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HomeExpertsQur’an and Headscarf (Part 2)

Qur’an and Headscarf (Part 2)

In the previous article, we focused on why the headscarf has become a subject of heated debates in the modern era and touched upon the reasons for the different views expressed on this matter. In this article, however, we will examine the ruling of the headscarf in the light of verses and hadiths, and will evaluate different interpretations of the verses that command it.

Firstly, it’s beneficial to clearly state that wearing a headscarf, contrary to some claims, is neither merely a recommendation of religion nor a historical verdict, nor is it one of the possible interpretations of the verses. Rather, it is a firm commandment of religion, a definite obligation, and an unchangeable ruling, established with the explicit and binding wording of many verses and hadiths and subject to the consensus of scholars. It is impossible to reach a different ruling on this matter without distorting the words of the Qur’an, subjecting them to arbitrary interpretations, and twisting their meanings. Now, let’s examine the relevant verses in order:

The obligation of the headscarf is established with the following verse from Surah An-Nur: “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their chastity, and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms” (An-Nur 24:31).

In this noble verse, God commands, “Let them wear their headscarves over their bosoms.” The command word in the verse implies obligation unless there is evidence to the contrary. The directive in the verse for women to guard their eyes from the unlawful, preserve their chastity, not to display their adornment, and not to draw attention to their feminine characteristics through their walk and movements is as binding and obligatory as the command to wear a headscarf included among them.

The verse’s commencement with “Inform the believing women” and its conclusion inviting women to repentance also indicate that the verse establishes a binding norm. Likewise, the expression in the first verse of the surah, “This is a surah which We have sent down and made obligatory and revealed therein clear signs that you may remember,” serves as separate evidence that the commands here are obligatory. Even a layperson, unfamiliar with Arabic and the principles of jurisprudence, would understand the obligation of the headscarf when considering all these aspects. Indeed, the first addressees of this command, the Companions, who were native Arabic speakers, also unanimously understood and implemented it as a necessary obligation.

Some have interpreted the word “humur” (plural of “khimar”, translated as headscarf) in a general sense as a covering, arguing that the verse commands covering the chest, not the head. However, we cannot ascribe meanings to words arbitrarily. This matter cannot be resolved with logical deductions. The correct meaning of a word, in any language, is determined by looking at dictionaries. In Arabic dictionaries, the word “khimar,” especially when attributed to a woman, means a headscarf. For instance, Zebidi’s definition is: “A woman’s khimar is what she covers her head with.” (Zebidi, Taj al-Arus, 11/214) Fayyumi defines “khimar” as: “A garment with which a woman covers her head. The plural of ‘khimar’ is ‘humur.'” (Fayyumi, Al-Misbah al-Munir, 1/151)

It is true that “khimar/humur” originates from the root “ha-me-ra,” which means to cover, conceal, or hide. For instance, alcohol is called “hamr” because it veils the mind. However, this does not prevent the word “khimar/humur” derived from this root from meaning headscarf. There are pre-Islamic poems that prove this word means headscarf.

Moreover, to understand the words and concepts in the Qur’an, one must look at how the Companions, the first recipients of the revelation, understood and implemented them. A hadith in Bukhari explains how the Companions reacted to this command: When the verse of Surah An-Nur about headscarves was revealed, the men went home and recited these verses to their wives, daughters, sisters, and female relatives. Each of these women, out of belief and affirmation of God’s Book, prepared headscarves from their garments. The next morning, they attended the dawn prayer behind the Prophet Muhammad, wearing these headscarves, as if crows were perched on their heads. (Bukhari, Tafsir Surah, 29/12)

The immediate action of the women Companions in making headscarves from their garments and covering their heads the next day for the mosque demonstrates that they understood the word “humur” as headscarf and considered the verse’s command as an obligatory one that could not be neglected.

Aisha described “khimar” as, “Khimar is what covers the hair and skin/body.” (Abdurrezzak, Musannaf, 3/404) In the earliest hadith collections, “khimar” is used to mean headscarf. For example, in Malik’s Muwatta, a hadith describes the wife of Abdullah ibn Umar, Safiyya bint Abi Ubayd, removing her “khimar” and wiping her head with water during ablution. (Muwatta Malik, times of prayer 15)

Tafsir (Quranic exegesis) books also interpret “humur” as headscarf and state that wearing it is obligatory. For instance, Elmalili Hamdi Yazır interprets the verse as, “Let them hit their headscarves over their bosoms. Let them cover their heads, hair, ears, necks, throats, and chests tightly in this way and thus use a headscarf that enables them to perform this command.” (Hak Dini Quran Dili, 6/40)

Those who argue that the headscarf is not a religious commandment point out that the words “head” and “hair” are not mentioned in the verse and that there is no statement about covering them. However, once it’s established that “humur” means “headscarf,” such a claim becomes irrelevant. Just as a person told to wear gloves understands that it means covering the hands, and one told to wear socks understands it means covering the feet, it is well-known that wearing a headscarf means covering the head and hair. Moreover, the Qur’an further details the matter by commanding that the headscarf should also cover the neck and chest area.

