Hijab as a Rational Religious Practice
From the Perspective of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi
Table of Contents
Indeed the essence of all divinely-sent religions is the same, making them all a single religion in nature. Yet, due to the development of human societies and the rise of new needs, the divinely-sent religions were also updated until the last and the most comprehensive religion was sent down to mankind through the Seal of the prophets, Prophet Mohammad (s).
The philosophy behind the legislation of the Revealed Law is to ensure the well-being and ultimate prosperity of mankind by keeping them away from moral corruption. The Revealed Law is also in complete agreement with the judgments of the rational mind and the sage intellectuals’ way of life.
Therefore, although the Revealed Law has a divine origin, it is easily understandable and verifiable by human reason. In other words, the divinely-sent laws are completely in line with the rational judgments of human reason and they never contrast them.
Meanwhile, in order to further satisfy human reason, we need to explain the philosophy behind the revelation of the Revealed Law. This is because once human reason accepts that the Revealed Law is a necessity, he will from then on view it as a set of regulations necessary to regulate human life.
One of the regulations in the Revealed Law is the one concerning Hijab. This is one of the indispensable parts of the Islamic Law which has its roots in human emotions, reason, and intellect; it is also closely related to the realities of human life. Therefore, if people consider the philosophy behind the legislation of Hijab and its numerous benefits, they will come to realize that it is to their own benefit.
Despite the undeniable benefits of Hijab for humans on both personal and social levels, some have tried to dismiss it as unnecessary falsely basing their arguments on rationalism. On the other hand there are some who try to make unauthorized innovations in the issue of Hijab, adding regulations to it which do not exist in the Islamic Law. The quarrel between those who try to reject Hijab and those who try to make negative innovations in it has left the public confused as to what exactly is the truth about Hijab.
This calls for a thorough explanation of the genuine Islamic law regarding Hijab and its firm rational basis. This will hopefully make the motives to abide by it more powerful by elucidating the various personal and social benefits of the issue of Hijab.
The Lexical Meaning of Hijab
The Arabic term “Hijab” is literally used to refer to something that veils something form something else. Therefore, it is a sort of covering which covers something in order to protect it from something. Within the framework of Islamic Law, however, the term Hijab refers to the obligatory clothing that women need to wear in order to cover themselves from all non-Maḥram men.
The Notion of Rationality
Human soul is a truly wondrous thing; part of human soul is his “intellect” and “reason” which are responsible for reasoning and thinking. Another part of human soul is the part which is “intuition” which is responsible for the kind of perceptions which are not based on reasoning or rational analyses.
This means that much of what makes up the human personality, consciousness, and self is what he arrives at through rational thinking or intuitive understanding. It is through these important inner powers that man is able to understand the difference between good and bad and to find out the right course of action in every situation.
Rationality is, in effect, a combination of intellectual reasoning with proofs inherent within one’s original nature. It is a means for a deep understanding, a sort of apparatus inherent within all humans and an important source of inspiration and knowledge. It is the product of an unbreakable bond between “intuition” and “sound mind” which are all part of human soul.
Therefore, rationality is backed by the intellectual and intuitive powers of man. Moreover, since rationality is a means by which people seek knowledge, prosperity, and cognition, it can also be considered the basis for self-awareness within the universal realm of consciousness.
Hijab within the Framework of Man’s Original Nature
Islam is a divinely-sent religion which is in full compliance with man’s original nature; this is why it has been able to adequately identify and address all of the real needs of mankind.
Accordingly, the laws of Islam are also based on fixed principles which are fully consistent with mankind’s original nature; therefore, all of the rules in the Revealed Law have roots in man’s original nature.
Hijab, as an indispensable part of the Islamic law, is also in full agreement with man’s reason, original nature, and even instincts. It is a need and a drive inherent within man’s soul and nature which cannot be denied; one of the proofs as to this claim comes from the story of Adam and Eve.
According to this story, which is referred to in the Quran too, when Adam and Eve were cast out of Paradise, they lost their covers and were left naked, so they immediately and rather instinctively began covering their private parts with leaves of trees. This is a clear indication that Hijab has roots in mankind’s original nature.
The holy Quran has narrated this story as follows:
فَلَمّا ذاقَا الشّجَرَهَ بَدَتْ لَهُما سَوْآتُهُما وَ طَفِقا يَخْصِفانِ عَلَيْهِما مِنْ وَرَقِ الْجَنَّةِ
“And when they tasted of the tree, their private parts were uncovered to them, and they began to sew together the leaves of Paradise to use as a cover over their bodies.”
The fact that Adam and Eve were ashamed of being naked and immediately began covering themselves although there was no one else present there indicates that the need for Hijab is a feeling inherent within man’s nature. It also shows that the issue of Hijab is not something which has been legislated by Islam or any other religion; it is a practice which goes back to the time of Adam and Eve.
History shows that humans always tried to cover themselves in some way, a tradition which has undergone little change throughout history and across various nations and communities in the world.
