Hijab, or veil, is a religious obligation as stipulated by the Holy Quran. Allah says in His book: “And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms.”(24:31)
The verse clearly addresses women. It indicates that a Muslim woman is expected to comply with a modest code of dressing, that is Hijab. However, Hijab is not merely the veil that a Muslim woman uses to cover the hair and body parts. Hijab also constitutes abstaining from wearing apparent makeup, lowering the gaze, and speaking modestly. Accordingly, the concept of Hijab is one that encompasses not just the physical aspect of Hijab, but also the mental and social aspects.
Since Hijab is usually worn in public, and in front of non-mahram men (the men that a woman is allowed to marry): “and not display their ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants not having need (of women), or the children who have not attained knowledge of what is hidden of women; and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may be known; and turn to Allah all of you, O believers! So that you may be successful,” (24:31) then it also includes the way a female Muslim must present herself and interact with others in public. This is what we call a “social Hijab.”
Islam disapproves of certain environments in which men and women interact with utmost freedom and openness. Indeed, Islam is a religion that intends to make life easier: “Allah intends for you ease, and does not want to make things difficult for you.” (2:185) But the environments we are referring to are the ones that threatens the sanctity and decency of a female Muslim. A female Muslim must refrain from gossiping with other male Muslims and non-Muslims as well, in addition to coarse language, flirting, and excessive joking. Islam, in principle, does not rule mixing between the sexes as impermissible, but certain limits should be set and respected.
A female Muslim must establish a dignified image of herself, in the sense that, when communicating with others, and without having to explain the principles, regulations, and customaries that govern Hijab, people around her would adjust their behavior in her presence.
With so much attention given to a female Muslim’s Hijab, physical appearance, and social interaction, we seem to forget about the obligation of male Muslims. A Muslim is expected to lower his faze and avoid inappropriate glances at females altogether, whether veiled or not. We are perfectly aware of how difficult it is to do so in a hyper sexual society and at a time when beauty has become a commodity to sell and purchase. This is what we mean by saying “fornication of the eyes.” The act of looking indecently at women is ultimately an act of fornication.
A lot of emphasis is placed on the “glance” since what we see on daily basis has a tremendous psychological effect. It remains engraved in our memories, and it even starts to evolve into fantasies; which if remained unfulfilled, will ultimately seek an outlet.
As Muslims, it is our duty to guard ourselves and develop an immunity against perversion and deviation. Islam believes that you have to remain committed to the wellbeing of the society and prepares man psychologically to control his desires, through a set of laws. In this sense, Hijab is one of the regulations that prevent man from living a state of psychological emergency in response to the call of desires. It is a part of the legislative structure that builds moral commitment.
* Inspired by the Late Religious Authority, His Eminence Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah.