Shattering Illusions: Hijab, Liberation and I


Shattering Illusions: Hijab, Liberation and I
Misbah Bin Md.Mushtaque Balolia

Today's so called 'modern' age is not famous for highly civilized notions such as modesty and dignity. Decency and humility are considered to be a thing of the past. As a niqabi (face coverer), I am often called backward and old fashioned for following what is commonly called fundamental Islam. Fundamental Islam is fairly flexible and quite easy to implement, while still allowing room for individualism and expression through dress. There are no prohibitions for women's dress on color, cloth, or style so long as they fit the basic requirements. Those requirements are:


1.That the body is covered in a cloth that isn't see-through and won't expose it.


2.That the clothes are not tight or figure-revealing.


3.That the clothes do not imitate the religious or national dress of people who aren't Muslim. Islam is against wanna-be-ism in its



4.That they aren't a proud display of glamour or wealth.


5.That they cover the body of the wearer in all circumstances.


6.That the clothes cover everything but hands, face, and feet.


7.That they aren't men's clothes.


Brought up and raised in the Kingdom of Saudia Arabia, I was always surrounded by women covering themselves at all public places.

The regulations of the kingdom require all women to wear the 'abaya', the local word for hijab, when in public view. I was ingenuous enough to think that Muslim women were grateful that the law of the land made it easier for them to comply with their Islamic obligations. What awakened me from my slumber was an incident at my high school graduation farewell reception, after which we would all be returning to our native country--India, for further studies in a couple of months. My biology teacher right from middle school, who let me mention here happens to be a Muslim, declared with a lot of enthusiasm in her farewell address that "the best thing about India is we don't have to wear the abaya". Basically, this was what set me off. I could not capture what was going on. The wheels in my mind started churning. My heart was burning. I was shocked and outraged to hear a fellow Muslim utter such crap and get away with it.


Later, at my verbal disagreements I was asked by my classmates who included Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, and idol-worshippers as to why I was being such a fundamentalist. The then ignorant 'fundamentalist' me didn't quite know what was going on either, but I started looking for answers to why Islam was big on modesty. The more people asked me, the more I was forced to look. The more I looked, the more beauty, logic and common sense I found in Islam. How I dressed had and continues to have a great impact on my faith, surprisingly. I became bent on spreading the rays of truth in their proper light so that I would never have to experience the pain of hearing a Muslimah utter such unfaithful words in a gathering of predominantly Muslims and get away with it without hearing any real opposition from so called "believers" (me included, may Allah forgive me.). That was only the beginning. Time and again I've come across Muslim women who actually have the nerve, or ignorance or whatever you want to call it, to contradict the words of ALLAH, Subhanwataala, and state that hijab is not mandatory. This not only lessens the impact of the importance of hijab, it also stands as an act of shirk on the part of the ones who state it, if only they knew better. Here, an integral part of Islam, an undisputed one, is being not just downplayed but all together rejected by Muslims. What is ironic is that we insist that the non-Muslims should appreciate our faith. How would we ever expect the non-Muslims to respect our religion if we refuse to do so ourselves?


The HOLY QUR'AN clearly states:


"And say to the Believing women
that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty;
that they should not display their beauty and ornaments
except what may appear thereof;
that they should draw their veils over their bosoms
and not display their beauty except to their husbands,
their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons,
their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons,
or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves
whom their right hands possess,
or male servants free of physical needs,
or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex;
and that they should not strike their feet
in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments.
And O ye Believers! Turn ye all together towards ALLAH,
that ye may attain bliss."

"O Prophet! Tell Thy wives and daughters, and the believing women
that they should cast their outer garments over their persons;
that is most convenient, that they should be known and not molested.
And ALLAH is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful."

