Modesty of Appearance… in Hijab?

Question and answer details
Thank you for answering my question. My question relates to Muslims in the United Kingdom and wearing the hijab. I personally was considering a few times to put the veil on but failed so far. More and more I come to think about the verse in the Quran that says: {And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms…} Generally I believe this means that women should be demure and modest in their clothes and not be “eye catchers.” Wearing a veil in the United Kingdom, though, achieves exactly the opposite, as everyone looks at you and treats you differently. A lot of my Muslim sisters cannot go to certain places simply because they feel they are looked at all the time. Does that not defeat the whole purpose of modesty and wearing the veil? Where does it say to cover your hair? Apologies if my question is rather controversial.
Ælfwine Mischler

Salam Dear Nadine,

Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

Your question has been asked many times by sisters who are struggling with the question of whether or not to wear hijab. I must remind you and others that Islam means “submission to Allah” and we trust that what He orders us to do is for our own good.

We have to learn to obey, even when we don’t see the wisdom in His commands. We have to always remember that He created us and knows better than any of us what is good for us. To think otherwise would be arrogant and tantamount to making ourselves equal to Him.

The verses you refer to say what means:

{Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and be modest. That is purer for them. Lo! Allah is Aware of what they do.

And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands fathers, or their sons or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or sisters sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigor, or children who know naught of women’s nakedness.

And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah together, O believers, in order that ye may succeed.} (An-Nur 24: 30–31)

I quote the verse preceding the one you mentioned, to draw attention to the fact that the order to lower the gaze was given to men first. Many men conveniently forget that.

I think it might be easier if I start with your last question, which is “Where does it say to cover your hair?” If you look in a dictionary—I checked Merriam-Webster 10th edition, and the American Heritage 2nd edition—it will tell you that veil is a cloth covering the head and shoulders, and sometimes the face. So if I tell you to draw your veil over your bosom, it means that you already have something covering your hair.

It would be similar to telling someone in winter “pull your hat down over your ears.” It doesn’t mean that only the ears are covered, but there must be something on the head first. Or if you say, “Pull your socks up to the knees,” it doesn’t mean that only the shins are covered, but the feet must be covered, too.

The same is true of the Arabic text—which is the only text of the Qur’an. The Arabic uses the word khimar, which is a head covering. Scholars throughout the centuries have agreed that the Muslim woman is required to cover her hair. In addition, her clothes must be opaque and loose and long enough to hide the attractive parts of her body.

We are also told here not to attract attention by stamping our feet to reveal adornments. In the past women often wore anklets that would jingle if they walked a certain way. We perhaps don’t wear anklets nowadays, but we should also walk in a straight, dignified manner, not swinging the hips in an exaggerated way to gain men’s attention.

Yes, people may stare at us because we look different from them. But better to be stared at for being different than for exposing some flesh for the sake of fashion. Elsewhere the Qur’an tells the believing women to wear an outer garment when they go out so that they will be recognized as such. So there is nothing wrong, I think, in people looking at us because we are dressed differently from them. Our hijab is a mark of distinction, something we should wear proudly. The Qur’an says what means:

{O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them [when they go abroad]. That will be better, that so they may be recognized and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.} (Al-Ahzab 33:59)

We don’t have to wear a burqa. We can wear something that is closer to the clothing worn by others in our country, so long as our clothing meets the requirements of hijab.

Yes, we may get treated differently, but what of that? If we are ill-treated or persecuted, so were the first Muslims. Don’t we get rewarded for being patient in the face of persecution for the sake of Allah? And if people treat us with a bit more respect for our hijab, what’s wrong with that?

So, my advice to you, Nadine, is that you should pray to Allah to strengthen your faith and to help you obey Him. Be proud to be a Muslim and proud to walk on the straight path.

I hope this helps your question.

Salam and please keep in touch.

Useful Links:

Hijab: What's It All About? (Folder)

Rulings of Hijab

Hijab: Is It All About Appearance?