Although long seen as the most distinctive emblem of Islam, the veil is, surprisingly, not enjoined upon Muslim women anywhere in the Quran. The tradition of veiling and seclusion (known together as hijab) was introduced into Arabia long before Muhammad, primarily through Arab contacts with Syria and Iran , where the hijab was a sign of social status. After all, only a woman who need not work in the fields could afford to remain secluded and veiled.
In the Ummah, there was no tradition of veiling until around 627 C.E., when the so-called “verse of hijab” suddenly descended upon the community. That verse, however, was addressed not to women in general, but exclusively to Muhammad’s wives:
“Believers, do not enter the Prophet’s house…unless asked. And if you are invited…do not linger. And when you ask something from the Prophet’s wives, do so from behind a hijab. This will assure the purity of your hearts as well as theirs” (33:53).
This restriction makes perfect sense when one recalls that Muhammad’s house was also the community’s mosque: the center of religious and social life in the Ummah. People were constantly coming in and out of this compound at all hours of the day. When delegations from other tribes came to speak with Muhammad, they would set up their tents for days at a time inside the open courtyard, just a few feet away from the apartments in which Muhammad’s wives slept. And new emigrants who arrived in Yathrib would often stay within the mosque’s walls until they could find suitable homes.
When Muhammad was little more than a tribal Shaykh, this constant commotion could be tolerated. But by 627 C.E., when he had become the supremely powerful leader of an increasingly expanding community, some kind of segregation had to be enforced to maintain the inviolability of his wives. Thus, the tradition, borrowed from the upper classes of Iranian and Syrian women, of veiling and secluding the most important women in society from the peering eyes of everyone else.
That the veil applied solely to Muhammad’s wives is further demonstrated by the fact that the term for donning the veil, darabat al-hijab, was used synonymously and interchangeably with “becoming Muhammad’s wife.” For this reason, during the Prophet’s lifetime, no other women in the Ummah observed hijab. Of course, modesty was enjoined on all believers, and women in particular were instructed to
“draw their clothes around them a little to be recognized as believers and so that no harm will come to them” (33:60).
More specifically, women should
“guard their private parts…and drape a cover (khamr) over their breasts” when in the presence of strange men (24:31-32).
But, as Leila Ahmed observes, nowhere in the whole of the Quran is the term hijab applied to any woman other than the wives of Muhammad.
It is difficult to say with certainty when the veil was adopted by the rest of the Ummah, though it was most likely long after Muhammad’s death. Muslim women probably began wearing the veil as a way to emulate the Prophet’s wives, who were revered as “the Mothers of the Ummah.” But the veil was neither compulsory, nor for that matter, widely adopted until generations after Muhammad’s death, when a large body of male scriptural and legal scholars began using their religious and political authority to regain the dominance they had lost in society as a result of the Prophet’s egalitarian reforms.

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Comments (17)

  1. Said A Said says:

    saying, Hijab is exclusively for Prophet wives is a big blockmindedness! If indeed you understand the verses that oder the wives of Prophet to wwar Hijab is as well ordering Muslims women to do the same. And the way you adress our beloved Prophet SAW shows who you are! We seek refuge from Allah SWT from being like you!

  2. i’d lyk 2 refer d writer bak 2 d follown verses u quoted. Chptr33v59 whc says.’O Prophet!tel ur wives n ur daughters n d women believers 2 draw deir cloaks(veils)al ovr deir bodies…’ mind u women believers r mentioned here,so dey did nt copy d wearing of veil 4rm prophets wives as u put bt rathr it ws ordained by Allah upon d women believrs in general.dis is a dres code given 2 dm by Allah. In d same chptr33v33 Allah forbids dm 2 display dr bodies,i quote.”And stay in ur houses,n do nt display urslves like d@ of d times of ignorance,…”d times of ignorance is time wen women xpose dr bodies 2 attrct men. D secnd chptr24v31 says,i quote.”And tel d believin women 2 lower dr gaze n protect dr private parts n nt 2 show off dr adornment xcpt only d@ whc is apparent(like palms of hnds,face or feet)n 2 draw dr veils al ovr juyubihinna(i.e dr faces,bodies,necks,bosoms etc) n nt 2 reveal dr adornment xcpt 2 dr husbands….” to protect dr private parts’ means 2 abstain 4rm illegal sexual acts. If u undrstnd d word ‘khamr’ in arabic,d arabic context in d Quran says.”Wal yadribna bi khumurihinna ala juyubihinna…” Here d word ‘khumurihinna’ is a word borrowd 4rm ‘khamr’. We al knw khamr has 2 do wth alcohol,sth d@ twist brain wen consumed. Ds word is borrowd 2 indicate d@ women shud use veil 2 covr dmslves. D word khamr here refer 2 veil,whc women use 2 cover dr head.Xample of d word khamr is in anodr verse in chptr2v219,i’l quote in Arabc context,”Yas’alunaka anil khamri wal maisir”(Trnsltn)”They ask u(O muhammad s.a.w)concernin alcoholic drink n gamblin…”. In anodr chptr5v90,khamr ws also mentiond as alcohol. So pls do nt conclude wthout deeply researchn on d Quran. Do nt tek such negative responsibility on ur head 2 mek women dres wrngly bcz Allah wil hold u accountable. In chptr17v53 Allah say,”And Say 2 my slaves d@ dey shud say dose words d@ r d best,…”. On ds verse i’d lyk 2 draw curtain,May Allah gv us useful knowledge d@ wil benefit us,ameen.

