In the name of God Almighty.
It’s the 21st century – horses are no longer martyred in long-distance journeys, our daily bread usually comes with coke and fries on the side, and technology has advanced so much that we find the most childish reasons to start wars (oh wait- that’s nothing new). But such is the nature of mankind that no matter how many light years he has advanced in the fields of virtual realities and electronic wonderlands, these changes remain skin-deep.
Meaning to say, our tendency to be greedy, vain, judgmental and other idiosyncratic desires has always been, and will forever be, the bane of our own wellbeing. Which is something many of us fail to realize – we feel automatically cultured and civilized the moment we adopt a certain belief system or way of life, forgetting that its very fundamentals aren’t found essentially in the way we dress, or eat, or greet each other even, for instance.
So… what does this have to do with the Hijab, again? Based on my experience and a bit of reflection as I sat on the train the other day, this is what I have to say: –
To put it mildly – I believe we have experienced more than enough of society’s patronizing attitude towards hijab-wearers (or perhaps Muslim women in general). How do we even define ‘Hijab’ in its essence? Its origins lay in the Arabic 3-letter root “حَجَبَ” (rom. “Hajaba“) which means to hide, screen, make something invisible or inaccessible. Its usage traverses numerous fields of Islamic knowledge (e.g Tasawwuf and Faraidh), with varying versions and definitions in each, to suit its context. Pertaining to this, the word ‘Aurah is also often heard, the origins of which lies in the Arabic root “عَارَ” (rom. “‘Aara”), which means shame, disgrace or nudity.
Suffice to say that the literal definition of these terms encompasses a wide variety of meanings and understandings – can its spiritual implications be any less than this?
The hijab is most often related to the topic of modesty and morality. At the mention of the word, one automatically pictures women in flowing, loose gowns carefully tailored not to give away any details of the body, with extra-large jilbabs (head dress) to match, preferably with an extra piece of cloth that covers the face, too.
Yes? You either come from a highly conservative community of highly religious people (perhaps in a desert where the sand necessitates the covering of the face) – in which case, bravo – or you’ve been trying just a little too hard – and perhaps your righteousness is veering dangerously towards self-righteousness.
No? That’s great, let’s try that again.
Man in his variety of beliefs and experiences, cannot be expected to conform to just one standardized view on modesty. An individual whose life has been spent in a brothel and another whose life has been spent in a Mosque may not have the same understanding of decency. In fact, it will be greatly biased and unfair to expect them to. How then is a woman expected to fulfill such contrasting criterions of modesty?
The answer: she doesn’t have to. (what did big dresses and jilbabs have to do with this, anyway?)
Now, let’s take it from the ultimately more important aspect in question: the wearer herself. Why does she wear a cloth over her head? The reasons every hijabi might give you will differ, without a doubt. It should, however, eventually boil down to one main reason – she chooses to cover up for the sake of God. This will make sense the first time you hear it, and the second, third and fourth, and so on – until you decide to start thinking about it.
It is easy to do many things for the sake of God. It is also easy to develop self-righteousness, arrogance and in cases, fake humility, in the process. It is imperative to be aware that a cloth, no matter how big, never justifies a heart filled with such heinous characteristics. One mistake many of us make is the assumption that donning a hijab immediately transforms a woman into a pure, chaste, God-fearing priestess – the bigger the hijab, the purer. Which is never the case – and apparently this belief is adopted and strongly reinforced within the smaller, more religious communities of the Malay society, inevitably casting an elitist tint on their portrayal to the masses. In which case the act of donning such attire (and this does not apply to everyone) could easily be translated as an attempt to promote superficiality, rather than diminish it, as how it ought to.
Speaking of superficiality, another popular topic is the issue of make-up. All that vitamin B+ foundation, gel eyeliner, UV-protection powders and ultra-moisturizing lip balms, aren’t all these things feminine tools used to allure men to their destruction? Perhaps the best answer I could think to that is: any straight-thinking, upright lady would be the least interested in leading any man to his destruction (unless you were an evil stepmother in an Indonesian drama series seeking revenge on her son’s lover. Now THAT kind of make-up should be haraam) – besides, if men were really so easily aroused that a little powder and blush excites them (pardon me), then I think the problem isn’t in the make-up at all. Of course, I personally think that over-indulging in make-up is an absolute no-no, purely for practical reasons. If praying 5 times a day meant scrubbing everything off and re-painting it all on afterwards every time, a little laziness would be enough to send all my priorities haywire.
There is also quite a lot of discussion on how Muslimah dressing is an attempt of beautification, aimed at making the wearer more attractive to the eye, often interpreted as a cry for attention, too. Perhaps it has hardly occurred to us that it is a woman’s fitrah (nature) to be inclined to beauty and beautification. So, instead of being so obsessed over whether a woman’s self-beautification is obnoxious and attention-seeking, let us simply not deny her her nature. Let’s look at her as a human being with human tendencies and inclinations, and see past these tendencies because it comes naturally in every woman anyway. Value her for her heart that beats with passion and her mind of intellect. Look at her (and everything else) with the eyes of depth and wisdom.
At the end of the day, the whole idea of practicing the hijab is to exercise a level of outward modesty – simply put, particularly one that simply does not make heads turn wherever you go. When the self no longer takes interest in attention and judgement, and no longer feeds itself on the praises and admiration of others. That is my understanding of invisibility and inaccessibility, of covering up nudity. When one allows herself to be affected by every comment and judgement passed off about her, isn’t that exposure and vulnerability too? There is nothing mahjuub (covered up) about a sequin-filled skin-tight dress that attracts stares wherever it goes, and it wouldn’t make a difference whether your hair is covered or not. Just a thought.
Let’s cast away the judgemental looks we bestow so liberally on others and start turning these eyes inwards.
“Honesty is calmness, and lies are doubt, and righteousness is the best of conduct, and sins are that which is woven within your heart, and you would be ashamed lest it would be discovered by the people. Seek your heart’s counsel.” (Hadith)