Furthermore, the historical evidence which is found in history references, historical monuments and ins c r i p tions indicates that Hijab has been a customary practice of women in almost all of the nations of the world with different cultures and religions. These historical proofs also indicate that, though there were some ups and downs in the practice of Hijab throughout history, mostly due to the policies of the rulers, it has never been wiped out entirely.
Historical accounts suggest that the women’s covering has been more complete in certain nations, including in the ancient Persia, Greece, and some Indian peoples. Yet, regardless of how perfectly they covered themselves, historical accounts indicate that most of the ancient nations abided by it. Historical proofs also indicate that there were very few primitive communities in which women would appear publicly without proper covering or without any covering at all.
This shows that the passing of time, the policies of rulers and other factors were unable to eliminate or distort this inherent human drive. This is not to rule out environmental factors as totally ineffective; the environment, culture, specific ways of child up-bringing, and the propaganda against Hijab were able to temporarily attenuate or eliminate this feeling in certain communities.
However, as soon as the conditions have changed and the above-mentioned factors were eliminate, the original nature of the people has regained control of things and restored the original and natural lifestyle of mankind.
Therefore, deviation from man’s original nature is always transient and temporary; this is something which is evident today even in the western countries where the idea of the total freedom of mankind is promoted and where Hijab in its correct form is rejected. Even in such countries some basic form of Hijab is obligatory and is even enforced by the law.
This inherent set of guidelines which man is invested with are so important and decisive in ensuring the well-being of mankind that they are incomparable to any other blessings given to mankind.
Hijab, a Product of Social Rationality
It is natural and rational for human beings to be drawn to social life, because it is through a prosperous society that individuals can develop, overcome the challenges of life, and actualize their potentials.
However, social life is not without problems and challenges; therefore, every sound mind would admit that, in order to overcome social challenges and problems, every society requires an advanced law and legal system. It is through such a system that social rationality is enhanced and the social and moral values are upheld. Such a law and legal system is also necessary for protecting the society against anarchism.
Hijab is one of the laws which is enforced for the purpose of safeguarding the values of the society by preventing moral corruptions from spreading in human societies. Hijab is a part of a major plan of Islam for developing human societies into safe and secure environments for all the people. Islam believes that in order to reform a society and turn it into a safe environment for all of its members, the sexual needs of the people need to be properly and lawfully satisfied.
In Christianity, however, has made Hijab peculiar for the monks and nuns because it has made marriage prohibited for them; it is a negative innovation created based on the claim that Jesus Christ never got married. Yet, it should be noted that Jesus Christ’s life on earth was rather short. According to history, he lived for thirty years among the people, and he dedicated all his adult life to the promotion of Christianity, traveling from town to town to guide the people. This shows that he merely did not have the opportunity and the time for marriage.
This negative innovation by Christianity is rejected by all other divinely-sent religions on the grounds that family life is the basis of a prosperous society and society is a must for the spiritual and material development of mankind. Therefore, all other religions have emphasized the institution of marriage and have encouraged their followers to get married.
Therefore, practicing a distorted version of Hijab within the framework of monasticism is, in effect, a rejection of social rationality, as it is a means of isolation and seclusion from the society. In this sense, Hijab is used not as a protecting mechanism within the society but as a way of secluding oneself from the society and disregarding one’s social responsibilities. The result of such negative innovations will be widespread corruption similar to what has plagued monasteries and churches today.
On the other hand there are some who flatly reject Hijab as they only view man as a being with merely physical and psychological characteristics and needs, but without any spiritual aspects. For instance, the western psychologist, Sigmund Freud, who placed great importance on the physical and psychological aspects of human beings, rejected Hijab as an obstacle to the satisfaction of sexual desires on which he placed inordinately tremendous importance.
According to Freud, the elimination of Hijab would pave the way for human instincts to be satisfied and this was what the west actually did. Today, corruption has ravaged the west due to the inordinate emphasis placed on the satisfaction of unrestrained sexual desires and it is a problem which cannot be covered up.
It should be noted that the law of Hijab and monasticism are two completely different things. The laws of Hijab are not put in place in order to suppress the natural desires of mankind. They are put in place to prevent the unrestrained sexual relations and corruption and to channel human instincts in ways that his desires are satisfied lawfully and within the boundaries of marriage.
Hijab and Modesty as the Key Elements in Social Development
The materialistic schools of thought have argued that there is the most fundamental flaw in the law of Hijab is that it causes half of the society, namely women, to be excluded from social practices. This, they claim, will keep them away from proper intellectual and cultural development.
Furthermore, these schools state that since in the present time the industry and economy of the world is thriving, there is a greater need for active workforce; however, Hijab is an obstacle to the employment of women in industries, turning half of the society into inactive consumers and an encumbrance on the society.
In response to these false claims it should be said that, just as wearing proper clothes for work is not a hindrance for men or women, maintaining proper Hijab is also not an obstacle to women’s work. Moreover, Hijab does not restrict women’s freedom just as wearing clothes is not considered a restriction of the people’s freedom in any society.
Today, Muslim women take part in all social events and work in most of the jobs that men do while maintaining their proper Hijab. This further refutes the claim that Hijab prevents women from taking up social roles.
