Veil as Mandated

Does Quran Really Demand That Women Wear Hijab?


Veil as Mandated
by varjavand

It seems some Muslims in the U.S. have only two things to worry about, Halal meat and veiling (hijab). While Halal meat can be found only in the freezer of ethnic food stores, the veil is visible everywhere, even around public swimming pools. It is considered the most distinctive, controversial, and often resisted sign of Islamic identity especially in Western countries. In some Middle Eastern countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia where hijab is mandatory, the so-called Islamic dress codes are stringently enforced by police. Occasionally, we see a video clip on YouTube of a screaming young lady resisting arrest or begging for mercy while she is being dragged by the so-called Iranian morality-enforcer police toward a waiting police car – her crime, violating the so called Islamic dress codes or showing a few strands of her hair. I don’t know whose morality they try to enforce, or what kind of mentality justifies the public humiliation and demonization of innocent people simply because they are dressed in a way some blinkered individuals think is inappropriate. And, why is an Islamic government so preoccupied with veiling which is not even mentioned in the holy Quran and is not mandated outrightly by Islam? If veiling was so critical to the survival of the faith as some Islamic authorities claim, it should have been required unambiguously by Quran, and if not, it should not be compulsory.

Does Islam really require its female followers to wear a head covering? Even though there is no common agreement on the answer to this question, most Islamic scholars believe that head-covering for Muslim women is not mandatory because it is not specifically stated in Quran. Mandatory veiling, at best, is based on personal interpretations of some Quranic verses, or hadith, by a number of male interpreters who are obviously influenced by gender bias, personal persuasions, cultural norms, and the communal traditions. Below are two of the Quranic verses used as rationale for mandatory veiling.

“And tell the believing women to subdue their eyes, and maintain their chastity. They shall not reveal any parts of their bodies, except that which is necessary. They shall cover their chests, and shall not relax this code in the presence of other than their husbands, their fathers, the fathers of their husbands, their sons, the sons of their husbands, their brothers, the sons of their brothers, the sons of their sisters, other women, the male servants or employees whose sexual drive has been nullified, or the children who have not reached puberty. They shall not strike their feet when they walk in order to shake and reveal certain details of their bodies. All of you shall repent to God, O you believers, that you may succeed”. Sureh 24, Verse 31

O prophet, tell your wives, your daughters, and the wives of the believers that they shall lengthen their garments. Thus, they will be recognized (as righteous women) and avoid being insulted (molested). GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful. Surah 33, verse 59

One can obviously surmise from these verses that while it is necessary that women maintain chastity and modesty by properly concealing their bodies with an outer garment that covers the chest and is reasonably long enough to cover the lower body’s curves and cleavages, there is no mention that women should cover the head, or hair for that matter. The coercive idea that women should conceal their entire body from head to toe or hide every strand of hair is indeed unrelated to Islam and is plainly heretical.

The claim of some apologists that veiling is a sign of devotion to Islam and that mandating women to wear hijab stems from concern for their eternal salvation is nonsensical. Do we think that forcing women to cover their heads will convert them into devout Muslims? If so, should government also force people to go to the mosque to pray, or make fasting, alms-giving, etc mandatory? And why should an Islamic government in some Muslim countries be so concerned about people’s welfare in the afterlife while their earthly lives, which are being lived under unbearable living conditions, amount to hopelessness and often utter misery for some?

The often mentioned argument in defense of mandatory head covering is that women should wear hijab so they are protected from being stared at, groped, and harassed by men. This is indeed absurd and downright fallacious. Do these people think that men are created just to be tempted or corrupted by the presence of women? I have seen women covering their hair but wearing tight jeans, displaying their chests, or the contours of their bodies. Is hair more inciting than body contours or breasts? Women should be free to wear what they think is appropriate. It is the task of the law to protect them against harassment or unwanted advances by men, not to legislate how they dress. Forcing women to comply with strict dress codes is tantamount to punishing them for the voluptuousness of men. Isn’t that like punishing a victim instead of the perpetrator of a crime? This reminds me of our own cute Farsi poem: They executed a coppersmith in Kashan for a crime committed by a blacksmith in Balkh! If such reasoning was in fact correct, there should not be any incidents of rape or molestation in Islamic countries, particularly in those where hijab is obligatory; however, evidence points to the contrary. Rapes and molestations do happen frequently in Islamic countries. Such offenses, however, remain mostly undetected. They are not usually reported or leaked to the public media because they will tarnish family honor and blemish forever the lives of the women involved.

