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Hijab and Molestation

Ali Eteraz

Posted in Uncategorized by eteraz on September 30th, 2007

Are people familiar with ‘illa? It is an idea devised by traditional scholars which is translated as rationication or “operative cause.”

The operative cause is the element that triggers a law into action. For example, the prohibition of alcohol has the operative cause of intoxication; as such, even though the Quran says nothing about cocaine, you can’t snort.

Let’s apply ‘illa to hijab. Shall we? Verse 33:59:

O Prophet, tell your wives, daughters and the women of the believers to lower (or possibly, draw upon themselves) their garments. This is better so that they will not be known molested. And, God is forgiving and merciful.

This is the Khaled Abu el Fadl translation of the verse. Here is Muhamad Asad (with explanation).

(59) O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters, as well as all [other] believing women, that they should draw over themselves some of their outer garments [when in public]: this will be more con­ducive to their being recognized [as decent women] and not annoyed. [Cf. the first two sentences of 24: 31 and the corresponding notes.] But [withal,] God is indeed much- forgiving, a dispenser of grace!

[The specific, time-bound formulation of the above verse (evident in the reference to the wives and daughters of the Prophet), as well as the deliberate vagueness of the recommendation that women “should draw upon themselves some of their outer garments min jalabibihinna)” when in public, makes it clear that this verse was not meant to be an injunction (hukm) in the general, timeless sense of this term but, rather, a moral guideline to be observed against the ever-changing background of time and social environment. This finding is reinforced by the concluding reference to God’s forgiveness and grace.]

From the two translations it can be gleaned that avoiding molestation and avoiding annoyance is the ‘illa of the hijab.

We know this because according to Fadel, “nearly all the commentators agreed that this verse was revealed to protect women from molestation.”

Apparently there was a group of young and corrupt men in Medina who harassed and sometimes molested women at night. However, they targetted only slaves and not free women. The way the young men of that time who molested women distinguished a slave from a free woman was by the cloth that a free woman wore. These verses were thus revealed extolling women to cover themselves so that they would not be molested.

In other words, the ‘illa of this verse — which Asad states is not a timeless injunction — is the prevention of molestation of women.

This obviously means that if without the cloth a woman is not going to be molested, she can do without the hijab just as you can drink non-alcoholic beer because it won’t leave you intoxicated.

In the US and most Western countries a woman without a hijab won’t be molested or annoyed. As such, there is really no need to wear hijab.

(Funnily enough, in Egypt and Pakistan she will be annoyed or molested irrespective of a hijab so I suppose it doesn’t matter whether she wears it or not there too).

I think deep down the tradition recognize this ‘illa. In 2001 when there were incidents of hijabi women being annoyed or harrassed in the US, Hamza Yusuf allowed women to discard the hijab. Why did he do that? Because the tradition recognizes that continued wearing of it would lead to a result that violated the ‘illa behind 33:59.

Anyway, I’m neither a scholar, nor do I want to be, nor am I a woman. I just thought some people would find it useful; especially the point that this position exists within the tradition, especially Fadel’s point about “nearly all commentators.”

I think if you want to oppose the argument I have just laid out you have to argue that there is no such thing as qiyas (analogical reasoning) (because that is where ‘illa comes from). As far as I know, Hanbalis are the only ones who reject qiyas.

12 Responses to 'Hijab and Molestation'

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  1. Walrus said, on September 30th, 2007 at 11:05 am

Thanks a lot for this. I’ve been wondering for a long time about the hijab, seeing as I’d been told it wasn’t actually prescribed in the Quran.

Is this the same verse used to justify the naqib? And where does the injunction that it must be worn whenever male non-relatives are present come from?

  1. Irving said, on September 30th, 2007 at 11:58 am

If wearing the Hijab stops a woman from being annoyed, then wear it, and if not wearing one stops it, then don’t wear one. It is pretty simple. Although it would have been more merciful to also cause the young men to stop molesting slave women. ya Haqq!

  1. Z.K. said, on September 30th, 2007 at 3:58 pm

Assalamu alaykum

I’d like to add a point in wearing Hijab in the west: it makes one be recognized as a muslim woman and believe it or not, but it also makes many people respect you for being “strong” and not following the mainstream.

It’s amazing, what a great, positive impact this type of clothing has had in my life..(just wanting to let u know..)

Allah bless u &
movafagh bashid

  1. Sabir said, on September 30th, 2007 at 5:34 pm

In order to glean an ‘illa for hijab, you have to look at every ayah and hadith related to the issue, not just 33:59. In addition, though I respect Abou el Fadl, it would be much more useful to bring forth dissenting fatawa from classical scholars (that is, before the issue began to take on loaded political and social connotations).

Also, I could be wrong, but I thought Hamza Yusuf’s fatwa on the issue from a few years back urged woman to find less conspicuous ways to cover their awrah, not remove their hijab entirely.

  1. thabet said, on October 1st, 2007 at 5:17 am

dissenting fatawa from classical scholars (that is, before the issue began to take on loaded political and social connotations)

An odd statement. Did classical scholars not live in an era infused with its own “loaded political and social connotations”?

