeenah, it's actually instructing them not to reveal all cleavage areas; namely, breasts, armpits, buttocks, and vagina. The remainder of the body, consequently, is the zeenah that is naturally visible (ما ظهر منها), such as face, hair, arms, and legs.

2 - The Parties الأحزاب (Ch. 33):

"O prophet, tell your wives, daughters, and the women of believers to draw from their jilbabs (garments) on themselves. That is so they will be known, and thus not be harmed. God is forgiving and merciful (59)" يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُل لِّأَزْوَاجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَاءِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِن جَلَابِيبِهِنَّ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ أَدْنَىٰ أَن يُعْرَفْنَ فَلَا يُؤْذَيْنَ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّـهُ غَفُورًا رَّحِيمًا (59)

This verse might sound strange when removed from its cultural and historical contexts. In 7th century Arabia (among other areas and eras), clothes were used to distinguish between the free and slave classes. A woman wearing a long jilbab (which is Arabic for any outer clothing, excluding head cover) signified that she was a free woman. Slaves, on the other hand, were not allowed to cover up like free women, and most caliphs made it illegal to emulate free women in their clothes2 (more on this in the next section).

It's unclear how this directive relates to our time, where slavery (in its literal meaning) had been abolished and outlawed worldwide many years ago, and women's social class in Arabia is no longer recognized by the length of their dresses, but (like any other woman in the world today) by their brand names and price tags.

Other clergymen, like Ibn Katheer (ابن كثير), claim that since people back then had to briefly step outside of the house to defecate in the open, they didn't bother to put on their "I'm not a slave" clothes on. But this led many low men walking the streets of Medina to mistaken them for slaves and assault them sexually. Thus, God instructed the prophet to instruct Muslim women to put on their cloaks (يدنين عليهن من جلابيبهن) when doing so, especially at night, to make it clear to molesters that these women were not slaves, but free women (ذلك أدنى أن يعرفن), and thus avoid being harassed (فلا يؤذين) or raped3.

No matter which interpretation sounds more reasonable, there is an undisputed fact: no dress code is set for "Muslims." The Quran was only acknowledging the existing distinction between the clothes of free and enslaved women, a custom copied from the Persians, who in turn copied it from the Assyrians.

From the Code of Assura (1075 BC): "I.40. If the wives of a man, or the daughters of a man go out into the street, their heads are to be veiled. The prostitute is not to be veiled. Maidservants are not to veil themselves. Veiled harlots and maidservants shall have their garments seized and 50 blows inflicted on them and bitumen poured on their heads."


Note: Notice in both of these verses, God was not instructing women, rather, He was instructing the prophet (النبي) to instruct the women. This is seen as a hint that these instructions are specific to certain conditions and events during the time of the prophet, and not a permanent commandment to all Muslims for eternity. The evidence of this theory is in the context the verses are found in (the two verses before it and the one after it are talking about a time of persecution and harassment against Muslims, both men and women).

3 - The Heights الأعراف (Ch. 7):

"Sons of Adam, we have bestowed upon you clothes to cover your shame parts and other clothes to make you look beautiful, but the best clothes to wear is the clothes of righteousness. That is from God's verses, in the hope they remember (26)" يَا بَنِي آدَمَ قَدْ أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكُمْ لِبَاسًا يُوَارِي سَوْآتِكُمْ وَرِيشًا ۖ وَلِبَاسُ التَّقْوَىٰ ذَٰلِكَ خَيْرٌ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللَّـهِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَذَّكَّرُونَ (26)

Note that this verse contains no instructions, only a statement.

If one were to say that God is presenting and contrasting different "types" of clothes, the problem is then to explain the difference between clothes that cover your shame parts (لباس يواري سوآتكم) and clothes of righteousness (لباس التقوى). Surely they can't be the same thing, for one is claimed to be better than the other. This is why a more sensible interpretation that avoids contradiction is to understand that God is presenting and contrasting different "purposes" of clothes: (1) to cover your shame parts, (2) to make you look beautiful (ريشا), and (3) to make you righteous. No dress code is set here either (color, shape, style, scented, unscented, thickness), and no instructions given; only a statement.

The only seeming mystery here is what the clothes of righteousness are. But if we were to acknowledge that the word for clothes in Arabic (لباس) does not only refer to garments, as appears to be the case in other verses of the Quran, we can resolve that mystery:

"...Your women are clothes for you, and you are clothes for them... (187)" - The Cow (Ch. 2)

"And we have made the night as clothes (10)" - The News (Ch. 87)

"...God let it taste the clothes of hunger and fear for what they have been doing (12)" - The Bees (Ch. 116).