Those who maintain rightfully that Islam sought to emancipate women (who were treated disdainfully in Jahilyye, the uncivilized condition of ignorance that existed in the Arabian Peninsula before the emergence of Islam) and to elevate their position by giving them freedom and social value must realize that mandatory veiling contradicts their claim. Veiling and the binding restrictions that come with it, such as covering the body from head to toe and gender desegregation, cause partial impairment of women’s mobility and ostracize them from society. We often see an image of a woman on a street of Afghanistan or Saudi Arabia impaired by the weight of and the heat resulting from the thick, heavy, baggy, dark fabrics covering her body from head to toe – the kind of veiling known as burgha – and it is often hard to tell whether she is walking forward or backward.

A couple of years ago I was invited to do a presentation at a prominent university in Tehran and after the presentation I was taken to lunch. There were three men and two ladies in our party; one of the ladies was my daughter. We had gotten our food, moved toward the dining area, and were about to sit around a table when a man horridly approached us and told us that males and females could not sit together; it was the rule of the university. I was thinking, what happened to universities which once were the powerhouses of progressive ideas, tolerance, and reasonableness? I wondered what kind of calamity would befall me because I sat at a dining table with my daughter, a secretary, and a couple of other men. What happened to Islam which was supposed to be all-embracing?

If wearing hijab is what an Islamic government is all about, is that even consistent with the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad who took his wives to war with him? Do we think that only the outward signs of being a Muslim such as praying, fasting, alms giving, and wearing hijab are enough to make someone a true Muslim? Sure these are important, but the more important things are how we conduct ourselves in society, how we treat others, how we respect the rights and privacy of others, and above all, how we are seen in the eyes of the world.

In the West, veiling is viewed by most people as a manifestation of a much greater undisclosed agenda, that of the subjugation and control of women by men under the guise of Islam, thus sanctioning their inferiority. There is no dispute that modesty is important in any society, especially when it comes to public attire. It is, I believe, an inherent trait of human being. Even if women are free to wear whatever they want, they will not usually breach the standards of modesty. Even if modesty is a subjective concept – what is considered modest in the U.S. may be considered indecent in a Muslim country – people are rational enough to realize what is proper and what is not given the cultural circumstances they live under. Specific dress codes should not be preached or legislated for the sake of modesty; it should be left to the individual’s conscience and intuition. There are a few mandatory dress codes in the United States. Nonetheless, we don’t see anyone indecently exposed or walking naked in the streets. I am sure the women in Iran, or any other Islamic countries for that matter, who have made their way successfully in almost every social as well as intellectual field, are judicious enough to decide for themselves what to wear and how to wear it without undermining or breaking standards of morality or decency. They certainly don’t need “big brothers” and “big sisters” looking over their shoulders or giving them instructions on proper dressing.

And who said veiling originated with Islam? It did not. Veiling existed long before the advent of Islam as the product of the habits and cultural conditioning of women throughout history. Before Islam, wearing veils in different nations was purely a cultural issue related to various non-religious reasons such as social status, wealth, empowerment, ease, ceremonies, or simply for practicality. It was a matter of personal choice and was not forced by government or any authority. If forced, it would have lost its intended connotation. In addition, what gives credence to the idea that veiling is a cultural and not a religious phenomenon is that women in different countries, Muslim or non-Muslim, may choose to wear head scarves of different shapes, length, and styles that reflect their culture and the customs unique to their society.

Compulsory veiling is equivalent to sequestration of the body which is as appalling as sequestration of the mind and its brainpower. It is time for whimsical apologists to stop taking refuge in rhetoric and tell us the real reasons behind the imposition of hijab and the undue intrusions into the private lives of citizens.

