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Why Does Islam Command Covering? (4)

In previous articles, we focused on modern discussions about the headscarf, demonstrated that it is a clear command of the Qur’an, and explained how covering is addressed in the verses. Although the primary reason for following the commands of Islam is obedience to Allah (taabbud), people today want to learn the reasons, wisdom, and benefits behind religious rulings and constantly ask “why” and “what for.” The questions regarding the headscarf and modest dress have been repeatedly asked up to now. Therefore, in this article, we will address the wisdom underlying the command of covering in Islam.

Indeed, many verses hint at these reasons. We touched upon them occasionally in previous writings. However, to answer the questions in minds, a more detailed discussion of the subject is necessary.

Islam strictly prohibits adultery and presents it as one of the greatest sins in religion (Al-Isra, 17/32). It also closes the potential means and ways leading to adultery with its rulings on male-female relationships, derived from the principle of sedd-i zerai. When something is declared forbidden in religion, its means are also forbidden. Similarly, Islam commands the protection of honor and chastity (hıfz-u furûc), being modest and shy, considers them among the greatest virtues in religion, and shows ways to maintain chastity and protect it with some rulings.

In the broadest sense, the command to cover is aimed at closing the paths to adultery and protecting modesty and shyness. The command to cover is not related to degrading women to a secondary position, seeing them as inferior, or men dominating them, as in some religions and cultures. Covering is legislated purely as an ethical principle and for the realization of this purpose.

To elaborate further, the Qur’anic verse commands not only to abstain from adultery but also to avoid approaching it (Al-Isra, 17/32). This is because once certain steps towards adultery are taken, adultery becomes inevitable. Or let’s put it this way: It’s not possible for two strangers to commit adultery suddenly. First, desires and passions awaken, lust is provoked, and mutual attraction develops. The awakening of such carnal feelings occurs through acts like looking, being concerned, paying attention, talking, being alone together, touching, kissing. Therefore, Islam prohibits any kind of carnal benefit between two individuals who are not bound by marriage. The Prophet (peace be upon him) stated that each organ has its own adultery; the eyes commit adultery through looking, the ears through listening, the tongue through speaking, the hand through touching, and the feet through walking. (Bukhari, isti’zân 12; Muslim, kader 20)

Eyes must be protected first Although nowadays people talk about male-female relationships in terms of idealistic and imaginary concepts, far from the realities of life and human psychology, Islam is a religion of fitrah (natural disposition) and all its rulings are given in accordance with fitrah. Looking at the forbidden is a major weakness for men, just as the desire to adorn and look beautiful is for women. And there is a close relationship between these two aspects.

Women who display their femininity with their body, adornment, and attire attract more attention. This leads to impure thoughts and sins. Therefore, the Qur’anic verse first commands to lower the gaze, then to protect chastity. It means that protecting chastity is primarily dependent on protecting the gaze. Elmalılı Hazretleri states that the gaze is the postman of adultery. The hadith that describes looking at the forbidden as one of Satan’s poisonous arrows points to the same fact. (Hakim, al-Mustadrak, 4/314)

Therefore, in an environment where women exhibit their bodies and men do not restrain their gaze from the forbidden, the paths to corruption and sin are opened. Although the discourse may differ, today’s world is full of examples of this. We refrain from going into detail to avoid depicting falsehood, but the modern world has flagrantly violated sexual prohibitions, rampant with sexual deviance, shaking the foundation of the institution of family, and leading to a significant moral deformation. Although it may not be fully realized yet, the cost of indecency has been heavy.

The Qur’an, by commanding men and women to take care of their eyes and by the order of modest dress, aims to prevent women’s bodies from being objectified sexually, and to keep hearts and emotions pure, thereby erecting insurmountable barriers against adultery. The reason for allowing aged women who no longer have marriage desires or hopes some leniency in covering (An-Nur, 24/60) is due to their loss of physical allure, not attracting lustful gazes, and the significantly reduced risk of adultery.

Similarly, after commanding women not to display their adornments to others in verse 31 of Surah An-Nur, exceptions are made for fathers, husbands, etc., and servants who are not sexually interested in women and children who do not understand the private aspects of women are also included in these exceptions. This implies that the command to wear a headscarf and cover is aimed at preventing carnal and lustful feelings that could arise between men and women.