نِسَائِكُمْ هُنَّ لِبَاسٌ لَّكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لِبَاسٌ لَّهُنَّ... (187) - سورة البقرة

وَجَعَلْنَا اللَّيْلَ لِبَاسًا (10) - سورة النبأ

فَأَذَاقَهَا اللَّـهُ لِبَاسَ الْجُوعِ وَالْخَوْفِ بِمَا كَانُوا يَصْنَعُونَ (12) - سورة النحل

Hence, an interpretation that would avoid contradiction is one where "the clothes of righteousness" are a metaphor of one's attitude, not actual garments. In this sense, the verse is saying that it's not what one wears that matters, but whether they are righteous or not.

In this third and last verse, we see once again that there is no dress code. It actually makes sense that God did not specify a dress code, because He is too wise to do so; knowing that what is considered shameful in one culture may not be shameful in another. Thus, the rule of thumb, according to all verses in the Quran, is to dress modestly, while the meaning, definition, and specifics of modesty is left for the conventions of society to interpret for themselves.

2 - Prophet Muhammad Said So

The clergymen, past and present, know very well that the Quran gives no indication of any specific dress code, which is why they insist that no understanding of God's words is complete without referring to the prophet's sunna, and in doing so, they contradict the Quran's claim that its verses are absolutely clear and require no further supporting texts.

Jathiah (Ch. 45): "These are the verses of God, We recite them upon you in Truth. So in what other hadeeth after God's verses do they believe in? (6)"

Yunis (Ch. 10): "And when Our clear verses are recited to them.... (15)"

Al-Anaam (Ch. 6): "How can I seek a judge other than God when He had bestowed upon you this Book fully detailed? Those who have been given the Book before know that it is the truth from your Lord, so do not be among the doubters (114) The words of your Lord have been fulfilled, truthfully, justly, and none can alter His words. He is the all-hearing and all-knowing (115) If, then, you follow the majority of the people on earth they would lead you astray from God's path, for they only follow conjecture and all they do is make things up (116)"

تِلْكَ آيَاتُ اللَّـهِ نَتْلُوهَا عَلَيْكَ بِالْحَقِّ ۖ فَبِأَيِّ حَدِيثٍ بَعْدَ اللَّـهِ وَآيَاتِهِ يُؤْمِنُونَ (6) - سورة الجاثية

وَإِذَا تُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتُنَا بَيِّنَاتٍ...(15) - سورة يونس

أَفَغَيْرَ اللَّـهِ أَبْتَغِي حَكَمًا وَهُوَ الَّذِي أَنزَلَ إِلَيْكُمُ الْكِتَابَ مُفَصَّلًا ۚ وَالَّذِينَ آتَيْنَاهُمُ الْكِتَابَ يَعْلَمُونَ أَنَّهُ مُنَزَّلٌ مِّن رَّبِّكَ بِالْحَقِّ ۖ فَلَا تَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْمُمْتَرِينَ (114) وَتَمَّتْ كَلِمَتُ رَبِّكَ صِدْقًا وَعَدْلًا ۚ لَّا مُبَدِّلَ لِكَلِمَاتِهِ ۚ وَهُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيمُ (115) وَإِن تُطِعْ أَكْثَرَ مَن فِي الْأَرْضِ يُضِلُّوكَ عَن سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ ۚ إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلَّا الظَّنَّ وَإِنْ هُمْ إِلَّا يَخْرُصُونَ (116) - سورة الأنعام

So they turn to the prophet's hadeeth to find any evidence, no matter how weak, to support their thirst for dictating a dress code for women in the name of God, the prophet, Islam, and even in the name of universal human rights and women's rights. Unfortunately for them, their most trusted authorities on hadeeth - Bukhari and Muslim - remained silent on the topic of dress codes, only they both reported hadeeths that men and women used to perform ablution "وضوء" (washing the face, the head (and hair obviously), ears, forearms, and ankles) in the same basin and at the same time:

Abdullah bin Yousef said: Malik told us that Nafi' said that Abdullah bin Omar said: men and women used to perform ablution in the time of God's messenger - peace and blessings be upon him - all together.

Sahih Bukhari, Hadeeth No. 190. Also confirmed in al-Nisa'i (1/341) and others.

حدثنا عبد الله بن يوسف قال: أخبرنا مالك، عن نافع، عن عبد الله بن عمر أنه قال: كان الرجال والنساء يتوضؤون في زمان رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم جميعا.

صحيح بخاري، حديث رقم 190

And this remained the norm until Omar bin Al-Khattab, during his caliphate, ordered the construction of two separate basins, for men and women to wash separately.

Abdul-Razzaq said that Israel bin Younis said that Samaak bin Harb said that Abi Salaamah said: I saw Omar bin al-Khattab come to basins where men and women performed ablution together and he struck them with his staff, then said to the basins' owner: create a basin for men and another for women.

Musannaf Abdul-Razzaq, On the Ablution of Men and Women Together, Hadeeth No. 246.