Before I actually researched the Islamic mandate for Hijab, I was more or less brainwashed with the idea that modesty was oppression and man's attempt to safeguard his possessions, his women, from those who would seek to steal them. My idea was just slightly off; Hijab is a woman's attempt to safeguard her sexuality against those who would seek to exploit it, visually or physically, or to misuse its power. It's not because woman is weak, it's because society is weak. Think about it: everyone knows that sexuality has power, why else is sex appeal so successful in advertising? Sex appeal is frequently abused in all levels of society in much of 'modern' civilization. Advertisers use skimpily dressed women to make us buy everything from biscuits to car tires. Even advertising geared towards children is tainted with dancing girls and exposed skin because the influential powers of sex appeal work on people of all ages, everytime.


One common misunderstanding that people have is that Hijabites are conceited and place excess worth on their looks. So much so that they cover it all up because no one is worthy of seeing it. In actuality, it's Hijabites who are normal as opposed to some non-Hijabites who lack self-esteem, who lack appreciation enough to guard their own beauty, to prevent it from being misused and overemphasized as their only quality that actually matters. It's not that Hijabites are conceited, it's just that everyone else has low self-worth.


Imagine being so scared of rejection that you refuse to show your real face in public, you cannot leave your house without painting on a fake one. Imagine being so scared of having your brain and personality being discovered as substandard that you squash yourself into clothes two sizes too small just so that the attention is painfully drawn away from your heart. Imagine feeling so worthless as a human that you have to try to sell yourself to the world, because unless you put on a show, they might not buy. Women will always and forever argue that by painting their faces they are just highlighting what they have been gifted naturally. Well, plucking your eyebrows next to nothing ain't highlighting, it's deleting. Putting two layers of foundation on your face, changing the color of your skin ain't highlighting, it's covering. Applying three coats of super-lash mascara (so that you can bat your eyelashes at every male you come across) is not highlighting, it's layering. Rubbing on lipstick four times darker than your actual lip color is not highlighting, it's drawing and framing. I'm not saying that women who wear makeup and revealing clothes are substandard, I'm just saying that they think they are. A make-up wearing, figure-revealing-clothes wearing woman who reads this will surely be insulted that I tell her she has no self-worth, especially since she thinks she's drop-dead gorgeous!!! The problem is she only thinks she's gorgeous when she's all made up, smashed in clothes not her size. Take all that I've listed above away and this same woman refuses to leave her house. If that's not low self-worth then I must not know what it is...Honestly!


There are two ways a woman can deal with her appearance. The first is to let herself be ruled by it, and the second way is to let the woman rule it. In the first instance, where the woman is ruled by her appearance, she cuts her sleep short for more time in the morning to put her makeup on before she goes to work. She purposely turns her skin cells cancerous for a 'healthy' looking tan, and lets her mental health be constantly under siege with questions about her self-worth and the stress of competing with other women--and men!


It's no wonder that thousands of women worldwide are bulimic or anorexic, or just obsessed about their looks. Oh no, my lips are too pale!--Too pale for what? ALLAH, Subhanwataala, makes no mistakes.


I have to lose five pounds or else! Or else the men who stare recreationally at me will be grossed out and then no one will think I'm pretty! Then how will I attract a man? --What? Use my mind and personality? Come on man, is that a joke?


In the second instance, where the woman rules her appearance, she puts her priorities in order and chooses much-needed sleep over the forty-five minutes it takes to get dolled-up in the morning. She does not put herself at risk by bleaching or tanning her skin, she doesn't give herself anaemia or anorexia trying to be visually pleasing to the thousands of men who see her every day and don't give a damn--unless she happens to be putting up a "good" show ... which she isn't. She wakes up one hour before work, total, and gets dressed, eats breakfast, and leaves. She eats and exercises to maintain her well-being and has a healthy attitude towards food and also towards herself as an intelligent human. She knows that she has a right to be thought of as wonderful no matter what she looks like on the outside, and she's in conscious rebellion against the eye-candy culture of the 'modern' civilization.


