Unveiling the Islamic Veil
20 Nov, 2005
Why do Islamists need to veil (hijab) a Muslim woman? If you go to Islamic websites or read many of the literature written by the Islamists, you will be amazed by silly logics they put forward in support of Islamic veil for women. Their logic runs the whole gamut ranging from protection of women from rape/prying eyes, a woman's beauty is skin deep, how secured a woman feels, how beautiful a woman looks in hijab to divine sanction and--. blah, blah, blah. Many Muslims even believe that since the instruction of veiling had emanated from Allah so there must be some scientific reasons and give convoluted logic about the psychological make up of women and why they need to be put under Islamic cover (hijab). All these reasons are utterly hilarious to any person who has the slightest idea of the game that the Islamists play to fool the gullible believers. You will have a hearty laugh I swear when you come to know the real secret behind the Islamic veil and wonder why some Muslim women support it.
So, what is the real reason for Islamic veil? To know the truth, we need to go back 1500 years backward and look at the sanitary/toilet facilities of the poor Arabs during Muhammad's time. If you are living in a modern environment then, of course, it will be difficult to imagine the sanitary condition of those old days of Islam. However, if you have come from a poverty stricken family from a poor country of Asia or Africa you may recall your childhood and find a great similarity of what you are about to read below.
After the death of Khadijah, Muhammad spent most of the wealth left by Khadijah. He became so poor that he had very little money to support himself. When he migrated to Medina, he and his followers were destitute. Under this dire poverty, Muhammad had to house his wives in places with very primitive or non-existent toilet/sanitary facilities. He had no choice but to ask his wives to go to an open field nearby and answer the call of nature. It is most likely that he himself did ease in this manner on many occasions. Here is what Sahih Bukhari says:
Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 4, Number 149:
The Prophet said to his wives, "You are allowed to go out to answer the call of nature."
The new converts of Islam were so haplessly poor that they even had no shelter and privacy to engage in sexual intercourse. The only place where they could satisfy this biological need was in the open sky. Thus, having sexual intercourse in open field was also common.
Sahih Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Number 203:
Narrated Muhammad bin 'Abbas bin Ja'far:
That he heard Ibn 'Abbas reciting: "No doubt! They fold up their breasts." (11.5) and asked him about its explanation. He said, "Some people used to hide themselves while answering the call of nature in an open space lest they be exposed to the sky, and also when they had sexual relation with their wives in an open space lest they be exposed to the sky, so the above revelation was sent down regarding them."
So Muhammad's wives started to go to an open field only at night to answer the call of nature without any veil or proper attire. Hazrat Umor used to watch these ladies and was very uncomfortable and distressful to see them answering the call of nature in the open sky without much protection to their privacy. He requested Muhammad to cover his wives with veils whenever they went out to do their business in the open field at night.
At first, Muhammad ignored Umar's plea. But when Umor kept on pestering him on this issue, he turned to Allah for His suggestion (since he did not have the pecuniary means to solve this toilet problem). Allah promptly sent down the verse on veil (33:59)
Muhammad's wives, daughters, and believing women are to wear outer garments
(hijab)-33:59 (chronological order 90)
YUSUFALI: 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.
Here are some ahadith that confirm those pathetic toilet facilities for Muhammad's wives and Umor's plea to veil them.
Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 4, Number 148:
The wives of the Prophet used to go to Al-Manasi, a vast open place (near Baqia at Medina) to answer the call of nature at night. 'Umar used to say to the Prophet "Let your wives be veiled," but Allah's Apostle did not do so. One night Sauda bint Zam'a the wife of the Prophet went out at 'Isha' time and she was a tall lady. 'Umar addressed her and said, "I have recognized you, O Sauda." He said so, as he desired eagerly that the verses of Al-Hijab (the observing of veils by the Muslim women) may be revealed. So Allah revealed the verses of "Al-Hijab" (A complete body cover excluding the eyes).
Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 8, Number 395:
(Please note that this hadith has been shortened to show the relevant part only)
Narrated 'Umar (bin Al-Khattab):
My Lord agreed with me in three things: --------
1. I said,"------
2. And as regards the (verse of) the veiling of the women, I said, 'O Allah's Apostle! I wish you ordered your wives to cover themselves from the men because good and bad ones talk to them.' So the verse of the veiling of the women was revealed.
Sahih Muslim Book 026, Number 5397:
'A'isha reported that the wives of Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) used to go out in the cover of night when they went to open fields (in the outskirts of Medina) for easing themselves. 'Umar b Khattab used to say: Allah's Messenger, ask your ladies to observe veil, but Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) did not do that. So there went out Sauda, daughter of Zama, the wife of Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him), during one of the nights when it was dark. She was a tall statured lady. 'Umar called her saying: Sauda, we recognise you. (He did this with the hope that the verses pertaining to veil would be revealed.) 'A'isha said: Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, then revealed the verses pertaining to veil
After Allah took care of veiling Muhammad's wife, Muhammad was relaxed. He did nothing to improve physically the toilet/sanitary facilities for them. In fact, he even developed the specifications of how to cleanse oneself with stones after defecating. His wives still continued to relieve themselves in the open field albeit with the hijab. Umar continued to monitor. When Sauda was caught red handed by Umar, she complained to Muhammad about Umar and asked about what to do with the business of easing oneself. Muhammad sought Allah's help. Allah immediately revealed that she could continue with the old style (that is defecating in the open field).
