Fox News host, Jeanine Pirro, was suspended by Fox for questioning whether congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s hijab is American enough because of her dress: “Omar wears a hijab, which according to the Koran 33:59, tells women to cover so they won’t get molested. Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to sharia law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution?”
The hijab is the symbol that makes a Muslim woman easily identifiable, although the wearing of the hijab is actually a religious practice that predates Islam. Many have questions as to the tradition of head covering across religions and cultures, and so, MuslimGirl.com reached out to Islamic law expert and Rutgers School of Law adjunct professor, Abed Awad, Esq. with questions about this tradition. Below are excerpts from the interview.
Muslim Girl: The hijab predates Islam. How old is the tradition of women wearing a head covering?
Abed Awad: Let us start the story with Assyria. Assyrian law required the Assyrian woman to cover their heads in public. Prostitutes and female slaves, however, were prohibited from covering their head. Greek society had similar requirements for veiling. In Aphrodite’s Tortoise: The Veiled Woman of Ancient Greece, Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones found that full veiling of the head and face was commonplace in ancient Greece. Zoroastrian free women too wore headdresses. A sign of being honest and chaste, women in Byzantine society had to be veiled in public.
Orthodox Jews also wear head coverings for religious reasons. Is that the Jewish Bible/The Old Testament?
Jewish law was no different. Associated with modesty, Jewish scholars considered a woman’s hair an erotic stimulus that had to be covered. Hasidic women today shave their heads after their wedding and repeat the shaving monthly. Other Jewish women wear a scarf to cover their hair. Yet others wear a wig.
How about in the Christian tradition? Is there a tradition of wearing head coverings for religious reasons?
Tertullian, an early father of the Christian Church advocated that all women are required to cover. This position was anchored in Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians:
“For if a woman does not have her head veiled, she may as well have her hair cut off. But if it is shameful for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should wear a veil.”
Only the “free” and “respectable” in society wore veils. The veil was a sign of the upper class in Mediterranean societies including Assyrian, Greek, Persian, Jewish and Christian. And it identified your religious affiliation.
So did Islam continue this tradition, or is the head covering in Islam different?
Islam also viewed dress within the context of modesty. The word hijab, in the Qur’ān, means a barrier between visitors at the Prophet’s home and his wives [Qur’ān, 33:55]. The word “jilbab” in the Qur’ān refers to a dress that covers the entire body but not the head. Many commentaries explained that the dress was an identifying mark to protect Muslim women from non-Muslim harassment and abuse.
What does the Qur’ān actually say about veiling?
The primary verse scholars rely upon in support of the hijab is verse 24:30 that reads: “Tell believing men to avert their eyes, and safeguard their private parts, and not to expose their attractions except what is visible. And let them wrap their shawls around their breast lines, and reveal their attractions only before their husbands…”
Is there anything in the hadith regarding the hijab?
There are sayings of the Prophet (hadiths) that require the head to be covered during prayer, a practice present in almost every religious tradition. But another hadith explains that a female body should be covered except for the hands, feet and face.
This hadith is narrated in two versions: one version states that when a woman reaches puberty she should dress this way while the other version says that a woman is required to dress this way.
Many Muslim scholars have interpreted the shawl to be the head cover. This, combined with the above hadiths, led many mainstream Muslims to believe that the hijab is an obligatory religious practice.
But many Muslim women today don’t wear the hijab. Is there a unanimous agreement today on what is a proper hijab for a Muslim woman?
With no ecclesiastical hierarchy, Muslims enjoy a great diversity in religious opinion. Today, millions of Muslim women believe the dress requirement is about modesty and humility, not about any specific uniform dress or head cover. Millions also believe that it is a requirement and is part of their religious practice, an article of faith.
Some western and non-western feminists claim that the hijab is oppression of Muslim women. Can you comment on this?
While the requirement to wear a veil may have, to a certain extent but not always, originated in gender inequality, sexual objectification and male dominance, it has evolved over the past few thousand years into a sign of religious piety, modesty and female empowerment in the Abrahamic faiths.
It is actually a sign of being an American that a Muslim American congresswoman is practicing her faith by wearing her hijab. Questioning congresswoman Ilhan’s American-ness for wearing the hijab is what is antithetical to the Constitution.
As long as it is voluntary to wear or not to wear the hijab, the hijab is in no way oppressive to Muslim women. In fact, the hijab has become a sign of female power, independence and cultural assertion in Muslim communities here and in the Muslim world.
Does American law clearly support a woman’s right to wear a hijab, regardless of what form the hijab takes?
Millions of Muslim women have a sincerely held religious belief that wearing the hijab is a religious requirement. The First Amendment guarantees all Americans the free exercise and practice of their faith. It is actually a sign of being an American that a Muslim American congresswoman is practicing her faith by wearing her hijab. Questioning congresswoman Ilhan’s American-ness for wearing the hijab is what is antithetical to the Constitution.