In a civilized culture such as Islam, the facade of unnatural beauty is seen as a lie, and natural beauty is seen as a private affair. Emphasis is placed not on external beauty, but instead on internal beauty of which all women have equal potential. All men are created equal, why not, therefore, all women? Where unnatural beauty is caked on, rubbed in, or drawn on, natural beauty is cultured by nobility of character, mercy, honesty, forgiveness, compassion, intelligence and other such Islamically recommended traits in Muslims of both genders.


Islam switches the gauge of woman's worth from outer beauty to inner beauty and brains. How? Since sexuality is no longer a public affair, the yard stick has to be taped next to personality and intelligence instead. Anyone who doubts this has only to try and rate the anatomy of a bunch of Hijabites against each other on a scale of one to ten. It's impossible. You can't judge their physical attributes when you can't even see them! No one can see Hijabites because they are not subjected to public scrutiny, no one knows a thing about them. And because no one knows and no one sees, no one cares.


The Hijab is an act of obedience to God, the Hijab is modesty, the Hijab is purity, the Hijab is a shield, the Hijab is an act of righteousness and a yardstick by which you can measure the level of a Muslim woman's faith and belief. The Hijab is a means through which women can regain ultimate control of their own bodies. A woman who wears Hijab allows herself to be judged only by who she is, what she says and does, how she interacts, and not on what was allotted to her physically.


On the other hand, women who let their beauty and anatomy hang in the breeze can be easily compared, scrutinized, dissected and categorized. A 'beautiful' woman (with make-up, inadequate clothing, mental complexes involving her self-worth etc-) is a good woman regardless of whether she is a malicious gossip or has double standards or is a tyrant in her own home. An 'ugly' woman (with no makeup, modest clothing, realistic attitude about the impermanence and irrelevance of beauty) is a bad woman, no matter how kind, how intelligent or how compassionate she is.


What is happening today is this: a 'beautiful' woman feels as though she somehow had a hand in her creation; Aauthuoobillah, is proud of her looks, acts as though her good features are the direct results of her hard work somehow, and not at all to a combination of genes completely outside of her sphere of influence. One wonders; what's the point of turning yourself into a walking aphrodisiac to begin with? Why start the mower if you're not going to cut the grass with every man on the street? It certainly doesn't contribute to a woman's dignity! If a woman wants her worth to be judged by internal merits, then she won't over-shadow them with a display of flesh that historically, biologically and inevitably arouses lust. Not respect or honor or reverence.


Islam believes in equality of men and women. 'Equality' does not mean 'identicality'. In Islam, the role of a man and woman is complimentary, it is not conflicting. It is that of a partnership; it is not contradictory, so as to strive for supremacy. Western talk of women's liberation is nothing but a disguised form of exploitation of her body, degradation of her soul, and deprivation of her honor. The western world calls on Muslim countries for the emancipation and liberation of women. We will be liberated from what may I ask? From ALLAH, Subhanwataala, and his commands? From the Holy Quran and the Sunnah of our Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him? From this religion that ALLAH has chosen and designated for us? From paradise?


As Muslims of this world, we are supposed to be brothers and sisters. We are not here to oppress one another by making it impossible to practice our religion. What we choose for ourselves is our own decision, and it is between us and ALLAH, but to openly state that integral parts of Islam are not from Islam is open shirk, may Allah save us from this. When someone denies an aspect of Islam to the non-believers it gives them a chance to hurt us, oppress us, even subjugate us. It gives them a basis for their oppression -- a precedent, a sort of superiority over us.


The constant turmoil facing the Muslims throughout the world today are a result of our own actions and deeds. We are the ones who have stopped adhering to ALLAH'S, Subhanwataala's, commands. We Muslims are the ones who have abandoned and deserted our religion. We are the ones doing reprehensible deeds and constantly choking our faith. We are the ones who have let down our Prophet (pbuh) and his Sunnah. We, us, ourselves are the ones actually to blame.


