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Does Muslim veil Constitue a Part of Islamic Code of Dress for Women?

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Shape of a Muslim veil for women is mainly result of local customs and traditions instead of scriptures. However, veiling started much before dawn of Islam. Quran gives a code of dressing for men and women but directs wives of the last Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) in these words:

“O Consorts (wives) of the Prophet! Ye are not like any of the (other) women: if ye do fear ((Allah)), be not too complacent of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire: but speak ye a speech (that is) just. And stay quietly in your houses, and make not a dazzling display, like that of the former Times of Ignorance; and establish regular Prayer, and give regular Charity; and obey Allah and His Messenger. And Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you, ye members of the Family, and to make you pure and spotless. “ (Quran 33:32,33) Muslim scholars have identified different forms of outer covering for women to satisfy Islamic code of dress. Some suggest Muslim veil considering it mandatory. Others opine that Muslim veil was specified only to the wives of Muhammad (PBUH) and not the general Muslim women. They claim that neither at the time of the last prophet and nor during the caliphate period, common women didn’t use to wear veils to hide their faces. Later on different scholars developed different opinions either on the basis of interpretations of the holy Quran or in the light of Hadith and the early history.

There are two majority opinions on Muslim veil if you exclude the hard-liners Salafis who consider it mandatory upon the general Muslim women to wear veils as wives of the last prophet have done. They argue that best life to be followed by men is life of Muhammad (PBUH). And the best lives to be followed by the Muslim women are the lives as spent by the wives of Muhammad (PBUH).

Liberal Scholars on Muslim Veil

The liberal scholars argue that the instruction givens in Quran 33:32,33 were specific for the wives of Muhammad. If general Muslim women follow veils it is not an offence on their part. However, if they want to avoid veiling their faces, Quran does not demand from them to veil. Otherwise Muslim women began using Muslim veil much later to follow Sunnah of wives of the last prophet.

They offer argument that the verse in Quran 33:32,33 was revealed when Muhammad (PBUH) was no more remained a local chief of his tribe. He was ruler of the newly born and widening Islamic state. The people from far flung areas used to come to the last Prophet and stay near the mosque for many days. It was natural for the Islamic state to devise a system to save family of Muhammad (PBUH) from unwanted elements.

The liberal scholars also argue that Muslim dress code for women is given at another place in Quran as:

“O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Quran 33: 59)

Is Muslim Veil Relative to a Society?

The modern complex times have forced the Muslim scholars to concentrate more deeply on the verses of Quran relating to Quran. Many of the 20th and 21st century scholars of Islam think that veiling of faces was specified for the wives of Muhammad. The other Muslim women were directed to put on an outer garment over their bodies to get them identified as free, respectable Muslim women as well as to save them from harassment. Quran says:

“O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Quran 33: 59)

They argue that there is a solid reason behind this every order of Quran. In those days, slavery was a socio-economic order of the society. Some non-Muslim elements used to annoy Muslim women in Madina. On prosecution they used to take defense that they could not recognize free Muslim women from respectable families. This verse made free Muslim women recognizable so that they may not be harassed in future.

The present time has made situation reversed for Muslim women especially in Western culture. When they are recognized as Muslims, they are harassed. Some Muslim scholars argue that in such situations the Muslim women should not at least veil their faces. However, their dress must be modest and fulfill basic spirit of this verse in Quran 33:59.

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