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Hejab: A Right, Not a Duty

I was always wondering Why Muslim women should wear hejab? Fortunately, i did a research paper, and i found very interesting facts. wish you enjoy reading it.
Thanks Marvah

Hejab or Veil

Hejab or Veil

Marvah Shakib
Date: 11/07/2010
Hejab: A Right, Not a Duty
What does Hejab mean? Does it mention in the Quran that it is compulsory for Muslim women to wear Hejab? Why do we have to cover our hair? These are the questions that have twisted in the corridors of my mind since I was a child. When I was six years old, I had to wear the long scarf, called Chador, to go to the masque to study the holy Quran in the Taliban’s period. Every day, I used to ask my Mom, “Do I have to cover my hair?” Still I am wondering that, “Why do we have to cover our hair?” According to The Constant Meaning of Veil by Zahedi, “Hair in its physical form is sexless, the symbolism and meaning of hair is highly generated, and female hair has become a symbol of sexuality.” On the other hand, “many scholars noted the erotic nature of female hair as a symbol of women’s appeal and power over men” (Ebersole1998). These ideas created the Hejab or veil for Muslim women.
Hejab is an Arabic word which means “curtain or cover”; in fact, it has a different meaning in each society depending on the cultural and political context. Many people link the veil to Islam and to Arabic culture. However, research indicates that”Islam didn’t invent the veil; indeed the veil is inauthentic to Islam” (Zahedi, pg2). Veil was not something religious in the past. The history of the veil started in the “Assyrian period, in thirteen century B.C” (Keddie 1991).As it mentioned, “In the Assyrian, Byzantine, and Persian Sasanian empires, the veil was a marker of prestige and status symbol” (Keddie 1991). It meant that the royal or the upper class women who didn’t have to work used to wear veil in the public to protect themselves from the gaze of commoners. “The veil signified class distinction, Assyrian law prohibited peasant women, slaves, and prostitutes from wearing the veil, and violators were punished” (EI Guindi1999). As we studied veiling or to covering your hair is not mentioned in Islam, but still wearing veil is compulsory in most of Islamic countries like Iran, Afghanistan and the Arab world. I am not saying that Hejab must be banned because it is a controversial topic, but I think that wearing Hejab or veil should not be compulsory for Muslim women.
It is a fact that, the holy scripture of Muslims The holy Quran has mentioned two verses about the Veil. The first citation is from Surah (part) 33; 59 addressed to prophet Muhammad and his family:
“Oh prophet! Tell
The wives and daughters
And the believing women,
That they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): That is most convenient,
That they should be known
(As such) and not molested.”
(trans.ali1997, 1077,)
“To be “known” is an indication that others were not veiled” (Zahedi, pg2). I agree with Ms. Zahedi that the word known means that other were not veiled, and that it become easier for people to recognize the prophet’s wives. I think that the covering of their bodies with an outer garment (jilbab) was primarily to protect these women from sexual harassment. The second Verse in Surah (part) 24:31 “refers to general rule of modesty” (zahedi, 3).
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 (must ordinary) appears
Therefore; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms….”
(Trans. Ali1997, 873)
It is clear that, this citation emphasizes modesty and covering bosoms and neck. There is no reference to cover the hair. the word screen( Jelbab), according to Ali” was a special feature of honor for the prophet’s households,” he reminded that” for Muslim women no screen or Jalbab is mentioned”( zahedi,pg4).
In my opinion what is happening in today’s Islamic world is definitely not what the holy Quran or Islam decrees. For example, in Iran, which is one of the advanced countries, the major occupation of the police is to keep alive the Islamic dress code. According to Tehran police Chief Brigadier General Murtaza Talaie”30 % of complains to police involve cases of women not covering up properly…” Moreover, the statistics that Ms Zahedi has used in her article impressed me. She wrote that, “in one week in August 2004, 200 women were arrested in Tehran, 183 were arrested in Northern Province of Gilan, and 1,250 women received verbal warning, and this data is only in two of Iran’s 28 provinces.” You see, is this a proper way of following Quran and Islam?
Wearing the Hejab is a controversial topic and every individual has her or his own ideas and interpretations. For example, the word “except what appears” (Surah or part 33; 59 Quran), people interpret differently. Chada Shabanda a human right activist said “I have read Quran many times, what I get is that I am not required to wear the Hejab” (“Inside Quran”, chap 2).
This means that she doesn't agree that Hejab is compulsory for Muslim women. But one of the highest Muslim authorities in the world, Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tntawy, Grand imam of Al-Azhar, and Sheikh of Al- Azhar University, Interpreted it quite differently and said, “The word except what appears means all the female body should be completely covered except hands and face”. Likewise, Ajmal Mansor, an Imam in London, and sheikh Yosuf are saying the same thing that “all the body of the female and even her face also should be covered” (Inside Quran video, chap4). I think this is a conservative side of looking at and interpreting the words of Quran.