The Prophet Muhammad’s (peace be upon him) hadiths commanding the wearing of the headscarf also confirm and reinforce this ruling of the verse. For example, he said to Asma bint Abi Bakr, “O Asma! When a woman reaches puberty, it is not proper for her to show anything but this and this,” indicating her face with his hand. (Abu Dawood, dress 31) In another hadith, he stated that God would not accept the prayer of a post-pubescent woman without a headscarf. (Ibn Majah, purification 132; Tirmidhi, prayer 160)

Another point not to be overlooked is that the headscarf was not unknown to the women of the pre-Islamic period of ignorance. Especially noble women used headscarves. Not just women, but men also covered their heads. This was not only due to Arab customs; undoubtedly, living in a hot climate also played a role. However, women did not cover their heads properly, leaving their necks and necklaces exposed by throwing the ends of their headscarves back. Therefore, the Qur’an, in the relevant verse, did not introduce a new ruling unknown among the Companions. Instead, it legally determined how the already used headscarf should be worn by commanding, “Let them throw their headscarves over their bosoms/chests.”

The verse from Surah An-Nur begins and ends with the command “Do not display their adornment,” emphasizing three times within the same verse that adornments should be concealed. Therefore, the phrase commanding the wearing of the headscarf is also related to covering adornment.

Similarly, Surah An-Nur, verse 60, commands even elderly women exempt from outer garments not to display their adornments. The verse states: “It is no sin for elderly women who have no hope of marriage to discard their outer garments without displaying their adornment. But it is better for them to be modest. God is All-Hearing, All-Knowing.” (An-Nur 24:60)

From the expressions in the verses, it is understood that adornment holds a special importance in the wearing of the headscarf and in defining the limits of modesty.

So, what is the meaning of adornment here?

In the dictionary, “Ziynet” means ornament, jewelry, decoration, something used for adornment, or captivating beauty. The verb زَيَّنَ, derived from the same root, signifies decorating, embellishing, beautifying, or gilding. When “Ziynet” is mentioned, it primarily refers to items like rings, bracelets, necklaces, henna, and makeup materials – adornments and jewelry that people find attractive. However, since such adornments are permissible to be displayed at home or in the market, and hiding them serves no purpose, the “Ziynet” mentioned in the Quranic verse that must be concealed must have a different meaning.

Therefore, interpreters have stated that the word “Ziynet” in this context refers to the “condition” (hâl) and implies the “place” (mahal) – that is, the verse requires women to cover the parts of their bodies where they typically wear jewelry. Since adornments are usually worn on parts like the neck, ears, and hair, the prohibition of displaying “Ziynet” would logically necessitate wearing a headscarf.

Some commentators interpret “Ziynet” to mean the woman’s body itself, described as the ‘cins-i latif’ (delicate kind). Thus, it should not be displayed. According to this interpretation, although it might seem that women need to cover their entire bodies, the verse provides a concession with the phrase إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا, meaning “except what appears thereof.” Some interpreters suggest this refers to visible ornaments like rings, bracelets, necklaces, eyeliner, and henna. Others believe it refers to the visible parts of a woman’s dress, which cannot be concealed anyway.

Many jurists and interpreters believe that the exception mentioned in the verse refers to a woman’s hands and face, with some including feet as well. The face, being the foremost adornment of a woman, is why some jurists advocate covering it, too. However, according to many jurists, including Hanafis and Malikis, the face is not considered ‘awrah (intimate part). This is because the necessities and exigencies of life require its exposure, and this interpretation is also supported by some Hadiths of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s). Thus, it is necessary for women to cover parts of their body except for the hands, face, and feet.

In summary, since the time of the companions of the Prophet, scholars have unanimously agreed that the aforementioned Quranic verse mandates the wearing of a headscarf, and for over fourteen centuries, Muslim women have complied with this command by covering their heads. The obligation of wearing a headscarf is a consensus among scholars and has become a symbol of Muslim identity. Wearing a headscarf is not a line between faith and disbelief; not wearing it does not expel one from the religion.

It is not the sole measure of Muslim identity or piety. However, as initially stated, it is a firm command of the religion and an obligatory practice. Given this situation, proposing different views on the headscarf cannot be considered reasonable or legitimate.

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YUKSEL CAYIROGLU
YUKSEL CAYIROGLU
Professor Yuksel Cayiroglu is a scholar focusing on Islamic Law and Religous Studies.
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