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 ‘Hijab’ and the Freedom of Women

A Speech given By Mawlana Taqi Usmani,

Rendered into English

Dr. Munir Munshey



The subject of today’s discussion is the extent and scope of ‘hijab’ as defined and outlined by the Qur’an and the sunnah. It focuses on the purpose and purport of ‘purdah’, its effect and impact on the society, and the importance of its injunctions in Islam. In order to grasp fully the significance of ‘Hijab’, one needs to comprehend the basic premises of Islam and the laws of ‘shariat’.  One needs to address the all too important question: why does woman _ and indeed, man _ exist on earth? For what purpose was she created?


Nowadays, many questions are being raised about the status of women in Islam. It is alleged that the rule of ‘purdah’ in Islam restricts the participation of women in the political and economic life of the nation. It banishes her behind the veil to suffocate, and confines her within her home to languish. It paralyses her potential and diminishes her presence in society. This propaganda is the result of the onslaught of western thought, and the failure to understand the purpose of the creation of woman and the pivotal role she plays in the organization of family.


Many in the present age have lost the belief in the presence of God. Each day they drift further away from reality, and sink further into the sea of secularism. Allah has displayed many proofs and signs in the universe sufficient to convince even the staunchest of skeptics. But today’s discourse cannot benefit those who lack the belief in the existence of God. However, those who accept Allah to be the creator of the cosmos, would readily accept that He is the creator of both the man and the woman. That being so, it is perhaps more apposite to let the creator Himself tell us the purpose of His creation. Why did He create man, and woman? Why does she possess the characteristics and capabilities so different from those of a man?


With fire and fanfare, women these days are being exhorted to stand shoulder to shoulder with men at all workplaces. Western philosophy spreads such notions all over the world, but it fails to take into account the fact that not only do men and women have different physiques, but they also have different physiological and psychological functions. Their biological clocks tick at different rhythms. They were not meant to perform the exact same functions within the society, else they would not be endowed with such unique capabilities. The temperament of a woman is different from that of a man. Her instincts and intuitions contrast sharply with those of a man. She perceives the world in a different light and responds to it in a different style. Men and women use different parts of their brain while performing the same tasks.  Allah has created the two sexes along different lines, and for different purposes. Although men and women supplement and complement each other, yet each has unique potentials and proclivities. To contend that there exists no difference between the man and the woman is to revolt against nature itself. It also runs contrary to everyday observation. No eye can fail to evince the differences between the two. They are all too obvious!


The fads and fashions of the new era attempt to efface the differences between the man and the woman. They try their utmost but in vain. Women put on men’s clothes, and men wear clothes fit enough for a woman. Men adopt women’s hairstyles, while women wear their hair short in an attempt to imitate a man. Despite that the unique physical and psychological attributes of men and women cannot be masked. They are unique beings with unique abilities and attributes.


The humankind is divided into two sexes having distinct and separate persona. The creator, Allah, must have done so for a specific purpose. How may we come to understand that purpose? Simple! We may just ask the One who has created. Ask Him, “For what purpose did you create man? And for what purpose did you create the woman? Why did you make them so different?” We can pose this question to Him through His prophets and His messengers, particularly the last and the seal of the prophets, Muhammad, Sullala ho Alaihe wa sullum.


The human efforts and endeavors are a composite of two primary fields of activity. One is centered on the home and the other is the world beyond the confines of his home. The teachings of the Qur’an and the noble prophet, SAW, establish this fact beyond a shadow of doubt. The psychological health of humanity demands equal attention to both these spheres of activity. Life loses its balance if one or the other is neglected. The order and harmony within the home is just as important as the affairs outside the home. It is as essential as the means of livelihood. Perhaps more so! Life achieves its maximum potential and functions efficiently and properly when both aspects of life _ the home as well as the world beyond _ go hand in hand. Sanity is strained when the balance shifts in favor of one or the other. When the home and family diminish in importance, both men and women become beset with anxiety.


Allah Himself has effected the division of labor. He has charged the male of the species with the responsibility of running the affairs outside the home. Man bears the burden of acquiring the means of livelihood and subsistence. He must shoulder the economic, the political and the social responsibilities. Women on the other hand have been awarded the affairs of the home. They should rise to the occasion and take charge of their responsibilities. The commandment of Allah awarding the management of the home to the women, and the outside to the man should suffice. That fact alone is enough! One may not protest against this division of labor. One dare not disobey. Logic also dictates that such a division of labor is only fair. Any other distribution of functions would not be equitable. It would make life miserable for men as well as women. A woman does not possess the physical attributes of a man. That fact cannot be denied and goes without saying. Allah has bestowed strength, vigor and vitality upon the man far more than He has upon a woman. That is self-evident. The tasks outside the home require the use of physical force and raw muscular strength. They cannot be accomplished without expending considerable physical energy. It is therefore befitting, and in keeping with the laws of nature, that man should be required to perform the tasks outside the home. Running the affairs of the home, on the other hand, should be the responsibility of the woman. Earlier, I recited before you verse 33 of chapter 33 (surah Al-Ahzaab) from the Qur’an. In that verse Allah, SWT, has directly addressed the chaste and modest ladies of the house of the prophet, SAW, and has commanded all Muslim ladies to:


“Stay put in your homes” 33:33


It means that ladies should establish themselves in their homes firmly, and stay there steadfastly. It does not just forbid women to leave home without a valid reason. It also expounds a fundamental fact about the woman: that she was created to take charge and manage the matters of her home. She should abide by her home and make it the center of her attention and activities. Such division of labor existed between Hazrat Ali, RA, and his wife, Hazrat Fatima, RA. Accordingly, Ali, RA, performed all the tasks outside his home while Fatima, RA, managed the affairs within the home. She maintained the household, ground the wheat into flour, fetched the water from the well and cooked the meals.


