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Hijab between religion and fashion

Translated by: Fatema Makki

Q: Some believe that Hijab, which constitutes a legal cover up, is restricted to the cloak (chador or abaya), mostly used in ancient times, and that the modern veil is not adequate. What is your Eminence’s view?

A: Hijab represents a religious concept pertaining to two points:

1- The body that God forbade revealing to non-mahram men (those to  whom marriage is allowed).

2- Negation of wanton displays, and arousing desires.

In other words, the outfit of a female who is living in a mixed society, containing both men and women, must cover up her whole body, and must not be sexually provocative, making her immune to indecent looks. Thus, any kind of outfit complying with these two conditions is considered religiously accepted.

We do not stress the “chador” or 'abaya". The latter has been brought about by people, as a result of certain conditions pertinent to their environment, or because they believe that it has to do with the way they prefer.

There is nothing wrong in whatever the female wears, as long as it  is decent, complies with religious laws, and introduces her as human being rather than a sexual object.

Q: Sometimes, the female outfit complies with the conditions of Hijab, but some women try to find a middle ground between Hijab and modern fashion.

A: In such cases, instead of being an outfit of decency, Hijab is rather transformed into a means of sexual excitement.

On a psychological level, dressing in accordance with the trends of modern fashion infers that the female attempts to gain male recognition and attention. This intellectual and mental backwardness diverts the function of Hijab into its complete opposite.

Q: Lately, many discussions regarding fashion and other modern issues were raised, what are the standards that determine whether an outfit is permissible or not?

A: Islam and the Islamic law disregard the different forms of outfits that people wear during their daily lives. What really concerns Islam is whether the outfit is religiously accepted or not.

Some discuss the issue of the fashion of the unbelievers and the impermissibility of dressing like them. However, upon examining the issue thoroughly, we can see that this issue commenced during a certain time, and the purpose behind it was to distinguish between the Muslims, who were a minority at that time, and unbelievers, who were a huge majority. This is evident in Imam Ali’s (a.s.) saying in his book, The Peak of Eloquence. He was once asked about the Prophet’s saying: "With the help of hair-dye turn old age into youth so that you do not resemble the Jews", and whether they shall do so or not, Imam Ali (a.s.) answered "only in the early stage of Islam there were very few Muslims", meaning that it is no longer needed to distinguish between Muslims and non-Muslims, now that the number of Muslims has increased.

Some jurists might have noticed that the Prophet’s (p) Hadith: "trim the moustache closely and spare the beard and do not imitate the Jews" was not based on a permanent jurisprudential ruling. It was rather based on a certain social advantage during a period in which it was essential to distinguish between Muslims and Jews. But nowadays, the issue is no longer about resembling the Jews or Magus in their appearance; it has become a matter of free choice; about people choosing what they want for themselves.

Q: What is meant by “notorious clothes”, and why is it considered impermissible to wear them?

A: “Notorious clothes” are the clothes that are not habitually worn by individuals according to their social status; like when a male dresses like a female and vise versa. There are certain clothes which could only be worn by women, and other clothes which could only be worn by men. A man must not dress like a woman and vise versa. Thus, based on several Hadiths, a man must not dress in a feminine manner, and a woman must not dress in a manly manner.

The wise thing to do is to maintain social balance by preventing confusion on the psychological level.

Q: Can custom surpass the jurisprudential law?

A: Custom must never surpass jurisprudential laws whatsoever. After all, the function of custom is to comprehend the religious texts in the Quran and the Islamic Tradition concerning jurisprudential laws. It would be a matter of change of the type of clothes as a result of change in custom. For example, certain Fatwas claim that it is prohibited for men to dress like women, and for women to dress like men. However, if a certain outfit, such as the pants, was worn more commonly, and thus, became a unisex outfit, then a woman dressed in pants would not be considered wearing a male outfit. The outfit has become unisex. In this case, custom has transformed this custom from a private outfit to a general one.

In conclusion, custom might change what it accepts as a convention, but it can never change the ruling itself.

Q: Based on the assumption that an unveiled woman, who is not wearing makeup, is not sexually provocative, Western societies accuse Islam of exaggeration when it comes to Hijab.

A: Such an assumption is considered precarious for a simple reason: the female attracts the male because of her femininity, and not by means of makeup and accessories. In the same breathe; the female is attracted to the male. Because of his instinct, the male is more likely to disregard these elements [makeup and accessories] of which he is in favor. We tend to believe that a woman’s beauty springs from her femininity. Likewise, a man’s masculinity is the source of his handsomeness.

Accordingly, the claim, regarding Hijab and unveiled women, is false. The beauty of an unveiled woman differs from that of a veiled one. A woman’s hair provides the whole body with beauty, and other organs, such as the legs, provide the body with intrinsic beauty. They produce a special bodily effect, and this is what we know from the advertising media, which constantly draw attention to the hair and legs.

On one level, sentiment goes against this. On a second level, the Western belief is expressed as one value, while another value is practiced. They have their own set of values, and their mentality contradicts with our values and rejects our boundaries. Freedom, in the Western mentality, is the ultimate sexual freedom for men and women. When viewing Hijab from such an angle, then Hijab would not have any significance, because, after all, it is a means of creating discipline and balance, and prohibiting factors leading to perversity.

The view that claims that man and woman are free to do whatever they wish with their bodies, perceives Hijab as a despised thing, because, in such a view, there is absolutely no prohibitions, and nudity is considered a natural state.  

On the other hand, according to Muslims, the issue is based on the sanctimony that Islam imposed on both men and women, and it is meant to forbid them both from being subjects to their wild desires through a set of restraints that take human needs into consideration.

Another issue which we must address is the ethical principles of the east and the west. Does it grant the male and the female total freedom to do whatever they wished with their bodies? Or does it lay down certain guidelines?

For many Easterners, the issue lies in their belief in the values of honor and sanctimony in the male/female relation, but, at the same time, they follow the Western customs with respect to suggestive display, beautification, and so forth. This duality destroys their lives: when they are faced with the perversions, which they themselves have paved the way for, they become anxious to maintain their honor and wash away ignominy. The following quote applies to them: “He was thrown into the sea shackled and was told: ‘You ought not to get soaked!’”

Q: There is another disagreement related to this matter: Some claim that Hijab represses men, and thus, becomes extremely aroused by the slightest move or act.

A: Repression is not the result of Hijab, but the result of denying the body its needs and dissatisfying its desires, rather than Hijab. In other words, repression occurs when the wife refuses to respond to her husband’s needs, or when the husband refuses to respond to his wife’s needs.

Moreover, we must distinguish between repression resulting from a certain psychological complex, and that resulting from realities of regulated societies. I personally believe that all moral, social, and political constraints that restrict the individual’s freedom and forbid him from expressing himself would be transformed into a psychological complex. However, if we regard each and every system with certain regulations as an oppressive one, then we would rather call for chaos and disarray, so that man does not get psychologically deranged.

Q: Is the father, for instance, entitled to force his daughter to wear Hijab?

A: A man can do so, not from the perspective of a father or a husband, but rather from the position that he is a Muslim enjoining good and forbidding evil. The girl, as well, should abide by her father’s orders, not because he is her father, or because fatherhood calls for obedience, but rather because he is a preacher and a spiritual guide. It must be noted that forcing might lead to a greater problem and other negative complications, and that the jurisprudential laws of enjoining good and forbidding evil must be taken into consideration.

  *An excerpt from the book “World of The Youth” by Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah