Published On: Sun, Jul 22nd, 2012

Al Azhar: Wearing the Hijab May Not Be an ‘Islamic Duty’

Last month at Al Azhar University, Sheikh Mustapha Mohamed Rashed defended a thesis that sparked a heated debate among religious scholars. The candidate concluded that Hijab, or the veil, is not an Islamic duty.

The claim is not the first of its kind, but the mere fact that it is adopted in Al Azhar University – the Sunni Islam’s foremost seat of learning –makes it controversial.

Sheikh Mustapha Mohamed Rashed argued that Hijab is not an Islamic duty. He stated that Hijab refers to the cover of the head, which is not mentioned in the Holy Quran at all. “Nonetheless, a bunch of scholars insisted vehemently that the veil is both an Islamic duty and one of the most important pillars of Islam,” he added.

In doing so, the PhD candidate points out, “they deviated from the purposes of the Islamic law and “Sahih Atafsir” or the true interpretation. They rejected reasoning and relied only on literal text.”

According to Mohamed Rashed, these scholars de-contextualized the verses of the Quran and interpreted them in their very own liking, following some ancient scholars, as if what they said is sacred and is no subject to Ijtihad.

Ijtihad is a technical term, which literally means “exertion” in a jurisprudential sense; it is the exertion of mental energy by a Muslim jurist to deduce legal rulings from Islam’s sacred texts.1

The researcher continued that the scholars, who claim that Hijab is an important pillar of Islam, departed from “Al Minhaj Assahih,” or the true path, of interpretation and reasoning, which interprets the verses according to their historical context and the causes of revelation. These scholars “interpreted the verses in their general sense, overlooking the causes of their revelation, intentionally or due to their limited intellectual capacity resulted in psychological scourge.” Worse yet, they approached hundreds of important issues in the same way.”

“The supporters of Hijab as an Islamic duty base their arguments on inconsistent and wrong evidence. They would ascribe various meanings to the veil, from Hijab to Khimar to Jalabib, a fact which shows that they digressed from the true meaning they intended to address, the cover of the head,” he added. The researcher attempted to deconstruct the three claims that are derived from interpretations of the sacred texts.

Literally, Hijab means “a veil,” “curtain,” “partition” or “separation.” 2 The verse in which it is mentioned is specifically addressed to the wives of the prophet; there is no dispute among scholars about that at all. The verse states as follow,

And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a partition ( hijab). That is purer for your hearts and their hearts. And it is not [conceivable or lawful] for you to harm the Messenger of Allah or to marry his wives after him, ever. Indeed, that would be in the sight of Allah an enormity. ( Quran 33: 53)

The term hijab then is meant to have a partition between the wives of the prophet and his companions. It is not addressed to the Muslim women, otherwise it would have been stated, says Mohamed Rashed.

Bouthaina Shaaban seems to have held the same belief.3She said that those who imitate the wives of the prophet and wear the Hijab are disobeying God’s will, for He said,

O wives of the Prophet, you are not like anyone among women. (Quran 33: 32)

As for the term Khimar, it is found in a verse of the Quran stating,

And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests. (Quran 24: 31)

The researcher pointed out that the evidence is invalid. The intent of the text is to refer to the cover of the breast whose exposure is un-Islamic, but not to what is perceived nowadays as Hijab for the head.

In this regard, it is believed that 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.2

Nikkie Keddie, a prominent historian and an expert on women’s issues in Islam, said that this verse does not refer to covering the hair. It was only “later interpreted as meaning covering the whole body, including the hair, and most of the face.” She continued that; “This interpretation is illogical. If the whole body and face were meant, there would be no reason to tell women to veil their bosoms specifically, while the later interpretation of ‘adornment’ to mean everything but the hands, feet, and (possibly) the face is a forced one.4

However, Al Qaradawi, a famous Egyptian scholar, quoted the same verse to conclude that the Hijab is compulsory and is an injunction based on a literal reading of the Koran. He asserted that the Hijab is, “not the result of an opinion by jurists or even by Muslims; it is a Koranic order.”5

As regards the verse in which Jalabib is mentioned, the researcher considered it to be misplaced evidence.

O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. (Quran 33:59)

The supporters of Hijab as an Islamic duty overlooked the historical background and the cause of revelation, for the verse was meant to distinguish between the pure and promiscuous women and slaves. At that time, all women tended not to cover their faces. Hence, the verse was revealed so as to protect the pure from some men, who would gaze at them while they were excreting or urinating.

Mustapha Mohamed Rashed rejected the Hadith, reported by Abu Dawud, in which Asma, daughter of Abu Bakr, was ordered by the prophet to expose only her face and palms. He says it should not be taken into any sort of consideration because it is “Ahaad” or its narration does not fulfill one of the most important required conditions, connectivity.

References :


2.Cyril Glasse. The Concise Encyclopedia of Islam. Harper and Row Publishers, New York, N.Y., 1989.

3. Bouthaina Shaaban. The Muted Voices of Women Interpreters. In

FAITH AND FREEDOM: Women’s Human Rights in the Muslim World, Mahnaz Afkhami (Editor). I. B. Tauris Publishers, New York, 1995. p.72.


5.  “Live Sermon from Umar Bin-al-Khattab Mosque in Doha,” Qatar TV, December 19, 2003.


By Jamal Saidi

Displaying 26 Comments
Have Your Say
  1. Umar says:

    The above article is phony. Please remove it. You should contact scholar Suhaib Webb concerning its contents, which he has denounced as a fraud.

  2. Kayse says:

    Some ladies wear Afghan uniforms and think its Islamic…unbelievable. My advise for Somali women is please stick to your diraac and shalmaad.

    No need to wear Saudi or Afghan national costumes.

  3. khaatumo citizen says:

    just like non Muslim women, muslim women should have the freedom to wear whatever they want, niqaab, jilbab, scarf or compelety naked, it's thier choice right..
    besides nowhere in the Quran says that a woman's face and body must be covered in a black cloth.. lol as long as u cover ur body and hair waa caadi plus Diraac and Shalmad are so 2000 ish.. Abaayad is nice.

    Ramadan Kareem

  4. Yusuf says:


    If it is OK for the author and some commentators here to see the bodies of their mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers and daughters exposed to the public, it is their business. But I think it is shameful and demeaning to Muslim women's bodies to be treated as sexual objects.

    I agree with Umar and hope that you will remove this article as soon as possible.

    Ramadaan Karim.

  5. ComeAgain says:

    Why is it its always women who are asked to cover themselves head to toe, when men go about normal? I'd like to see those 'scholars" walk around in the middle eastern heat with nothing but little holes to see thru covered in dense cotton lol!

    All this issue tells the world is muslim men cant control themselves from raping women so they have to cover them up, because they are animals. Women can freely walk in peace in many parts of the world and they are fine, get over yourselves its not that serious.

    Iv met girls who wore hijab and would give you a #### j @b etc and girls who didnt but were decent its not a damn cloth that makes you a decent human being

  6. PuntlandGeezer says:

    these somali woman of now days are nothing but followers they intend to follow anyone these days, they can easily be brainwashed & embrace al qaeda culture. seriously can they not were something else rather than Jalabib? what an uneducated fools they are.

    Ps my wife doesn't wear Jalabib mostly she wears diraac or garbasaar.

  7. PuntlandGeezer says:

    seriously dnt were Jalabib but were something else, im sure there are some decent ISLAMIC CLOTHING out there, the fashion ones, the latest one where you dress modestly and still look cute.

    • khaatumo citizen says:

      lool I don't wear jilbaab I go to university, studying medicine that would be awkward, but my mom wears it and I respect her choice. lol

      • PuntlandGeezer says:

        im doing a research project on why somali woman wear jilbaab? If you dnt mind, I would lyk to ask you is why does ur mum weres jilbaab? my mom she wears jilbaab but only when she visits unknown territories especially like kismayo, marka or jowhaar which al qaeda terrorist have spread their wahhabi extremists but when she's bk in puntland she wears diraac or garbasaar.

        • khaatumo citizen says:

          puntlandGeezer I don't know walalo I think maybe it makes them feel warmer especially in cold weather lool. or more pious and if someone really short and thin jilbab make u more visible, okay that was a joke. but anyway women usually wear jilbab for religious reasons.

          is wahabi new religion or something loool I thought somalis were Sunni, even thoe I call myself a Muslim not shia, sunni or any other group.

