They can be seen every day. Shuffling down the high-street, their hair covered, their body shrouded in a lifeless garment that drapes to the floor. These poor, uneducated women are the symbol of Islamic oppression, as Cherie Blair openly commented,
“Nothing more I think symbolizes the oppression of the women than the Burka.”

Some people would see this modesty as positive, because, as Jean-Marie Le-Pen famously said about the Hijaab,

“It keeps us from ugly looking women.”

Either way, these subjugated Muslim women are in need of being liberated by Western society so that they can embrace their femininity and rest on equal footing with men. Or do they?

Quest for Beauty

flower-tulip-water-drop2In Western societies, the women feel free to dress and act as they wish – they pride themselves on having the choice to be an individual and look unique, in their own personal style. They believe that the Western society has resulted in them being respected as equals to men and has liberated them by helping them to embrace their sexuality, thus raising their confidence and self-esteem.

However, this notion held in many women’s heads doesn’t reflect the reality on the ground. The quest for beauty isn’t as easy as it seems – it normally starts at home, flicking through a magazine, watching MTV or passing by a billboard. The women portrayed are always the same – slim, full-chested and wearing skimpy outfits that are meant to entice men. Most of the time their flawless, air-brushed faces are smiling at the camera, causing the majority of teenage girls to sigh enviously and then look at their own figure in the mirror disappointedly. This pressure for women to look a certain way, to be beautiful like the famous actresses in adverts causes them to undergo this quest for the western perception of “beauty”.

A common misconception is that they undergo this quest by choice, not compulsion. However, this is not the case. Most women feel the need to look “beautiful” and feel revolted when they see their own bodies in the mirror – they idolise the models and pop stars, hoping to look like them so that they too will be respected by people based on their looks. Teenage girls especially feel the peer pressure to look like the ‘in star’ at that moment in time so that people would want to be her friend. This feeling of being inadequate in the eyes of society is exploited by the multibillion dollar industries such as cosmetics, designer clothing and the increasingly popular plastic surgery industry. The UK beauty industry secures revenues to around £8.9 billion every year, whilst the US cosmetic industry grows by a shocking 10% each year.

If women didn’t feel the need to look a certain way, why would 22% of women stay at home because they didn’t feel good about their appearance as stated in “The Bread for Life” campaign?[1] If they didn’t view appearance as the most respectable part of a woman, why did 55% of women rate looks when asked what the most attractive aspect of a woman was, when only 1% attached importance to intelligence. If these women are confident and have a high self-esteem why do 45% of women that are underweight think that they are too fat? Why do 1 in 20 women in America suffer from anorexia, bulimia or other eating disorders? Would 1000 women in the US die every year from anorexia if they felt confident and respected by men?[2] By looking at just a few statistics we can see that these women aren’t pursuing this quest out of choice, rather they feel compelled to by society.

Women in the West not only need to look a certain way, but need to dress a certain way. Let’s take a look at what fashions women in the West need to comply to. Most of the famous fashion designers are secular men that aim to make the clothing as revealing as possible because to view their woman sexually is their definition of beauty. These men feel free to view women in any manner they wish – designers such as Dolce & Gabbana, Gionni Versace, Alexander McQueen, who designs for Gucci, and John Gallian, who designs for Christian Dior.

By this, we can see that not only women in the West feel the need to comply with a certain beauty status quo but these unrealistic expectations result devastatingly for many women, who suffer physically, mentally and emotionally. This quest for beauty is not undertaken by choice, but via pressure and therefore the concept of the Western woman being free to define how she looks and dresses is none other than a myth.

Islam’s View of Women

orangeA common belief in the West is that Islam views the women as inferior to men and that she is viewed as substandard. The misconception that Islam only views women to please men, cook and clean is undoubtedly taken from Asian culture that stems from routes of Hinduism and corrupted Islam that has evolved over the ages. However, this doesn’t come from the religion and beliefs of Islam. On the contrary, Islam came as a mercy to mankind, whether they are men or women. We believe that women are equal to men, although it has to be accepted that they are biologically different and therefore have different roles and responsibilities.

