“Asalamualaykum, I wanted to seek your opinion on the matter of wearing hijab. Among my friends and family, we have been discussing the role and purpose of hijab in Islam. Some are of the view that it’s more important to be a good human being i.e best in character, polite, truthful, honest, have clear intentions etc and fulfil your huquq ul-Ibad (rights of fellow people). ‘What’s the point of covering your head if you are not doing the above mentioned?,’ is the response of some. Could you please elaborate on this issue in the light of Sunnah and Hadith. Thanks.”
– Sister in Islam –
Wa ‘Alaykum al-Salam wa Rahmatullah wa Barakatuh
Jazakumullah khayran for your query. Hopefully the following points will be of benefit to your discussion. I have chosen to answer in a manner that is not connected to hijab itself and is generic for any legislation within Islam, if you need a particular point expounded upon I can do that insha’allah.
Ultimate role and purpose of any legislation
The real role and purpose of any legislation is one of demonstrating submission and obedience: it is to willingly act as a slave towards Allah. Allah has laid down so many universal laws that we cannot escape, such as the requirement to eat, drink and sleep, that we will be born and we will die etc. We have no choice in these universal laws and we are slaves to Him in this respect. However, He has created us to test us whether we will be willing slaves to Him concerning His religious laws in which we have been granted choice to submit to him or not, with the consequence of everlasting gardens for submitting to Him or the blazing fire for rejecting to do so.
All wisdom is from Allah, who is al-Hakim
This is one of Allah’s names and it means that Allah is All-Wise. He is depicted with perfect wisdom that has no flaw whatsoever. So all His universal and religious laws ensue from His wisdom. Allah says, ‘And the word of your Lord has been fulfilled in truth and in justice…’i i.e., truth in its information and justice in its laws and rulings. Because of this realisation, a Muslim submits to Allah’s laws immediately knowing that his or her welfare and betterment in this world and the Hereafter revolve around this compliance.
Recognising specific benefits and wisdoms of a particular legislation
This is very much encouraged as it increases and strengthens one’s faith, however this is not the basis for the acceptance and enactment of a particular command; this could be tantamount to committing shirk with Allah – associating partners with Him – with the partner being your desires. If a person only accepts and abides by a ruling if its wisdom becomes known, this is really taking one’s desires as one’s deity and lies in contrast to Islam, which means istislam: to submit your will to Allah’s. Such a person may profess Islam but is actually only being led by his or her own agreement and inclination to the ruling. Allah says, ‘Have you seen the one who takes as his deity his own desire? Then would you be responsible for him?’ii
The rights of creation
Huquq al-‘Ibaad (rights of fellow people) are an offshoot of the rights of the Creator. They are only rights because Allah has declared them to be so. One must look comprehensively at the rights the Creator has upon him or her directly, as well as other rights of the creator that are indirect, which include the rights of other creatures. Allah’s rights do not contradict each other or work against each other, whether they are His direct rights or indirect ones. Ardent desire to maintain rights of fellow people whilst not maintaining rights of the Creator is closer to a secular outlook on life than a religious one.
Similar to the previous point, within Islamic teachings and the discourse of our Muslim scholar’s behaviour and character is a comprehensive term covering 1) behaviour before Allah 2) behaviour with one’s self and 3) behaviour with those around us. Behaviour before Allah not only defines us but also our behaviour with ourselves and others.
Best human or best slave?
It is more important and correct to be the best slave rather than focus on being a good human. Allah says, ‘And I did not create the jinn and humankind except to worship Me.’iii If this is the whole point of our creation, surely being the best at this is the most important matter to strive for? When a person does strive to be the best slave that will automatically include striving to be the best human. The Prophet (Salla Allah ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, ‘I have been sent only to perfect the noble characteristics.’iv We know that our Prophet (Salla Allah ‘alayhi wa sallam) is the best and most exalted of all slaves and yet with that he said, ‘I am the best of the children of Adam and there is no boasting (in that).’v So he is also the best human. We need to realign ourselves by having concern for the Hereafter before this worldly life as this is key to understanding matters properly. First, think about attaining the benefit of the abode you have been created to live in forever before the benefit of the world that you are passing through as a traveller. Always think about being the best slave not the best human; even though the first includes by necessity the other whereas exclusive focus on the second does not necessarily include the other. In fact, without the former the latter cannot be, as explained in the next point.
Who is a good human?
True humanity is not defined simply by the virtuous acts agreed by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, such as being polite and honest etc although these are indispensable. Allah tells us, ‘And We have certainly created for Hell many of the jinn and humankind. They have hearts with which they do not understand, they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear. Those are like livestock; rather, they are more astray. It is they who are the heedless.’vi So Allah declares those who are heedless to Him, His signs and law, as being more astray than animals – far removed from being human. A true human therefore is one who fulfils the reason for his existence and uses his bestowed senses to acknowledge His Lord and submit to Him. It is important that we enlighten our hearts and thoughts with correct concepts as laid out by our Creator rather than being shaped by a society that is only increasing in its secular and atheistic view of who we are and what we are about. We need to remain attached to the Qur’an and its teachings to receive the light that Allah has revealed to us and prevent us from stumbling in the dark.
