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The Islamic Veil(Hijab)

Document type:
Fatwa

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The Islamic Veil(Hijab)

Commentary

A fatwa is a formal legal opinion or interpretation given by a jurisconsult (muftī) in response to a request from a judge (qādī) or an individual. Some modern Muslim governments have obtained fatwas to legitimate their reforms.

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Group of Muftis:

The hijab is not merely a religious symbol; the hijab has an indispensable function in the life of a Muslim woman. That function is protection of the Muslim woman and preservation of her honor and chastity. This means that a woman who wears hijab does not do this to declare her religion or distinguish herself. Rather, she wears it out of obedience to her Lord.

On the other hand, preventing hijab on the basis of preserving the secularity of the state is an illogical claim because secularism in a liberal community means that the state authority should be neutral in matters of religion. The government should neither accept nor reject, neither be for or against any religion. The state is to provide freedom of religion for all people.

One might further ask: If a non-Muslim woman chooses to dress modestly by covering her body and even her hair, would she be prevented from doing so by this ban? And if she is given the freedom to cover herself because she is not Muslim, why then is a Muslim woman not given the same freedom?

(a) In this concern, the eminent Muslim scholar, Dr. ‘Ali Jum‘ah, Mufti of Egypt, states:

A Muslim woman is obliged to wear hijab as soon as she reaches puberty, as indicated in the Qur'an, the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and the consensus of Muslim scholars from early ages of Islam up till now. Hijab is known to be essential and necessary in religion; it is not merely a symbol that distinguishes Muslims from non-Muslims. It is an obligation that forms part and parcel of the Islamic religion. Allah Almighty says: “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 recognized and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.” (Al-Ahzab: 59) He also says: “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms.” (An-Nur: 31) Also, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said to Asma’, daughter of Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with them): “O Asma’! Once a girl reaches puberty, nothing of her body may be seen (by non-mahrams) except this and these (he pointed to his face and hands while saying so).”

(b) Sheikh Muhammad Husain Fadl Allah, a well-known Shiite jurist of Lebanon, also comments:

Wearing hijab derives from religious commitment; it is in the same status of religious obligations in the way that incompliance with it constitutes a sin. Has secularism become so weak that the secular authorities fear a scarf, a turban, or a cross hanging from the neck to threaten its stability?

(c) Moreover, the eminent Muslim scholar, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, states:

I completely reject and condemn the French resolution that prevents the Muslim female students from wearing hijab at school. By doing so, they force Muslim women to ignore the teachings of their religion and disobey Allah's commands. Claiming that hijab is a sign of religion is by no means acceptable, because a religious sign or symbol has no function but to declare the religious beliefs of the one who wears it, such as the cross for a Christian and the kippa for a Jew. They both have no function but to declare the religious beliefs of those who wear them. Hijab, on the other hand, has a religious function, namely, to protect Muslim women and preserve their chastity. It could not strike the mind of hijab-clad women to wear it for declaring their religious beliefs. Rather, they wear it in obedience to Allah's commands. Therefore, the hijab ban contradicts the principles of freedom and equality that have been asserted by the French Revolution and stipulated in all heavenly revealed religions and international charters of human rights. In fact, the hijab ban is a form of persecution against the committed Muslim women; it infringes upon their freedom; it prevents them from their right to learn and work to the favor of non-Muslim and uncommitted Muslim women. Real civilization is characterized by tolerance, so it has room for vari-ous races, religions, and ideologies. It does not tend to make people copies of a prototype. People should be brought up to the point of tolerance with one another in spite of their difference in religion, as the Glorious Qur'an teaches us in the following verse: “Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion.” (Al-Kafirun: 6) It hurts to hear the claims that one who wears hijab bears hostility towards others. What hostility can a woman who tries to protect her honor and who is committed to the teachings of her religion bear towards others? Hostility and enmity are never expected from a pious person, man or woman, who is conscious of Allah and fears Him. It is true that the majority pass whatever laws they agree upon, according to the principles of democracy. Yet, just democracy cares for the rights of the minorities, whether religious or ethnic; it does not oppress the minorities. Were it so, the majority in a democratic society could get rid of the minorities under the name of democracy.

Shaikh al-Azhar, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, declared before the French minister of internal affairs, Nicolas Sarkozy, who visited al-Azhar, the most famous religious university in the Islamic Sunnite world. On Dec. 30, 2003:

The veil is a divine obligation for Muslim women. If it is not respected, God will pass judgement for it not being worn. No Muslim, ruling or ruled, has the right to oppose this obligation. However, this obligation is valid if Muslim women live in a Muslim state. Yet if they find themselves in a non-Muslim state (like France, for example) and their rulers want to adopt laws in opposition to the veil, it is their right; it is their right; it is their right. I repeat: it is their right, and I cannot oppose them. When Muslim women conform to the laws of a non-Muslim state, in terms of Islamic Shari’ah, they are under the conditions of he who obligates them (fî hukm al-mudtarr) and they do not, therefore, bear the responsibility (wizr) for the situation.

Sheikh Tantawi justified his opinion with the Qur'anic verse 173, chapter 2, from the Sura of the Cow (al-Baqarah): “In truth regarding beasts it is forbidden to kill them, to have contact with their blood, eat pork, and that which is called by another name other than that of Allah. And he who is forced, without desire or intention, will not sin. Allah is forgiving and merciful.”

Muslim women forced by human law cannot, therefore, fear divine punishment. He added: “I wouldn’t allow a non-Muslim to intervene in Muslim affairs; likewise I would not permit myself to intervene in non-Muslim affairs.”

Bibliography references:

Excerpted from a report by Samir Khalil Samir, SJ in Asia Times, January 2, 2004. Copyright © 2003 Asia News. All rights reserved. Also Siyasa, December 31, 2003, p. 1.

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