          • PuntlandGeezer says:

            most of southern somalis are wahabis or salafis which are the same sect, they follow muhammad ibn abd al-wahhab who was born at saudi arabia in 1703. After the death of the of prophet Muhammad (pbuh) muhammad ibn abd al-wahhab brought out his own extremists fundamentalist islamic Beliefs. saudi arabia, pakistan, afghanistan al qaeda, all the islamic militants including al shabaab, boko haram, ansar dine, al-qaeda in the Islamic maghreb, movement for oneness and jihad in west africa, al-qaeda in the arabian peninsula, taliban etc are all wahabis/ salafis.

            somalis are sufi including myself.

          • khaatumo citizen says:

            LMHO them videos amaze me, how come I haven't seen those kind people in the North, I saw some people burning Foox and calling Awliya which is actually shirk. so basically ahlu sunnah wal jamaah and Alshabab are same they both killing people for the name of religion..

  8. Laila says:

    Muslims believe that there are munaafiqs amongst us.

  9. Fatima says:

    its funny how all these people are trying to show that hijab is not mandatory and how Muslim men are oppressing Muslim women, but Muslim women don't take the opportunity when these fatwas come out to uncover under the pretext of following these "fatwas". It seems maybe the Muslim women are doing it of their own free will after all.

    • Mohammed says:

      Yeah, because of long ages of religious misinterpretation. The research didn't bring up men forcing women; it simply looked into the validity of the rule. Plus, you forget that some countries enforce it by law.

  10. Omabdul says:

    Almost all women who wear hijab , do that willingly and happily. Pious women in all religions cover up. Virgin Mary is depicted covered up… so are nuns. Prophet Mohammed said it is ok for women to show of their faces and hands. We follow Quran and Hadith too. If we will start debating this Hadith , then we are debating all Hadiths . There are more important things to debate in the world and the Muslim world.

  11. Mohamd says:

    People covered their heads before Islam, mainly to protect hair from degradation which is priceless to women esp. in Asia. Modern women can protect their hair with sunscreen and conditioners.

  12. LLA says:

    What I find interesting in all these discussions about Hijab (khimar, etc etc) is that be it mandatory or not, it still remains a private (personal) issue. However, people address it systematically. For those women, like me, who are Muslims and perform their prayers, are forced to be harassed in the streets of a Country in which the majority of the population is Muslim. Where are the Muslim Men in these countries, that as such has been commanded to lower their eyes? How can I be that much harassed and bothered? – please take into consideration that I don't wear the headscarf, neither revealing dresses). Why is Hijab a subject taken to much into account as a major pillar (for some scholars), whereas in the societies where the discussions take place, very important subjects discussed in Holy Quran are not only left behind as well as they are tolerated for decades. Mislead is endemic. Corruption is found at all levels, from the lower income individual to the higher one. Unfortunately, focusing in details of the commandments of Allah swt which are driven to individuals sound irrational, where the major points to heal and save the Islamic Umma are left astray.

  13. meme says:

    Its a controversial issue, people need to focus on other important aspects in life such as promoting equality and decreasing the gap between the rich and the poor and giving to charity and being good humanitarians…

  14. sabrina says:

    However , wearing hijab has gone beyond a personal issue and become an international issue . how come clothes or lack of cloths would have anything with women empowerment is remarkable . Yes , Islam prescribes modesty for women , but this is also true for men. When we analyze Quaran and Hadith , we have to understand the historical context . That was during war times and surrounded by enemies. And as the article mentions there were social strata – eg how good women behaved and bad or easily available women behaved . I believe the verse about covering came out after an attack on Muslim women by non -believer

    • Nany says:

      I agree with you Sabrina! When Allah ordered women during the Prophet PBUH to cover their cleavage to prevent harm and to be recognized among slave women back then.

  15. Fazel Subian says:

    The purpose of a religion is a selfish to become a selfless (Muslimeen).
    The purpose is lost, prehistorical culture & traditions remains,
    Understand your religion

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