I agree with Nazia Jassim that “the oppressor is man, not Islam” (The Hindu, Open Page, May 27, 2012). In fact, it is Islam which liberated women from the brutality of patriarchal society and the shackles of cruel customs that had usurped their basic and fundamental rights of living. It is Islam which provided them several rights — right of inheritance, right to own property, right to education, right to trade and business, right of selection of the husband by free will and right of remarriage in case of his demise and right of divorce.
It is Islam which elevated women while they were degraded to the status of property and buried alive in the grave at the time of birth. It is Islam which regarded them as a blessing of God and made them equal partners of men in the form of wives and kept the heaven beneath the feet of mothers and commanded them to wear hijaab without covering the face in order to protect their dignity and chastity and commanded men to respect and treat them well. As Prophet Muhammad clearly declared, “the best man among you is he who treats well the female members of his family and a bad man among you is he who misbehaves with the female members of his family.” (Bukhari)
However, the sad part is that a section of Muslims has deprived women of their basic and fundamental rights, including the right to education and the selection of a husband by free will and usurped their liberties and rights which were granted to them by Islam and that too under the pretext of Islamic veil or hijaab. These sections of Muslims first deprived their women of discovering their face under patriarchal, skewed interpretations of the Islamic veil; then usurped their basic rights; they were even prevented from offering prayers. Nowadays, Islam is the only religion on earth with its patriarchal skewed interpretation, which bars its women believers from the mosque. Despite the fact that Prophet Muhammad not only encouraged Muslim women to attend the mosque but also commended Muslim men that “they should not prevent their wives from attending them to mosque for their prayer.” (Bukhari) This type of patriarchal ideology has resulted a distorted version of Islamic teaching of veil of which Nazia Jassim herself became a victim and advocated the veil (for covering the face) to encourage men to enslave women. This precisely made me write this brief clarification.
In fact, the face is not included in the veil, as there are a number of Koranic verses and statements of the Prophet which clearly prove that covering the face is not required in Islam. As the Koran says: “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them, and God is well acquainted with all that they do and say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty, that should not display their beauty except what appear from their beauty.” (S: XXIV: Verse, No: 30, 31).
This verse clearly indicates that the face is not required to be covered under the veil, otherwise what is the use of lowering the gaze? Secondly, and importantly, most of the authentic commentators of the Koran of the medieval and modern periods interpreted the portion of the verse “that should not display their beauty except what appear from their beauty” with the face and feet, the most prominent among them are “Tafsir-e-Jalalain,” included in the syllabus of Deoband and “Tafseer-e- Usman” I, written by Shabbir Usmani of Deoband.
This interpretation of the veil is supported by the statement of the Prophet which was narrated by Aisha, his brilliant wife. According to her, “once her sister Asma visited her at the Prophet’s home in transparent clothes from which her body shined. When the Prophet saw her, he turned his face to another side and said: “O Asma, when a lady reaches her adulthood, she should cover her body except face and feet.” (Ibn Majaa)
In short, the face is not required to be covered in the hijaab; it was included in the hijaab under the patriarchal interpretation of the Islamic text in the fourth century preventing women from performing their duties. In fact, the society of the Prophet was a combined society in which men and women were partners in their routine works on the field, on the battlefield, offering prayers together in a mosque, acquiring education and presenting their valuable contribution to education and knowledge. When Islam does not demand from us to cover the face, then why are we so rigid about it?
(The writer is an Assistant Professor (Guest), Centre of Arabic and African studies, JNU, New Delhi. siddiquimahmood51@ gmail.com)