THE HIDDEN PEARLSPearls beautiful manifestations of Allah’s design and creation are born and found in the depths of the ocean within the protection of an oyster shell. Many divers risk their lives to attain these jewels, their shine unmarred, hidden away from human touch & sight. They are lessons in nature for heedful eyes. Have we ever wondered why pearls, the purest and whitest of natural jewels are not found floating on the surface of the ocean for all to see? Have we pondered why all beautiful things are hidden, the pomegranate seeds in their peel white coconut in a coarse shell, diamonds in a mine? And the most beautiful Being beyond our imaginations Allah Ta’ala . Among his best creation, the human being, Allah chose this honour for a woman in order to preserve, protect and purify her beauty and to make it eternal in paradise.
However, in recent years this great honour bestowed on a woman is now being looked down upon. A symbol of dignity for centuries, it is now being called a symbol of humiliation and imprisonment . Above everything else people have gone to the extent of saying that this ordainment is not there in the Quran. So let us see what Islam says about veil (Purdah).
A number of words have been used in the Quran to explain the dress code and conduct expected of a Muslim woman. Hijab or “purdah” as we call it, is not only a covering or outer garb but also the kind of conduct and intention that should accompany it. Yet the presence of only a good intention is not sufficient without any action to verify that intention. You can perhaps vouch about your own purity of thought (which is also disliked by Allah because no one can claim to be free from sin) but how can you vouch for the intentions of the hundreds of men you choose to walk amongst? Intention is important but not sufficient by itself for repeatedly Allah says: “Those who believed and performed good actions.” Hence, actions must accompany intention and in the following ayahs, Allah Ta’ala has stated certain specific actions that He wishes us to do.
1- Surah An-Nur: 31 states: “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and protect their private parts and not to show off their adornment except that which is apparent and to draw their khumur over their juyub and not to reveal their adornment except to their husband’s fathers, or their sons or their husband’s sons, or their brothers or their brother’s sons, or their sister’s sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, or small children who have no sense of feminine sex.”
The word ‘Khumur’ (plural of khimar) is used for a head cover in Arabic. Alcohol is also called khamr because it overcomes or covers up the senses of a person. Before Islam, women would tuck this head dress behind their ears and throw its ends over their shoulders to leave their ears, necks and bosoms uncovered. So it was clearly ordained here to extend the head dress (or scarf or dupatta) over the bosoms so they serve their actual purpose of covering a woman’s attraction.
Then women are explicitly told about the people before whom they may reveal their adornment. It is vital to pause here and think, “What was the need of mentioning every mahram by name if there was going to be no difference in the woman’s attire before them and everyone else?”
Not only the clothes but even the manner of walking should not be provocative or such that it draws attention to the women. “And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And all of you beg Allah to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful.” (An-Nur; 31)
We, on the contrary, act against these commands and then except Allah to forgive us.
Men and women have both being asked to lower or restrict stray glances, not because the face is uncovered or covered but also to avoid eye contact or avoid seeing any haram (unlawful) thing that can open the door to many vices.
Eyes are windows to the soul and betray many an emotion; therefore controlling their unbridled usage was one of the steps to prevent unlawful relationships. Purdah was another step in the same direction
We need to then think about how the shariah (Islamic law), which is full of wisdom, could command the covering of the head and bosom, the lowering of certain gazes and a dignified walk but allow the face to remain uncovered? The face is where the main attraction of a woman lies. It is on the beautification of her face that the woman spends thousands of rupees, the face that attracts men and the face that is used in advertisements to promote many products.
2-In Surah Al-Ahzab: 53, it is clearly stated that the wives of the Prophet SAW are not allowed to remarry and if male strangers have any important thing to ask for, they should do so from behind a partition. Allah says: “That is purer for your hearts and for their hearts.” Hence certain actions are necessary to preserve the purity of the heart. Allah Ta’ala is our Creator and is closer to us than our jugular vein. He knows the thoughts that arise in us even before we can realize them. He knows better what precautions and rules to make to save humanity from disaster.
In spite of being Mothers of the faithful and role models for us, the wives of the Prophet SAW have been given strict rules of conduct and attire. If these pious ladies have been ordered thus, where should we place ourselves?
3-In Surah Al-Ahzab: 59, Allah Ta’ala ordains “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their jilbabs (cloaks) all over themselves. That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as to not be annoyed. And Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
The word ‘jilbab’ refers to an outer garment to be worn over the khimar and clothes when going out of the house. Beyond the security of the house, this dress will hide a Muslim woman’s adornment (face, body, clothes and jewellery) and also act as a mark of distinction to prevent any wrong advances. Here, it is not the face that is meant to be a mark of recognition for any individual because this meaning would be inconsistent with the context and meaning of the rest of the ayah. Rather it is this attire that will help a woman be recognized as a Muslim woman about whom no evil hopes can be harboured.
