Islamic Perspectives

The Economics of Hijab —ii

By Dr Javed Jamil

Islam: The Balanced Social System
During the life-time of Prophet Muhammad and in the early part of the Post-Muhammad era, the dress code that was applicable to men and women did mean neither a specific type of dress like burqua for women, nor total segregation. Women, with their heads covered and their bodies adorning simple, non-provocative, decent garments and their bosoms further protected by chadars, used to offer congregational prayers in mosques along with men. Their participation had been remarkable in almost all the battles that Muslims had to engage in. While some women took arms and fought valiantly at the battle front, most of them worked behind the ranks nursing the injured with religious fervour and passion.

The advent of Muhammad (PBUH) brought education at the top of the agenda of the activities of his followers; women did not lag behind. They used to furnish themselves with knowledge along with men in the classes conducted by Ali, the most acknowledged expert of the religious sciences. But all these assemblies stuck to certain regulations to prevent any mischief. In the mosques, women’s row would be behind those of men and children; they would be the first to leave mosques, and when all of them had left; men would come out. In the classes, women would sit on one side and men on the other. With the passage of time however, the provisions of purdah took the form of a specific robe, burqua, for women going out of their houses; their participation in congregational prayers was forbidden by the latter clerics and segregation became too impervious to allow any scope for their participation in educational and other pursuits that could require going out of their houses.

Islam has wonderful counterpoise in its social system; it has no scope for feminism or male chauvinism. It gave women extraordinary rights and at the same time took extremely effective steps to safeguard them from all types of exploitation. It bestowed on them economic rights comprising the right to inherit (in proportion to their economic obligations), share in the properties of their fathers, mothers, husbands, sons and daughters, made a provision of dower for them (in consideration of their marriage) that was obligatory on their husbands to be given before consummation of marriage and the right to own properties. It awarded them, like their male counterparts, the right to earn but did not make it obligatory for them, thus giving them not only the choice to earn but also the choice not to earn; in that case, the husbands were duty-bound to maintain them in a way befitting their status.

Besides the economic rights, Islam also excelled in giving them equal rights in social life, such as the absolute right to choose their spouse, the right to seek from their husbands or sue them for divorce, the right to receive maintenance from husbands till their divorce was formalised and maintenance for their children till they were looked after by her, the right to remarry after divorce and after her husband’s death the right to have or not to have children in consultation with their husbands, and the right to look after their children, in case they are divorced, till a certain point of time. Islam not only endowed women with the right to learn, equal rights in religion, education and prayers were made obligatory on them, just in the same way as they were on men.

Of still greater social significance is the fact that Islam imposed such restrictions on men (and women) as would ensure physical and mental security of women. These include total ban on alcohol, gambling and adultery. Purdah was not obligatory, as is commonly understood, on women alone; men also could not reveal most parts of their bodies and would preferably cover their heads. Unfortunately however, several of these rights were compromised with in successive Muslim societies. This provided the economic fundamentalists an opportunity to malign Islam as anti-women. Their aim was obviously to incite women against their religion. The game-plan met with partial successes, especially in those countries that either had a foreign rule or rulers influenced by the West or Westernism.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, many governments in Muslim countries including Iran, Tunisia, Egypt and Lebanon strove to impose western values on their people. The purdah was forcibly abolished, and the women of these countries, willingly or unwillingly, started participating in the same form of activities as the western women were engaged in. At one time, night clubs flourished in Tehran, Cairo and Beirut. But the roots of faith were too strong in Muslims to allow it to continue for long. Within half a century, men and women in these countries in increasing numbers developed aversion for the new values. The on-going nakedness stopped, and women again started wrapping themselves in the garb of purity; they continued to engage in the educational and other social pursuits in a way as would not make them vulnerable to exploitative practices. In some countries however, like in Taliban’s Afghanistan, the Islamic Shari’ah was interpreted too rigidly to allow women to get higher education.

I have been advocating for several years that if Deen is to be established, Muslims should wage an aggressive ideological war against the ideology of economic fundamentalism, Westernism being its most visible face in today’s world. We should stop just keeping on defending Islam and Muslims. We must attack the false ideologies. If Hijab is to be protected, the only way to do is to wage a full-fledged attack on nakedness and all forms of its commercialisation. Women of the West must be made aware of the designs of the forces of economics. This has to be done through a well-orchestrated collective effort, which has been missing now. I find it very hard to get my books published and distributed, as they attack the designs of the market forces. I have also not got the support of the Muslim organisations. When my book, The Killer Sex was published, several American women who read it via Net opined that every western girl of more than 12 years must be given this book to read. But how? I had no answer.

To sum up, Hijab is a "grim" reminder to the West particularly the corporate world that a lot has to be done if the expansion of the global sex market is to be intensified; and Islam will be hard to beat if Muslims and Muslim countries are to be trapped. This cannot be done without manoeuvring the psyche behind Hijab.

The author is Director of the Saharanpur-based International Centre for Applied Isalmics. He may be contacted at


This article appeared in The Milli Gazette print issue of 16-31 May 2010 on page no. 28

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