عبد الرزاق عن إسرائيل بن يونس عن سماك بن حرب عن أبي سلامة الحبيبي قال رأيت عمر بن الخطاب أتى حياضا عليها الرجال والنساء يتوضؤون جميعا فضربهم بالدرة ثم قال لصاحب الحوض اجعل للرجال حياضا وللنساء حياضا.

مصنف عبد الرزاق، باب وضوء الرجال والنساء جميعاً، حديث رقم 246

No dress code in Bukhari or Muslim, so the clergy turn to this ultimate and most reliable source on hijab:

From "Sunan Abi Dawoud"
Book: Clothes
Chapter: On What a Woman Reveals of Her Adornments
Hadeeth No. 4104

Yacoub bin Kaab al-Antaki and Mu'ammal bin al-Fadl al-Harrani said that Saeed bin Bashir said that Qutadah said that Khalid said that Yacoub bin Durayk said that Aisha, whom God approved of, said that Asmaa bint Abi Bakr had entered where the messenger of God, God's peace and blessings upon him, and she was wearing clothes so thin, so the messenger of God, God's peace and blessings upon him, said: "O' Asmaa, when a woman had reached puberty, it is not appropriate to see of her except this and this (as he pointed to his face and palms)."

Abu Dawud denotes: this bin Durayk was not contemporary to Aisha.

سنن أبي داود
كتاب اللباس
باب فيما تبدي المرأة من زينتها
حديث رقم 4104

حدثنا يعقوب بن كعب الأنطاكي ومؤمل بن الفضل الحراني قالا حدثنا الوليد عن سعيد بن بشير عن قتادة عن خالد قال يعقوب ابن دريك عن عائشة رضي الله عنها أن أسماء بنت أبي بكر دخلت على رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم وعليها ثياب رقاق فأعرض عنها رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم وقال يا أسماء إن المرأة إذا بلغت المحيض لم تصلح أن يرى منها إلا هذا وهذا وأشار إلى وجهه وكفيه.

قال أبو داود هذا مرسل خالد بن دريك لم يدرك عائشة رضي الله عنها

Keep in mind that it is based on this hadeeth, in which the reporter (Abu Dawoud) denotes a contradiction in facts regarding narration; a hadeeth so weak that it was rejected by Bukhari and Muslim, that the majority of today's clergymen audaciously insist that this is the hijab ordained by God. Incidentally, the word hijab doesn't appear anywhere in the entire Quran with any relation to clothing. Hijab originally means partition (as in a wall or a curtain that separates two sides, often blocking sight). And although one can derive the meaning of clothes that prevent visibility from the word hijab, this meaning was never used throughout the entire (seven instances of the) Quran:

"And between them is a hijab...(46)" - Al-Aaraf (Ch. 7)
"And when you read the Quran We create between you and those who don't believe in the next life an invisible hijab (45)" - Al-Israa (Ch. 17)
"And Mary placed a hijab between her and them... (17) - Mary (Ch. 19).
"...And if you ask them for anything, then do so from behind a hijab. That is purer for your hearts and theirs.... (53)" - Al-Ahzab (Ch. 33)
"Then he said: 'I have loved the goods of life more than more than I did the remembrance of my Lord,' till they were taken behind the hijab (32)" - Saod (Ch. 38)
"And they said: 'our hearts are sealed shut from what you are calling us to follow, and in our ears is deafness, and between us and you there is a hijab. Do, and we shall do.' (5)" - Fussilat (Ch. 41)
"It's not possible for a human to have God talk to him except through inspiration or from behind a hijab, or to send a messenger to reveal by His permission what He wills. He is the all high, all wise (51)" Shura (Ch. 42)
وَبَيْنَهُمَا حِجَابٌ وَعَلَى الْأَعْرَافِ رِجَالٌ يَعْرِفُونَ كُلًّا بِسِيمَاهُمْ وَنَادَوْا أَصْحَابَ الْجَنَّةِ أَن سَلَامٌ عَلَيْكُمْ لَمْ يَدْخُلُوهَا وَهُمْ يَطْمَعُونَ (46) - سورة الأعراف

وَإِذَا قَرَأْتَ الْقُرْآنَ جَعَلْنَا بَيْنَكَ وَبَيْنَ الَّذِينَ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ بِالْآخِرَةِ حِجَابًا مَّسْتُورًا (45) - سورة الإسراء

فَاتَّخَذَتْ مِن دُونِهِمْ حِجَابًا فَأَرْسَلْنَا إِلَيْهَا رُوحَنَا فَتَمَثَّلَ لَهَا بَشَرًا سَوِيًّا (17) - سورة مريم

...وَإِذَا سَأَلْتُمُوهُنَّ مَتَاعًا فَاسْأَلُوهُنَّ مِن وَرَاءِ حِجَابٍ ذَٰلِكُمْ أَطْهَرُ لِقُلُوبِكُمْ وَقُلُوبِهِنَّ ... (53) - سورة الأحزاب