  3. ibrahim A, says:

    I refer to the openning statement of this your write up which made awrong assertion as follows:

    “Although long seen as the most distinctive emblem of Islam, the veil is, surprisingly, not enjoined upon Muslim women anywhere in the Quran”

    For correction PLS refer to QUR an CHAPTER 33 (s.Ahzab) VERSES 59 and you will see where Allah SAW commands the use of veils by women to cover their body.

  4. To d writer,weder u re a muslim or nt pls alwas expentiat on ur resch,stud it vere wel b4 publicatn.may Allah (S.W.T) n pls repent 2 Him cos He s d Alpha n omega

  5. jada says:

    the write has clearly showed that weather he is not a muslim or he is ignorant of the subject he is refering to. islam is not a religion that you can just write on and paste it without veting your write up or even asking other fellow muslims scolars around you. this is a clear wrong research and even the way the write wrote/quote the name of the prophet MUHAMMAD(S.A.W)is clear testimony that he is not a muslim every learned muslim be it male or female young or old knows the prophet name cannot be mentioned or written without putting SALLAHU ALAIHI WA SALLAM (SAW)

  6. Anas kademi says:

    Pls do nt write on anythn tht u ar nt knowledgeabl of. There ar many verses in the Nobl Qur’an tht direct muslim women to wear hijab as quoted by brothrs above. And beside u wl find many authentc hadiths sahih also on hijab. What u wrote is nt the origin of hijab. BE MINDFL OF UR WORDS !!!

  7. Tella Nurudeen Adeola says:

    Well!any thing good that the wives of prophet used has become SUNNAH for other muslim females.

  8. The writer please recite ‘ISTIGFAR’ go back to school, because what you write is just your own opinion but the real meaning of those ayats are to all Muslim wives.
    “Then woe to those who write the Book with their own hands, and then say:”This is from Allah,” to traffic with it for miserable price!- Woe to them for what their hands do write, and for the gain they make thereby” Quran 2(BAQARA):verse79.

    “Nay, those who seek gain in evil, and are girt round by their sins,- they are companions of the Fire: Therein shall they abide (For ever)” Q2:81.

  9. Bello Ahmed D says:

    Little knowledge they said is dangerous, pls make research before u go public, Islam is a wholistic religion whose foundation is knowledge.

  10. pls stop going into something that u dont ve full knowledge of it in public

  11. Zahra Malik says:

    This is actually taken directly from Reza Aslan’s published non-fiction book: “No God But God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam” (Random House, 2005, Ch.3). So though you may not agree with what he is saying, it is definitely coming from a well-researched and somewhat respected source. The issue of posting a plagiarized piece, without any reference to the original author, is perhaps a more troubling issue (to me, at least).

  12. MisbahuKatsina says:

    I wish to quote your write up thus:

    ”…modesty was enjoined on all believers, and women in particular were instructed to
    “draw their clothes around them a little to be recognized as believers and so that no harm will come to them” (33:60).
    More specifically, women should
    “guard their private parts…and drape a cover (khamr) over their breasts” when in the presence of strange men (24:31-32)”

    AND to say you only mean mischief by ignoring Your Own Words of need for MODESTY, which is typified by Hijab.

  13. Sheri says:

    Repent to Allah for this publication if you are a real Muslim .

  14. Maina says:

    Writer,pls come to ur senses!Islam is not a religion of ignorance,STOP writting on this kind of non sense.

  15. ABU ABDULLAH says:

    Wether it ws 1st pub.by R.Aslan&recomfirm by laila ahmed,its a blatant sfish msinterpretatn & lies on qur’an&history.may u hv liv 1500yrs ago 2 infm us of wt arab cultur b4 islam is lyk.indeed many cmnt abov hv refa u 2 d soln of ur ignorant blather

  16. ABU ABDULLAH says:

    What sought of injustice!?ignorin part of d verse dt pofer answ 2 ur decission.wt are ur historical ground?afta all,d way u adrs nobl propht hs clearly defin ur identity.wht a blatant liar.shame on ur anonymity

  17. Abba lawal says:

    Muslims should know that enimies of Islam can do everything and anything including wrong quatations from the Holy Quraan which ammounts to kufr. At this age Islamic knowledge has been completed that even a 7yr old Muslim child cannot be easily decieved by wrong quotations from the Holy Quraan because he has been taught and no devil or agent of Shaytan can deceive him

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