Sahih Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Number 318:
Sauda (the wife of the Prophet) went out to answer the call of nature after it was made obligatory (for all the Muslims ladies) to observe the veil. She was a fat huge lady, and everybody who knew her before could recognize her. So 'Umar bin Al-Khattab saw her and said, "O Sauda! By Allah, you cannot hide yourself from us, so think of a way by which you should not be recognized on going out. Sauda returned while Allah's Apostle was in my house taking his supper and a bone covered with meat was in his hand. She entered and said, "O Allah's Apostle! I went out to answer the call of nature and 'Umar said to me so-and-so." Then Allah inspired him (the Prophet) and when the state of inspiration was over and the bone was still in his hand as he had not put in down, he said (to Sauda), "You (women) have been allowed to go out for your needs."
Sahih Muslim Book 026, Number 5395:
A'isha reported that Sauda (Allah he pleased with her) went out (in the fields) in order to answer the call of nature even after the time when veil had been prescribed for women. She had been a bulky lady, significant in height amongst the women, and she could not conceal herself from him who had known her. 'Umar b. Khattab saw her and said: Sauda, by Allah, you cannot conceal from us. Therefore, be careful when you go out. She ('A'isha) said: She turned back. Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) was at that time in my house having his evening meal and there was a bone in his hand. She (Sauda) came and said: Allah's Messenger. I went out and 'Umar said to me so and so. She ('A'isha) reported: There came the revelation to him and then it was over; the bone was then in his hand and he had not thrown it and he said:" Permission has been granted to you that you may go out for your needs."
It is most likely that Muhammad was not very comfortable with the original style of veiling (complete cover except the eye-slit: somewhat like the Burqa so common in Afghanistan). After marrying Aisha (the child bride) and other younger women, he changed his mind on the veil issue. Allah now revealed the new specification of veiling:
Believing women are to draw their veils over their bosoms and they are not to display their beauty to unrelated men-24:31 (chronological order 102)
YUSUFALI: 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.
Although verse 33:59 (chronological order 90) is an earlier verse than 24:31 (chronological order 102) it is not clear which of the verses (i.e 33:59 or 24:31) is the appropriate verse for veiling of women. Nowhere does Qur'an say that one of them is the replacement of the other. When you watch the hapless Afghan women in TV in their mobile prisons (Burqa), you are probably seeing verse 33:59 in action in a pure Islamic Paradise. When you are walking through the streets of an infidel land and suddenly watch a hijab clad Muslim lady, you are probably seeing verse 24:31 in action in a Kufir land. It will be interesting to know amongst two groups who will be more in hell. After all, most of the inhabitants of hell are women (Sahih Bukhari 2.18.161).
It is quite clear that there is absolutely no compelling reason to impose the intolerable and ugly hijab on Muslim women. If there was any reason, it could reasonably be attributed to the prehistoric toilet facilities that Muhammad offered to his wives. Do today's women still head towards the open fields to defecate or to ease themselves? It may be true that in some very backward Muslim countries in Africa and Asia the sanitary/toilet facilities may still be very primitive but it is definitely not like what it used to be during Muhammad's time.
One interesting point comes into mind, though. How come Hazrat Umar was such a busybody to watch Muhammad's wives easing themselves? Have you ever thought about this? After all, Islamists always say that Islam respects greatly the privacy, be that a man or a woman. Another interesting point is this: where did the male Muslims during prophet's time used to go to defecate? I am sure that they did not have sanitary lavatory in their homes. Most likely, they also used to go in the open land to ease themselves (as well as for sexual intercourse, as we saw earlier). Why was prophet so discriminatory? Why did Allah have to veil women only? Why did He not ask for the veiling of men? Why did not prophet ask his male colleagues to taste how it is like wearing hijab or going inside a mobile prison (Burqa)? Is this the fairness of Islam? Is this gender equality?
The message is very clear, folks. All the inane arguments that the Islamists give in support of veiling of women are completely hollow and illogical. Now that we know the real reason for veiling, let our women assert their right to chose the attire that befits them. Why should they be imprisoned in ugly hijab and the unconscionable Burqa?
Abul Kasem is an Bengali ex-Muslim and academic. He has contributed in Leaving Islam - Apostates Speak Out and Beyond Jihad - Critical Voices from Inside and Why We Left Islam.. He has also written extensively on Islam in various websites and is the author of five e-Books: A Complete Guide to Allah, Root of Terrorism ala Islamic Style, Sex and Sexuality in Islam, Who Authored the Quran? and Women in Islam. Mr. Kasem leaves in Sydney, Australia. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.