How women were lured out of their homes


As the value of piety and chastity plummeted in the society, the natural distribution of domain between the man and the woman was considered unnecessary. Decency, modesty and virtue were discarded, and in its place vulgarity and lewdness were installed as the aim and the ideal. ‘Hijab’ and chastity began to be viewed as obsolete; in fact an obstacle.


In the west, the winds of freedom shattered and blew away all the moral values. Men came to regard the presence of women at home as a double trouble. On the one hand their lustful nature loved to frolic and enjoy the amorous encounters with women without consequences, and with total impunity. On the other hand they considered it a burden and a penalty to provide financial support to their wives. So, men devised a devious and sly scheme to solve both their problems. They gave it an innocent and enticing name __ the freedom of women.


Women were very carefully taught that the era of freedom has finally dawned upon you. For too long, you were locked behind the four walls of your homes. It is now time for you to come out and participate alongside men in all walks of life. The avenues of politics and government have so far been closed to you. But now come on out and join the struggle of life as an equal. Honor and status of all kinds await your arrival.


Poor woman was taken in by this sly slogan and left her home. The propagandists used all the time-tested techniques. With much fanfare and uproar, they managed to persuade the woman that she is being set free after centuries of bondage, and that her misery is finally over. Using such a seductive slogan as a smokescreen, they dragged the woman out of the sanctity of her home, and on to the uncertainty of the road. The slogan was just a hoax.


She was granted the honor of being a clerk in the public and private offices. The glamorous status of private secretary to a total stranger was conferred upon her. She was allowed to occupy the high office of a steno typist. She was offered the opportunity to become the ‘sales girl’ and the ‘model girl’, so that trade may flourish. To entice the customers and to get them to buy more goods, every part of her was put on public display and disgraced. The religion of nature, the natural religion, Islam, had laid the crown of honor and grace on her head, and had placed the garland of chastity, modesty and decency around her neck. She was made the custodian of virtue and moral values, and was granted the status of honor and esteem. That same woman is now reduced to being a showpiece in commercial institutions. She is now an object of entertainment for men. Now she relieves the fatigue of tired minds and bodies


Today all menial jobs have been awarded to women. The slogan had promised them freedom and an entry into the vistas of politics and power. But a quick survey would expose the hoax. During that period, how many women got to be the presidents, vice presidents or the Prime ministers in the government? How many were appointed judges, or were granted other positions of high honor? The facts and figures would undoubtedly reveal that the ratio of such women is a few in a few hundred thousands. That goes for the western countries as well. Precious few were granted high positions but the rest of the women were callously and ruthlessly pushed out into the streets to fend for themselves. That is the saddest and the scariest part of the fraud committed in the name of the ‘freedom of women’.


The restaurants all across America are ‘manned’ mostly by women. Seldom are men seen waiting on tables. Women render that service almost exclusively.  At hotels, women clean the rooms and the toilets, change bed sheets and serve as room attendants. In the stores, very few men are employed to sell merchandise as ‘salesmen’. Usually women are hired to be ‘salesgirls’.  Women staff the reception rooms of all offices. Thus the fair sex, who was granted freedom from the prison of home, is awarded the sole guardianship of all the glamorous positions. She is the waitress, the receptionist, the clerk, the salesgirl, and the room attendant.


The power of the propaganda has impressed the impressionable minds and has disseminated a strange and preposterous logic around the world. Disgrace it is, if a woman manages her own household. She is being punished and imprisoned if she stays home and cares for her husband and children, or her parents, brothers and sisters. What a logic! Dignity for a woman consists of cooking for others at restaurants. She is privileged if she hosts strangers at hotels and in planes. The act worthy of respect for her is to put on a smile on her face and greet strangers entering shops and stores. ‘Freedom’ is to pamper flirtatious bosses in private and secluded offices. All that is not disgrace! Rather, that is grace being conferred upon a ‘liberated woman’. INNA LILLAHE WA INNA ILAIHE RAJEOON!


But the irony does not end there. A woman endures eight hours of hard work and disgrace, serving those that are not family. She earns her own livelihood but her job is far from over. She is not relieved of the household chores. They still await her at home. The majority of women in Europe and America work outside their homes for eight hours and then rush back home to cook, serve dinner, do the dishes, and clean the house.


A Strange Argument


A pet and popular argument is advanced these days to draw the women out of their homes. According to it, this is the age of national reconstruction and we cannot afford to let half of our population be a wasted asset and a paralyzed potential. We need women to progress and build our nation. This argument is being presented with fervor, as if all the men have already been employed in the task of nation building. As if the goal of a hundred percent employment for men has already been met, and there are thousands of jobs still lying vacant. As if there was a dire shortage of manpower!


This argument is being presented in a country where even the most qualified men are jobless. They are frustrated and out on the streets looking for a job. Tens of college graduates send in their resume even when an opportunity opens up for a peon or a chauffeur. Holders of doctorate and master’s degree seem anxious to apply for a job, as prestigious as that of a clerk. Let us stop and think. Let us first provide work for all the frustrated men and utilize them for nation building, and to achieve progress.  Until then there is hardly a need to worry about the other half of the population _ the part that is a wasted asset and a paralyzed potential.


The woman is neither a wasted asset, nor a paralyzed potential. Allah has entrusted the woman with an all-important task of establishing and maintaining the family values. She is to be the manager and the administrator of an important domain of human existence __ the home. Her departure has turned it into a cold and uninhabited house with a locked front door. Both parents are out of home and the children are at school or in the nurseries. Thus, the family system is destroyed. A woman was meant to stay at home so she could manage the affairs of her home, and so she could train and educate her children. She can strengthen their character, and teach them manners and morals. The very best education the child will ever receive is at his mother’s lap. That is where he learns the proper way to live.


