‘Ask The VM’: Do women have to wear the veil?

So the hot topic seems to be about the full veil. The fact that some Muslims women cover themselves up from head to toe has offended some European countries so much that they are passing laws to prohibit them being worn in public places! Freedom indeed!

Jason emailed us and one of the things he asked was

Do Muslim women have to wear the full veil? Is it a rule of Islam?

Well Jason The Holy Quran says:

24:30 Say to the believing men that they lower their gaze and restrain their sexual passions. That is purer for them. Surely Allah is Aware of what they do.
24:31 And say to the believing women that they lower their gaze and restrain their sexual passions and do not display their adornment except what appears thereof. And let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms.

The first thing to notice is that the Holy Quran starts of by telling men to behave modestly (e.g. lower their gaze). It then repeats the same command for women. Men and women are both required to cover their heads but women are told to throw their head covering over their bosoms for modesty. The rest of the verse simply talks about behaving modestly and not drawing attention. This is the only place in the Holy Quran that I know, where the so-called “veil” is mentioned. The full body covering frequently seen on the TV is not mentioned anywhere in the Holy Book.

Further, we know from history that in early Islam women played an active role in the life of the community. The Holy Prophet’s (s) first wife was a business woman. She had, in fact, employed the Holy Prophet, to manage her trade caravans to neighbouring countries. At the Battle of Badr, the first set battle between Muslims and idol-worshippers, women tended to the injured, collected armaments (swords, arrows, shields) from the battlefield and brought water for the soldiers. You could say nursing started at this time and not with Florence Nightingale! Women of Medina worked in the orchards and fields alongside their men. It is difficult to imagine that they could do these things if they were covered in a tent like garment.

Because of their special position and because enemies of Islam were constantly trying to foster disunity amongst the Muslims the wives of the Holy Prophet (s) were made an exception to this rule and told to observe seclusion and full covering. This was a sensible precaution as can be seen from the false rumours spread by the enemies of Islam against Hazrat Ayesha (r) when once she got lost in the desert.

However, these restrictions did not stop her from playing a full role in the community. She ran her own seminary and many learned men, as well women, attended to learn from her details of the Holy Prophet’s (s) life. It is said that at least one third of our knowledge of Islam comes from the courses she ran. She was consulted by the khulafa (Heads of State) in important social and political matters. For example, it was on her advice that length of a soldier’s tour of duty was fixed. When differences in the community led to open warfare she led an army in support of one faction.

The point is that even the section of women who had to use a complete covering and seclusion, was not to exclude them from public life. On the contrary they played a full part in it. So, dressing modestly is not meant to restrict a woman in any way but to protect her.

The Islamic view is that it is demeaning for a woman to display herself like a product or a piece of meat in a shop window. A woman is to be recognised for her ability, her knowledge, and her achievements and not just by her physical appearance.

Critics of Islam say that purdah, burqah and veil ought to be banned because women are forced to wear them. It is strange that the contradiction in their own argument does not strike them. If it is wrong to force someone to do something then why do they want to force women who want to wear a veil to go uncovered. Surely, they are just as wrong to do so. The better course is to remind Muslims that the Holy Quran says : “There is no compulsion in Religion.”

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