The veil and the
By Dr Farrukh Saleem
The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance columnist.
International The News, Pakistan, Sunday , December 3,
2006, Zeeqaad 11, 1427 A.H.
Does the Quran require women to wear a niqab? Does the Holy Quran require women
to wear an all-enveloping, Saudi-style outer garment that hides all but eyes?
To be certain, there are 177 Ayahs about women in the Quran (verses that have
the word 'women' in them). Not one requires women to wear a niqab. Not one
requires women to cover themselves in an all-enveloping outer garment. Not one
requires seclusion for women.
Does the Quran grant Muslim women fewer rights -- with regards to marriage,
divorce, dress code, civil rights, legal status or education -- than Muslim men?
No, the Quran does not.
Yes, the Quran recommends both males (al Quran 24:30) and females (al Quran
24:31) to dress modestly but there is no uniform Islamic clothing. Muslim women
in Indonesia -- the largest Muslim population in any one country -- wear skirts,
the hemlines of which vary from being as high as the lower thigh or as low as
the ankles. Muslim women in Istanbul wear skirts and mini-skirts with a hemline
as high as the upper thigh (some 20 cm or more above knee level).At the other
end of the spectrum, the Taliban regime (1996-2001) required women to wear an
all-enveloping outer gown to be worn over the usual shalwar kameez. Not to
forget that the Taliban administered beating with thin sticks at the ankles for
wearing burqas that were 'too short' and granted far fewer rights to Muslim
women than men -- in marriage as well as divorce, civil rights, legal status and
The operative Quranic term in 24:30 and 24:31 is modesty; first for men and then
for women. The definition of modesty changes with time and varies regionally. A
skirt in the heart of Lahore will be immodest. An all-enveloping 'batman-style'
burqa in the heart of Paris will also be immodest and thus against the
prescription of Quran.
Question: Are Turkish Muslim women less Muslim than Afghan Muslim women?
Muslim Tunisia, the 25th largest Muslim-majority member-state of the OIC, is
fighting its own 'war over the veil'. For the record, Tunisia is 98 per cent
Muslim, while Pakistan is 97 per cent Muslim.
In Tunisia, Decree 108 ''forbids the full veil (niqab) as well as the less
restrictive head covering (hijab) in public places.' According to President Zine
el Abdine bin Ali, niqab as well as hijab are "imported forms of sectarian
dress" (an obvious reference to the role of Saudi-style Wahhabism in North
In a recent speech, President Zine el Abdine said: "Tunisia remains faithful at
all times to its true religion of Islam -- the religion of moderation, openness,
tolerance, and constructive dialogue. It is imperative to differentiate between
imported sectarian dress and authentic Tunisian clothing. The substitution of
foreign dress for Tunisian clothing is a clear and open repudiation of national
identity. Sectarian dress should be rejected just as immodest dress is
Decree 108 may have gone too far. Niqab is not indigenous to Pakistani Muslim
society and neither is a mini-skirt. Shouldn't they both be rejected with the
same degree of persistence? For Pakistan, niqab is an imported form of sectarian
dress and symbolizes the growing role of Saudi-style Wahhabism in Pakistan. To
be sure, niqab has nothing to do with the religion of Islam. Some one
intelligent once said: "Islam is in the heart of the believer, not in the piece
of cloth wrapped in various fashions based on cultural practices."
The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance columnist. Email:
The veil and the niqab
(1) I had the pleasure of reading Dr Farrukh Saleem's
article 'The veil and the niqab' published in your newspaper on December 3.
There is no doubt that the article was a fair attempt to address a contentious
The article stated that women are not required to 'cover themselves in an
all-enveloping outer garment'. I wonder how he failed to see verse 33:59, which
states "O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the
believers to draw their cloaks close round them" (Pickthall). I believe a cloak
is an 'outer garment'.
As far as the niqab goes I agree that it is not an essential part of a woman's
dress. I came to this conclusion when I found nothing to the contrary in the
Quran. But I did find a hadith quoted by Hazrat Ayesha (RA). It relates to her
sister Asma who visited the Prophet's (PBUH) home in an attire that did not meet
his approval. On the occasion he is said to have stated:" It is not proper for
her that any part of her body should be seen except this.." and the Prophet
pointed towards his face and hands. I believe that this hadith sums up the need
for an 'outer garment' as well as a head covering.
S K Bangash, Islamabad, Pakistan
(2) The article by Dr Farrukh Saleem titled 'The veil and the niqab' has
discrepancies. Why does Dr Saleem ignore the fact that there are a number of
hadiths which explicitly explain that women in the time of Prophet Muhammad used
to cover themselves in chaddars which would cover up their bodies (very similar
to the modern day burqa).
There is no objective evidence neither in history nor in the modern world that
wearing hijab is associated with society's retrogression. The first female pilot
of Pakistan, Shahnaz flew her plane wearing a full burqa and there are hundreds
of female doctors, engineers and professionals who go about doing their job
while wearing hijab.
Dr Farooq Azam Rathore, Rawalpindi, Pakistan
(3) Mr Farrukh Saleem's article "The veil and the Niqab"
(Dec. 3), was concise and logical like all his other articles. The hijab and the
veil have nothing to do with Islam. They are merely Middle Eastern imports. The
veil is specifically Saudi Arabian.
We are a large Muslim country and should have our own cultural identity based on
modesty, flexibility and logic. We have to practice the more difficult tenets of
Islam like honesty, integrity and strength of character. It is much easier to
wrap a hijab around the head and feel like a good Muslim, but that is not
enough. In fact, it detracts from the other more important principles of Islam
by putting the spotlight on headgear.
Mobina Khan, Lahore, Pakistan