What’s Going On Behind the Veil?

When you see her you know. The woman may be wearing a simple headscarf, or she may be completely covered head to toe, including gloves and a transparent covering over her eyes. This is the sign of a woman who follows the tenets of Islam. Both the Qur’an and the Hadith require that when a woman leaves her house for any reason she must cover her “personal adornment and physical charms” from everyone but her husband.[1]

There is a fairly broad range of thought about how much of herself the woman must cover. This may depend on the country or upon the particular branch of Islam to which she belongs. The simplest form of the veil (or hijab – literally veil, curtain) covers just the head and the shoulders. At the other end of the scale is the burqa, which completely covers the body, including a transparent mesh over the eyes.[2]

But what is the purpose of the hijab? Why are the women to cover themselves so completely? It is because upon them is placed the responsibility for the honor of not only her family but of the entire community, as this extended quote reveals.

When Allah (SWT) commanded our sisters to observe Hijab, it was because of the universal damages that would be caused by refusing to observe it. It is not a matter of individual behavior, as many people may think. A woman going out exposing her charms attracts men, which sets off a chain of undesirable events, causing lot of harm to several people. Thus, the indecent behavior of one person affects the community as a whole. Although the person, who originally caused the damage, is to be blamed for all the consequences, other members of the community are also responsible to some extent for allowing such a thing to happen. Therefore, it becomes a collective responsibility of all of us to ensure that such damages are not caused….
Discarding Hijab will harm not only one’s own self but also millions of others. Exposure of physical charm of our women may destroy many homes and cause innumerable rapes and murders for which we all are responsible.
It is pertinent to relate one of the several heart-breaking stories caused by discarding Hijab: A young innocent man, who saw the photograph of an attractive woman, was immediately infatuated by her physical charm. Unfortunately, he had neither wealth nor position to get closer to her. To fulfill his desire, he though [sic] of getting money quickly by any means and resorted to stealing.
Finally, he ended up in prison for robbing a few people and killing one.
Who is to be blamed for all the consequences but the person who caused them? Had that woman observed Hijab and refrained from displaying her attractions, these crimes would not have taken place.
Our Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) has said that on the Day of Judgment, such people would be brought forward for trail [sic] on charges of quasi-crimes in which they had a share of responsibility. They would plead that they did not commit those crimes, but then they would be told that they removed their Hijab and attracted this person, which made him indulge in those crimes.[3]

Notice that the man who committed the crime bears little of the responsibility for the crime. Instead it is the woman’s fault – because she tempted him by not covering herself! Even Allah himself will hold her responsible. That’s a heavy responsibility for a woman to bear. One wonders why Allah (or Muhammad) would place such responsibility in the hands of those who are considered deficient in intelligence.[4]

Women who are found guilty of violating the commands concerning their dress may find themselves victims of honor killings.[5] The woman’s relative will kill her in order to preserve or renew the family’s honor. Other reasons often cited for honor killings include marital infidelity, failing to serve a meal on time, and seeking a divorce.[6] Experts suggest the latter (seeking a divorce) is likely the reason why 37-year-old Aasiya Hassan was allegedly beheaded by her husband in New York earlier this year.[7]

Surprisingly, but perhaps understandably, some Muslim women actually come to think of hijab as liberating. As one writes,

A woman who adheres to the tenets of Islam is required to follow the dress code called Hijab,… It is an act of faith and establishes a Muslim’s life with honor, respect and dignity. The Hijab is viewed as a liberation for women, in that the covering brings about “an aura of respect” (Takim, 22) and women are recognized as individuals who are admired for their mind and personality, “not for their beauty or lack of it” (Mustafa) and not as sex objects.
Contrary to popular belief, the covering of the Muslim woman is not oppression but a liberation from the shackles of male scrutiny and the standards of attractiveness. In Islam, a woman is free to be who she is inside, and immune from being portrayed as sex symbol and lusted after.[8]

The veiling clearly offers what at least some women view as a form of protection. But Samuel Zwemer provides one more compelling glimpse at the woman behind the veil when he writes:

In Arabia before the advent of Islam it was customary to bury female infants alive. Mohammed improved in the barbaric methods and discovered a way by which all females could be buried alive and yet live on – namely, the veil.[9]

What these women have not understood is that true liberty is to be found in Jesus Christ. While God’s holiness demands that His law be fulfilled, in His mercy He sent His own Son to fulfill that law for us – by His death on the cross. And what does the Gospel of Matthew say? When Jesus died on the cross, at that moment the veil in the Temple tore from top to bottom (Matt. 27:51). That veil, that barrier between us and God was severed! The way is open for you to come to God, throw down the heavy burden of your veil, and receive instead the robe of His righteousness! [Isaiah 61:10]

To be sure, turning from Allah to the God of the Bible is a difficult choice for a Muslim woman to make. She is almost sure to lose everything: her family, her home, her children, perhaps her freedom, and possibly even her life. But as one woman writes, “After spending all your life in the darkness, it hurts your eyes to see the light for the first time. But I can never go back to the darkness.”[10]

For more information on the issues facing women in Islam, we recommend our new book by John Ankerberg and Emir Caner entitled The Truth About Islam & Women (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2009). Contact our office or visit our website for ordering information.


  1. http://www.answers.com/topic/hijab
  2. “Muslim Veils – From Hijab to Burqa,” http://www.apologeticsindex.org/505-muslim-veils-hijab-burqa.
  3. “Why Hijab is Necessary,” http://www.ezsoftech.com/akram/hijab.asp.
  4. Bukhari’s Hadith, Volume 1, Book 6, Number 301.
  5. For example, see http://www.spiegel.de/international/0,1518,344374,00.html.
  6. Hillary Mayell, “Thousands of Women Killed for Family “Honor,” National Geographic News, http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2002/02/0212_020212_honorkilling_2.html.
  7. Joshua Rhett Miller, “Beheading in New York Appears to Be Honor Killing, Experts say,” Fox News, http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,494785,00.html.
  8. Sehmina Jaffer Chopra, “Liberation by the Veil,” http://www.islam101.com/women/hijbene.html.
  9. Phil Parshall, Lifting the Veil: The World of Muslim Women (Waynesboro, GA: Gabriel Publishing, 2002), p. 67, quoted in John Ankerberg, Emir Caner, The Truth About Islam & Women (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2009), p. 52.

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