I am not a woman, so obviously I do not wear a hijab, or observe purdah. But I feel so strongly about this subject that I really feel strongly led to speak up about it.
A woman who chooses to wear the hijab is not less beautiful because of her choice. Let me explain. A woman who wears the hijab knows her value and reserves it only for those few people to whom she grants that special privilege. A beautiful person does not need to cry out that she is beautiful. She doesn’t have to show it off. In fact, the only ones who really want to show off their physical beauty to any unwholesome and noisome boor that comes along are those poor individuals who are so insecure and lacking in self-esteem that they need the immediate approval of strangers.
Think of it this way. If you have a really nice car, one that is truly superb, no one gets to drive it but you. If you have a wife whose beauty is exceptional, as every husband who loves his wife believes, you will not share that beauty with those who will tarnish it and make it dirty or shameful.
Now, there are some who say that the hijab, and the sharp flash of eyes that one might catch above the veil, is in itself beautiful. Well, I can understand the sentiment, but I most heartily disagree. If a man is looking so closely at a woman in hijab that he can see her eyes and gain some momentary hint of her physical beauty from that, he is inherently disrespecting her. By wearing the hijab, the woman is saying that she is “off-limits,” to prurient desires and observation. To willfully disregard that and try to wink or otherwise “undress her,” is willful disobedience and shameful.
Hijab as the purpose of Hiding
You see, the hijab is strictly for the purpose of hiding. The Qur’an plainly speaks of talking to the wives of the prophet only through a grand veil that separates them from all views. This injunction was applied to all women by the use of the veil, the purpose of which is to separate and to hide. And, in society and public discourse, this garment is paramount in preventing a woman from becoming an object of desire, an inanimate fantasy for men to abuse.
Now, that being said, the hijab has an important place in society, but it must be adapted to the environment and culture, as Islam is always adaptable to every culture and situation. In situations where the hijab is impractical or obviously misunderstood, then it should be moderated. A headscarf is preferable in situations requiring identification, for instance in regard to dealing with the police, or in schools where face to face communication is required. But modesty is always the watchword.
The Qur’an is very clear about the wearing of modest clothing.
Those who harass believing men and believing women undeservedly, bear (on themselves) A calumny and a grievous sin. O Prophet! Enjoin your wives, your daughters, and the wives of true believers that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad) That is most convenient, that they may be distinguished and not be harassed. And Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Qur’an 33:58-59)
Men and women wearing discreet clothing
Now, the Qur’an is also very clear about BOTH men and women wearing discreet clothing, so undue concern about the modesty of women, without addressing the modesty and polite behavior of men is being hypocritical. And the value of wearing a hijab is without question. It preserves modesty, protects women from unwanted advances, allows us to focus on the inner qualities of value as opposed to the outer, and altogether ridiculous, vanities of physical beauty. Also, it ensures that the appreciation of physical beauty is kept where it belongs, in a loving relationship between man and wife.
On the other hand, the observation of purdah is absolutely and unqualified as a choice of the woman. The institutionalization of religious precepts is clearly against the spirit of the Qur’an as religious duty should spring from the heart and not compulsion. If it is imposed by laws, censure or cruel oppression of women, it then goes against the spirit of Islam. Since the Qur’an is not absolute, and religious scholars are not in complete agreement about the severity or the legal stature of the purdah, then it is a matter of choice, and is the special concern of a woman, and her immediate family.