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The veil and the niqab

By Dr Farrukh Saleem

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance columnist. Email:


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 education.

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 Africa).
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 rejected."

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 issue.

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



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