In the western society, today, children do not receive the tender loving care from their parents, and as a result the family system is ruined. The husband and wife both work outside their home at different places. A free and uninhibited atmosphere prevails at both work places. So, at times the views and interests of the couple begin to diverge and the marriage undergoes a strain. Illegitimate extra marital liaisons begin to develop and the marriage breaks down. Divorce drives the final nail into the coffin. The home is destroyed!


One could accuse me of being prejudiced, had the western thinkers not raised the same concerns. Mikhail Gorbachev, the president of the erstwhile superpower wrote a book entitled “Perestroika”. His book has been famous throughout the world ever since it was published, not too long ago. It contains a chapter, ‘status of women’, which describes the condition of women in the western world. The ex-president of the modern day super power, the Soviet Union, writes:


“The extent of women’s emancipation is often viewed as a yardstick to be used in judging the social and political level of society.  The Soviet state put an end to the discrimination against women so typical of tsarist Russia with determination and without compromise.  Women gained a legally-guaranteed social status equal with men. We are proud of what the Soviet government has given women: the same right to work as men, equal pay for equal work and social security.  Women have been given every opportunity to get an education, to have a career, and to participate in social and political activities.  Without the contribution and selfless work of women, we would not have built a new society nor won the war against fascism.


          But over the years of our difficult and heroic history, we failed to pay attention to women’s specific rights and needs arising from their role as mother and home-maker, and their indispensable educational function as regards children.  Engaged in scientific research, working on construction sites, in production and in the services, and involved in creative activities, women no longer have enough time to perform their everyday duties at home – housework, the upbringing of children and the creation of a good family atmosphere.  We have discovered that many of our problems – in children’s and young people’s behavior, in our morals, culture and in production – are partially caused by the weakening of family ties and slack attitude to family responsibilities.  This is a paradoxical result of our sincere and politically justified desire to make women equal with men in everything.  Now, in the course of perestroika, we have begun to overcome this shortcoming.  That is why we are now holding heated debates in the press, in public organizations, at work and at home, about the question of what we should do to make it possible for women to return to their purely womanly mission.”


The above is a direct quote from his book. It can be verified by anyone at any place. Every public library should have a copy.


The society allowed the family system to decline and disintegrate because it failed to realize the purpose of the creation of woman. That was the prime cause. Allah has created her, so she could establish and then maintain the value system of the family; so she could run the affairs of the home. The essence and emphasis of all efforts in the modern economic age is to increase the wealth in the society, both individual and national. Can money provide any benefit all by itself? Can one eat money, the currency notes and coins, to satisfy one’s hunger? Money cannot benefit man, unless he can use it to obtain goods and services, as well as rest comfort and solace. Unless he can buy the peace of mind!


Recently, a survey was published in a magazine. It looked at all the businesses in order to determine the most profitable one in the world today. The finding of the survey: the best and the most prosperous career in the world today is modeling.  A model girl receives up to twenty five million dollars for a day’s work. That much a day to provide her nude and semi-nude pictures that adorn the ads of commercial products! That day she lets her employer shoot as many pictures of her as he wants. He gets to choose the pose, the angle, the attire or the lack of it, and the background. He then uses those pictures to market his product. She has sold her services and the purchaser may use it in any manner he deems fit. The real worth and value of the woman plummeted when she left the sanctity of her home. As a result, she is now a salable commodity.


The touching tale of a greedy Jew


A scholar narrates an old story of a wealthy and greedy Jew. He owned heaps of gold and silver. Like Qaroon mentioned in the Qur’an, he too had amassed a huge treasure. Back then the rich used to store their wealth in underground vaults. He was afraid that the guard appointed over the treasure was a thief. So he entered his vault secretly in order to count his treasure. He did not inform the guard. The mechanism of the vault allowed the door to be locked from the inside, but it could only be opened from the outside. Absentmindedly, as he entered the vault he pulled the door shut behind him, and locked it. Now the vault could only be opened from the outside. The guard stationed outside had no reason to enter the vault. He considered the treasure safe, and did not have a clue that the owner of the treasure lay trapped inside. When the Jew finished counting his treasure, he found no way to leave the vault. He was trapped, and he was hungry. He had the entire treasure with him, but it could not help his hunger a bit. He was thirsty, but all that wealth could not quench his thirst. He was sleepy and looking at his wealth. But it could not get him a bed. Without food and water, he survived a few days. Then, surrounded by heaps of gold and silver, he breathed his last. The moral of the story is that money means nothing by itself. It provides no benefit unless the system works well and the path is proper.


Today, the world insists that national production will go up if women leave home and join the work force. It will generate more wealth. Of course that is true. The numbers will grow and there will be more money to count! Perhaps we will achieve progress, but we will surely pay a heavy price. The family and the moral values will be ruined forever. Like the Jew in the story, we will find the treasure in the vault, but we will also find ourselves locked in the vault. Wouldn’t that be a total loss!


In this verse of the Qur’an, ‘stay put in your homes’, Allah has pointed out that He has created woman so she may provide a paramount service for humanity. She can strengthen the family system and manage the home front. To focus entirely on outside matters does not serve any useful purpose, if the home is neglected and stays dreary and desolate. Whatever one earns by venturing out is beneficial only if it helps secure peace and solace at home. One labors outside, so one may enjoy the fruits of one’s labors in peace at home. If the peace of mind is missing then the wealth earned by venturing out is useless. It has little advantage.