If we look back to the time of the Prophet (sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam) we see that the Muslim women were treated with the utmost respect, something the non-Muslim women actually yearned for. Consequently the non-Muslim women used to imitate the Muslim women in order to gain the respect they had. Islam views the woman as a jewel or pearl that isn’t to be viewed by all. She is much too precious to be viewed and exhibited to lecherous men. Islam doesn’t have a certain concept of what physical “beauty” is, therefore there are no unrealistic expectations that women have to live up to. Islam recognises that physical attraction is important in a marriage but it emphasises that what is most important is the belief and righteousness of women. If her faith is strong and beautiful, then a pious man will view her to be beautiful as well.

The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said, "A woman is married for four things, i.e., her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her religion. So you should marry the religious woman (otherwise) you will be a losers." [Sahih Bukhari]

Women have a high status in Islam, especially the mother, where the Prophet is reported to say, “Be at your mother’s feet and there is the Paradise.” (Ibn Majah, Sunan, Hadith no. 2771) This privilege is given to the mothers of our Ummah and no one who has looked at Islam carefully and sincerely can come to the conclusion that Islam views woman as being inferior.

The Musilm Woman’s Dress Code

jilbaabis566Women can dress however they like in front of their husbands and do not need to cover in front of their Mahrams (people whom they can’t marry and their husbands), although within reason. Islam is, however, a complete Deen (way of life) and has discussed the concept of the image that a women should adopt when out of the house and in the presence of non-mahram. Many people are confused as to what is prescribed for the woman to wear in public life – is a skirt and top with a scarf alright? Or Shalwaar Kameez? What if the trousers are loose?

Our belief and rulings can’t stem from our mind or from our parents’ minds or from our culture. We have to follow what our Lord ordained for us and look at the evidences given as to how we should dress.

In the presence of all non-mahrams, the image prescribed for women is that all of her body should be covered; some scholars include the face and hands, others don't. The clothing shouldn’t be see-through or tight so as to reveal the shape of the body. Therefore the whole of the woman including the neck, feet and hair (even one hair), is 'awrah (that which is impermissable to reveal to a non-mahram man). Any exceptions to this have been defined by the Qur’an and Sunnah and not by man’s mind.

In Surah Nur Allah (a'zza wa jall) says, {They should not show their charms (zeenah) in public beyond what may (decently) be apparent thereof; hence let them draw their head-coverings (khumar) over their necks and bosoms (juyub). And let them not display (more of) their charms except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband's fathers, or their sons, or their husband's sons, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their womenfolk, or what their right hands rule (slaves), or the followers from the men who do not feel sexual desire, or the small children to whom the nakedness of women is not apparent, and not to swing their legs (in walking) so as to draw attention to their hidden charms.} [Al-Qur’aan, an-Noor, verse 31]

Therefore, when the woman leaves her home and goes out into public house, it is an obligation on her to wear the Khimaar (head-scarf) and Jilbaab (a one piece dress that covers her and drapes to the floor – it also covers her home clothes, which she wears underneath).

If she leaves her home without these two pieces of clothing then she is sinful in the eyes of the Creator as the evidence of these two garments is very clear.

{Let them draw their head-coverings (khumar) over their necks and bosoms.} [Al-Qur’aan, an-Noor, verse 31]

{Oh Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (jalabeeb) all over their bodies).} [Al-Qur’aan, al-Ahzaab, verse 59]

The first verse discusses the obligation of the Khimaar, whilst the second verse discusses the obligation of the Jilbaab. In addition, the ruling for the Jilbaab is reinforce by a Hadeeth narrated by Umm Atiyya, she said,

“The Messenger of Allah ordered us all women whether single or menstruating or housewives, to go out in the days of Eid Al-Fitr and Eid Al-Adha. (It was ordered that) the menstruating women should not perform prayer but can join in the festivities. I said,

"O Messenger of Allah! What if one of us does not have a Jilbaab?"

