July - Sept 2002, Women in Islam

An Answer: Why Muslim Women Cover

by Samantha Sanchez

Don’t deny it. You have seen a Muslim woman in the street or on television and thought she must be in complete submission. In which case you’d be right…read on to find out why.

Today’s society often looks upon the modestly dressed woman with disdain with ideas that she is an oppressed woman who dons a headcovering because of her husband or some other man in her life. For these people, life that is devoted to modesty and piety is something shameful and unfashionable.

But many of these people need only look in their own scriptures to find references enjoining them to cover as well and to purport themselves in a modest fashion. Certainly today’s clothing in not in keeping with these verses. Halter tops, midriffs, miniskirts and bikinis are body baring, immodest and immoral ways of dressing that only attract attention to women’s sexuality and away from a woman’s morality and spirituality.

In the Old Testament, Num.5:18, when a woman suspected of adultery comes to the Temple to drink the “bitter waters”, the priest uncovers her hair; this implies that ordinarily it was covered. The Mishnah (Kesubos 7:3) calls covering the hair a “Jewish ordinance” (das Yehudis). See also Gemara, 72a; and Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 75:2 and Even Ha-Ezer 21:2. The Talmud states “The sight of a woman’s hair constitutes an erotic stimulus (Berakhot 24A)”. “Jewish women, married or not, should not walk in the marketplace with their hair uncovered (Shulhan Arukh, Even ha-Ezer 21:2)”.

We can also find references for covering the head in the New Testament. Let’s take a closer look at the passage so many people would rather pretend is not in their Bible. Let’s confront the issue regarding head covering today.

“Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you. But I would have you know, that the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God. Every man praying or prophesying, having his head covered, dishonoreth his head. But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoreth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered. For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the glory of the man. For the man is not of the woman; but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels. Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord. For as the woman is of the man, even so is the man also by the woman; but all things of God. Judge in yourselves: is it comely that a woman pray unto God uncovered? Doth not even nature itself teach you, that, if a man have long hair, it is a shame unto him? But if a woman have long hair, it is a glory to her: for her hair is given her for a covering. But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” – I Corinthinas 11:2-16

Particularly of importance is the line which states, “But every woman praying or prophesying with her head uncovered disgraces her head, for it is the same as if she were shaven” (1 Cor. 11, 5).

Clearly Judaic and Christian Scriptures require women to cover their hair.

If this is so, why would the following verse from the Qur’an startle a Jew or a Christian. Is it not the same idea?

“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 must ordinarily 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 servants 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 you Believers, turn you all together towards Allah, that you may attain Bliss.” (Quran 24:31).

“O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them (when they go abroad). That will be better, so that they may be recognised and not annoyed. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.” (Quran 33:59).

The only difference is that with the Christian tradition, one of the reasons given by Paul for women’s covering was to show authority to men. The similarity between the three Abrahamic traditions is that it is a sign of loyalty to God and marker of identity.

Women of today come up with many excuses of why they shouldn’t cover their heads. Worldly fashions should not have any kind of influence on our life. Perhaps the head­ covering does spoil one’s hair­do; but at the same time, for example, women wear high­heel shoes for the sake of beauty. It seems that one can endure discomfort for the sake of beauty, but to do so for the sake of God is impossible.

If a woman is trying to lead a God conscious life and she is Jewish, Christian or Muslim, she knows that God requires her to cover her head from the references that have been cited. Any denial of these references would be a denial of God’s word.

So time for self reflection…are we displaying ourselves wantonly or conducting ourselves as modest women for whom God is central part of our lives and for whom His words we devote ourselves to?

A Muslim woman who covers IS in complete submission – to the One True God and Creator. The next time you see a Muslim woman who covers you should be humbled because she has the courage to display her religion, her belief, and her love for God on the outside as she is commanded.