Children need mothering


An infant requires extraordinary care and attention. It needs to be nursed and nurtured with love, patience and a tender touch. Allah has awarded these special duties to woman because she is endowed with special nurturing instincts and the mother’s love. She has the innate talent for such a tiresome task. She can discipline and educate the children and mold them along proper lines. She can establish the family system. Allah has not blessed the male with the same degree of mothering skills. The child, too, loves the mother far more. When hurt, the child at once calls for his mother no matter where he happens to be. Seldom does he call for his father. This is so because the child feels that his mother will find the cure for his troubles. That special bond helps the mother train, educate, and mold the child. The father cannot perform that task as well as a mother can. He will not be as successful, if he tries to raise the child without the help of the mother. Such experiments have failed before.


These days, some people trust the nurseries to raise the children for them. But remember! Nurseries do not provide a mother or her tender loving care. Only the mother does! Children cannot be raised like chicken at a poultry farm. They need constant care, endless love, and a stable home. Only the mother has that much love to give. She must stay home and assume control of the affairs at home. The woman, who refuses to do that, actually revolts against nature. What we witness around us these days are the consequences of just such a revolt.


The Qur’an had commanded women fourteen hundred years ago to ‘stay put in your homes’. The home is your world. It is your life and your afterlife. Do not ever think that the man is more fortunate because he ventures out and performs deeds of greatness and achieves glory. Do not yearn to go out looking for greatness and glory.  Just think for a while. Home is where greatness of all sorts is founded.  Your glory is right where you are __ at home. Your deed would be greater if you can instill in your children the conviction of faith, and raise them up as God-fearing and righteous individuals.  That accomplishment of yours will forever triumph over all great achievements of men.  Your deed, if you raise just one child in accordance with the ‘deen’ of Islam, far exceeds in greatness all the great deeds of men put together.


Because of false and preposterous propaganda, many in our society have begun to follow the west blindly. Gradually, such ladies became unmindful of the need to provide religious education to their children. Even the ladies who stay home have begun to entertain doubts. Perhaps, the propagandists are right.  Perhaps, we really are locked up behind four walls.  Perhaps, the ladies who go out of their homes are modern, and more progressive than we are. Let such ladies think again!  Let them understand well, that the service they perform by staying home is priceless. There is no substitute for it!  It is not possible to perform this service by leaving home, staying in the market place, and waiting on customers in stores. Nor should ladies look at 'purdah' as a source of hardship for them. In fact, 'purdah' is ingrained in the very nature of women. It is a part of her animus. The Urdu word for woman, 'aurat' actually means something that deserves to be concealed. Unless her nature is deformed and distorted, a woman feels peace and pleasure in 'purdah'. Such a pleasure and peace cannot be experienced by moving about in plain view, freely and fully exposed to the prying eyes of strangers. Therefore, 'purdah' is an integral part of modesty.


It appears as if the eyes of the holy prophet, SAW, had witnessed the conditions that prevail in the society today.  He had warned that closer to the doomsday, the society would see women whose hair would resemble the humps of lean camels.  At the time of the prophet, SAW, people could not ever imagine women styling their hair to resemble the hump of a camel. But just look around now. That is exactly how some women wear their hair.


The prophet, SAW, said that these women appear to be dressed, but they are closer to being nude. Their garments are either too transparent, or too tight to adequately cover them. The contours and curves of their bodies are all too exposed. That is the result of the loss of shame. At the time of the prophet, SAW, it was inconceivable for a woman to don such apparel. She had shame! Her temperament forbade her to wear such clothes. But today, the neckline has drifted down and the chest is bare. Could these be called clothes?  Clothes are meant to keep the woman in touch with her nature. Clothes are meant to clothe and cloak, not leave the body bare and exposed.


Immodest and shameful scenes are commonplace during wedding celebrations and other parties. This goes on even in some of the homes of religious people. Their men attend the ‘masjid’ regularly and perform ‘salat’ in the front rows.  But what goes on in their homes during the wedding ceremonies and other parties is another matter. Not too long ago a mixed gathering at a wedding ceremony, or at any other party in a Muslim home was unthinkable. Now there is a flood of mixed gatherings where men and women mingle. Women attend these parties wearing makeup, perfumes and alluring dresses. They are unconcerned about modesty. The thought of 'purdah' does not cross their minds!


To add insult to injury, fond memories of these parties are captured on videotapes, so that those who could not attend may not miss the fun altogether. So that others may watch the tape and enjoy the scenes repeatedly. All this goes on, and yet they are pious people. They are punctual at the masjid. Nothing shocks or shakes them up, and their foreheads do not crease up with concern. Nothing stirs in their hearts to try to stop it. Just stop and think! Why shouldn't a torment visit us?  Insecurity and lawlessness abounds. Life, honor and property are at risk.  Why should it not be?  In fact, it is a reprieve from Allah and a blessing of the prophet, SAW, that a doom did not descend upon us, and sweep us all away. However, our deeds are such that a wrath of Allah may strike, and a torment may kill us all.


All this is the result of apathy and indifference on the part of the elders. Their conscience does not bite them. Nothing is ever said or done to stop the children who are rushing head on towards hell. No one has the courage or concern to grab their hand and hold them back. Hardly ever does it bother the parents that they are actually pushing their children into the abysmal pit of hell. Each day they watch the youngster go further astray, but say nothing. Nor do they let others offer a word of advice to their kids. They say, "Brother, they are the youth of modern age. Let them be. Do not place obstacles in their path." Thus, bit by a bit, parents surrender to their children and the problem continues to mushroom.