In addition, if we have a deep look into the history, these controversial opinions about Hejab is a cause of using Hejab as a political tool. For example, in Aceh, the government implemented the compulsory veil because it is what visible to prove that if they could apply the Syariah (Muslim law) and Hejab. They would also have success in managing other areas of the government as well. According to Ma. Theresa R. Milallos , “veiling by removing the element of free well, becomes a political project and transcends Question of choice in Aceh.” This means that the Aceh government used the veil as a political tool, to show his power. It is not only Aceh but also Afghanistan; The Taliban imposed the Burqa on Afghan women to show their power. Although, the Taliban have left Afghanistan, we still can see its effects. Many Afghan women still use Burqa in the rural area of Afghanistan, and this has been affected on their position of speaking. According to the Securing the Afghan women article “Especially problematic is the ventriloquism of Afghan women by discourses speaking for them.” (Article).Hence, besides using the veil as a political tool, the Taliban also took many opportunities to create many problems for Afghan women.
Conversely, in Turkey, Ataturk sharply reversed the compulsory dress code from veiling to unveil. “He used veil as a symbol of national libration and indigenous identity, not Patriarchy.” But many women were not happy about it. As Azar Majedi, the Human right activist said” I have problem with the veil ban in Turkey, such a ban then doesn’t allow adults to exercise their conscious well.”(Majedi) Likewise in Iran, Hejab is always used as a political tool on women. Raza shah also banned veil, and some of the Iranian women were very happy. They could wear any stylish clothes that they want, and they felt they had achieved their libration, but for many this felt like being naked, and it drove them deeper into purdah (being stricter on veiling). As Ms Zahedi wrote, “All the elements of desired social change and placing unveiling at its core did not serve Iranians well.”(Zahedi). Interestingly, as I studied the history of this period, one cause of Shah’s failing from government was banning of veil in Iranian society. In many cases, Hejab has played a very important role in women’s’ life and in political field too. Thus I think there should be no laws that do not allow a woman to choose whether to wear a veil, and even a law against the veil takes away a woman’s freedom of choice.
As an analysis of the data that I have studied for this paper, the meaning of the veil depends on your point of view, practicing once beliefs take different dimensions. For example, the idea of unveiling that has been practiced in Iran and some other Muslim countries outraged the conservatives, and it was a huge religious offence and emotional challenge for many women who were not ready or welling to appear unveiled in the public because many women in the Muslim world believe that their veil is their pride, virtue, and modesty.
On the other hand, You and I may also don’t feel easy to accept very conservative ideas that have some power or political backgrounds. For example, according a conservative Islamic view,”It has been proven that the hair of women radiates a kind of ray that effects a man, exiting him out of the normal state” (Tabari). First I cannot accept it, and then if a woman’s hair has a kind of power why she should cover it? Why that man shouldn’t guard his gaze? Moreover, in another argument I noticed that, Mir-Hosseini, an Irani scholar, points out, “there is no ruling to force men to “guard their gaze” so it becomes an ethical and personal choice for men.” Now I have a question, why he didn’t discuss about Hejab in terms of an ethical and personal choice for women? Why many people, many Islamic scholars and Sheikhsa instead of questioning the culturally, and religiously justify the uncontrollable sexual appetite of some men, force women to conceal their hair and bodies to protect those men?
Despite, The forcing, obligatory Hejab is not only against many women’s wishes but also it has limited the opportunities for women. For example, After Shah Raza’s period the unveiled women could not claim for social, political and economic spaces and they were not allowed to enter in a shop, restaurant or any public places without veil. Likewise, Burqa in Afghanistan also has taken many opportunities from Afghan women. We have many sayings about Hejab in Afghanistan that people use it in their daily life. Like,” the worth of a woman is in her veil” or “veiling is divine duty”. These saying also effects on women to keep the veil. Even, the Burqa has become “the universal symbol of women’s oppression in Afghanistan” (Kensinger2003,).
To sum up, in my opinion Hejab should not seen as women’s” duty” but as her “right”. These verse in Surah (33; 59, and 24; 31) the holy Quran proves that women’s hair is not required to be covered. Thus, it shouldn’t be forced on women to cover all their bodies, hair, face, and even hands. Moreover, wearing Hejab has been practiced for many years. It becomes a part of Muslim culture and a part of Muslim women’s life. Many women love to wear the Hejab, and they worth for it, which I think we should respect for them. It is their opinion and their right to chose, but also some women are not very strict on Hejab. By not wearing Hejab, they are not doing a sin, so we should respect their ideas too. Hence, the issue of veiling spans a diverse range of belief system and ideologies from liberal, moderate to conservative and radical. We cannot judge who is right and who is wrong; it is all just a matter of interpretations. I believe that, we should not accept all the Taphser books (the books that have the ideas and translation of Quran by Sheikhs), because all these books are not Quran so they can’t be perfect, they are just a Scholar and a Sheikh’s ideas and interpretations. In addition, amazingly most of the Taphser and religious books are by men. I have hardly ever seen a woman’s perspective on a religious topic. As in the article Muslim veil as Politics was written, “There are no discourses initiated by women, majority of the existing Islamic public discourses were made by men, usually chief in the office of Ayariah Islam”. I suggest that, we should read the holy, pure, Quran, a book without any mistake, by our self, think about it, and we should have our own ideas and interpretations. We don’t have to accept everyone’s ideas and interpretation all the time.

