February 1 is the World Hijab Day. The movement is the brainchild of Miss Nazma Khan, a Bangladeshi American Muslim residing in New York. This year the day has been celebrated in 116 countries around the globe. Although established on the theme to foster better understanding and raise awareness about hijab and Islamic modesty, the day is clearly an innovation, and like any other innovation, the World Hijab Day promotes many erroneous practices, ranging from wrong form of hijab and modesty to feminism.
First and foremost, the World Hijab Day promotes a compromised version of modesty and hijab, which is not from Islam. As Shaykh Muhammad Nasirudeen Albani (May Allah have mercy on him) has deduced from the Quran and the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), a proper Islamic hijab has to fulfill seven clearly defined conditions. These conditions are very easy to understand and require only common sense to comprehend. Additionally, our classical scholars have fully explained each of these conditions in detail. The conditions of proper hijab are:
- The hijab must cover the whole body except for what Allah and His Messenger (ﷺ) exempted
- The hijab should not be an adornment in and of itself
- The clothing for hijab should be thick and should not be transparent
- It should be loose so that it does not show the size or shape of body parts
- It should not be perfumed
- It should not resemble the clothing of men or that of disbelieving women
- It should not be a garment of vanity and fame.
The hijab promoted by the advocates of World Hijab day does not fulfill these conditions. If anyone observes the photos and videos circulated in proliferation of World Hijab Day, one will find that the Muslim women appearing in these photos and videos present themselves wearing what non-Muslims usually wear, like jeans, skirts, blouse, t-shirts, body tight and even transparent dresses, except that they wrap a scarf around their heads and necks. Dressing moderately is better than not dressing moderately at all, but promoting such moderate dress as hijab and reducing Islamic modesty to a head scarf is a big misrepresentation of the deen of Allah, and such misrepresentation has been possible because of unconsciously or ignorantly overlooking the letter of Islamic Law.
When Allah revealed the laws of Islam, He revealed both the spirit of law and the letter of law. The spirit and the letter cannot be separated. One cannot be achieved without the other. Therefore, a Muslim is supposed to observe both the spiritual and the ritual aspect of any Islamic law. For example, the ritual aspect of prayer is to pray literally how the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) prayed. The spiritual aspect is to have khushoo (concentration) in prayer. If someone prays but does not perform it how the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) performed it, no matter how much sincerity and concentration the person has in the prayer, the prayer will be invalid. Similarly, if someone prays but does not have any concentration at all, the prayer will not be of any benefit either. Only when the person prays correctly and have khushoo, he or she will fulfill the obligation of prayer and attain the spiritual gains of a prayer.
Similarly for hijab, it has both spiritual element and ritual element. The ritual elements are the seven conditions a hijab is supposed to fulfill. The spiritual elements are the conduct of a Muslim woman while she is veiled and the closeness to Allah she attains through fulfilling this command of Sharia in a correct manner.
However, when it comes to integration of Muslims with non-Muslim society, the letters of laws always emerge as barrier to integration. The letters of Islamic laws provide us with the outward unique Muslim identity, and without censoring some aspects of Muslim identity, and thereby abandoning parts of the deen, integration is impossible. Disbelievers neither like the truth Allah has revealed nor do they like to integrate with Muslims, but they only appear to like the truth and support integration when Muslims give in and compromise the letter of sharia. Today the World Hijab Day campaign can boast so many non-Muslim supporters because it promotes a form of hijab which is nothing but an alternative form of fashion, and thus a hijab that is in and of itself is a great form of adornment and temptation. Had the campaign promoted hijab in its puritanical form, the campaign would have failed to garner the support of a single non-Muslim.
In our time, such censorship and compromise of the letter of sharia has been rampant, and the shaytaan has tricked Muslims into thinking that such compromise is all right through making them over focus on the spiritual aspects.
Over zealousness about the spiritual aspect has reached a point where sometimes any reminder or discussion about the correct Sharia ruling about the letter is considered inappropriate, offensive, and unnecessary. For example, a result of compromising the letter of Sharia is the emergence of stylishly trimmed beard in place of naturally growing free flowing beard or men lowering their garment below the ankle. It is very difficult now-a-days to speak against these two traits, and advice or reminder about the correct ruling about these traits is often ignored and dismissed with remarks like no one knows the affairs of the heart and a person with no beard and garment below his ankle could be better than a person who observes the sunnah in those regards. Similarly, there is a great possibility that the discussion presented about the clear lack of observance of the letter of law and promotion of a severely compromised version of hijab and modesty by the World Hijab Day will be considered extremely shallow and resisted through comments like “How come this brother is so shallow to consider women only as sex objects and not as human beings with emotions?” or “Hijab is more than a dress” or “The brother should lower his gaze.”
