It was a moment of peace and serenity; one of those moments where one feels detached from their surroundings and involuntarily close to something bigger and more important. It was a moment of reflection and deep connection. I found myself opening the Qur’aan to Surat Al-Ahzab (The Allied Parties). I had just watched a television programme where this ayah (verse) was mentioned in passing and for some reason I needed to read it to myself once again in more detail. I needed to read it with my heart this one time.
“O you Prophet, say to your spouses and your daughters and the women of believers…”
Women of believers! This ayah is talking to me. This message is for me. I found myself in a cautious and attentive mode, eyes widening with anticipation. My heart raced, what will I read next?
“…that they draw their outer garments closer to them…”
Be modest and be chaste. I contemplated for a moment. Cover up and do not expose yourself. I silently agreed as I searched for more.
“…that will (make) it likelier that they will be recognised…”
Recognised?! I read it again – recognised. Why does Allah want me to be recognised and what does He want me to be recognised as? Is it as a Muslim or is it as a true believer? I looked at myself for a second. Maybe He wants me to be identified as one who is close to Him, one whom He loves. Maybe He wants people to realise that I love Him and believe in Him. My heart beat with intensity. The meaning of this ayah is much bigger than I ever imagined, but wait, there is still more.
“…and so will not be hurt.”
The emotions building within me could not contain themselves anymore and my eyes watered instantly. Here was the reason being stated plain and simple. Is this why Allah wants me to be recognised? Allah wants me to cover up so that people can associate this modesty with His love for me. He wants to protect me! He wants me to be recognised and to be specifically distinguished from other women so that I could be protected.
“And Allah has been Ever-Forgiving, Ever-Merciful.”(33:59)
In spite of my misgivings and in spite of my weaknesses, He forgives and He is kind.
I never contemplated the meaning of this ayah in that way before. Just reading it with my heart and realising its sweet and poignant meaning brought tears of regret and shame to my eyes at Allah’s blatant affection. Tears that expressed the years I had wasted ignoring and reading this ayah superficially; living my life superficially. I remembered the times I had comforted myself with the thought that I was always conservatively dressed and modest in behaviour. I never felt any different from a non-Muslim who was also conservatively dressed and modest in behaviour. I never felt the need to be different; we are all humans after all. Religion is a way of life, not manifested in the way you look. Yet here was Allah saying it so clearly, that He wanted me to be different. He wanted people to know that these morals - modesty, chastity, dignity, strength of resolve and belief - these high values were inherent and central to Islam. He wanted me to be distinguished and identified in that sense. He wanted me to be protected so people with weak hearts would not hurt me! It was no longer a matter of just being conservative and modest in the regular sense. He wanted me to be identified by everyone, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, as someone who has these values. Yet how else would I be different if I already cover my whole body? How would I distinguish myself as one who is close to Allah? It suddenly dawned upon me like a bolt of lightning. The only way for me was to wear a scarf!
Many a time did I hear this ayah explained in a harsh, forthcoming way as a clear indication of it being an order to cover up and be veiled. It was always firmly indicated not only to cover one’s body but also one’s hair. I had always wondered about the significance of covering one’s hair. Would a head cover make that much of a difference? Surely it must be an over-exaggeration. Then again what about the millions of women the world over who cling to their scarves like it had become a part of them. I never understood it until this moment. It was suddenly all crystal clear! That last part of the ayah, Allah’s Ever-Forgiving, Ever-Merciful nature was always viewed as a warning. Yet never did I consider it as a gentle gesture of affection. The same way one protects a treasure from harm by covering it up and looking after it. How blind and deaf I had been! A stance not shared by any of His creations to be likened to a valuable token of affection.
I wiped my tears as I felt the shame filling my heart at the wasted time and years. How weak one is in reality. How non-obliging and ungrateful we can be as humans to Allah’s boundless blessings. May Allah forgive me. I knew that this was the beginning of a life-changing moment. My outlook to the world would never ever be the same again.
This is the first in a series of reflection on hijaab.