فَقَالَ إِنِّي أَحْبَبْتُ حُبَّ الْخَيْرِ عَن ذِكْرِ رَبِّي حَتَّىٰ تَوَارَتْ بِالْحِجَابِ (32) - سورة ص

وَقَالُوا قُلُوبُنَا فِي أَكِنَّةٍ مِّمَّا تَدْعُونَا إِلَيْهِ وَفِي آذَانِنَا وَقْرٌ وَمِن بَيْنِنَا وَبَيْنِكَ حِجَابٌ فَاعْمَلْ إِنَّنَا عَامِلُونَ (5) - سورة فصلت

وَمَا كَانَ لِبَشَرٍ أَن يُكَلِّمَهُ اللَّـهُ إِلَّا وَحْيًا أَوْ مِن وَرَاءِ حِجَابٍ أَوْ يُرْسِلَ رَسُولًا فَيُوحِيَ بِإِذْنِهِ مَا يَشَاءُ إِنَّهُ عَلِيٌّ حَكِيمٌ (51) - سورة الشورى

So how did this word evolve over time to mean women's Islamic lawful clothing? It was probably based on a misinterpretation of another set of hadeeths, such as this one, also reported by Abu Dawoud:

Umm Salamah (the prophet's wife) said: while we were sitting at his place, the son of Umm Maktoum entered upon us, and this was after we were ordered with hijab, and God's messenger, peace and blessings upon him and his family, said: 'Hide yourselves from him.' So I said: 'O God's messenger, isn't he blind, can't see us nor recognize us?' and so God's messenger, peace and blessings upon him and his family, said: 'what about you two? Are you blind too? Can't you see him?'" Al-Tirmidhi said: This hadeeth is true and reliable. قالت أم سلمة: فبينا نحن عنده أقبل ابن أم مكتوم فدخل عليه وذلك بعد ما أمِرنا بالحجاب، فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم: احتجبا منه، فقلت: يا رسول الله أليس هو أعمى لا يبصرنا ولا يعرفنا؟ فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وآله وسلم: أفعمياوان أنتما ألستما تبصرانه؟" قال الترمذي: هذا حديث حسن صحيح.

Notice how this hadeeth contradicts the Quranic verse (33:53) above, in which it is the men who are instructed to adhere to the hijab when they speak with any of the prophet's wives, not the other way around! But even if the hadeeth above is true, the basics of Arabic grammar confirm that the word hijab here is not a garment, but a partition. A slip is possible, especially if one is already inclined to believe that there has to be a dress code.

Also notice how it is a man called Al-Tirmidhi, born close to 200 years after Muhammad's death, who is held as the authority on verifying for 1.5 billion Muslims today whether or not these words were actually uttered by Muhammad. So, they're in fact not demanding that we believe and obey what Muhammad said, but what Al-Tirmidhi believes that a chain of narrators said that the prophet said. What every Muslim should be asking here is: why is the validity of our faith subject to "someone said he thought he heard someone said"? (For more on the topic of Sunna and its authenticity and reliability, read here).

Speaking of Al-Tirmidhi, here is one more of the prophet's hadeeths he reported in his books:

"A woman is a shame. If she goes out of the house she is met by Satan. She would be closer to God's mercy if she stays inside her house." المرأة عورة فإذا خرجت استشرفها الشيطان، وأقرب ما تكون من رحمة الله وهي في قعر بيتها

To prove the falsehood of this hypocrisy beyond any doubt, consider how these self-appointed guardians of Islam unanimously reject the following hadeeth, from the same author (Abu Dawoud), on the same subject, and from the same book!

From "Sunan Abi Dawoud"
Book: Clothes
Chapter: On the Words of God: 'Tell the Believing Women to Lower Their Gaze'
Hadeeth No. 4114

Zuhair bin Harb told us that Wakee' told us that Dawud bin Siwar al-Muzni told him that Amr bin Shu'ayb narrated from his dad, who narrated from his grandfather, that the prophet, God's peace and blessings upon him, said: "If any of you marries his female slave to his male slave or male servant, then he may not look at the part of her body between the naval and the knee."

Note 1: ... this is the explanation of the shame (عورة), what's apparent in this hadeeth is that both the naval and the knees are not included in what's forbidden to look at.... the female slave's shameful parts, according to Malik and Shafei, are identical to that of a man's, while Abu Hanifah adds to the shame parts' list her back and stomach.

سنن أبي داود
كتاب اللباس
باب في قوله عز وجل وقل للمؤمنات يغضضن من أبصارهن
حديث رقم 4114

حدثنا زهير بن حرب حدثنا وكيع حدثني داود بن سوار المزني عن عمرو بن شعيب عن أبيه عن جده عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال إذا زوج أحدكم خادمة عبده أو أجيره فلا ينظر إلى ما دون السرة وفوق الركبة.

