Tuesday, November 11, 2008



The article 'Ladies As Hooded Bandits' by Khalid Hasan appeared in The Friday Times, October 20-26, 2006. In the article, the writer lampoons women who take up the veil as misguided. He claims that the Hijab and Niqab have nothing to do with Islam and are inventions of medieval clerics who wished to use it to subjugate women. Thus, these instruments of oppression must be rejected by modern liberated Muslim women.
Maryam Sakeenah wrote a response to the article, the text of which is as follows:

Dear Mr. Khalid Hasan,
This is in response to your article 'Ladies as Hooded Bandits' in TFT, October 20_26, 2006.
You have every right to have your views as in fact every human being does_ but when you feel you have the liberty to ascribe those views to Islam, one is compelled to set the record straight.
For starters, you say that 'anyone who has taken the trouble to read the right texts would know' that hijab and niqab 'have nothing to do with Islam', I only wish, sir, that you yourself had taken the trouble to read the 'right texts'_ not something spewed up by some downright typical feminist-orientalist, but the universal, original sources of Islam.
I quote: "O Prophet! (S) Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close around them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so they may be recognized and not annoyed. Allah is Ever Forgiving, Most Merciful." (The Quran, 33:59)
"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 and not to reveal their adornment..." (The Quran, 24:31)
It is very clear that these verses prescribe an Islamic dress code for women. As implied by the word 'jilbab' used here, this prescribed dress must be an outer loose garment to cover what attracts the attention of a male stranger. The word 'khimar' used in the second verse means a flowing mantle and its root is from the word 'khamr' meaning 'poured down as a liquid'. This is a telling metaphor for this outer garment as prescribed by Islam.
Those who claim that these verses do not imply covering the head must know that Arab women before Islam, according to a cultural tradition, already covered their heads. However, they left their neck, chest and the rest of the body not covered by an outer extra bit of loose clothing. Owing to this widespread practice, it was quite redundant to give a repetitive order asking them to do something they were already doing. The verse therefore mentioned only that which they were not doing and must do: to extend the head garment lower, so as to cover the chest and the rest of the body. It is reported in an authentic tradition that as soon as this verse was revealed, there was hardly a woman in Madina who did not take off her waistband to make with it a loose garment to cover her body, as is the clear directive of this verse. They did not notice, as you seem to have, that the verse leaves out the head covering and therefore abrogates an Arab tradition. They very much included the head when covering themselves, which was clearly approved of by the Prophet (S), whose own wives were the first to take it up.
The true understanding and practical application of these verses can be reached solely through related ahadith and sources showing how the Companions (R.A) of the Prophet (S) understood and applied this ruling in their lives and time.
There is plenty of evidence showing that Muslim women at the time of the Prophet (S) covered their heads and according to certain traditions even their faces as part of the Islamic dress code. In a hadith it is said that Asmaa bint Abu Bakr (R.A) visited the Prophet (S) wearing a diaphanous dress. The Prophet (S) turned his gaze away and said to her: 'O Asmaa! When a girl approaches the age of puberty, no part of her body may be seen except this and this (pointing to the face and hands).'
While covering the head is a clear, unequivocal and agreed-upon command of Islam, covering the face is a matter of some difference of opinion. Although the majority concedes that it is compulsory, there have been scholars of note like Sheikh Abdul Aziz bin Baz and Imam Abu Hanifa (and some contemporary scholars) who have dissented, saying that it is not an obligation on all women. However, these dissenting scholars also unanimously agree that it is still a highly recommended practice as it was done by the blessed Mothers of the Faithful. When certain Companions of note (including Umar R.A) were asked about the way a woman ought to cover herself, they demonstrated by covering the whole body including the head and face, only leaving the hands and the eyes exposed. Ayesha (R.A) narrates in the hadith of 'Ifk' that when she lay alone in the desert and Safwan bin Ma'tal (R.A) spotted her there he said 'Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon', realizing that she had lost the caravan and was alone and helpless there. She heard his voice and woke up from her sleep and immediately pulled her garment over her face. Similarly, Ayesha (R.A) says that on her way to perform Hajj or Umrah when people passed by, the women in the Prophet (S)'s caravan used to pull their head coverings on their faces.