There is still time to effect a change. The tide can be turned if the head of household and other responsible folks resolve firmly to forbid a few things. They should neither allow mixed gatherings, nor let videotapes in their homes. They should make a pledge that the sanctity of ‘purdah’ will not be violated at any gathering in their homes!  A dam can still be raised against the flood of mixed gatherings. The deluge has not overwhelmed us, yet. Fear that time when a well wisher, no matter how sincere or impassioned, will find the situation too bad to remedy. At least those who call themselves religious, and invoke the name of ‘deen’ and Islam, those who are in contact with the religious scholars, should make that pledge. They must vow to fight the tide of mixed gatherings


Boycott mixed gatherings


Our elders did not teach us to practice the ways of boycott, but remember there comes a time when one must take a stand. Either they respect and appreciate our beliefs or we do not attend their parties. Are we afraid that the refusal to attend the mixed gatherings at weddings will irk the host and promote bitterness and ill will?  Will it give the host a cause to complain?  Just think about it a little. You are bothered that your absence will offend them. But do they care if you take umbrage?


You are a ‘purdah’ observing lady. They should acknowledge that fact and accommodate your need, if they really wish for you to come. If they are indifferent to your need, you have no obligation towards them. Tell them plainly that you do not intend to attend such parties. Believe it!  This flood of mixed gatherings will not ebb, until some ladies brace themselves and stand firm. Must you always yield and let them have their way?  Have a spine, and refuse to back down. Else, this flood will not halt.


Maulana Muhammad Idrees Kandalvi was one of our elders. May Allah raise his status in heaven! Even in this age, Allah raised among us those deserving paradise. The seating in his living room was floor-based, and the ladies of his home felt that the living room must keep pace with the changing times. They asked the Maulana to end the antiquated system of floor seating, and instead furnish the room with chairs and sofas. The Maulana said: the sofas do not give me comfort, and I do not like them. I would much rather relax on the floor. The ladies said: so you rest better seated on the floor, but have some regard for the world _ others who come to visit you. To that, the Maulana gave a strange reply. He said: should I change to suit the world?  Tell me, has this world ever changed to suit me?  Has anyone altered his lifestyle in any way for my sake?  If the world doesn't care about my feelings and my preferences, why should I care about how others feel?


Why should you have any regard for a person who finds no respect in his heart for your beliefs?  The one who attaches no weight or value to your views, and to whom your ‘purdah’ has no worth?  A woman who does not observe ‘purdah’ would feel no discomfort if she sat in a separate ladies enclosure. She will endure no harm if men did not see her. But a ‘purdah’ observing lady would feel terrible if she was unveiled and had to appear before men. To her, that would be like a bolt from the blue. Should you then attend the parties that do not have separate arrangement for ladies? Would you, simply because they might take offence, otherwise? Let them! Do you not resent their indifference? You should also take offense sometimes. Tell them plainly and right to their face: why are such gatherings being held?  Why are we being invited to such parties?  Unless this is done the flood will not ebb.


Some people arrange for a separate section for ladies. But it is only nominally so. Although separate sections are designated for men and women, yet scores of men frequent the section that is meant for women only. They enter and leave as they please. They joke and jest, and shoot movies and stills. They enjoy themselves, poke fun at each other, and even tease women. All that goes on and yet, technically the enclosures are exclusive. Why do women not take a stand at these parties?  Why do they not assert that they are ‘purdah’ observing women, and that all men should be expelled from women's section?


Many disputes break out during weddings and other celebrations. Bitterness and hard feelings sometimes spring up over minor matters. Resentments often lead to verbal arguments. People find many reasons to take umbrage, and vent their anger. Some feel offended if they fail to receive due respect during ceremonies and rites. If you are a ‘purdah’ observing lady, then do not display your displeasure over anything else. Do not be annoyed if the welcome is not quite as hearty or the hospitality seems deficient. However, you must not remain silent if your faith and beliefs are being ransacked. You must stand up and declare it openly, loud and clear, that it is not possible for you to bear any violation of ‘purdah’. Remember, until some men and women resolve to do just that, modesty cannot be saved and the flood of mixed gatherings will only get worse.


At the very least, those who invoke the name of Islam must be determined to do all they possibly can. Else, this flood will not halt. For the sake of Allah make that commitment, or be prepared for the punishment of Allah. Is there anyone with enough courage to face the terrible torment of Allah?  If not, then resolve to fight the flood of mixed gatherings among the Muslims  (Isaiah 56:5: Muslim is the future believers' name.  Sons and daughters titles will be "no more").


My father, Hazrat maulana Mufti Muhammed Shafi, may Allah bless him, often gave this useful advice. It is worth remembering! He would say: people often complain about the times being bad, and the society being rotten. Rather, you should create your own atmosphere. Quit associating with those who do not have the same beliefs as you do. Their path and yours diverge. Socialize with those who share your views. Form your own circle of friends who would aid each other in this matter. Lessen your contact with those who are an obstacle.


The consequences of mixed gatherings


The corruption of the family system is one of the worst consequences of the woman’s departure from the home scene. There are others. The pull that a man feels towards a woman, and a woman towards a man, is a natural phenomenon. Allah has placed this instinct in both. It is an undeniable fact and fancy phrases and notions cannot cover up the basic truth. The free mixing of men and women and the uninhibited environment feeds the desire in them to draw closer. It provides them opportunities to meet and converse on a regular basis. There are no obstacles in their path and their association advances to the next level. Sooner or later they succumb to their lust and stumble into sin. It happens all the time, and all around us. We see it every day with our very eyes. The way to sin is smooth and unencumbered. In the United States and other western countries, any person can opt to gratify his or her sexual passions through illegitimate means. It will raise no eyebrows and break no laws. The society will not flinch. The doors to evil are all wide open. Neither the parents nor the teacher, nor even the society and the government can do anything against the onslaught of evil. All of that is the inevitable result of mixed gatherings and the free mingling between men and women.