While it is easy to disregard the discussion about the proper etiquette of hijab and paint a utopian picture of co-existence where the non-Muslims understand and appreciate hijab, the fact remains that the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) and his companions were the most cultured people and demonstrated the best restrain of the lower self, and yet they were the most meticulous in following the letters of Sharia, and never compromised a single letter. Ignoring reminders about the letter of Sharia shows a certain degree of arrogance, because had the practical aspects were unimportant, or if spirituality could be gained without the letters of Sharia, Allah, the most High, would have not revealed them from above the seven heavens.
Another problem with focusing too much on the spirit and ignoring the letter is it gradually decays the outer fabric of religion. The Christians adopted this path of spirituality alone, and today they are left with no religion except for their belief that they can do whatever they want and still attain salvation only through their belief. When Muslims consciously compromise the letter of Sharia, like the World Hijab Day is compromising for Hijab and modesty, whether they understand it or not, they take the slippery slope Christians took and march towards the Lizard’s hole, as prophesized by the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), and risk to lose the religion altogether.
Aside from the spiritual over-focus mentioned above, which is done to hide the censorship of the letters of Sharia, the virtual world has experienced a hyper explosion of articles, blogs, and websites about hijab, majority of which primarily talk about the internal and external struggles the sisters undergo to put on hijab. Any commandment of Sharia is a test from Allah, and to observe them, a Muslim has to have patience and make sacrifice of the desire, and hijab is no exception. Yet, very rarely we come across struggle stories about any other commandments of the Sharia. The reason why struggle stories are uncommon about all the commandments of Sharia except hijab is because the expectation associated the commandments are explained clearly, and that is, Muslims are supposed to hear and obey. Since Allah has completed and perfected His religion, when it comes to obligations and prohibitions, a Muslim has to submit immediately and completely, not gradually, and submission is demanded even if he does not understand the wisdom behind a divine commandment. That is why a person who does not pray is advised to pray immediately, and he is never advised to pray gradually or read the wisdom behind prayer. The same can be said for any other obligation and prohibition. Muslim men, for example, despite peer pressure, societal expectations, and tribulations of immodesty are supposed to strictly lower their gaze, grow beard in the prophetic manner, avoid handshakes with the opposite gender, and keep the garment above ankles. However, when it comes to hijab, a proper advice explaining the expectation from sisters regarding the obligation of hijab confronts remarks like “You should not force hijab”, “let her be convinced about the reasons behind hijab first,” or “at least she is dressing moderately.” Such outpouring sympathies and the resultant multitudes of struggle stories about hijab will give impression to revert Muslim women and young Muslim girls that hijab weighs heavier upon the soul compared to the other commandments of sharia, whereas the fact remains that Allah never burdens any soul beyond its capacity to withstand.
All the neo-Islamist imams and scholars who have endorsed the World Hijab Day, have always remained silent about how hijab should be worn, and I am yet to come across a single lecture from them about what constitutes proper Islamic hijab. Instead they always gloss over the letters of law pertaining to hijab and actively propagate the compromised version of hijab and modesty like the World Hijab Day is doing. A scholar who endorsed the World Hijab Day has been seen on numerous occasions giving talks or interviews on stage with non-mahram women, who were wearing inappropriate hijab. Another charming speaker during his visit to a South-East Asian country lavished abundant praise for the women of that country for wearing hijab, although their hijab is nothing but head scarfs. Another shaykh officiated a marriage ceremony in a mixed gender gathering where women wore inappropriate clothing, and the shaykh later posted the video of that marriage ceremony in facebook and described the video as something that brings inner peace to his heart. With the amount of knowledge each of these scholars possesses, it is impossible to assume that they do not know what proper Islamic hijab is, and yet they choose to stay silent and promote the wrong hijab. We assume the best of what is in their hearts, but apparently such concealment of knowledge can be attributed to pressure to conform and integrate, fear of loss of popularity, and fear of displeasing feminist Muslim women.
The World Hijab Day is also an innovation, and it is unfortunate that neo-Islamist scholars who have endorsed the day have given a ruling otherwise, citing that the World Hijab Day is not a form of worship, and thus not an innovation. The issue required more introspection instead of a cursory look, and anyone properly examining the issue will discover the following two problematic areas:
First, the World Hijab Day has semblance with the two Eid we celebrate from the viewpoint that both the Eid and the World Hijab day are commemorated annually. The word ‘eid’ comes from a root word ‘audah’, which refers to something that is recurring in nature. Therefore, to introduce any day of annual celebration or observance outside the two days specified for Eid, no matter how noble the purpose is, is an act of innovation. It is because of this reason scholars have classified wedding anniversaries, birthdays, national days, birthday of the Prophet, or any annual observances as innovation in the religion of Islam. Since the World Hijab Day is also an annual observance, it is also a clear innovation, and innovation leads to nothing but misguidance, and every misguidance is in the Fire.