Reza Varjavand is the author of a recently published book: From Misery Alley to Missouri Valley, Xlibris Publishing Company.


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more from varjavand

This custom seems to have

by iubiss on

This custom seems to have been adopted by the Persian Achaemenid rulers, who are said by the Graeco-Roman historian Plutarch to have hidden their wives and concubines from the public much great!
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Veil is in the eyes of beholder

by AfshinS on

Mr. Gol-Dust, You just may not create history without a reference.  Would you state your source of information that "chador" was sign of women's status 100 years ago in Iran?  It might have been "veil" as Capt-Ayhab pointed out and it was not for keeping eyes from women's body but was to protect identity of wealthy women who were wearing jewels. 

But about men loosing control of themselves by seeing a woman's private parts is because of coming from a closed background where women cover their body parts.  To prove that the nudity alone does not cause infatuation refer to Sub-sahran African tribes where everyone runs naked and no one seems to walk with an erection.  I recommend anyone who disagrees, take a primitive cultural anthropology course in a college.


Veiling in Christianity

by varjavand on

Here is a comment from an American reader concerning this article and the position of Christianity on veiling. This was emailed to me privately however; I am posting it with her permission. 


Regarding the Christian position on veiling,  I really can't speak for all of Christianity because the denominational range of belief is so broad - from extreme conservatism to extreme liberalism. I am also not a theologian or historian. I can share some personal thoughts however. I found a very interesting article on the Web // "Women in Islam Versus Women in the Judaeo-Christian Tradition." It compares these religion's views of women and veiling and it disputes the argument you made in your article regarding the veiling of Muslim women. The author feels that veiling in Islam is about protection, and veiling in Christianity is about subjugation. Both Islam and Christianity speak about veiling in terms of higher values such as protection, modesty, signs of religious dedication, and respect for women. But I and my friends think that veiling is all about subjugation and control by patriarchal dominated societies and religions and their beliefs about women. There is also a book I found entitled Destiny Denied: The Veiling of Women in the Traditional Church by Barbara Boone Wooten. She writes about veiling in the Catholic/Christian tradition. You can Google it, see the table of contents, and read a short excerpt off the Amazon site. 

In our opinions, gender traditionalists in conservative Christianity, and Catholicism in particular, have very negative views of women.  They are inferior to men, they are temptresses, and must be subjugated by men who are smarter and are made in the image of God. Adam (man) is superior to Eve (woman) because Eve was created from Adam merely to be an assistant to care for his needs. Beginning with the earliest biblical interpretations of the creation story of the Fall of Adam and Eve, Christian theologians saw women as the sinful daughters of Eve, the temptress, who lured Adam and consequently the whole human race into sin and, therefore, they should be covered and controlled. Women are the instruments of the devil. Gender traditionalists ignore the scriptural interpretation that God created males and females as companions and equals who need one another and compliment one another in furthering God's creation. 

The three major religions of the world have had a tremendous influence on culture and dress. The original habits of many Catholic religious orders of women have their roots in the dress of the day worn by their founders but that dress was dictated by the male hierarchy. Often the original writings of these religions have been manipulated and interpreted through the mindset and biases of these religion's gender traditionalist clerics and theologians. Before the dawn of religion, women went about unveiled or veiled depending on culture and climate but then these religions began to shape culture, practice, and understandings of morality - in the extreme, unveiled you are like a prostitute; veiled you are like a virgin. 

I agree with your ending addition to your article.  We should be demanding to know the truth, the real reasons for veiling, the real reasons behind clergy motivations, and I agree with you that women should be allowed to choose. Will this ever happen? I don't think so. The male clergy love their power.



Mr. Gol-dust

by varjavand on


Thanks for bringing that issue to our attention.

The main point of my article is freedom to choose, the most cherished gift of democracy, and trusting people’s intuition and conscientiousness and not assuming that women are temptresses who don’t know how to dress properly. Whether there are formal dress codes or not in a nation, people are usually attentive enough to respect the standards of modesty and public decency. Obviously, there are always a few who ignore the norms and the standards or misuse the privileges society bestowed upon them. Such scant incidences, however, do not justify the imposition of public dress codes. In other words, society should not impose strict codes on everyone else because of the naughtiness of a few.