Today I am proud to call myself a Muslim fundamentalist. A fundamentalist is a person who follows and abides by the fundamentals of the doctrine or theory that he is following. I am a fundamentalist Muslim who, by the grace of ALLAH, knows, follows, and strives to practice the fundamentals of Islam. A true Muslim does not shy away from being a fundamentalist. I am proud to be a fundamentalist Muslim because, I know that the fundamentals of Islam are beneficial to humanity and the whole world. There is not a single fundamental of Islam that is against the interests of the human race as a whole. Many people harbor misconceptions about Islam and Muslim women in particular and consider several teachings of Islam to be unfair or improper. This is due to insufficient and incorrect knowledge of Islam. One of the main reasons why the smear campaign directed against all aspects of Islam and Muslims has managed to reach such unprecedented heights is because we as Muslims are ourselves unaware of what the Holy Qur'an teaches and what is the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).


Living in an Islamic country, one of the most painful realities I've had to face is that many of us who have been blessed to be born as Muslims, don't appreciate the value of Islam. Islam is taken for granted. Many of us who have been fortunate enough to be born into Muslim families and live in Muslim societies have never had the inclination to strive and ascertain and discover for ourselves -- the ultimate truth, i.e., Islam. Islam has been handed to us on a platter; it is readymade for us and that is why we fail to cherish, treasure, and hold on to it. When you come across real life accounts of reverts you realize that people who have eaten haraam and lived in unIslamic societies, but have always kept their minds and hearts open, are willing to accept the truth whenever it dawns and whatever form it takes and are constantly spreading awareness about Islam. These reverts are the ones doing all that is required of us as followers of Islam. Why are we, the ones who proudly call ourselves born into Muslim families, so content with being part-time Muslims? We just leave the responsibility of spreading the true word of ALLAH to the imams at our local masjids and the volunteers at the dawah centers.


The HOLY QURA'N says:


"Ah! Who is more unjust than
those who conceal the testimony they have from ALLAH?
But ALLAH is not unmindful of what ye do!"

Islam is a religion of peace. But, we have to use the best sword that Allah(swt) has bestowed upon us. It is the sword of intellect. The sword that conquers the hearts and minds of people. If one critically analyzes the teachings of Islam with an open mind, one cannot escape the fact that Islam is full of benefits both at the individual and collective levels.

"Invite (all) to the way of thy Lord,
with wisdom and beautiful preaching;
and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious!"
HOLY QURA'N 16:125


The west calls on Muslim women to be set free from 'oppression'. We as Muslims have to tell them to take a closer look at their own women. They want to defend unknown and unseen women on the other side of the globe while every action a so called 'liberated' woman takes is done by keeping in mind what the men outside would think of her. She paints her face to please the male dominated society, wears clothes that entertain men and stays constantly on a diet to remain attractive to men. All this is done to amuse every member of the male species; regardless of whether she knows him or vice versa. Isn't this 'oppression' with all it's force? What is contemptible is that these women have the guts to call us, Hijabites and Niqabites , 'oppressed' and 'down trodden'! Man, what a joke!


Islam frees women from being every man's eye-candy, and clearly states that her appearance and sexuality are not public domain. They are a privilege bestowed upon only those who are worthy, and worthiness is determined by whether or not one is fit to spend a lifetime with you. That means your soul mate--your husband. If your could-be-husband is choosing you or rejecting you solely on the basis of how you look and dress, then he needs to be educated on ALLAH, Subhanwataala,( being our first, final, and only architect. The only other people who can see you would be those who were unaffected by it, like your brothers, father, blood-uncles, grand-fathers, and other 'normal' women.


Islam has shown itself to be absolutely the most uplifting religion for women, period. As long as she maintains her Islamic dress code and it is within the preview of the Islamic Shariah, a Muslim woman has been given the right to vote, right to own, right to inherit, right to speak, right to be judged on internal factors. Islam rescues women kind from being overshadowed by her sexuality and gives a woman back her humanity. Alhamdulillah. Alhamdulillah. Alhamdulillah.