Prof. Farida Khanum
In dismissing petitions filed by Muslim students seeking permission to wear a hijab inside the classroom, the Karnataka high court has rightly ruled that the wearing of hijab by Muslim women does not form part of essential religious practices in the Islamic faith. It underlines why Muslim women should embrace both schooling and school uniforms
The second point made by the court is that the prescription of a school uniform is only a reasonable restriction, constitutionally permissible, which the students cannot object to. Even Muslim schools have uniforms that students accept if they want to study in those schools.
Men and women are two halves of a unit’
I urge my fellow Muslims to accept the HC ruling. And in urging everyone to honour the law of the land in this regard, I further want to say that it is totally in consonance with the original teachings of the Prophet of Islam. The Prophet has clearly stated: “Men and women are two halves of a single unit.” It is the best expression of gender equality.
When the Prophet received revelation in 610 AD, Angel Gabriel showed him how to pray. The Prophet came home and told his wife, Khadijah, about this form of worship. Hazrat Khadijah began praying with the Prophet. Sometimes the Prophet went outside to pray, and Khadijah accompanied him without covering her face.
In his multi-volume book The Liberation of Women in the Age of Revelation, the latter referring to the age of the Prophet, Egyptian author Abdul Halim Abu Shuqqa writes that “Women did not veil their faces during the Age of Revelation.” He cites many instances to establish this.
Once, when a companion of the Prophet named Al Fadl was riding behind him on the occasion of Haj, a woman from the tribe of Khatham approached the Prophet with some queries regarding the rites of Haj. Al Fadl was handsome, and the woman was also good-looking, so they started looking at each other with admiration. However, the Prophet did not say anything to the woman, such as that she should better stay indoors or veil her face. Instead, he turned Al Fadl's face to the other side.
Today, Muslims who advocate covering the face refers to ‘fitnah’ (moral degradation) in present-day society. However, the Prophet did not ask the women to cover their faces even in such situations. Furthermore, there is no verse in the Quran enjoining women to cover themselves with hijab and cover their faces when they step outside their homes. The word Hijab has not been used in the Quran in the sense of veiling of the faces.
Muslim women must realize that they are holding on to the ancient purdah system prevalent in the pre-Islamic world, and they regard that to be a part of Islam.
Muhammad Nasir al-Din Albani, a reputed Arab scholar, and traditionist, has written a book on hijab, where he has clearly stated that a woman's face is not included in the parts of the body that need to be covered. The Prophet's women companions regularly went to the mosque without covering their faces.
The author quotes a famous tradition narrated by Ibn Abbas, where the Messenger of God addressed the women to urge them to give alms. Afterward, Bilal ibn Rabah, a Companion of the Prophet, spread a sheet on which the women began throwing their rings. After referring to this tradition, the author quotes Ibn Hazm, the 11th-century theologian and jurist: “Ibn Abbas saw the hands (and face) of women in the presence of the Prophet. It proves that the face and the hands are not included in the parts of the body to be covered.”
The Indoors vs outdoors binary
He underlines how it is clear from the Quran and Hadith and the practices of the companions and Tabiun (companions of the Prophet's companions) that women can go out without veiling themselves.
Islam is an ideology, while Muslims are a community with their own culture in which changes occur under various circumstances. Muslims have come to regard the culture developed over the centuries to be the original religion. In such a situation, Muslim cultural traditions should be judged in the light of the original teachings of Islam as enshrined in the Quran and Sunnah, instead of regarding this culture as Islam itself.
Muslims must accept the Karnataka HC judgment wholeheartedly and take part in all educational facilities. As renowned Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyyah has pointed out, the Muslims who live in plural societies are not enjoined to go against the people so far as matters of culture are concerned. Instead, in certain situations, following the law of the land becomes a must for them.
(Dr. Farida Khanum is the Chairperson of the center of peace and Spirituality International, New Delhi, and a former faculty of the Jamia Milia Islamia University. Views expressed are personal)