“No,” I said, disagreeing good-naturedly as I stood before the room of American college students. “I think you do understand.” I paused before adding, “Every woman in this room understands why Muslim women cover like they do.”
I walked from behind the podium until I was directly in front of the crowd. “Picture this,” I said to the women in the audience. “You have to go to the store to pick up some groceries.
“Scenario one: You’re not rushed, so you stand before your closet thinking carefully about what you’ll wear. After some time, you decide on a small skirt, a revealing shirt, and some high heels that compliment you just how you like it.” I exaggerated a nod and feigned a look of satisfaction at my last words.
Some of the women laughed, nodding, recognizing the scene immediately as a familiar one.
“Scenario two,” I said, smiling slightly. “You are rushed. You need some things from the store and need to be back home quickly. So you rush to your closet and pull out whatever is easiest to wear.” I paused thoughtfully. “Let’s say, some baggy running pants and a T-shirt.
“Now, I’m going to ask each and every woman here a few questions. And you don’t have to answer them aloud because we all know the answers in our hearts.” I flashed a smile. “Including me. Because, after all, I’m a woman too.
“For scenario one, how do you feel in the store? Do you hurry up and buy what you need, and get out, paying no attention at all to the men around? Or do you linger for just a few more seconds in that dairy aisle and want to be noticed?” I mocked how the woman would sashay down the aisle and glance back over her shoulder “oh so innocently” to make sure that guy is noticing every bit of that carefully-selected outfit.
Some of the audience laughed.
“Now,” I said, “contrast that feeling to scenario two. Do you even have time to notice any men? And if you did, would you even care?
“No,” I answered. “You can’t be bothered—because you are too focused on what you came there for.
“Now, here’s another thing to consider. Let’s say, in scenario one, there is a cute guy who notices you, and he strikes up a conversation.” I paused, smiling. “If we’re honest, we know that we’d get to talking too, smiles and all.”
I noticed some women nodding, grinning.
“But we have no idea where this ‘innocent conversation’ will lead,” I said more seriously.
“Or maybe we do,” I added. “And we just don’t care.”
I let them consider that for a moment.
“But down the road, you will care. Because anyone who has been down that road,” I said with a reflective frown, noticing some women averting their gazes or lowering their heads as a sad memory returned to them, “cares right now as I speak.”
I looked out at the audience. “This is hijab, ladies. And no, it’s not for men. It’s for you. It protects you from yourself, and keeps you focused on what you need to be focused on whenever you go out. Instead of,” I smiled humorously, “distracting yourself while you hope to distract others.” I paused. “And perhaps regretting it for the rest of your life.”
Some of the audience nodded and clapped their agreement.
My Least Favorite Topic: Hijab
It was one of the most difficult topics for me to stomach in print.
Especially if it were a translation of a recent work written in what I considered a “foreign country.” I would have to resist the urge not to read a pamphlet or book on the topic, even if by a reputable author.
Just let it go, I’d tell myself. Just let it go. It’s not a big deal.
Then I’d hear someone say something, or I’d happen across a “convincing argument” in a Muslim magazine, and the frustration would return to me.
…Until I happened upon a translation of a discussion by the late Sheikh Al-Albani, may Allah have mercy on him.
As I read his words, I was shocked.
There it was…in print…by a foreign scholar no doubt, giving word to and Islamic evidence for what I’d felt for so long: That hijab is not for men; it’s for women…
And so long as a woman is breaking no Islamic rules, he argued, she should not be required to adjust or change her manner of covering simply because some men find her beautiful.
And yes, the translation said. It is true that if there is fear of fitnah (significant difficulty related to one’s desires), she should adjust her cover. But even the fear of fitnah is not necessarily related to men, but to the woman herself. If she fears fitnah for herself, then she should adjust it, not if men fear fitnah from her.
He gave as evidence the story of a woman coming to ask the Prophet, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, a question. One of the Companions was with the Prophet when she came, and the Companion kept staring at her, overcome by her beauty, and the Prophet kept turning the man’s head away. The man would look again, and he’d turn the man’s head away again, and so on…
Never did the Prophet, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, ask the woman to do anything, the translation said. He made it clear that the Companion was the one who should be lowering his gaze.
SubhaanAllaah, I thought….
“Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do”
“O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments (jilbaabs) over their bodies. That will be better, that they should be known [as believers] and not annoyed. And Allah is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful”
In each of these verses, Allah makes it clear that when men lower their gazes, it’s for their own benefit. Just as when women cover in the jilbaab (and lower their gazes), it’s for their own benefit.
