The hijab is the headscarf worn exclusively by Muslim women, right? Well, not exactly. Muslim activist and lawyer Qasim Rashid recently explained how flawed that common misconception is.
Rashid reminded us that obligation of modesty in Islam is required from both men and women, rather than being exclusive to the latter. He tackled common misconceptions surrounding the hijab and asserted that the Islamic Quran commands both men and women to observe it.
"Hijab is a critically important Islamic teaching. No one denies this. But, it seems to me that too many men forget it applies to us first," Rashid writes in an op-ed for the Independent.
"Let’s stop obsessing over women, and worry about reforming ourselves first. That apparently novel idea is indeed the true jihad and true meaning of hijab."
Hijab and headscarf are NOT synonymous
Rashid refutes the mainstream definition of the hijab and asserts that the term most accurately refers to the general principles of modesty. "Hijab" therefore refers to the Islamic duty of preserving one's modesty, which implies certain standards for dress and behavior for both men and women.
Originating from the verb hajeb (حجب), the Arabic term "hijab" literally translates to "the thing that conceals and covers".
Men must observe the hijab before women
Rashid points out that the Quran addresses men before women when it comes to commanding modesty. "The primary responsibility of observing hijab is not on women - it is on men," Rashid writes.
When discussing the hijab, people often refer to the 31st verse in Surat An-Nur, which commands women to dress modestly. But, the verse that precedes it is often neglected, probably since it commands men to observe the hijab as well.
So, how should men apply the hijab? By lowering their gaze and preserving their chastity, according to the 30th verse in Surat An-Nur.
Rashid cites a hadith by Prophet Muhammad, who also implied that the hijab is a primary obligation on men by saying, "Be chaste yourselves, and women will be chaste as well."
The Muslim activist then criticized men who demand that women be chaste and dress modestly, all the while completely disobeying the concept of modesty themselves. "Don't be a hypocrite," Rashid tells such men, who only speak of the concept of hijab when it comes to women.
The Quran slams rape culture
Surat An-Nur orders men to restrain from staring at women in the 30th verse, before asking women to dress modestly in the 31st verse. Rashid argues that this "destroys rape culture because it commands men to reform themselves first and exclusively".
"It (the 30th verse) demolishes complaints that what a woman is wearing is 'too provocative', whatever that means, because it flat out forbids men from gawking at women," Rashid writes in his article.
Rashid gave an example about the prophet to demonstrate how Islam asks men to control their urges, rather than blame women for the way they dress.
When Prophet Muhammad caught his companion Al Fadl bin Abbas staring at a strikingly beautiful woman, the prophet did not chastise the woman for dressing immodestly or displaying her beauty. Instead, he turned Al Fadl's face to the other side to stop him from gazing at her.
Dear fathers, husbands, brothers ... women can not be forced to wear the hijab
"There is no coercion in religion," states the Quran. But, many Muslim fellows completely disregard that, picking and choosing from religion what exclusively serves their own patriarchal interests. So, they force their daughters/sisters/wives to wear the headscarf against their will.
"Too often men impose hijab on women, forgetting that we have no right to do so," Rashid told The Huffington Post. "Instead, Muslim men should work on reforming ourselves by upholding the requirements of hijab that the Qur’an and Prophet Muhammad place on us."
Rashid shared a quote by Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the current leader of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, in which Ahmad reminds men that they have no right to police women, asking them to restrain themselves instead.
"There is not even any commandment to forcibly cover the heads of Muslim women, let alone non-Muslim women. It is men like these who have hardline ideas," Ahmad is quoted as saying.
The debate around the Islamic headscarf
The 31st verse in Surat An-Nur mandates that women ought to cover their "adornments except that which [necessarily] appears" around men in general, except the men they are directly related to like fathers, brothers and uncles. The verse also commands women to "wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests".
The traditional and popular school of Islamic thought interprets this verse as commanding women to cover their bodies and hair, and dress in loose clothing.
But, some scholars have opposed this traditional interpretation. Some claim that the commandment of head-covering was solely directed at women who are related to Prophet Muhammad, in order to distinguish them from others.
In 2012, Sheikh Mustapha Mohamed Rashed stirred controversy for introducing his thesis that rejects the headscarf as an Islamic duty at Al-Azhar University, the top Sunni Islam educational institute. Rashed, who obtained a degree of excellent on his research, argued that supporters of the veil as an Islamic duty have relied on literal text and taken the verse out of historical context.
Still, regardless of the conflicting opinions concerning the headscarf, modesty remains part and parcel of Islamic belief.