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Why Muslim Women Veil - Part 2

by: Nancy Jaber

Saturday (11/03) at 08:29 AM


While non-Muslims might see the wearing of the hijab, or veil-like head covering, by Muslim woman as strange or exotic, it is part of a "code of modesty asked of all people, not just Muslims," said Imam Mohamad Mardini of the Muslim Center in Dearborn.

Mardini a prominent Sunni Imam pointed out that most Jews cover their heads in synagogue, and observant Jewish men wear the "kippa." Orthodox Jewish women also cover their heads and show reverence to God by dressing modestly.

"Christians also had the code of modesty in the veil," Mardini said. "It is seen in the Virgin Mary -- the best example. She is never drawn in pictures or paintings without a veil, which is essentially a hijab."

Some might say that by not donning covering everyday, Christians and Jews have westernized, leaving their Muslim counterparts to follow rules that are not in step with today's society. But many Muslim women who veil disagree, as does Mardini.


"The meaning of the hijab is one of honor," he said. "In Islam, as it is with the other religions of the people of the book, Christians and Jews, the hijab helps a woman maintain her modesty."

Yet it has also been seen as a problem. France, Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia have banned the wearing of the hijab in public places, such as government offices and schools, because the covering is seen as a distraction or as a symbol of religious separatism.

The hijab should be introduced to a Muslim girl's life when she hits puberty. "It is ordained that she wear the hijab when she gets her period," Mardini said. Some translate that as the age of 9, and Mardini said that is the age when a girl traditionally is considered mature.

But the hijab should never be forced on a young Muslim woman. "There is no force at all on anyone, even the wife, even the daughter, even the sister or mother, by any male in the household," Mardini said. "You don't force it on them, what you do is you explain to them why it is important for them to veil."

Mardini said that forcing a female to cover is not only going against the tenets of the Quran, but also the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. Force might actually lead a young woman to do the veil a dishonor by unveiling when she leaves the house because she never understood why she had to wear it.

"You have to teach by example and the best way to do that is to teach them yourself, introduce them to the religion and the hijab as a means of modesty, protection and honor," Mardini said.

He explained that modesty is in how one wears the hijab and it isn't necessarily in the fashions that are prevalent in some of the Persian Gulf States and Iran. There, women generally have to wear one of several different types of covering:

The chador, the billowing black dress that covers most everything from head to toe, leaves the face exposed. The burqa, which is worn in Afghanistan, covers everything including the eyes. And the niqab leaves only the eyes exposed. All these fashions, however, are not following the Quran or even the Muslim religion, Mardini said, but are mere cultural definitions of how to cover.

"The hijab is not meant to restrict or confine a woman, it's a code of modesty," said Mardini. "The hijab is worn so as not to cause attractions; this means the woman has to make sure her hair and neck are covered and wears modest clothing that cover(s) the physical body. You don't have to have the chador or niqab or any of that, those are merely cultural."

But hijab-clad females who don makeup, lots of jewelry and tight clothes defeat the idea. "The hijab's purpose is to not draw attention; when wearing it, one has to be simple, not colorful or stylish," Mardini said.

Part of the symbolism of wearing the hijab also is in "the gaze, the way a woman looks at other people, especially men, particularly strangers," Mardini added. A woman's gaze should be modest, along with "very modest dress and demeanor." And she should "be mindful of God" when veiling.

Mardini said the Quran also calls for conservative cover for men: "They are supposed to cover their bodies in public, be decent in public and not wear tight clothes."

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