While its obligatory nature might be debated, certainly desiring to follow these noble ladies who are examples and ideals for all Muslim women is admirable and praiseworthy. Even if one does not subscribe to this view, I believe one must at least respect it as a Muslim.
However, in a derogatory way, you call women who follow this noble Islamic practice a 'hooded bandit.' I wonder how a practice followed and upheld by the noble ladies of the Prophet (S)'s house 'flies in the face of clear Islamic injunctions'!!! I wonder as a Muslim what you would have had to say about Lady Ayesha (R.A), Fatima (R.A), Zainab (R.A), Saffiyah (R.A), Umm Salamah (R.A), Hafsa (R.A), or Mary, the blessed mother of Jesus Christ (A.S)_ all of whom dressed up thus, as have all Muslim women in history since the time of Adam (A.S). I really wonder...
Needless to say that the people whose interpretation you give weight to and quote as Gospel Truths do not qualify as a credible authority on Islamic jurisprudence by any criteria. Their research, contribution, training and experience in fiqh matters is a straight nil, to say the least. It is ridiculous that their feather-weight opinions could be given precedence over those who spent a lifetime striving to develop Islamic knowledge and jurisprudence leaving behind a comprehensive body of research, analysis and juristic rulings. What is more, the figments of the imaginations of a handful of orientalists and feminists is taken as an authority over and above the understanding, opinions and practices of the Blessed Companions (R.A), the Mothers of the Believers (R.A) and the Prophet of Islam (S) himself!!!! I only invoke sanity, sir!
Having studied at Christian missionary institutions all my life and being raised in a secularized set-up, I have chosen, Sir, to wear the hijab, and even the niqab for what it symbolizes; what it preserves, shields and protects me from_ for the freedom and confidence it gives me. To you, the hijab seems to imply that males cannot tame their libido_ Well, I have not lived the male experience, but as a woman I always felt in my 'pre-hijab' days, to often unwillingly and without my consent be subjected to an onlooker's lustful gaze which my whole being protested against but had no means to beat back or keep at bay. I felt objectified, reduced to a 'thing with a pretty face', lesser than myself, valued only for the exterior, the trappings of the skin. What's more, I know of countless women who, considering physical exposure to be their freedom, suffer lewd remarks, gestures and even assaults and I pity them. As I confidently walk down the public street in the God-given protection I have, I feel safe and free, and I see the bystander's gaze humbled, lowered. I feel the lustful stranger averting his gaze, held back at a dignified distance. I have got him to respect and preserve my dignity and thereby, educated him. That is the power I wield over him. I command respect, I get my womanhood honoured and respected. My hijab is my armoury. And I thank Allah. You have to be a woman, Sir, to taste that joy!
To conclude, I quote my Muslim sister Dr. Rakhshanda Jabeen who writes: "My decision to wear the hijab is an expression of my love for the Prophet (S) and the women of his family. Those of you who make cocksure statements about my dress, have you ever asked a woman who covers herself the way Allah wants her to_ what she feels? You are so sensitive to women's feelings_ but which women's? Your sensitivity to the 'plight' of the woman in hijab only pains her! You speak only for the right to reject the hijab of the woman who never chose it for herself in the first place! Who does that woman shout from over the rooftops for? We don't need her clamour. We are at peace. But the one who has never tasted the sweetness of submission to Allah, what would he know how much joy it brings us? Have you ever cared to understand the sensitivities and feelings of the woman who has chosen the hijab? Who do you sympathise with the one who doesn't need, doesn't want your sympathies? To me, my hijab is safety, honour and respect_ unattainable for the one who cast it off. My Prophet (S) said: 'Islam began as a strange thing, and will end as a strange thing_ so give glad tidings to the strangers.' It is we who, with our very being and our presence help to dispel that strangeness. And it is our rapidly growing numbers that ensure the thriving continuity of the spirit of Islam in this society."

Wishing you Peace,

A Reader.

Dear Miss Maverick

I suppose it is part of your observance of hijab/niqab that you do not sign your name.
Your long reaction to my column in The FridayTimes is very well written for which I compliment you.
However, what custom was right for 7th century Arabia is not right for the world in which we live, nor are such part of the Quran intended for all times to come. This is neither the essential message of the Quran nor is it the spirit of Islam. I would urge you to read Dr Fazlur Rehman's book 'Islam' to clear your mind.
If according to you only full coverage of the body and face can give a woman power and dignity, then by that logic those who do not follow your practice have neither dignity nor power.
I wish you a pleasant weekend. You write very well and you should use this talent to produce more creative work.

Khalid Hasan