"In many Muslim societies, for example in traditional South East Asia, or in Bedouin lands a face veil for women is either rare or non-existent; paradoxically, modern fundamentalism is introducing it".
In the name of Allah the most Beneficent, the Most Merciful:
Literally, Hijab means "a veil", "curtain", "partition" or "separation." In a meta- physical sense, Hijab means illusion or refers to the illusory aspect of creation. Another, and most popular and common meaning of Hijab today, is the veil in dressing for women. It refers to a certain standard of modest dress for women. "The usual definition of modest dress according to the legal systems does not actually require covering everything except the face and hands in public; this, at least, is the practice which originated in the Middle East."
While Hijab means "cover", "drape", or "partition"; the word KHIMAR means veil covering the head and the word LITHAM or NIQAB means veil covering lower face up to the eyes. The general term hijab in the present day world refers to the covering of the face by women. In the Indian sub-continent it is called purdah and in Iran it called chador for the tent like black cloak and veil worn by many women in Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. By socioeconomic necessity, the obligation to observe the hijab now often applies more to female "garments" (worn outside the house) than it does to the ancient paradigmatic feature of women's domestic "seclusion." In the contemporary normative Islamic language of Egypt and elsewhere, the hijab now denotes more a "way of dressing" than a "way of life," a (portable) "veil" rather than a fixed "domestic screen/seclusion." In Egypt and America hijab presently denotes the basic head covering ("veil") worn by fundamentalist/Islamist women as part of Islamic dress (zayy islami, or zayy shar'i); this hijab-head covering conceals hair and neck of the wearer.
The Qur'an advises the wives of the Prophet (sallAllahu ‘alaihiwa sallam) to go veiled (see Surah Al-Ahzab, 33: 59).
In Surah An-Nur, 24: 31 (Ayahh), the Qur'an advises women to cover their "adornments" from strangers outside the family. In the traditional and modern Arab societies women at home dress quite differently compared to what they wear in the streets. In this verse of the Qur'an, it refers to the institution of a new public modesty rather than veiling the face.
...When the pre-Islamic Arabs went to battle, Arab women seeing the men off to war would bare their breasts to encourage them to fight; or they would do so at the battle itself, as in the case of the Meccan women led by Hind at the Battle of Uhud. This changed with Islam, but the general use of the veil to cover the face did not appear until 'Abbasid times. Nor was it entirely unknown in Europe, for the veil permitted women the freedom of anonymity. None of the legal systems actually prescribe that women must wear a veil, although they do prescribe covering the body in public, up to the neck, the ankles, and below the elbow. In many Muslim societies, for example in traditional South East Asia, or in Bedouin lands a face veil for women is either rare or non-existent; paradoxically, modern fundamentalism is introducing it. In others, the veil may be used at one time and European dresses another. While modesty is a religious prescription, the wearing of a veil is not a religious requirement of Islam, but a matter of cultural milieu.
"The Middle Eastern norm for relationships between the sexes is by no means the only one possible for Islamic societies everywhere, nor is it appropriate for all cultures. It does not exhaust the possibilities allowed within the framework of the Qur'an and Sunnah, and is neither feasible nor desirable as a model for Europe or North America. European societies possess perfectly adequate models for marriage, the family, and relations between the sexes which are by no means out of harmony with the Qur'an and the Sunnah. This is borne out by the fact that within certain broad limits Islamic societies themselves differ enormously in this respect."
The Qur'an lays down the principle of the law of modesty. In Surah 24: An-Nur: 30 and 31, modesty is enjoined both upon Muslim men and Muslim women:
Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for Greater purity for them: And God is Well-acquainted with all that they do. And say to the believing women That they should lower their gaze And guard their modesty: and they should not display beauty and ornaments expect what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that They must draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husband's sons, or their women, or their 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 ornaments.
The following conclusions may be made on the basis of the above-cited verses:
1. The Qur'anic injunctions enjoining the believers to lower their gaze and behave modestly applies to both Muslim men and women and not Muslim women alone.
2. Muslim women are enjoined to "draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty" except in the presence of their husbands, other women, children, eunuchs and those men who are so closely related to them that they are not allowed to marry them. Although a self-conscious exhibition of one's "zeenat" (which means "that which appears to be beautiful" or "that which is used for embellishment or adornment") is forbidden, the Qur'an makes it clear that what a woman wears ordinarily is permissible. Another interpretation of this part of the passage is that if the display of "zeenat" is unintentional or accidental, it does not violate the law of modesty.
3. Although Muslim women may wear ornaments they should not walk in a manner intended to cause their ornaments to jingle and thus attract the attention of others.
The respected scholar, Muhammad Asad, commenting on Qur'an, Surah An-Nur, 24:31 says "The noun khimar (of which khumur is plural) denotes the head-covering customarily used by Arabian women before and after the advent of Islam. According to most of the classical commentators, it was worn in pre-Islamic times more or less as an ornament and was let down loosely over the wearer's back; and since, in accordance with the fashion prevalent at the time, the upper part of a woman's tunic had a wide opening in the front, her breasts were left bare. Hence, the injunction to cover the bosom by means of a khimar (a term so familiar to the contemporaries of the Prophet) does not necessarily relate to the use of a khimar as such but is, rather, meant to make it clear that a woman's breasts are not included in the concept of "what may decently be apparent" of her body and should not, therefore, be displayed.
 Cyril Glasse. The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. Harper and Row Publishers, New York, N.Y., 1989, p. 156
 Ibid, p. 413
 Ibid, p. 421
 Translation by Abdullah Yusuf Ali. The Holy Quran (Amana Corp., Brentwood, Maryland), 1989. Pp 873-874
 Riffat Hassan. Women's Rights and Islam: From the I.C.P.D. to Beijing. Louisville, Kentucky, 1995. pp. 65-76
 Translated and explained by Muhammad Asad. The Message of the Qur'an. Dar al-Andalus, Gibraltar. 1984. p.538
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