The western society places no restrictions on consensual sex. Men make advances and women eagerly encourage them. Men, therefore, have absolutely no reason to force themselves upon women. Yet, the incidence of rape is higher in the United States than in any other country of the world. It occurs once every forty-six seconds, according to one estimate. The consensual sex is free, easy and encouraged. Why should there be so much perversion in a society that so adamantly insists upon, and encourages free mixing between men and women?


Man finds contentment and feels fulfilled as long as he reins in his sexuality and seeks to express it in a normal way. His lust turns him into a monster when he crosses the natural limit and strays beyond its bounds. His sexual appetite becomes an obsession and an all-consuming addiction. It becomes a hunger that forever remains unsatiated, and a thirst that can never be quenched. He becomes restless, aggressive and unruly, as he drifts further away from nature. There are no other boundaries, once he crosses the natural barriers and steps into the domain of the devil. His lust can no longer be contained. His unbridled curiosity will seek out variety, and he will continue to want more. That, in fact, is the logical consequence and the natural outcome of crossing the natural limit, and of allowing the free mixing between men and women.


Just a slight slip of modesty and morality leads to the results that we see all around us. All this because we ignored and rebelled against the order of Allah. Women were ordered by Allah to ‘stay put in your homes’. Today, we have set this order aside and have begun to move along an altogether different and dangerous path.


Permission to leave home when needed


Rest assured that the command of Allah to ‘stay put in your home’ does not banish women inside the four walls of their home. They are not in prison. By no means does the order suggest that the women should be confined to their homes and kept under lock and key. Women need to leave home for various reasons. They have family and relatives and other close friends they would like to visit. They have personal needs that require them to leave home. They may also need to go out for entertainment. The order of Allah does not prevent women, ever, to fulfill their legitimate needs.


Allah has, in fact, exempted the woman from the burden of having to earn her own living. At no stage of her life does she have to go out and earn money to cover her expenses. Before marriage her father, and later on her husband, is morally and legally obligated to pay for her needs and requirements. That is her divinely ordained right! So, financial problems should not be any of her concerns. But there are women who neither have a father nor a husband, nor any other means of financial support. Such women would need to leave home to earn a living. Of course, Islamic law permits them to do that. As mentioned earlier, she is also permitted to go out for a legitimate and wholesome entertainment. Prophet Muhammad, SAW, took his wife Aisha, RA, outside the home several times.


A hadith narrates that once a companion approached the prophet, SAW, and said, “Oh messenger of Allah, I want to invite you (to my home for dinner)”. The prophet, SAW asked, “Is Aisha (also invited) along with me?” Those were simple and less formal times. The companion had not planned to invite Hazrat Aisha, RA. So he said frankly, “Oh prophet of Allah, I want only to invite you.” The prophet, SAW, was also quite frank, and said, “ In that case, no!” He meant that since his wife, Aisha, is not included in the invitation, therefore he would not accept. A few days later, the companion returned and once again extended the invitation. “Oh messenger of Allah, I want to invite you.” The prophet, SAW, asked the same question, “Is Aisha with me?” The companion had the same reply, “Oh prophet of Allah, only you are invited.” The prophet declined again, “In that case, no!”  A few days later the companion came for the third time to invite him, and added, “Oh prophet of Allah, I really do hope that you would accept my invitation.”  The prophet, SAW, repeated the question, “Is Aisha with me?” This time the companion said, “Yes, oh messenger of Allah, Aisha is also invited along with you.” Now, the prophet, SAW, accepted the invitation, “In that case, yes!”


The companion’s house was not in the town of Medina. It was at the outskirts, considerable distance away. The Prophet SAW, left for the companion’s house along with his wife, Aisha, RA. An open field lay on the way, and there was no other person present there at the time. In that open field, prophet SAW raced Aisha RA. Running is a wholesome and healthy activity, and the prophet, SAW, arranged for his wives to have such a wholesome entertainment. Ladies do require entertainment, and such activities are permitted, provided they take place within the limits of ‘purdah’, and not with strangers.


Some narrations suggest that the ‘racing’ activity took place on the same day as the ‘invitation.’ Other narrations suggest that the incidents are unrelated and occurred on different days.


Thus the ‘shariat’ has permitted women to leave home in order to fulfil their needs, and to discharge their obligations. It has imposed certain conditions for them to follow. A woman may not go out in an ostentatious manner, flaunting her figure and showing off her beauty and charm. Right after it gave the command, ‘stay put in your homes’, the Quran went on to say ‘and do not display your charms in the manner of the earlier days of ignorance’.   That is, if there does arise the need for you to leave home, do not display your charms. Do not let your beauty and your adornments attract attention. That would be a practice reminiscent of the days of ignorance.


Leave home you may, but you must meet the requirement of ‘purdah’. A loose-fitted outer garment must cover the entire body. The familiar ‘burqa’ is commonly used for that purpose in our times. During the times of the prophet, a (large sheet of cloth) ‘chador’ was in vogue. It covered the entire body from head to toe. Letting the women go out and be away from home entails an apparent risk. It might, through the back door, usher in the free mixing between men and women and its resultant evil outcome. ‘Purdah’ effectively checks that tendency. It nips the evil in its bud.