He said, "She can borrow a Jilbab from her sister.”

Another misconception is that women can only wear black when in public life. The ruling for this is to do with the issue of Tabarruj, i.e. draw attention to her.

{…and do not keep exhibiting your beauty and decorations like what used to happen in the Jahiliyyah period (before Islam).}

This refers to the woman not wearing any clothing jewellery or make-up that would draw attention to her beauty (tabarruj).

Behind the Veil

jilbaab1555Many of the Muslim women that choose to follow the command of their Lord are doing so purely and simply because their Lord prescribed it for them.

{It is not fitting for a believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Apostle, to have any option about their decision: if anyone disobeys Allah and His Messenger, he is indeed on a clearly wrong path.} [Al Qur’aan, Al Ahzab: 36]

So, contrary to Western belief they aren’t oppressed when covering, rather they are liberated and know that they are striving in the path of Allah ('azza wa jall). They have overcome the shallow thinking of Western society where everyone’s sole concern is how they look and are perceived by others. The Muslim woman has a much greater confidence than those around her because everyday she is going against the grain and not conforming to what society expects of her as a woman. She has satisfaction in knowing that she is standing with her head held high for what she believes in. By wearing Hijaab, the Muslim woman has freed herself from the grips of Western culture and has in turn given herself the confidence that women in the West are too afraid to have. However, the Western media usually doesn’t look beyond the veil to see how she is as a person, but rather assume she is wearing Hijaab against her will and is just another uneducated Muslim woman.

The Muslim woman defies this stereotype and is a thinking woman. She tries to educate herself as much as she can as Hijaab doesn’t limit her in anyway – she still can go to school, college and university as long as she doesn’t have to compromise her beliefs. Wearing Hijaab gives some women the encouragement to pursue their education at university and even go onto a masters degree as they have the drive to show the West that wearing the veil doesn’t cover their mind.

The Muslim woman has many role models, but contrary to Western idols like Christina Aguilera, Cameron Diaz and Tyra Banks, who are'nt known for their modest behavior, she looks up to the great Sahaabiyaat (Women Companions) of the Prophet’s era. She knows that her duty as a Muslimah is much more than just wearing the Hijaab. She aims to be caring and compassionate like Faatimah bint Muhammad (radhi Allahu 'anhaa) was to the Prophet (sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam). After her mother died she realised her responsibility and with loving tenderness devoted herself to his needs. She was always there to provide the Prophet (sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam) with comfort and solace during times of trial, difficulty and crisis. Rasoolullah (sallallahu 'alyhi wa sallam) said, "The best women in all the world are four: the Virgin Mary, Aasiyaa the wife of Pharoah, Khadijah Mother of the Believers, and Fatimah, daughter of Muhammad."

The Muslim woman yearns for the strength of Summaiyah (radhi Allahu 'anhaa) who was tortured to by Abu Jahl, but never gave in to revoking her religion. She was eventually tortured to death and earned the position of the first martyr in Islam. Umm Amarah (radhi Allahu 'anhaa) was a skilled fighter and fought in many battle, most famously in the Battle of Uhud where she protected the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) with her own body, not caring about herself. The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) is reported to say that wherever he turned, whether to his left or right, he saw Umm Amarah fighting to defend him.

Women like 'Aa'ishah (radhi Allahu 'anhaa) had a remarkable memory and reported over 2000 ahaadeeth (narrations). She had a deep understanding of Tafseer (Qur’anic Exegeses), Hadeeth (Prophetic Narrations) and Fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence). At the age of 18 people came from all over Arabia to ask her questions about the religion because she was one of the most knowledgeable scholars.

The Muslim woman today is much more than a woman wearing Hijaab and Jilbaab. She strives to be like her role models in the past who wore Hijaab, who were modest, compassionate and caring, who were educated and who persevered for Islaam no matter what the cost.

The Muslim woman of today strives to be a role model for the future.



[1] This campaign, in 1998 surveyed over 900 young women between ages 18 and 24 living in the West.
[2] American Anorexia/Bulimia Association