Second, the nature of innovation is such that every innovation appears innocuous externally at the beginning but its evil gets exposed overtime. For example, initially the people of Noah used to keep the statues of their pious predecessors to get inspired and worship Allah more, but over time, they forgot the original purpose of erecting those statues, and started worshipping the statues instead of worshipping Allah. Similarly, today the World Hijab Day is confined to dialogues and seminars, but there is a great probability that soon the day will be considered a part of Islamic Culture and the day will be commercialized. Qatar had recently organized an abaya (veil) exhibition where many non-Muslims presented abayas designed by them. Definitely non-Muslims do not design abayas to please Allah; rather they design them as fashion apparels, which defeat the condition that a hijab is not supposed to be an apparel of adornment itself. A radio commentary aired during the Qatar abaya exhibition expressed that an emerging abaya trend was abayas with belt around the waist, and what function could a belt around the waist add except for showing the body contour like a Coca-Cola bottle? As the World Hijab Day gains momentum, soon businessmen and designers will promptly grab the occasion to market fashion apparels in the name of hijab or abayas and proliferate them among Muslim women.
Subtly but surely, the World Hijab Day has presented an image of Muslim Women that can be termed at best neo-Islamist and at worst feminist. Through coming out of their houses in fashionable hijab and make-up clad faces, taking stages and giving emotional speeches about hijab struggles in seductive voices, and organizing solidarity demonstrations in the streets, Muslim women organizers and participants of the World Hijab Day have left no stone unturned to prove to non-Muslims that they have worn hijab out of their own choice, and they have remained as bold, independent, free, and feminist as their non-Muslim counterparts despite wearing the hijab. As for their achievement, the World Hijab Day website proudly enlisted endorsements of the day from a former Miss Universe and a former playboy star. Ultimately, however, the gain is zero. To present them as feminists, Muslim women associated with the hijab day have disobeyed Allah’s unambiguous command to stay at home, and compromised their hijab and the Islamic standard of modesty, whereas for their worldly achievement regarding the day, their success will remain restricted to two line endorsements and one day superficial solidarity from non-Muslims. No matter how much compromise is made, as Allah has told us, the Jews and the Christians will never be happy until Muslims completely abandon the faith of Islam and believe what the Jews and Christians believe.
Finally, it may be argued that the World Hijab day is necessary to explain the purpose and objective of hijab to non-Muslims. The answer is a BIG NO. This deen is complete and we do not need any innovation. Since the beginning of Islam, non-Muslims have questioned the morals and laws of Islam. This is one of their common strategies to reject the truth. Why Muslim women wear hijab is simply one such question. Numerous books and treatises have been written about this question, where our scholars have eloquently explained why Muslim women wear hijab. Yet, and this is expected, non-Muslims till ask us why Muslim women wear hijab.
Do you think the World Hijab Day will finally convince non-Muslims about hijab and make them to like it?
By Allah, the World Hijab Day will never be able to convince them about hijab.
That is why we have no option but to go to the roots. We have to draw the dividing line. That dividing line is the basis of our deen. It is tawheed-the oneness of Allah. It is all about accepting Allah as Lord and accepting Muhammad (ﷺ) as His final messenger.
Imam Ahmad (May Allah have mercy on him) said, “Nothing will rectify the later part of this ummah except what rectified the first part.” Our scholars and righteous predecessors have always emphasized preaching tawheed first and foremost. Unless someone accepts Allah as the Lord and Muhammad (ﷺ) as His messenger, every possible explanation will appear meaningless.
Therefore, if you want to make non-Muslims understand why our women wear hijab, preach tawheed.
Preach the oneness of Allah. Explain it to them.
Do not create an innovation like the World Hijab day.
Do not compromise your modesty and hijab.
Do not compromise your obedience to Allah and His Messenger.
Do not present yourself like feminists.
Be proud of your Muslim identity and do not censor it for the approval of non-Muslims.
Do not look for endorsements and solidarity from them.
Abandon innovations and follow the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ).
Abandon the World Hijab day.
In conclusion, let us remember the poignant sermon of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ), which shook the hearts of the companions and caused their eyes to shed tears, where he (ﷺ) gave us stern warning about innovating in religion:
Abu Najih Al-Irbad bin Sariyah (رضى الله عنه) reported,
“The Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) delivered an eloquent sermon, which greatly moved us and sent a wave of fear into our hearts and our eyes shed tears. We said to him, ‘This sermon seems like the last advice; then tell us something more as advice.’ He (ﷺ) said, ‘I advise you to fear Allah (because of your obligations to Allah) and to hear and obey even a slave who may be put in authority over you. Those of you who survive me will notice many differences. It will be incumbent upon you to follow my sunnah (tradition) and the practices of my rightly guided successors (caliphs) and hold fast with these precepts and traditions and beware of innovations and inventions in religion, because every innovation leads to the wrong path.’” (Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi)
O Allah! Grant us the knowledge to differentiate between bidah and sunnah, and give us the ability to act upon the sunnah. Ameen!