Some people claim that the rules of ‘purdah’ were meant only for the pious, chaste and modest ladies of the house of the prophet, SAW. Ironically, they cite the same verse to make their case. They argue that since this verse specifically advises the ladies of the house of the prophet, therefore the command is for them specifically and not for all women. That inference is wrong not only because it runs contrary to the actions of the companions, but also because it fails the test of reason. Many commands of Allah are enumerated in that verse in succession. It is illogical to claim that only the first of the series of commands is specific for the ladies of the house of the prophet, SAW, while the commands that follow are for all women in general. The very next command in the verse says, ‘and do not display your charms in the manner of the earlier days of ignorance.’ Was that command specific for the ladies of the house of the prophet, SAW? Are the rest of the ladies permitted to display their charms, flaunt their figure, and flash their bodies in the manner of the earlier days of ignorance? Naturally, that injunction is meant for all women. The next command in the series says, ‘and establish salat’. Obviously all women are ordered to establish ‘salat’, not just the ladies of the house of the prophet, SAW. The same is true for the next command, ‘pay the zakat’. All women have to pay ‘zakat’. Finally, the verse commands all women to ‘obey Allah and His messenger’. Could one say that only the pious ladies of the house of the prophet, SAW, are obligated to obey Allah and His messenger? Are the rest of the ladies exempt from that order? Can they disobey Allah with impunity? The text and the context of the verse clearly indicate that all commands are for all women. The second person, feminine and plural forms of the verbs have been used to convey these commands. That is specific for women __ all women. The entire Muslim nation has been enjoined to observe the rules of ‘purdah’.


The purpose of ‘purdah’ and the segregation of the sexes is to eliminate evil from the society. Why make these rules of ‘purdah’ exclusive for the wives of the prophet? Was indiscretion feared only from them? Are all other women immune from the prompting of the devil? Ladies more chaste, modest, and upright than the wives of the prophet, SAW, do not exist! They were purer than a lily in a lake. Is there any possibility at all, that they could think of committing an evil act? Such pure and pious ladies, too, were ordered to cover themselves outside their homes. Of course the order is equally valid, if not more, for all believing ladies for all times to come. Because, compared to the wives of the prophet, SAW, other ladies are far more likely to stumble into an immoral act.


Another verse of the Qur’an extends the command directly to every believing women, thereby removing all lingering doubts.


“Oh prophet! Ask your wives and daughters, and the women of the believers to wrap a loose outer garment completely around their bodies (leaving the face and the figure unobservable)” 59:33


Can there be a more specific and unambiguous order? ‘Jilabeeb’, the word used to describe the loose outer garment, is the plural of the word ‘jilbaab’ which means a ‘chador’ (a large sheet of cloth) that a woman wraps around herself, covering the entire body from head to toe. The command goes beyond that. It uses the word ‘yadneen’ to describe how a woman must wear the ‘jilbaab’. The body and figure of the woman should be concealed completely, and then the ‘jilbaab’ should be pulled down from the head in the manner of a veil. That is what the word ‘yadneen’ conveys. After this clarification, do we need any other detail?


‘Purdah’ in the state of  ‘Ihraam’


We all know that during hajj (pilgrimage), a woman must not let any cloth touch her face while she is in the state of ‘ihraam’. Men must not cover their heads and women must keep the cloth away from their face. That is the requirement of ‘ihraam’, the attire of hajj. How can the command of Allah concerning ‘purdah’ and the requirement of ‘ihraam’ be obeyed at the same time? Let us see how the ladies of the house of the prophet, SAW, observed ‘purdah’ when the prophet, SAW took his wives for hajj. Hazrat Aisha, RA, narrates: we traveled on camels when we went for hajj. We would turn the veil up above our heads when there was no stranger within sight. On our heads, we wore a gear containing a short rod that jutted a few inches in front of our faces. Any time a stranger or a caravan passed, we pulled the veil down over the rod in such a manner that the cloth would not touch our faces. The above narration indicates that the wives of the prophet, SAW, observed ‘purdah’ even in the state of ‘ihraam’.


A hadith is mentioned in Abu Da’ood. Prophet Muhammad, SAW had just come back from a ‘ghazwa’ __ a battle. All the companions came back safe and sound from that battle, except a young man. His mother was also among those who had gathered to welcome the troops. When she failed to locate her son, she became very anxious and apprehensive, and to inquire about the whereabouts of her son, she approached the prophet, SAW, “Oh messenger of Allah, what happened to my son?” She was told that her son fell a martyr in the path of Allah. The news of her son’s demise struck her like a bolt of lightening, but she bore the news with remarkable courage and composure. She was in that state of shock and grief when someone asked her, “Oh lady, you left your home amid concern and disquiet, yet you remembered to cover yourself. Even in that state, you did not fail to put on your veil?” She gave a simple answer, “My son has died, my shame (haya) has not!”  Even in that state of grief, she observed ‘purdah’.


Toss aside the taunts of the West


Allah has revealed these verses. The injunctions of ‘purdah’ have been clearly spelled out in the Qur’an. The prophet, SAW, explained its details in the ahadiths, and his wives and other believing women of his time showed the whole world how to apply these injunctions in their daily lives. However, nowadays the western intellectuals and their surrogates in the Muslim lands have launched a campaign against the practice of ‘purdah’ in Islam. They allege that Islam oppresses women and locks them in their homes. It drapes a veil over their faces, and turns them into cartoons. Are we going to discard the commands of Allah and His messenger because of their jests and jeers and their attempts to lampoon Islam and the Muslims  (Isaiah 56:5: Muslim is the future believers' name.  Sons and daughters titles will be "no more")? Bear this in mind! We would take little notice of their jokes and banter, if we had the conviction of faith in our heart and the supreme confidence that the way of life we have learnt from the prophet SAW, is the absolute truth and the only right way.