Works Cited
1. E. Husain, Mary. "Copyright © 2005 by NWSA Journal. All rights reserved". Securing Afghan Women: 15jun/2010
2. Majedi, Azar. "Turkish governmentÆs ban of the Hejab". European Human Rights Court’s decision in support of the Turkish government’s ban of the Hejab. 28jun/2010 .

3. R. Milallos, Ma. Theresa. "Muslim veil as politics: political autonomy, women and Syariah Islam in Aceh ". Contemporary Islam 26 September 2007 : 1-14
4. Nashat, Guity. "Women in the Islamic Republic of Iran ". International society for Iranian study. jun17/2010 .
6. Kristof, Nicholas. "Historical Perspectives on Islamic Dress". Women in the Muslim World. 28jun/2010 .

7. Sharifi, Soheila. "The Islamic culture and the way it affects on the mental and physical development of women". Women’s studies. 18jun/2010 .



jadefrank's picture

to wear or not to wear the hejab

Dear Marvah,

Thank you so much for sharing this in-depth research of the hejab, and the fundamentalist interpretations of the Quran which have led to discrimination of women. It is important to understand, especially for westerners like myself, that these practices do not stem from Islam, but from man's interpretation of it. Having the right to wear or not wear the hejab is imperative and knowing the back story to this practice is so valuable.

I have posted the contents of your paper within in your journal to encourage more members to read your research. I hope you don't mind ;)

In friendship,

marvah.shakib's picture


Dear Jade,
Thank you for sharing it in my journal, however i haven't edited it yet, By the way, you are right many practices are happening in the world specially in Afghanistan by the name of " The Holly Quran or The remarkable prophet Mohammad (SWS) said" beside, that these intrepretations intreduces the Islam as a very hard religion to follow, Which i found it very easy, It also creats manydiscriminations and other issues.Anyway,
Thank you so much


jadefrank's picture

Interpreting holy scriptures

Hi Marvah,

I hope that you will continue to share your thoughts and insights on women's issues in Afghanistan, as well as teaching us the origins of the Qur'an so that we can understand more about your culture, religion and where the two meet as well as divide.

