Aliasgher Janmohammed (Cape Town, South Africa)
Hijab in the 21st century is a contentious issue.
As we are exposed to different cultures and different societies, we start asking many questions about the “norms” in our Muslim way of life. One area that often gets a lot of attention is hijab. Many argue that women are at a disadvantage as they must observe both the hijab of the eye and a head covering, while men are only required to maintain the hijab of the eye. Women are at a further disadvantage as the head covering is something the world can measure in a tangible manner, i.e. either the woman wore the hijab or did not. However, the hijab of the eye is more difficult to measure; how do you know if an individual man is observing their hijab? We can observe a woman and say she did or did not wear a hijab but with men it seems impossible.
Women are, therefore, scrutinised at a micro-level, while men get away with saying, “the first look is allowed”. While this particular statement is mentioned often in a humorous manner, deep down you wonder if people actually believe it. Many lectures often concentrate on the hijab of women as well. I recall listening to a preacher once who elaborated on how women must wear a head covering when vegetable sellers come to their homes (or any other na mahram), even though they interact with them on a daily basis. No mention was made about the female helpers that often occupy our households and how the men should lower their gaze. Even though we have forgotten this important aspect of hijab – the hijab of the eye – the Quran provides guidance for Muslims in every generation. With this, let us look at how the Quranic verses are structured in regards to this aspect.
Three verses of Sura an-Nur are attributed to this subject. Interestingly, the Quran approaches the subject in an entirely different manner, in that it begins by first addressing the men about the importance of their hijab – “Say unto the believer men that they cast down their gaze and guard their private parts; that is purer for them. Verily, Allah is well aware of all that you do.” Many of us might already know about the aspect of “lowering the gaze”. However, this requires significant practice to perfect and self-discipline, where one has to measure their own behaviour. As described previously, there is no tangible measure of determining if a person maintained their hijab of the eye, hence, we need to be our own judges in this matter.
The hijab of men can also be extended to two other areas, physical hijab and social hijab. On social media today, we are often exposed to images of our brothers showing their improved physique through body building exercises. This in accordance to Islamic laws is not permitted and means that we are not adhering to the physical aspect of the hijab laws set for men. We are not allowed to wear skin-tight clothing that exposes our physique in a manner to attract the opposite gender, and this law extends to men as well.
The social hijab also requires our attention. It is a common sight today to see girls and boys mingling freely as part of youth groups, community organisations, camp retreats or even conferences. All these events have good causes, but caution is important in making our young brothers and sisters realise that they must always maintain social hijab. However confident we may be in our ability to avoid Haram, let us not forget that Shaitan even tried to misguide Prophet Ibrahim and Prophet Ismail (peace be upon them). So what special spiritual powers do we possess that make us think we can completely avoid his evil whispers? On this note, it is important to note that parents must not maintain double standards in this regard. Too often we see guardians allowing their male children to be part of any gathering but limiting their female children. Hijab is for both, the boy and the girl.
My favourite Surah in the Holy Quran is Surah Yusuf. The stories narrated in the Quran are often broken into several chapters, but Prophet Yusuf’s entire story is described in one Surah. And what a beautiful story it is of a young beautiful child observing his hijab and preventing the advances of Zulaikha. “And she certainly determined [to seduce] him, and he would have inclined to her had he not seen the proof of his Lord. And thus [it was] that We should avert from him evil and immorality.” This story should be the guide for all our brothers on the importance of hijab for men and how one can adhere to it.