All the prophets were accused of depriving people of the pleasures of this life. Every single prophet who ever came to this world was labeled ‘backward’, ‘old fashioned’, and a ‘reactionary’. Each one of them was a victim of insults and mockery of all kinds, and the target of all the taunts and sly remarks. You are now the inheritors of all the prophets. Everything they had is now yours __ not only the guidance, the blessings of Allah and the status of high honor, but also the taunts, the insults and the mockery.  This world will treat you exactly as it treated all the prophets, because it accepts you as their heirs. Step forward and claim your heritage. It is yours for the asking! Accept the taunts with joy because they come with the territory. They are part of the bequest! These jabs and sneers are the badge a believer should wear as an honor bestowed. If you have faith in Allah and the messenger of Allah, you would brace yourself for some more insults and tell the West to go ahead and take their best shots. Then, toss aside the taunts and smile in the face of insults, for you are the inheritors.


On the other hand, being tired of the taunts and embarrassed of the insults, you may decline your heritage and opt to accept the advice of the West. You would still be the third rate citizens of this world. The western intellectuals told you not to keep your women at home and not to let them don ‘purdah’. So, you drove your women out and took away their ‘purdah’ and even their modest attire, their modesty and their shame. You followed their advice to the letter, but did they accept you as one of them? Did they give you the same rights, or grant you the same honor? Are you still not considered ‘backward’, ‘old fashioned, and ‘reactionaries’? Your name is still mentioned along side a slur and an epithet in the western countries. Putting the apes to shame, you copied them from head to toe, but you are still the third class citizens of this world.


You would fare much better, if you ignore their insults, let the slurs slide by, and toss the taunts aside. They will frown their foreheads, talk down at you, and speak ill about you. Of course they would do that, wouldn’t they? You believe in Allah, SWT, so you must proceed along the path of the messenger of Allah, SAW. You must emulate the pious women of the house of the prophet, SAW. Let the unbeliever poke fun. Let them laugh at you, for the day would soon arrive when you will laugh at them.


In fact the criminals, the unbelievers, used to laugh at those who believed.  As they passed by the believers, they would wink at each other (jokingly).  And when they returned to their family, they returned jesting (and grinning).  Whenever they saw the believers, they said, “These are the people gone astray.” The unbelievers were not sent as guardians over the believers. So today, it is the believers’ turn to laugh at the unbelievers. (The believers would be sitting) on elevated thrones, looking on. Now, have the unbelievers not been paid in full for what they did?  (Mutaffafeen 29 – 36)


Our existence on this earth is brief. Our days here are numbered. How long will these ‘kafirs’ be able to laugh at us? Soon the curtain will fall, death will overtake, and the reality will be revealed. The fate of those who poked fun and those who stood firm would become apparent. In the hereafter, the believers will make fun of the unbelievers for eternity. Therefore, do not allow them to intimidate you. Do not let the unbelievers cower you into abandoning your ways. Stand firm. Let them taunt, and do whatever else they want. We shall not stray from our chosen path. These minor annoyances caused by the unbelievers are the obstacles that litter the only path to salvation.


Remember! The world respects only those who refuse to alter their opinions, or bend their beliefs, merely for the benefit of others. It holds in awe those who stand firm in adversity, and with courage confront all criticism and ridicule. In fact, honor is not in discarding Islam, but rather in adopting and applying it. Hazrat Umar, RA, said, “Through Islam and because of it, Allah bestowed all honor upon us. Allah will disgrace and dishonor us, if we ever decide to discard Islam.”


The rules of ‘purdah’ require that the entire body from the head to toe must be wrapped up in a ‘chador’ or a ‘burqa’ or some other kind of loose outer garment. The hair must be hidden. In fact the rule applies to the face as well. A veil should cover the face. Hazrat Abdullah bin Masood, RA, explained the verse quoted earlier, which orders women to ‘to wrap a loose outer garment completely around their bodies’ (Ahzab 59). He informs us that in order to comply with this order, ladies during the time of the prophet, SAW, usually wore a ‘chador’ around their bodies. They would wrap one end of it over their faces. This effectively covered not only their entire body, but also their entire face. Only the eyes were visible.


That is the actual requirement for ‘purdah’. However, under certain circumstances the face and the hands are exempt from the general rules of ‘purdah’. Situations arise from time to time that may call for a woman to uncover her face. The commands of Allah recognize that, and there is room for a woman to leave the face and the hands uncovered. The actual order of ‘purdah’ includes the face. This departure is the allowance for special circumstances and needs.


‘Purdah’ is essential for the modesty and piety of the women. Men, therefore, are obligated to try and convince their womenfolk to abide by it. Women have a duty to obey these rules. Sad, indeed, is the situation where the women are inclined to observe the rules but the men hinder their path. They become an obstacle and make their womenfolk violate the rules of ‘purdah’. The famous poet Akbar Allahbadi penned the following words for such men about a century ago. They are so true!


(Bay purdah kul jo nazar aaieen chund beebian)

(Akbar zameen may ghairat qaumi say Gurr gaya)

(Poocha jo un say Aap ka purdah wo kya howa)

(kehnay luggein kay aqal pay murdoon ki purr gaya)


Unveiled maidens walking unabashed!

Akbar got an eyeful, and felt ashamed


“Your veil?” he asked. “With our men!” they said.

“It veils their wisdom, and drapes their sanity!”


This is so true about our men these days. They don’t listen to reason because scales have yet to fall from their eyes. Purposely, and sometimes unwittingly, they become an obstacle for their women’s modesty, piety and ‘purdah’. May Allah rescue us from the grip of perverse logic, and grant us the wisdom to lead our lives in accordance with the commands of Allah and His messenger, SAW. Ameen!





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