Naturally, when men lower their gazes, women benefit too. But the lowering of the gaze, as can be seen with the Companion gazing at the beautiful woman, is for the purity of the man’s heart, not for the woman’s.
Likewise, when women cover, men benefit too. But the covering is for the purity of the woman’s heart, and for her protection….
Not so that men can, for example, have an easier time focusing on the road while they drive. 🙂
…When explaining this same point to non-Muslims, I simply say this:
Whatever Allah asks us to do—whether we are male or female— its purpose is to purify our own souls. But its benefit is for the society as a whole.
‘Niqaab Is Obligatory for Me’
“No,” my friend told me, shaking her head. “I definitely don’t think niqaab is obligatory. But it is for me,” she insisted.
I creased my forehead, confused. “If you don’t think it’s obligatory to cover your face, why do you think you have to do it?”
“Because if I don’t wear it,” she said, “it’ll be too much fitnah for me.”
“You have to understand,” she told me. “I wasn’t always Muslim. I grew up intermingling with men. And growing up, I got so used to flirting with men that it became second nature. When I was around them, I’d flash a smile and giggle a bit more.” She sighed. “And now, as a Muslim, it’s hard for me to get out of that.”
She shook her head. “Before I wore niqaab, the hijab alone wasn’t enough for me. I still had a tendency to flirt or talk a certain way, knowing that men were noticing my every expression.” She laughed. “And I wanted them to! Shoot,” she said jokingly, “I want to look good to them.”
I laughed in agreement. “Don’t we all.”
“I know it’ll be a struggle no matter what, even in niqaab,” she admitted quietly, her eyes growing distant. “But with my face covered, it’s a constant reminder for me to lower my gaze and be modest.” She laughed again. “Now, when I feel myself getting flirtatious, I think, Girl, are you crazy? How can you be covered like this and still flirting?
The conversation with my friend was a turning point for me, as I was still new to niqaab myself, having worn it simply because, I mean, how do you decide between the two questions surrounding the disagreement…
Should I wear what’s obligatory for me? Or should I wear what’s highly recommended for me?
For me the answer was yes to each one, regardless of which one was “correct”…
But her sentiments gave me pause, and she hadn’t even read the Al-Albani article at the time, and neither had I. It was her natural human desire to do good, may Allah bless and preserve her, that pushed her to make the decision, and nothing else.
Today, I find it a bit interesting that she is a living example of the point the scholar was trying to make in the article about the fear of fitnah.
Because Allah Told Us To
I’ve felt for quite some time that it’s unfair, and sometimes dangerous, to explain anything in Islam in the wrong way…
Especially matters requiring our compliance to Allah’s laws.
Our first response to any question of why we do something should be simply that Allah told us to. Thereafter we are free to, as I did with the college audience, give an analogy to demonstrate some benefit or wisdom. But we should never imagine that the benefit or wisdom we see is the reason we do something in Islam.
A funny story that made this point clear to me is when a friend of mine in America told me of how a coworker of her husband’s wanted to know why Muslims didn’t eat pork. So she went from Muslim to Muslim (there were a handful of them who worked where she worked), and each of them explained how harmful pork is, how filthy the pig is, and so on. But with each response, she felt unsatisfied. Finally, she happened to ask my friend’s husband the same question, and he simply told her, “Because God forbids it to us in the Qu’ran.” She stared at him in amazement. “Really?” This was the first she heard of this. “Yes,” he said. “Oh…” she replied, considering this news. “Then why didn’t they [the other Muslims] just say that?”
Cover for Men’s Sake?
Till today I’m deeply bothered whenever someone, even if knowledgeable, argues that a woman should cover in a particular way because of the fitnah she poses for men if she doesn’t. It’s not that the argument holds no merit…
It doesn’t take “rocket science” to see that there is a correlation between the more women cover and the less fitnah they are for men.
But it is also true that there is a correlation between how much a woman covers and the less she is a fitnah for herself.
Why then can’t we start off from this premise?
After all, Allah created women beautiful, and made them love that beauty…and for them to want others to love that beauty. We just have to limit which people get to enjoy that beauty…
And thus limit how much trouble we get ourselves into by getting distracted from our immediate purpose (as “Scenario One” above demonstrates).
…But for me, it goes beyond a mere annoyance, these arguments, I mean.
