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Wearing of the Veil

Rights of Women in Islam


The veil is against a woman’s nature. It limits and imprisons women and it is a prison from which women must escape

Of all the religious edicts, perhaps the hardest and least acceptable and one which is in conflict with women’s sensual inclinations, especially for the young, is the issue of the veil.

Has God, the All-Knowing, imposed an unfair and discriminatory edict on women or is there a benefit and good purpose in it agreeable with woman’s nature which one has to recognize?

The word veil is a secular word and in the Qur’an it has never been mentioned to mean head cover or head dress.

From the cases where derivatives of the word veil have appeared in the Qur’an meanings such as curtain, screen, and boundary (placed on strangers) can be inferred. The ethical application of this word in the case of women hinges on the belief in the existence of such boundaries, the limitations placed on the women’s individual and public contacts with men, and the responsibilities instigated by religious laws.

Human being is the only creature which, due to having choice and free will, and awareness and recognition of his/her good and bad behavior, feels shame and tries to cover his/her body parts and guard them from those seeking to abuse them. Except for human beings, animals which live by their natural instincts never feel shame, guilt, or embarrassment. In the story of Adam and Eve in heaven the first action they take in order to cover their bodies with leaves takes place after their disobedience in eating the forbidden fruit. This action is the first expression in exhibiting choice and free will which distinguishes humans from animals. Since both Adam and Eve attempted to cover their bodies it shows that veiling and covering for both men and women is the first sign of “will” and control of instinct, and is a defensive mechanism against stimulations from outside the system.

Consequently, the issue of veiling and feeling of shame and guilt from the points of view of nature and history, are as old as the existence of man on this planet and were not invented and imposed by religious administrators. The diversity of the opinions on the issue of veil is concerned with the limits of veiling. On the one hand is the complete freedom in the relationships between men and women, i.e., no limit on the unruly passion, desire and sexual inclinations, and on the other is limiting and imprisoning women in the house and severing all their relationships with their surroundings and other people. What is important is to find a reasonable and rational position on this issue which at its source has the covering of only the sexual parts of the body with only so much as the leaf of a tree, and in its present form is interpreted by some to mean the hiding of women at home and silencing them.

The following are some of the inferences derived from the Qur’an in understanding the philosophy and the benefits of this issue:

1. The veil is an issue for both men and women and is part of the supply and demand equation. Many think that women should cover their bodies and men should restrain their eyes, whereas Verse 31 of Chapter Al-Noor (24) of the Qur’an decrees both for both sexes.

وَقُلْ لِلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَى جُيُوبِهِنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ آَبَائِهِنَّ أَوْ آَبَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَائِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي أَخَوَاتِهِنَّ أَوْ نِسَائِهِنَّ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُنَّ أَوِ التَّابِعِينَ غَيْرِ أُولِي الْإِرْبَةِ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ أَوِ الطِّفْلِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يَظْهَرُوا عَلَى عَوْرَاتِ النِّسَاءِ وَلَا يَضْرِبْنَ بِأَرْجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعْلَمَ مَا يُخْفِينَ مِنْ زِينَتِهِنَّ وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss

2. The veil for women is for their security against the sick-hearted and against attacks on women’s chastity, and has a custodial role not one of impedance or hindrance and slavery. Consider the following:

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُلْ لِأَزْوَاجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَاءِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِنْ جَلَابِيبِهِنَّ ذَلِكَ أَدْنَى أَنْ يُعْرَفْنَ فَلَا يُؤْذَيْنَ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ غَفُورًا رَحِيمًا

O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful. (1)

3. Veil (in the context of relationship with strangers) is for the protection of the family as the source of nourishment for the young and a means of strengthening the relationship between husband and wife. It is a tool for preventing the weakening and dissociation of the married relationship of a couple, and for strengthening the dependency of the spouses on each other. Elimination of this protection by allowing passion and desire to override marital obligations will lead to destruction of family life.

Just as prevention is cheaper and better than the cure, so is covering exposed parts of body (of men and women) and restraining one’s eyes a cure for deviations from moral and ethical behavior.

4. Most people’s understanding of the word veil is the head cover or the long gown worn by some women, whereas the word veil is not mentioned in the Qur’an to mean head cover or gown, nor is covering the head a sufficient condition to realize the meaning of veil.