الحاشية رقم 1 (إذا زوج أحدكم خادمه) : أي أمته وفي بعض النسخ خادمته ( فلا ينظر إلى ما دون السرة وفوق الركبة ) : هذا تفسير العورة وظاهر الحديث أن السرة والركبة كلتاهما ليست بعورة وكذا ما وقع في بعض الأحاديث ما بين السرة والركبة. قال في المرقاة : ذكر في كتاب الرحمة في اختلاف الأمة اتفقوا على أن السرة من الرجل ليست بعورة وأما الركبة فقال مالك والشافعي وأحمد ليست من العورة ، وقال أبو حنيفة رحمه الله وبعض أصحاب الشافعي إنها منها وأما عورة الأمة فقال مالك والشافعي هي كعورة الرجل ، زاد أبو حنيفة بطنها وظهرها

Even though Abu Dawoud uses the same methodology to record both hadeeths, the clergy have absolutely no problem telling us that hadeeth 4104 is God's law, while simultaneously telling us that hadeeth 4114 is a total lie! So on the one hand, the hadeeth about showing only hands and face is 100% true, because the reporting methodology is 100% trustworthy, while the hadeeth about a female slave showing her hair, breasts, and calves to her master, even though she is married, is 100% false, because, after all, the reporting methodology is not trustworthy!


A reader might be wondering why this essay uses hadeeths to prove that hijab wasn't ordained, while simultaneously rejecting hadeeths that do ordain the hijab. The answer is very simple: all hadeeths, even those narrated by Bukhari and Muslim, contain the possibility of falsehood. So if a clergyman were to base divine law (i.e. God said) on texts that he himself acknowledges might be false, then why be selective? Why not base divine law on all hadeeths, like the one that says that men and women used to wash their hair, arms, and legs in a public basin, and therefore deduce that it's alright for men to see women's hair?

In other words, since there is doubt in all hadeeths, they cannot be used as a reliable source to dictate "divine" law. When Omar bin al-Khattab decided that it is best to separate between men and women during bathing, he didn't attribute it to God's laws! He obviously saw a reasonable cause for separation during bathing, and he decreed a "man-made" law that was suitable for his time and location.

3 - Christians Were Asked to Do So As Well!

Just as the Muslim clergy resort to claims that the prophet said and God said, so did St. Paul in one of his letters which has been incorporated into the New Testament of the Bible, claiming that Christ had ordained the hijab:

I Corinthians 11: "(1) Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (2) I commend you because you remember in me everything and maintain the traditions just as I handed them to you. (3) But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a woman is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (4) Any man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, (5) but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled dishonors her head -- it is the same as if her head were shaven. (6) For if a woman will not veil herself, then she should cut off her hair; but if it is disgraceful for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her wear a veil. (7) For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God; but woman is the glory of man. (8) For man was not made from woman, but woman from man. (9) Neither was man created for woman, but woman for man. (10) That is why a woman ought to have a veil on her head. ... (13) Judge for yourselves: is it proper for a woman to pray to God with her head unveiled? (14) Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, (15) but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory? For her hair is given to her for a covering. (16) But if anyone is disposed to be contentious—we have no such custom, nor do the ecclesiai of God."

Those were the words of Paul, not God's, nor Christ's. This is why he had to start his words with claiming that he is imitating Christ, to give himself the authority to put words in Christ's mouth. This Paul is to Christians what Abu Hurayra is to Muslims. Abu Hurayra narrated more hadeeths than any other two narrators combined did, and Paul wrote at least 14 of the 27 books that the New Testament is comprised of (only the first four of which are the gospels of Christ). Abu Hurayra only converted to Islam after Muhammad's army entered Mecca (when everyone converted wholesale) two years before Muhammad's death, and Paul converted to Christianity several years after Jesus died. But unlike Abu Hurayra, who did meet with prophet Muhammad on several occasions, Paul never met Jesus, so he justified knowing the will of Christ by claiming that Jesus spoke to him in his dreams.

Yes, there was a time in Christendom's dark ages when women were forced to cover their heads as a sign of righteousness (it's unclear why some Muslims are looking up to that era for clues on the right path). And yes, Catholic nuns till this date cover their hair, and yes the portraits of the mother of Christ show her hair veiled. But that's what Hebrew people wore back then, even the heads of women (and men) who begged Pilates to crucify Jesus were veiled! Even the head of Tom Hanks in Cast Away was veiled, and for very good reasons. But in none of these examples does the head cover represent righteousness, faith, or piety.

Unlike today's Muslim clergy's mild narrative, Paul had the courage to speak his mind and state clearly why he thought women must cover their heads: because they are inferior beings, created for man's pleasure and rule!

4 - It's More Respectful to Women

"It's so much easier to deal with men at the office when they don't think of you sexually. With hijab, men treat me as a human being, instead of an object of desire."

An American Muslim Woman

"Hijab, when implemented as part of the entire system of Islam (the caliphate), seeks to create a society where women are honored and treated with respect."