They’re actually, in my view…dangerous.
…Whenever a society continuously teaches humans to focus on doing things for other people’s sake (instead of merely wisely considering what other people think and how they’ll respond), the results are disastrous.
The exploitation of women in the West is a prime example. In addition to it being a “do whatever you want” type program, women’s exploitation is really just a matter of the two-word creed that underlies nearly all entertainment and consumerism there…
This is a creed that nearly every American media or psychology student learns in undergrad—and from textbooks and professors no doubt (That’s where I learned it “officially”).
But the problem goes deeper. Since everything is now about what other people think and feel, image becomes the focus in life…even if it means harming yourself—or others.
Starve yourself to get that perfect body…anorexia and bulimia.
I have to win this; my image depends on it…hire someone to injure your competitor.
If people find out I had an affair, how will I win the election?…hire someone to [well, you know the rest].
…This is the West’s version of “honor killings.”
Unfortunately, nearly all crimes against humanity have as their root the shift from doing things for the sake of Allah, to doing things for the sake of people.
…And it’s no secret that this sort of egregious behavior has found its way into the Muslim world.
Women Aren’t Fully Human?
I’ve felt for quite some time that if we continue to ask women to “obey Allah” by convincing them how much men will benefit from it, a harmful, indelible scar is left on their psyches…
As well as men’s.
For women, they begin to feel as if their entire existence revolves solely around making men’s lives easier on earth, even if these men are not their husbands or family (as both men and women have responsibilities to their spouses and family).
For men, they begin to feel that—like the Western Christians felt centuries ago—women have no souls and are here merely to benefit (or distract) men…
Even if this is never expressed openly or thought consciously…
…And an article published in an Arab newspaper some time ago proved this point quite well.
There was a belief spreading amongst some men—and it had reached Saudi Arabia—that it’s Islamically permissible for a man to marry a woman with the intention of divorcing her…and [since mu’tah (temporary marriage) is not allowed in Islam] so long as he conceals his intention from the woman, it won’t be mu’tah; therefore, it’s allowed in Islam.
This apparent “permission” was mainly to benefit Arab men studying and living abroad…who “feared for their souls.” And the woman (or “victim” as I’d call her) was “ideally” a Western woman whom the man would meet abroad. The “permission” offered the men a way of “protecting themselves from sin.”
I couldn’t fathom how someone could even entertain such a preposterous proposition…let alone claim it as permissible…
I mean, I thought to myself, if mu’tah is forbidden—a contract where a man and woman decide together to marry only short term—how much more the same contract involving the deception of one party?
And for every man who supports this, I thought angrily, why not ask Allah to make your daughters and sisters the first women to be on the other side of that “contract” when a “God-fearing” man decides to “fear Allah”?
Better yet, let’s give the reverse version of that same permission with an Arab girl whose father believes in this “allowance” in Islam…
Daddy, the girl says in her soft, eighteen-year-old voice, I’m going to be in America for some time, and although I’ll marry the person you want for me when I get back, can you find me an American boy to satisfy my cravings just for those couple of years?
Her Dad’s eyes will surely gleam, as tears filled them in admiration of how religious his girl had become as a young adult…
Let’s see how quickly he scrambles to help his daughter “fear Allah.”
…Thank God that the Muslim scholars clarified that this “permission” was incorrect and completely against Islam.
But the whole discussion made me realize the dangers of men growing up believing that their existence is the only one that matters…and that women—whether it’s for going to work, covering in a certain manner, or whatever—have “rights” only insomuch as men’s lives are not disturbed or inconvenienced…
Such thinking, unquestionably, has some soul-shattering consequences…
We Don’t Cover for Men
“Now this isn’t to say that men don’t benefit from women’s covering,” I told the audience. “Or that the covering is not related to the men at all. Because it is.
“Hijab is to cover women’s beauty, and this covering is done in front of men who are not close family to the woman.
“But the point I’m making is that we don’t cover for men. We cover for God. And since Islam is a religion of the nature, in that it complements our human nature, it’s only natural that what benefits the individual benefits the society as a whole. So in this sense, the hijab is a huge benefit for women and men.
“But contrary to what you’ll read from some modern Muslim sources,” I added for final clarification. “Just because we don’t cover for men doesn’t give us license to abandon proper Islamic covering or behavior itself.”
Copyright © 2011 and 2014 by Al-Walaa Publications. All Rights Reserved.
Previously published January 29, 2011 via saudilife.net