Islam has come to perfect human life. It is the religion which includes all aspects of living. Islam is a complete code of living for men as well as women. Islam grants to women a privileged and respectful status. In fact, woman is noble and precious, so precious that she has to be shielded from the eyes of foreigners. She is the most valuable creation in the eyes of Allah Ta’ala (God). Prophet Muhammad (saw) has stated: “This world is of a temporary benefit. The best thing that one can find in this transitory world is pious woman.” (Sahih Muslim)
Piety is the most valued quality in a woman. By nature, woman is frailer than man. Prophet Muhammad (saw) has advised to act prudently towards woman, who lives under man’s responsibility. “Fear Allah as regards to women, because you have taken responsibility for them under Allah’s trust. There intimacy has in fact been authorized to you under the word of Allah. Your rights on them are that they should allow no one to violate their chastity and their rights on you are that you should provide food to them and house them on easy-going terms and conditions.” (Muslim). Before considering the various connotations to determine the status of the Muslim woman’s veil, it is important to note that Islam has never wished to discriminate against non-veiled woman or incriminate them. Veiled women have always mingled with non-veiled women. The democracy then prevailing in Madinah was so open that even Jewish women who were non-veiled used to pay a visit to our mother Ayesha (ra) at home. But Islam, by its very nature, encourages chastity, modesty and decency.
Both men and women have to observe certain rules about their dress in public. The Qu’an states: “And tell believing women to lower their gaze, guard their modesty, not to display their beauty and ornaments except what must appear thereof, to draw their veils over their bosoms and not to display their beauty except to their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments.” (24:31). Let us together consult the Qur’anic verses where Allah (God) decrees the etiquette of dress and the ornaments of women.
Verse 50 of Surah Al-Ahzaab is explicit on the subject: “O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughter, and believing women, to cast their outer garments over their persons: they will thus be easily recognized and will avoid being molested.” According to the famous Mufassir of the Ummah, Ibn Abbas (ra), this verse means that women must cover their entire body including their face except their eyes. Abdullah ibn Mas’ood and other companions of the Prophet (saw) shared their view (Adwa-ul-Bayaan). Other verses of the Qur’an take the same scope to hide woman’s beauty and require her to safeguard her chastity and even her gaze. “And tell believing women to lower their gaze and safeguard their chastity and not to display their beauty except to their husbands.” (An-Noor: 31). Since beauty is focused on the face, the latter must be veiled, and on the other hand, men have been directed to lower their gaze. “Every thing begins with a look” as the saying goes. Even when women are veiled, men must lower their gaze and not stare at women in the eyes or, for example, try to guess woman’s silhouettes in their jilbaabs (long arab dresses). Besides, if for some reason women are not veiled, men should not take advantage of that and stare at them. Use your eyelids to hide your gaze and lower your eyes.
And, since man has not been ordered to veil his face, woman is required to lower her gaze in the presence of strange men. However, human life necessitates interaction between families, friends, and strangers or during occasions of purchases and sales, etc. And, in this outlook, Islam has not prescribed any sort of discrimination between man and woman. But, it has established an etiquette in order to safeguard human chastity. You will observe that man sets himself apart from animals thanks to his chaste values. Let us examine the order that explains the interactions between a strange man and woman. In a situation where communication is necessary between the two genders, the veil is the best safeguard of decency. The veil protects chastity between a man and a strange woman. According to Islamic precepts, it is very evident that the veil is important. Any communication, whether oral or in writing, gives rise to approaches between the two sexes. In these times of internet suffers, it is common practice since the young communicate between themselves on the web and later meet on mutual appointment. That is why the Qur’an prescribes norms of precaution by means of the veil in such circumstances. “And if you ask them (the prophet’s wives (ra)) for anything, ask them from behind a screen.” (Al-Ahzaab: 53). The woman of the era of Prophet Muhammad (saw) did comply with the order in these issues. They did veil their faces. Hence, the veil is not a sign of extremism, but is rather a symbol of discretion in dress for Muslim women. A tale demonstrates that the men of that era could not recognize women precisely because they were veiled. “It is my wife (in case you had any doubt about it)” (Sahih Muslim)
Other accounts support the thesis that Muslim women did veil themselves. Hence, that being said, the veil is originally adapted in accordance with Islamic rules and practice. It represents neither radicalism nor extremism. It should be realized that the veil is compulsory only in the presence of strangers’ eyes. A woman can go on a trip with her family and remove the veil when no stranger is there to see her. An account from Muslim Shareef tells us how Ayesha (ra), the Prophet’s wife, did remove her veil in the absence of people. This proves conclusively that she wore the veil when people were around. But wisdom requires that the veil should not be imposed with force. The best way is to progressively cover the head and the bosom and end up covering the face. It should be known that Islam is a religion that teaches moderation, which allows living in perfect harmony with other communities. During centuries, veiled women have mingled with non-veiled women in various countries of the world. And this is in counanace with the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (saw). At the time of his emigration to Madinah, one of his first initiatives was to establish a covenant of good relationship and co-operation with the Jews and Christians of Madinah. And that was when his companions discovered the true policy of peace advocated by Islam.
Islam promotes an atmosphere of human brotherhood. You see, our beloved Prophet Muhammad (saw) has distinguished himself even among Jews and Christians thanks to his excellent character. The Prophet of Allah (saw) used to invite people from the family of the Quraish clan, to which he belonged, with the objective of making them accept Islam. He has taught us to help others, irrespective of their colors or culture. Black on white, he has stated: “Humankind is like the family of Allah, the best servant in the eyes of Allah is the one who is the most kindly to his family (i.e. humankind).” (Shuabul Imaan)
Allah Ta’ala has said: “Tell the people of the book: Come, based on that aspect which we have in common, let us pray Allah Ta’ala only (God) without associating any partners with Him.” (Ale-Imran: 64). Islam is close to human nature, so that everybody should feel himself “in peace” and “in security” with its name as well as its culture.
That is the reason why Muslim rulers have always tolerated non-veiled woman or even the dress habits of other religious communities under their reign. In India, during the reign of Mughal Kings, for centuries Hindu women were free to wear their sarees. History has not recorded any kind of social reprisal or pressure concerning Islamic symbols against the population in general. Yet, in this twenty-first century, there are so-called democratic countries which pass laws against the Muslim veil. You can well judge who the “extremists” are!