How is the heart kept pure? The argument that it’s not the clothes but the purity of the heart that matters has been a common excuse among opponents of modest dressing. Indeed, the Qur’an states that only those who come to Allah with a pure heart (kalb-i selim) will be saved (Ash-Shu’ara, 26/88-89). However, this does not preclude setting certain limits and regulations in male-female relationships. Otherwise, it would be a denial of male and female nature.

Indeed, after the Qur’an brings the ruling of “asking the Prophet’s wives for something behind a curtain,” it explains the rationale as follows: “This is purer for your hearts and their hearts.” (Al-Ahzab, 33/53) As stated, the main thing is the purity of the heart, but keeping it pure is also dependent on attitudes and behaviors.

Likewise, after commanding men to lower their gaze, i.e., to protect it from the forbidden, the phrase “This is purer for them” indicates that their decency and purity depend on this. (An-Nur, 24/30)

Therefore, it can be said that keeping the heart, emotions, imagination, and thoughts clean and pure is, to some extent, dependent on regulating male-female relationships according to religious principles. Otherwise, feelings and thoughts can become clouded and polluted, and various sins may occur.

Islam’s preventive measures against adultery are not limited to prohibiting unlawful gaze and commanding covering. Alongside these, a series of rulings have been established for male-female relationships. For example, it is forbidden for a man and a woman to be alone in a secluded place (halvet), unrestricted mingling (ihtilat) of men and women is not approved, the punishment for proven adultery is tied to worldly sanctions, marriage is encouraged and remaining single is criticized, facilitating marriages is commanded, women are forbidden to wear perfume outside, children are advised to have separate beds after a certain age, entering homes without permission is forbidden to ensure family privacy, and so on.

Women are being protected On the other hand, the reasons given for the command to wear the jilbab in the verse are also significant for understanding the wisdom of covering: “This is more appropriate so that they may be recognized and not harmed.” (Al-Ahzab, 33/59) Here, the reasons for covering are focused on “recognition” and “not being harmed.” Recognition here means knowing them as dignified, respectable, moral, and virtuous believers.

Historically, in different cultures and societies, a strong relationship has been established between the headscarf, covering, and chastity, and these have been regarded as symbols of virtue, respectability, and nobility. (Although tafsirs mention that recognition in this context means distinguishing free women from slave women, this explanation is not the only interpretation of the verse and is not applicable today.)

Not being harmed is dependent on being known and recognized in this way. A woman who becomes a symbol of modesty with her dress, speech, and walk will be somewhat protected from disturbing gazes, ugly words, and physical attacks. Setting aside those whose hearts are locked in wickedness and corruption, generally, no sane man will harass a woman who does not send sexual messages, does not appear attractive, and does not provoke lust.

It is beneficial to note here: We have explained the benefits and wisdom of modesty for women. However, it is not correct to derive negative judgments about women without modesty from these statements; to think that they deserve to be disturbed with gazes, words, or actions; and especially to justify or try to justify men who do so.

Because the Qur’an, in the verse prior to the one commanding covering in An-Nisa 31, orders men to guard their eyes and protect their chastity. Therefore, women’s failure to fulfill their obligation of modesty cannot in any way justify men committing sins with gaze, words, and actions.

What does Said Nursi say on this matter?

The explanations made by Said Nursi in his Treatise on Veiling about the benefits and wisdom of covering are also worth mentioning here. He places nature at the center of veiling and explains in different ways that the nature of women necessitates covering. In summary, in this treatise, he states that women generally do not like the dirty glances directed at them, they are wary of strange men, especially those who are not young and beautiful get tired of showing themselves, they want to continue to maintain trust and love in the eyes of their husbands, immodesty will damage the sense of trust, love, and respect between husband and wife, indecency can even lead to very ugly feelings among relatives, the disappearance of veiling will harm the institution of marriage, veiling will prevent slander, and therefore women are inherently in need of veiling.

In conclusion, in an era where the value of a woman is increasingly reduced to her femininity, where she is valued and regarded in proportion to her sexual allure, where her physiology is exploited through fashion and media, where she deviates from naturalness to conform to accepted beauty standards, where illegitimate relationships are rampant, and where family life is deeply wounded, humanity is more in need than ever of the Islamic regulations concerning female-male relations, especially veiling. For the safest way for both women and men to live a chaste life by controlling their lustful desires and selfish emotions is dependent on living a life in the light of the aforementioned verses and hadiths.”

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

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