Aisha - a primary school teacher in London
Full Video

Just wear the hijab, and look how your treatment by men and women will get better! If only there was a greater example of the placebo effect!

Back in the real world, there are countless testimonies of women who observe the hijab and still get sexually harassed and even molested in Muslim majority countries just as well as countries where Muslims are a minority, as Aisha, the primary school teacher in London acknowledges and simultaneously dismisses by saying that the true fruits of hijab can only be had in a society where all Muslims believe in it.

If we were able to create a societal system where all men are programmed from childhood to honor and respect women who wear the hijab, why not create one where all men are programmed to honor and respect all women regardless of what they wear? This idea that hijab is a pre-requisite for men's respect for women is self-contradictory: he is respecting you because you are wearing the hijab. Is this what Aisha seeks? Respect from a man who is perfectly willing to judge her based on what she wears? Isn't this the very essence of objectification of women?

It's one thing for clerics to brainwash women into believing in this pathological utopia, where the price of being treated with respect and dignity is to cover their shame (عورة), which is their entire body, in order to avoid the unlikely event of unintentionally seducing sick men (الذين في قلوبهم مرض), even if it meant staying at home all day and all year long; but it's another thing for clergymen to lie to these women, convincing them that such a utopia did exist once upon a time in the glorious past of the golden age of Islam. It never did!

Case in point is the infamous story of the prophet's wife, Aisha, who was covered from head to toe and men were not allowed to talk to her except from behind a partition, yet she was accused of adultery... by Muslim men! While the prophet was still alive!

"Those who brought forward the lies are a group from among yourselves. Don't think of it as an evil done to you, but a good thing. Every man among them will gain what he gained of sin. As for the one who took the lead among them, he will be punished severely (11)" - The Light (Ch. 24) إِنَّ الَّذِينَ جَاءُوا بِالْإِفْكِ عُصْبَةٌ مِّنكُمْ ۚ لَا تَحْسَبُوهُ شَرًّا لَّكُم ۖ بَلْ هُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ ۚ لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مِّنْهُم مَّا اكْتَسَبَ مِنَ الْإِثْمِ ۚ وَالَّذِي تَوَلَّىٰ كِبْرَهُ مِنْهُمْ لَهُ عَذَابٌ عَظِيمٌ (11) - سورة النور

Another example of many is what Khalid bin al-Waleed did during the caliphate reign of Abu Bakr, when he falsely accused Malik bin Nuwayrah, whom Khalid knew was a devout Muslim and a tribal leader, of reneging from Islam, and had his head cut off by the sword, only to get to Malik's Muslim and hijab-wearing wife, Umm Tamim, whom he dragged into her house and raped, seconds after her husband's death. Hijab did nothing to dissuade one of the greatest figures in the so-called utopian Islamic era from (to put it mildly) severely disrespecting a covered woman. (Full story).

And in the 21st century, the country rated the highest in incidents of sexual assault in the world is Afghanistan, the country where almost every woman is covered from head to toe. Egypt ranked second, where the great majority of women are also covered. If these statistics mean anything, it is that the number of women adhering to the hijab is not an indication of piety and righteousness, but an indication of a reaction to the rising number of sick men in the society. It's about time that Muslim women realized the truth: hijab does not dissuade sick men from their sick thoughts.

And instead of confronting the epidemic of sexual harassment and molestation, the clergy turn to the victims, the weaker sex, blame them for all the problems in society, and say to them: "had you been properly covered, none of this would have happened." Why is this viewed as honoring and respecting women? And why does Islam only offer honor and respect to free women, while female Muslim slaves are denied this honor and respect?

Clergymen would respond to the free vs. slave issue by asking to avoid a topic that no longer relates to our time today. But then why the selective revival of other topics that no longer relate to our time either, like the topic of equating the dress code of the free Arab woman to God's dress code for all people forever? Why not live in the here and now to figure out how to solve our modern life problems without having to resurrect a 7th century society just so that the advice of its dead clergy can make sense again?

"And when they are told 'follow what God commands,' they say: 'no. we follow whatever our ancestors were following.' Does it matter not if their ancestors made no sense and were misguided? (170)" - The Cow (Ch. 2) وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمُ اتَّبِعُوا مَا أَنزَلَ اللَّـهُ قَالُوا بَلْ نَتَّبِعُ مَا أَلْفَيْنَا عَلَيْهِ آبَاءَنَا ۗ أَوَلَوْ كَانَ آبَاؤُهُمْ لَا يَعْقِلُونَ شَيْئًا وَلَا يَهْتَدُونَ (170) - سورة البقرة

In today's world, we can see that men, too, can gain or lose respect and honor based on what they wear. Surely in the eyes of most people, a man in a clean and expensive suit would receive more respect than a man who shows up to work in shorts and a Mickey Mouse hat. But this is not eternally and globally true. To some, a suit and tie might be intimidating, or even seen as a sign of affluence that they don't appreciate, which would explain why Mahatma Gandhi traded wearing suits for hand-made cotton cloth. Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, on the other hand, chose to suit up, because it emitted an image of sophistication and intelligence, and enabled them to reach their message to a greater audience. Arafat and Che Guevara appeared in military uniform, because the image they were emitting was that of revolution and a belief in armed struggle. But speaking of suits, did George W. Bush's suits manage to earn him any respect throughout the Arab world?