I think that misinterpretation of holy scriptures is common in most religions and is what leads to extremism and violence. And in most of these cases, it is a man's interpretation that has built societies, cultures, and religious sects, rather than a woman's. Imagine if women were the ones leading their countries and dictating cultural and religious practices and policies? What would the world look like?

I found this journal so interesting, I also re-posted it in the Afghanistan Cafe. Again, I hope you don't mind :)

In friendship,

Carri Pence's picture

Interesting, where the veil

Interesting, where the veil illustrates the importance of culture and how it is the most powerful aspect of any society. Culture, since it is deeply routed, is hard to change and it is always controversial to change. Furthermore, to change customs and traditions causes deep concern because so many times governments have done so to control or discriminate against a specific group of citizens. Your research paper was well written and I really enjoyed it. It brought many issues up that I still have a struggle in trying to understand.

JaniceW's picture


Thank you for sharing this insightful piece on the Hejab. As a person living in the United States, it is easy to be misinformed if your knowledge of the issue stems solely from the reports pushed out by the mass media.

Regardless of a woman's religious or cultural beliefs, legally imposing and restricting the freedom of dress is discriminatory and a denial of a human right. Whether a woman wears a Hejab to assert an identity, assert a cultural heritage or chooses not to wear it, should be her choice. We can find strong role models, veiled and unveiled, throughout the world and it is through women like these that our young girls can hopefully grow to develop voices, personalities and a connection with themselves. And in doing so, they can choose what is right for themselves.

Mursal Hamraz's picture

Great Job dear,

Dear Marvah,

You have done a great research dear. I have just read your piece of writing and I really like the way you prove yourself. In fact, wearing veil in most Islamic cultures( in deed not in Islam) has become a mandatory act to do for women whether they want it or they don't. But if we leave these conservative ideas, we come to know that we all are human beings and we all are the same kinds and same creatures so why should one dominate others. Exactly, we women have the complete right to decide what is wrong and what is right for us, It IS our right. Thank you dear for the nice research and information.

With love,

Mursal Hamraz

olutosin's picture


I have never heard of this before! It is one of those stereotypes we are talking about, just to keep women unseen, unheard, un-listened to, you change her name, features, attitudes and even change her looks if possible erase her entirely ....Why this towards women? Upon all these, her seeds continue to call her blessed.........

There must be unique treasures we are yet to discover about women that is why war on women is so high....May God deliver women.......

Olutosin Oladosu Adebowale
Founder/Project Coordinator
Star of Hope Transformation Centre
512 Road
F Close
Festac Town


Sudaba Parnian's picture

Good job dear!

Dear Marvah,
I really appreciate your hard working and research regarding this interesting topic.

It is important to understand that Islam is not a difficult religion. People say that there are some discrimination against women in Islam, I believe the problem is this the Arab men interpreted Qur'an the way wanted, for example:

"In Paradise for believing men there will be beautiful girls who have black hairs and eyes and white skins".
But surely for a European man that type of girl is not beautiful. European men can't be Muslim?

The misunderstanding of Islam brought many issues up that many people still have a struggle in trying to understand.

Keep writing!


Sudaba Parnian

Kara-Amena's picture

Very thought-provoking

I just read your great article, Marvah. I have given much thought to these ideas and practices for a long time. I share your views completely. I will send you a private message when I have more time with some of my personal beliefs and the results of my research on this topic. Beshak, Marvah!!

marvah.shakib's picture


Thanks a lot!
Do you have facebook? there is a place where i usually am, so i would like to add u in my fb.
Waiting for your private message...
Az shoma khaily khosham amada!!!! <3 <3...

roze khosh :)


Kara-Amena's picture

Soon, I promise

I'll be in touch, Marvah. Thanks for the FB friend add!!

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