The realm of veil in the Qur’an starts with the manner of looking

قُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ يَغُضُّوا مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِمْ (2) ...Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze…
وَقُلْ لِلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ (3)  And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze…
فَلَا تَخْضَعْنَ بِالْقَوْلِ فَيَطْمَعَ الَّذِي فِي قَلْبِهِ مَرَضٌ وَقُلْنَ قَوْلًا مَعْرُوفًا (4) be not too complacent of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire: but speak ye a speech (that is) just

Non of which are addressed by wearing a veil. Most of the disputes revolve around covering the hair, whereas covering the head, chest and neck, and not wearing tight clothing (so as to outline the body contours) which is clearly mentioned in the Qur’an, are more important

وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَى جُيُوبِهِنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty

For chaste women Qur’an considers necessary the coverage of anything that is considered ornamental or decorative. Whether one’s hair is considered “ornamental,” should be judged by an unbiased conscious and a mind independent of sensual inclinations. If in the Qur’an there is no direct mention of hair (5), or if hair coverage seems to be in dispute, it is due to the historical state of affairs. In the region of Saudi Arabia during the time of revelation of the Qur’an, and also today, due to the intensity of the heat of the sun and dust in the air, men and women covered their heads and therefore it was not necessary for the Qur’an to mention the issue of covering one’s hair.

5. On the one hand is the point of view of some western societies in utilizing and profiteering from appearance and beauty of women and application of such commodities in the arena of marketing and sales, and offering such commodities to customers of passion and desire or even customers of artwork. And on the other is the religious point of view which insists on protecting and guarding the beauty of form and shape, a Divine endowment on human beings. The difference in view points are due to the difference in world view and observation of the same. On the one hand, it is a question of love of the world and following one’s passions, desires in seeking temporary pleasures, and on the other hand, devising good policies and long-term considerations for individuals and the society, and also seeking salvation for the day of judgment. One can never dissuade those whose sight is bound by temporal life and earthly pleasures from ostentation and pretension.

6. Verses regarding observing boundaries of relationship between men and women are mentioned mainly in Chapters Al-Noor (24) and Al-Ahzab (33) of the Qur’an which were revealed in Medina (not Mecca) (6) during the eighteenth to the twenty third years of the prophetic mission, as the final additions to a monument whose structure and substance had already been constructed. This situation attests to an important issue, an issue whose mental and cultural foundation has to be in place before the final additions can be installed. This is a case of setting educational precedence and priority in a society. In the Qur’an the axioms declaring unlawful such things as intoxicating substances, gambling, etc., and the issue of veil, were revealed at a time when the foundation for societal belief for the unity of God, the day of judgment, the history of past peoples and prophets, and ethical standards had already been laid. Even then such axioms were revealed through patterns and sample models, not through commands and proclamations! Whereas in some Islamic countries, the religious administrators concentrate their efforts on the wearing of the veil and cause rough encounters with persons who do not wear veils and follow western cultures instead of directing their efforts towards cultural and educational activities; a futile effort expended on the appearance and one which ignores the substance. According to Mathnavi of Molavi:

Love can only be encountered with love,
Seek then, a lover better than love.

When teachers of ethics in a society mange to plant the seed of love in the youth, then one can hope to reap the harvest in the next generation and not have to worry about those who are content with the temporal life

7. The Qur’an does not mention anything with regards to those who do not wear the veil. In some Islamic countries, if punishment is administered, it is due to the man-made laws and the discretion of the religious administrators, and not because of a divine law or commandment. Maybe the reason that the Qur’an does not mention punishment for those who do not wear the veil is due to the law of supply and demand. In other words, it may be that the effect of not wearing the veil can be neutralized by ignoring and not paying attention and by controlling one’s eyes. Indeed if there is demand for a commodity, how can one dissuade another from selling that commodity?

According to the Qur’an, and in contrast to the customary practice, the harsh threats and punishments in this world are directed toward abusive and obtrusive men who cause disturbances for women. Consider the following Verse:

لَئِنْ لَمْ يَنْتَهِ الْمُنَافِقُونَ وَالَّذِينَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمْ مَرَضٌ وَالْمُرْجِفُونَ فِي الْمَدِينَةِ لَنُغْرِيَنَّكَ بِهِمْ ثُمَّ لَا يُجَاوِرُونَكَ فِيهَا إِلَّا قَلِيلًا

Truly, if the Hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease, and those who stir up sedition in the City, desist not, We shall certainly stir thee up against them: Then will they not be able to stay in it as thy neighbours for any length of time (7)


1) Qur’an 33:59

2) Qur’an 24:30

3) Qur’an 24:31

4) Qur’an 33:32

5) The word hair is not mentioned in the Qur’an

6) See “Seir-e Tahavol Dar Qur’an,”, Table 15, by Mehdi Bazargan

7) Qur’an 33:60