  1. DanielH said, on October 1st, 2007 at 7:53 am


I think Sabir must be talking about Western pressures to reform. But you are right to point out that “classical” times had political pressures of their own — we shouldn’t view their opinions as more pure.

Further, we’ve certainly progressed in factual knowledge since those times. So, to the extent that a legal ruling requires not only an interpretation of the law but also of the facts, this actually makes modern judgements more trustworthy.

  1. floozy said, on October 2nd, 2007 at 12:47 am

my own (personally invested) read is that the ruling was itself born out of a “loaded” political and social environment (as was the beating verse). i’m with mernissi on the delicate-gender-relations-that-threatened-islam’s-future argument.

note that, depending on the asbab un-nuzul you buy into, there is a also class element to this verse (distinction from slave women). my guess is that this was a natural revision based on sumptuary laws prevalent in that era.

however, what is more curious to me is how the dress verses (avoiding molestation, drawing veil over bosom) have come to be conflated with the actual “verse of the hijab” (public/private distinction)–i was surprised when i discovered it was a misnomer. it feels like a modern confusion that, given the misplaced emphasis on the headscarf, probably reveals a lot about islam & modernity if deconstructed.

  1. floozy said, on October 2nd, 2007 at 1:00 am

BTW, movafagh bashid: i am totally with you on the positive influence of the hijab. but, as with almost anything, there are tradeoffs. i’d name a few cons but i have a feeling i’d sound insincere.

one thing for sure is that, depending on your level of assimilation and nature of interaction with nonMuslims, you have to *stay* strong to keep wearing it. such visible muslimness is quite the responsibility.

  1. Hosam said, on October 9th, 2007 at 1:21 pm

What really blows my mind is this, Saidna Umar did not allow slaves to wear hijab, and they would walk around bear breasted in Medina, under his rule. Clearly, there must have been slaves who were Muslim at that time. I would love to know WHY he would not let them wear hijab, sense his actions seem to suggest that hijab is actually tied to status, as opposed to modesty. Why else would he let women walk around BARE breasted, if the issue was really about modestly.

With that being said, it is clear that Muslim scholars, who are people that know Islam (and I am clearly one does not, and am nothing close to a “scholar”) have all decreed that hijab is required. My only concern is each of these scholars is one raised in a culture and atmosphere that must affect their reference points to make judgments. Clearly, Hamza Yusuf agrees with them that it is required, but since he was raised in America, you can see a clear distinction in his lack “obsession” about hijab, clearly middle eastern scholars put more of emphasis on this topic then is warranted. They act like not wearing hijab can send you to hell, and Hamza cites how sick people actually throw acid on women not wearing hijab. What our middle eastern scholars really should be focusing on is real issues, like corruption and bribery, which has crippled middle eastern societies. But instead, rolling up your pants before you pray, and hijab/niqab are focused on. Because of this hijab/niqab focus in Saudi, they have LOST the benefit and intelligence of half their society since this obsession of keeping women hidden has even lead to them not even allowing them to drive. And don’t say this is a cultural thing, it is not, it is their version of Islam. We have to be able to criticize ourselves, if not, we will never advance. One must stop and look at western countries and ask why they are so much more advanced then ours. We must be critical of ourselves. And those out there who are so ignorant and want to say Jews are the problem, or say that Jews caused 9/11, THEY are part of the real problem, and why we cannot advance. Look to Darfur, how many Muslim people are aware of what went on there, or DENY that Muslims are part of this terrible mass slaughter (and a lot of the killing was muslim vs. muslim). These people who deny reality, are the same people who obsess about hijab, and hold us back. If a woman chooses to wear hijab, and be modest, that is clearly better. But if she does not, then as Hamza Yusuf stated, she can be given advice, in a proper way, but that is it. She can clearly still be a good God fearing person, and Muslima. Sometimes I fear that I must pray that God protect us from those who call themselves the religious people.

Go to you tube and put in Hamza Yusuf, on the first page you will see a short 4 minute lecture on Hijab and the reference to Umar not allowing slaves to wear hijab.

Also, a transcript of what he said, is at:

If anyone has genuine knowledge as to why Umar did not allow slaves to wear hijab, please let me know, I really would like to know the actual reason.

  1. Bare Breasted Slaves in Caliph’s Time « Ali Eteraz said, on October 10th, 2007 at 6:55 am

[…] Slaves in Caliph’s Time Filed under: Uncategorized — eteraz @ 6:55 am At the Hijab and Molestation thread there was an interesting comment left by Hosam. I am placing it here because well, […]

  1. jinnzaman said, on October 10th, 2007 at 4:24 pm

Since I’ve already commented in the other thread concerning this argument, I won’t comment on it.

Just a quick point though: Hanbalis do accept Qiyas in their Usul, they just give priority to weaker hadeeth before engaging in Qiyas.

  1. fakhriworld said, on October 18th, 2007 at 1:50 am Thank you Ali. Very informative.


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