To say that this order was for the olden days when such a need for security existed is a farce because are we implying that the time of Prophet SAW was worse than the corrupt and crime-ridden society of today? Are women more secure from threats to their person and honour today, or are cases of rape and sexual harassment on the rise in all parts of the world? Has the human nature changed with time? The answers are clear.
The word ‘ala’ (upon) signifies that this cloak must be hung from above a person so as to cover the face, body and clothes and not hung from the shoulders, etc. The form and design of the jilbab is not mentioned but rather left up to the conditions of each country or climate.
The Quran cannot be completely understood without ahadith and we must see how the initial and foremost recipients of this Divine Message acted upon it. We see that the wives of the Prophet SAW and the sahabiat had no hesitation in covering their faces and bodies when such an order came from their Lord. Hadhrat Aisha RA relates in context to the incident of slander against her: “I kept sitting there and dozed off. Meanwhile a man, Safwan bin Muattal Aslami came to the place and saw me sleeping. He recognized me immediately because he had seen me before the commandment for hijab came. He recited ‘Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raajioon’. So I woke up and covered my face with my jilbab.” (Bukhari)
Hence, though the word ‘face’ or ‘naqab’ may not be mentioned in the Quran in context to hijab, but it is mentioned in ahadith (like the hadith about not wearing naqab during Hajj). The test may be to see who submits to Allah’s commands as well as the Messenger’s SAW Sunnah.
An exception to this rule is when a man wishes to see the woman he is going to marry. This is allowed and recommended and this special permission shows that it is not possible to see the woman otherwise.
Old women who have no desire or produce no desire for marriage in others have been allowed to shed their outer clothes, which proves that the wearing of jilbab is necessary for young, marriageable women. Even for the old, Allah says, “But to refrain (not to discard their outer clothing) is better for them.” (An-Nur: 60)
As far as leaving the face uncovered during Hajj (or namaz) is concerned, this is not necessarily applicable for the rest of our life too. Acts of worship have special requirements that are not practiced otherwise. We do not wear the ihram (2 sheets of cloth) in our daily life, nor do we observe the various restrictions of ihram except on the occasion of Hajj, we do not abstain from food or intercourse everyday from dawn till dusk like we do in Ramadan. So how can we make an exceptional act like uncovering the face a rule for the rest of our life?
On the other hand the command to abstain from using naqab (sewn cloth for covering face) during Hajj proves the fact that it is necessary otherwise or there would have been no need to stop women from wearing it on Hajj. Infact it is not forbidden to cover the face with an unsewn cloth for women on Hajj. Hadhrat Aisha narrates, “Men on camels used to pass by us while we were with the Prophet SAW and in the state of ihram. We would cover our faces with our jilbabs when they passed by us and then uncover them again.” (Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah)
This attire is not a hindrance but rather a blessing for the Muslim woman. If an entire nation can go around wearing masks to save themselves from catching the SARS disease, why can’t Muslim women do so to save themselves from other kinds of social ills? If a surgeon can perform the most delicate of tasks covered from head to toe, wearing a mask, why must a Muslim woman’s sight, hearing or breathing be obstructed by a cloth? Hijab is not a means of blackening the faces of women and reducing them to mere objects! Rather it is the culture of obscenity that is making women mere objects of attraction and a feast for the eyes.
Does keeping a pearl within a cover or a diamond in a safe place decrease its worth? Rather it increases it. It is when the woman’s outer appearance is hidden from public display that her inner qualities of intellect, wisdom and knowledge shine through.
Whenever the women of Jannah are mentioned in the Quran, their quality of being hidden and preserved is also mentioned which further enhances their beauty. They have been called Azwajun Mutahharatun (purified wives) and Lulu-el-Maknoon (Pearls kept hidden). Allah Ta’ala says: “And beside them will be Qasirat-at-Tarf (ones with lowered, restrained eyes) with wide and beautiful eyes. (Delicate and pure) as if they were (hidden) eggs (well) preserved.” (As-Saffat: 48-49)
If we desire to be amongst these women in the gardens of Paradise, we will have to develop these qualities within ourselves from this world onwards to become one of the Hidden Pearls.
(this was written originally as a response to the articles that appeared in Pakistani newspapers a few years back proposing that there is no face-veil in Islam, it was published as a pamphlet by Al Huda Int'l)