Dress codes in the US are usually imposed by private companies for their employees in private space for legitimate reasons; health, identification, marketing, etc. Any religiously-sanctioned codes became arbitrary, oppressive, and dangerous.




Mr varjavand

by capt_ayhab on

Excellent article, really enjoyed reading it.

Thanks for sharing



gol-dost jan

by capt_ayhab on

Excellent point, and I might add that [Chador] goes back long before 100 years.

The history of [Chodor] traces back to Mesopotamia, where respectable women veiled, and servants and prostitutes were forbidden to do so. The veil marked class status.

This custom seems to have been adopted by the Persian Achaemenid rulers, who are said by the Graeco-Roman historian Plutarch to have hidden their wives and concubines from the public gaze.

IR's mandetory use of veil has more to do with bigger picture of oppressing women than adherence to Islamic Law. There is an excellent book by Mr. Hammed Shahidian, named [Women In Iran: Gender Politics In Islamic Republic; Greenwood Publishing.]

Mr. Shahidian focuses on policies that shape gender relations, primarily on the Islamic government's strategies to re-strengthen patriarchal practices.






من شخصاً اصلا


من شخصاً اصلا برام مهم نیست که قرآن در مورد حجاب چی‌ میگه. حالا قرآن هر چی‌ می‌خواد در این مورد بگه چه تفاوتی‌ در زندگی‌ ۵۰% مردم ایران که زنها باشند داره؟ کسانی‌ که خودشون رو نگهبانان دین میدونند مسائل رو همونطوری که میخوان و به صرفشونه تعبیر میکنند.
تجربه ثابت کرده که اسلام دینیه که به همه مسائل آدم کار داره و توی آنها دخالت می‌کنه. زندگی‌ رو محدود می‌کنه، آزادی رو سلب می‌کنه، فقر و بدبختی رو زیاد می‌کنه، عدالت رو رعایت نمی‌کنه و هزار تا چیز دیگه.
چرا ما هم مثل بقیه دنیای متمدن نمیتونیم دین رو یک مساله شخصی‌ ببینیم که مردم باید بتونن در آزادی کامل توی چاردیواری خونه شون طبق آن زندگی‌ کنند. هر کس آزاد باشه عضو هر فرقه‌ای که می‌خواد باشه به شرط اینکه آزادی دیگران رو سلب یا محدود نکنه.

Maryam Hojjat

Mr. Varjavand!

by Maryam Hojjat on

Excellent article about mandatory Hejab. I agree with your views but as Mr. Gol-dust mentioned there are some young wemen in western countries indecently exposed themselves which is very embarrassing to the public.


Ahmed from Bahrain

Chador mador

by Ahmed from Bahrain on

Keeping women under wrap (and controlliing them) is another form of control in patriarchical societies where men are dominant and see women as chattels.

We have not had equality of sexes in Middle Eastern societies. Fear has ruled us and it is high time to have equality of sexes and live without fear of anything, God included; which is the paradox of the hghest form.

How can we fear God and at the same time we are told we must love God? Try putting your head around that one and you will go insane!

The only solution is to rise above all that.


Ahmed from Bahrain


100 years ago, Chador in Iran was worn as a sign of status!

by gol-dust on

Chador was designed so women could not perform any manual tasks. Their arms were covered. And that meant, she was wealthy and had servants, therfore she didn't need to do any house chores. As time passed, other people due to CHESHM HAM CHESHMI, started to wear chador, even though they were not wealthy. The idea caught on, and spread throughout the cities.

In the villages always they covered themselves, but hardly wearing chador, since they alyways worked. Yes, it is not said in quran, as far as i know.

Very good articles. However, I don't agree with all your points such as in the west they cover themselves without the .....   - Yesterday i was with my family where i saw this young girl weaaring a bikini in an ice cream shop showing CHAAKEH KOONESH ROW. I had to move on quickly before my kids see it!

You said that the laws are there to protect them. why do we always need laws to impose or defend the morality? People would judge. And that is when we decide who or what family we would marry into. We cannot expect everyone to have the same values. Thanks!