Why does Islam keep women behind the veil?
The Islamic veil or "hijab" refers to the loose-fitting, opaque outer garments with which a Muslim woman covers her head and body(1). Muslim women cover themselves with such garments before all men apart from their closest relatives. They do not do so to please their fathers, brothers or husbands, but only because God has ordained it. In reality, Islam did not introduce modest dress but merely endorsed it as part of God's religion. Yet, dress is only one aspect of a total concept. "Hijab" is not merely a concealing garment but includes proper behavior, manners, speech and appearance in public.
In order to accept any law or instruction, a person needs either to be convinced of the benefit behind it or to trust in the wisdom of the one who prescribed it. Muslims believe that the wisdom of God is absolute and perfect and that He knows the nature and best interests of His creations(mankind included) better than they do themselves; thus, a believer willingly obeys God's directives as much as he or she is able.
To some, the matter of women's dress might seem trivial. Islam, however, assigns to it moral, social and legal dimensions. When women observe the proper Islamic dress, they protect their own honor and reputation and contribute greatly towards peace and order in society.
Modesty is a virtue which Islam demands of both men and women, not only for the protection of women but to maintain the spiritual uprightness of men. In view of the sexual
anarchy that prevails in many parts of the world, the need for modest dress and behavior in both men and women is obvious. However, on account of differences between males and females in nature and temperament, a greater amount of privacy is required for women than for men, and this relates, among other things, to their manner of dress.
Islam has no fixed standard as to the style of dress or type of clothing that must be worn. However, it must be wide and thick enough as not to reveal the contours of the figure. Muslim women are responsible for making their homes attractive and comfortable, and Islam encourages a woman to beautify herself for her husband and immediate family members rather than publicly exhibiting her physical charms and worldly possessions.
Muslim women who cover themselves do not find it impractical or interfering with their activities in the various fields of life. It is often forgotten that the modern Western style of dress is a recent phenomenon. Looking at the clothing of women as recently as seventy years ago, we see that it is similar to the dress prescribed by Islam. Those hard-working, active Western women were not at all inhibited by their long, full dresses and head coverings.
The covering of women's bodies is not a logical basis on which to claim that women are subservient to men. It would be far more appropriate to charge a society with exploitation of females when it tolerates pornography rather than when it encourages modesty. It is ironic that uncontested freedom is granted to those who choose to publicly expose much of their bodies, while severe censure is launched against women who consider that modest covering is a religious obligation that cannot be disregarded.
Islam teaches that women are to be evaluated for their intelligence, opinions, skills, deeds and inner qualities rather than physical appearance. A Muslim woman who covers her body is making a statement about herself and her identity; she has dignity, respectability, self-esteem and is proud of her Islam. Whoever sees her will know that she is not available to men or interested in advances, that she has an upright moral character, and that she will not permit sexuality to enter into any of her necessary interactions with the opposite sex. Women often see their Islamic dress as empowering because they are taken seriously and respected rather than being viewed as sex objects – they are judged only by their character and conduct.
(With Permission from Saheeh International)
(1) While basically the same as the clothing depicted in traditional Christian representations of the Virgin Mary, this type
of dress is currently singled out as a sign of Islamic extremism.