Idealism vs Realism
The quest to perfect one’s character is never-ending since perfection is an ideal, which propels one to continually strive to develop character and is not a reality that is ever reached. We need to be both idealists and realists but let each of the two work in their respective domains: idealism should motivate us and provide us with a vision whereas realism should allow us to judge matters correctly. To instead set perfection as an achievable and realistic target and then declare a lack of perfection as justification to relegate other responsibilities in essence means to nullify them.
The servitude required from us is multi-varied
It is across our hearts, our tongues and our limbs. Some are commandments and others are prohibitions etc. They are daily, annually or once in our lifetime. They require physical exertion or monetary outlay or are a mixture of the two…and so on. Failure to carry out a particular injunction does not legitimise the failure to carry out a different injunction. Acting in this way only makes your situation more precarious as you will now be accountable for dereliction of both duties. This faulty reasoning is a classic manifestation of the delusions and whisperings of Shaytan pointed out by scholars of old and new. So in answer to, ‘What’s the point of covering your head if you are not doing the above mentioned’, the response is that the point will be that you have less to answer for! We can all agree that aiming to have an easy reckoning before Allah is a pursuit we need to work towards like no other. For sure, the laws all together are meant to bring about a balanced and complete individual, but that is a perfection a person aspires to and strives for by doing as much as they can – not as less as they can. So do not limit yourself by looking for a conflict or possible hypocrisy in how you are towards different commandments but strive for perfection in attaining as much as you can. Life is short and the hour is fast-approaching; it is only a day or part of a day that is being asked of you in order to reap the bliss of everlasting life. Begin with the end in mind and push forward with a positive psyche, not a negative or defeated one; the Prophet (Salla Allah ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, ‘Strive for what will benefit you and do not give up!’vii
Judging and ranking good acts
It is Allah who decides what is right and wholesome and what is not. Although we have an innate sense of right and wrong and good and bad, this sense is general. We do not know this in detail and that is the reason behind the dispatching of Messengers – to show us this light in detail. Allah says, ‘Allah is the patron of those who believe. He brings them out from darknesses into the light. And those who disbelieve – their allies are the false deities; they take them out of the light into darknesses. Those are the companions of the Fire; they will abide eternally therein.’viii Allah also says, ‘…But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah knows, while you know not.’ix So who knows the true scale of whether one good comes before another and needs to be prioritised in a set manner or if one is dependent on another without it directly being stated by Allah or His Messenger (Salla Allah ‘alayhi wa sallam).
Faulty reasoning vs. Weak volition
One who fails to act out a commandment because of a weakness of faith but recognises the sin being committed is in a much better state than one whose reasoning for not doing a commandment is borne of faulty reasoning. The former may eventually turn back and repent and seek Allah’s assistance in repairing one’s relationship with Him whereas for the latter, the scope for that to occur is far less. Also, the displeasure and consequences of faulty reasoning and incorrect perceptions can be more severe than that of weak faith and uncontrolled desire; consider the nature of the disobedience to Allah by both Iblis and Adam to realise this. The former reasoned to be better than the latter and rejected to bow down whereas the latter was weak and succumbed to the temptations whispered to him by the former and ate of the tree. The former was outcast and rejected forever whereas the latter received words of repentance, turned back and Allah turned to him.
Inner vs. Outer
A misconception some have is that as long as what’s within me is of a good nature then the outer physical demonstration of submission and obedience is nonessential. It is true that the heart is the primary organ that is addressed with commandments and that without the heart establishing the necessary belief and actions that give life to iman, then exterior actions are not given much weight and could in fact be manifest hypocrisy. However the misjudgement lies in the claim that one’s interior is wholesome whilst obedience is not demonstrated at the exterior – this claim is problematic in that the Prophet (Salla Allah ‘alayhi wa sallam) has told us, ‘Truly in the body there is a morsel of flesh which, if it be whole, all the body is whole and which, if it be diseased, all of it is diseased. Truly it is the heart.’x So if the heart is sound according to one’s claim then this will without doubt manifest itself on the body – so something to ponder over for sure.
Letter of the law vs. Spirit of the law
This is a similar point but again is so pivotal that it shapes a person’s approach and outlook towards their belief and practice and ultimately one’s glorification of Allah and His laws. Some people may focus solely on the letter of the law: the dos and don’ts and remain very shallow within. They do not internalise and take benefit from the higher meanings behind the rulings and boundaries set up within the law: it’s spirit. On the other end of the spectrum you find those who have disregard for the letter of the law and concentrate on its spirit believing this to be sufficient and praiseworthy. The reality is that Allah has revealed a law that comprises both letter and spirit. Revering both is part and parcel of revering Allah (Ta‘ala). Perfection and true purification of the soul lies in achieving both: it cannot come about by simply observing its letter and ignoring its spirit and neither can it’s spirit be reached if one does not observe it’s letter. It is also incorrect to imagine yourself needing to choose one over the other because of perceived conflict as the letter of the law cannot contradict it’s spirit: both are from Allah (Subhanahu wa ta‘ala) and He is truly al-‘Alim al-Hakim.
And Allah knows best and to Him we do belong and to Him we will surely return.
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i (al-An’am, 6:155)
ii (al-Furqan, 25:43)
iii (adh-Dhariyaat, 51:56)
v (Ibn Majah)
vi (al-A’raf, 7: 179)
viii (al-Baqarah, 2: 257)
ix (al-Baqarah, 2:216)
x (al-Bukhari and Muslim)