In fact, Hijab not only does not prevent women from assuming their social responsibilities, it paves the way for their effective presence in the society by creating a safe environment for both men and women. This way, all the members of the society, regardless of their sex, can assume their responsibilities and work to improve the society in all aspects.
As it was discussed above, the proponents of sexual freedom claim that Hijab is an unnecessary hindrance to the social activities of the machine era. Yet, they have neglected the fact that Hijab is just a kind of clothing for women and, like the proper clothing worn by men, it does not hinder their social and economic undertakings.
In fact, history indicates that in the distant past, women were the pioneers in agriculture and taming the cattle to be used by humans. It should be noted that in the past women wore proper clothing while working, very much like the Hijab which is promoted by Islam. This shows that women in the past worked and took part in social undertakings while preserving their feminine identity through Hijab.
One thing that should not be forgotten here is the important role of women as mothers who are responsible for the upbringing of the next generation of men and women who will be responsible for protecting and developing the society. Therefore, the social responsibilities of women must not overshadow their important responsibilities to their families, and in particular, to their children.
Strengthening the Institution of Marriage, the Most Important Social Function of Hijab
Statistics indicate that, with the spread of sexual freedom and the rejection of Hijab, the rate of divorce has increased dramatically and more families are falling apart every day. This is because by rejecting the Hijab, women were gradually turned into “sexual commodities” in the free market world, something which is clearly devastating to the institution of marriage as it renders it meaningless.
So it all comes down to two fundamental questions: should women enter a never-ending competition with one another over the erotic potentials of their bodies, turning themselves into veritable sex toys for the gratification of men’s lust in the society? Or should they restrict their sexual practices within the bounds of marriage, and appear in the society as human beings who are valued for their work, art, and skill, not for their sex?
It should be kept in mind that man is a social being and is, hence, in need of getting married and having a family since family is the building block of the society. Therefore, it is impossible for human beings to lead a natural and normal life without being part of a family.
The institution of marriage is a response to the social needs of mankind and a way of ensuring their persona and social well-being; it is an irrevocable rule and an unchangeable reality as it is deeply-rooted in human nature.
Islam believes that Hijab is a protecting shield for the institution of marriage; it strengthens the family through strengthening sexual imagination of the couples and prevents marriage and sexual desires from being robbed of their attractiveness and function.
Moreover, Hijab is an effective means with which the boundaries the family are established in order to prevent intruders from overstepping them. This way, the positive male jealousy and female modesty will be activated, leading both the wife and the husband to protect the boundaries of their marital life, preventing others from overstepping them.
Obviously, then, a lack of proper Hijab will not only cause insecurity for families, it will create constant sexual tensions within the society, leading to various psychological disorders and undermining the institution of marriage.
Therefore, Islam as a religion whose laws are in full agreement with the rational mind has restricted all forms of sexual gratification, including visual and audial as well as touching and having intercourse to the boundaries of marriage. It has then prohibited all extramarital sexual relations as gross sins which could endanger the safety of the society. It has then legislated the law of Hijab in order to ensure that all sorts of sexual activities are confined within the boundaries of marriage and only between husbands and wives and that the society is protected against perversion.
Conclusion: Hijab as the Protector of Female Dignity and Identity
In the end, it should be noted that women have had very bitter experiences throughout history; they have been deceived by the beautiful motto of gender equality whose only outcome has been turning women into objects for the sexual gratification of men.
Encouraging women to appear half-naked or without proper Hijab in the society is, in effect, a way of humiliating them, as it communicates the message that they have no other worth except their sexual functions.
Theories such as gender equality and feminism have degraded the woman and feminine identity; the proponents of these views have encouraged women to appear without proper covering in the society and to wear make-up in order to be more sexually attractive to men.
This way, the women would waste all their sexual attractiveness in different unlawful sexual relations, turning themselves into veritable sexual commodities and toys, losing their worth as a capable and competent human being in the society.
How can a woman, who has is constantly preoccupied with how sexually attractive she appears to men, have any chance for elevating herself spiritually, scientifically, and morally?
Obviously, issues such as gender equality and feminism are in contradiction with female dignity and identity, because they fail to account for the various physical, emotional, and intellectual differences between women and men. It should be kept in mind that the differences between men and women are by no means an indication of the superiority of one over the other. Men and women are both competent and capable members of the society who, based on their different physical, emotional, and intellectual differences need to assume different social responsibilities.
Islam has always avoided going to extremes in its laws; it has legislated the law of Hijab merely in order to protect the female dignity and identity in the societyand to prevent women from turning into objects of sexual gratification for men. This way, women could be viewed as human beings, regardless of their sex, and they could take on their social responsibilities, helping to establish social rationality in the society.
Researched and edited by: the news editorial of the website of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi’s office.
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 The Encyclopedia of Comparative Fiqh, vol. 1, p. 341.
 Ibid, vol. 2, p. 400.
 Shi’a School Answers, p. 35.
 Our Creed [Aṣl Al Shi‘a], p. 300.
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