The same duality of meaning in appearance applies to the hijab. A woman wearing the hijab can only impress people who already believe in its religious obligation. Wearing the hijab when entering an office filled with non-believers, on the other hand, will not impress anyone, and some might even be intimidated by the religious symbolism. If in doubt of this, reverse roles: imagine an orthodox Jew walks into the office wearing a yamaka (or kippah), which will only make a positive impression on other orthodox Jews. But to non-Jews, does the yamaka do anything other than scream out the man's Jewishness? I mean, would a non-Jew take the yamaka as a sign that the man wearing it is trust-worthy, respectable, or kind? Only if you are already programmed to believe that it is a sign of such virtues will it make a difference.

But then again, don't we know for a fact that there are men who do wear the yamaka and are also terrible people to deal with? And don't we know from experience that there are women who wear the correct hijab, yet mistreat others so badly that we begin to accuse them of giving Islam a bad name?

There is a difference between superficial respect, mostly gained from strangers and hypocrites (brown noses), and true respect, gained from thoughtful and virtuous people. The hijab, like a Giorgio Armani suit, can only achieve any respect on the superficial level. True respect, on the other hand, has nothing to do with what one wears, but with one's behavior. Even teenagers know that!

It is the clothes of righteousness (لباس التقوى) that truly matter: your behavior, your demeanor, and your actions. The idiom doesn't go "a friend in hijab is a friend indeed."

Despite all the above, many clergymen (and their followers, both men and women) are actively planting the idea in Muslim minds that a woman being covered up from head to toe will earn her more respect and success in life. Women are told not to mingle with women who don't wear the hijab, and they are being congratulated in many Muslim societies when they decide to wear the hijab, as this music video by Hussam Hajj portrays: "Bravo, You Are Wearing the Hijab (تحجبتي برافو عليكي)"

We see in the video how a wife is being approved of by her husband when he discovers that she decided to wear the hijab; how an elementary school student is rewarded with a chocolate bar when her teacher sees her wearing it, and how a little girl in hijab makes a woman feel guilty for not wearing it, but then the girl's cuteness inspires the woman to wear it, and, after she does, her boyfriend's respect for her is upgraded to the point where he decides to marry her!

Finally wearing the hijab, bravo!
Yes, that's it. May God guide you.
My love for you has increased, I swear to God.
Your spirit is beautiful, and I say: whatever God wills.
It's the most beautiful thing in you.
The most beautiful gift from God.

Please your Lord, so He will be pleased with you.
He will make life better for you.
And the heavenly garden is now designed for you.

اتحجبتي برافو عليكي
أيوة كدة، ربنا يهديكي
حبك زاد في القلب والله
والروح جميلة وبقول ما شاء الله
أجمل حاجة موجودة فيكي
أجمل هدية من عند الله

ارضي ربك يرضى عليكي
يهدي حال الدنيا ليكي
والجنة تبقى موصوفة ليكي

Are you that desperate for the approval, pride, appraisal, and respect of a man or a woman who is shallow enough to judge you based on what you wear?

Imagine it was the other way around. Imagine that a husband is more pleased when his wife decides to remove the hijab, or imagine a little girl making a woman feel guilty for wearing the hijab, inspires her to take it off, and then her boyfriend decides to marry her because she took it off. And how would we feel about a teacher rewarding a little girl with a chocolate bar for removing her hijab? Wouldn't the Muslim world break into protest over such incidents?

It is clear from all the above that clergymen have made a woman's dress code a central and fundamental issue in the 20th and 21st centuries, when in fact it never was.

Arab women were not naked before the Quran was revealed to Muhammad. They were already covered, due to geographical necessities. The only addition from the Quran was for free women to cover the opening of their gowns (where breasts might show). Nevertheless, this commandment came after both the prophet's wife and mother passed away. Did anyone ever question their piety and respectability because they did not cover their chests?

Islam did not introduce any dress code for free and/or slave women. Those dress codes were already in existence, created by men over hundreds of years before the Torah was written. And even so, the Arabs were the least submissive to these man-made laws from among their neighbors: Assyrians, Persians, Greeks, or Romans, as the above example of men and women performing ablution together in the same basin at the same time shows.


In the name of protecting men from being intentionally or unintentionally seduced, women are removed from the work place, from mosques, government office and councils, and any other place where men might congregate and make decisions that will affect the fate of the nation's life. And with these socio-politico-economic exclusions, women are necessarily rendered as subordinate members of society and, by default, as socially, physically, and financially dependent on men for survival.

So why do the all-male self-appointed clergymen insist on ordaining the hijab and attribute it to God's law? The answer is very clear: it is about control. It is about subduing women to the authority of men, because as Paul said, a woman's long and beautiful hair is her glory, and glory is power.

Some would say that the battle is already lost, since more and more women are wearing the hijab today. But if you were to revisit the viral poster at the very top of this essay, you would realize that, in fact, the great majority of women (especially in modern cities where women are still permitted to participate in life outside the walls of their homes) do not adhere to the "correct" hijab, and they know so! I believe that young women are rejecting this male-dominated version of Islam, and that they will finally prevail.

May 3, 2014
Amman - Jordan.


I would like to make an unequivocal clarification that this essay is neither about delegitimizing the veil nor about promoting it. It is about explaining how the hijab is indeed a cultural phenomenon that has nothing to do with the Islamic faith. I am just as strongly against enforcing the hijab as I am against banning it by any authority at any level. What women wear, and what men wear, should never be a legal or ethical concern, but left to social conventions and individual tastes.

This essay is primarily in response to the global clergy-led campaign to enforce the hijab either through coercion or the manufacture of consent. Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, these impotent self-appointed clergymen (along with those appointed by post-colonial regimes) have reduced their mission to revive the utopian Islamic society to its most superficial aspects (hijab, jilbab, tunic, beards, beads, Islamic phrases, regulated and unregulated prayers, fasting, pilgrimage, etc.), believing that if we recreate the exterior of 7th century Arabia we would somehow also revive the core of Islamic values. Or perhaps they believe that the core of Islamic values for a virtuous, utopian life are not arising because our exterior does not resemble that of 7th century Arabia!

It's the mother of all religious ironies how the clergymen of any religion reduce the teachings of their wise founder to superficiality while simultaneously claiming to be following in the footsteps (the sunna) of their wise founder, when their scriptures reveal how their wise founders couldn't make it any clearer how insignificant these superficialities are.


  1. ^ The prophet Muhammad is reported to have said: cover (khammiroo) your jars.

    من معجم لسان العرب: خمروا آنيتكم؛ قال أبو عمرو: التخمير التغطية. يقال: خَمَّرَ وجْهَهُ وخَمِّرْ إِناءك.
    من القاموس المحيط: والخِمارُ، بالكسر: النَّصِيفُ، كالخِمِرِّ، كطِمِرٍّ، وكلُّ ما سَتَرَ شَيئاً فهو خِمارُهُ

    Full Source:خمار

  2. ^ That is how this verse was interpreted by the greatest names in clergy history:
    • Al-Qurtubi writes in his interpretation (تفسير القرطبي) of verse 59 of chapter 33: "Whenever Omar [bin al-Khattab]... saw a female slave covered up he would strike her with his staff, in order to preserve the dress of the free women."

      وَكَانَ عُمَر رَضِيَ اللَّه عَنْهُ إِذَا رَأَى أَمَة قَدْ تَقَنَّعَتْ ضَرَبَهَا بِالدِّرَّةِ، مُحَافَظَة عَلَى زِيّ الْحَرَائِر

    • Anas bin Malik said: "Omar's female slaves used to serve us with their hair and breasts unveiled."
      Al Bayhaqi, Al-Sunan Al-Kubra, vol. 2, page 227.

      عن أنس بن مالك قال : كنا إماء عمر يخدمننا كاشفات عن شعورهن يضرب ثديهن
      الراوي: أنس بن مالك - خلاصة الدرجة: صحيح - المحدث: البيهقي - المصدر: السنن الكبرى للبيهقي، الجزء الثاني، صفحة 227

    • Also see pp. 99-100, volume 3 of "al-muharrar al-wajiz fi tafsir al-kitab al-aziz (المحرر الوجيز في تفسير الكتاب العزيز)," Ibn Taymiyah, Ibn Qudamah, and many others.
  3. ^ From Ibn Katheer: "Some rotten people from Medina used to go out at night to the city's roads, harassing women. The homes of Medina were small, so at night time women would go out to the roads to defecate, and those rotten men seeking sex from them, and when they saw a woman wearing a jilbab they would say: 'she is a free woman, leave her be.' And when they saw she was not wearing one, they would say: 'it's a slave,' and they would jump all over her." ~ Full Source

    كان ناس من فساق أهل المدينة يخرجون بالليل حين يختلط الظلام إلى طرق المدينة ، يتعرضون للنساء ، وكانت مساكن أهل المدينة ضيقة ، فإذا كان الليل خرج النساء إلى الطرق يقضين حاجتهن ، فكان أولئك الفساق يبتغون ذلك منهن ، فإذا رأوا امرأة عليها جلباب قالوا : هذه حرة ، كفوا عنها . وإذا رأوا المرأة ليس عليها جلباب ، قالوا : هذه أمة . فوثبوا إليها.