The Quran is the Holy Book of Muslims believed to be the direct and unadulterated word of God transmitted to the Prophet Mohamed (d. 632 C.E), through the archangel Gabriel over a 22-year period, beginning in 610 C.E. The Revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Mohamed is said to have taken place while he was in meditative retreat in Mt. Hira, at the outskirts of Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia. The Quran was revealed in Arabic, hence the prestigious, sacred, position of the Arabic language among Muslims until today.
The Quran consists of 114 chapters (known in Arabic as suras) and each chapter is subdivided into verses (known in Arabic as ayat).
The majority of Muslims and non-Muslims believe that the Quran explicitly and unequivocally prescribes veiling upon Muslim women. In this section, we propose to present what the Quran says about veiling.
In order to learn what the Quran says about veiling and in what terms this Book addresses the question of women’s clothing, we must look at two main types of passages in the Quran:
- Every occurrence of the term hijab (the Arabic word that is regularly translated as veil in English); and
- All Quranic verses that address the question of Muslim women’s proper attire, even though the Quran may not use the term hijab.
The term hijab in the Quran
The term hijab (in bold in the quotations below) is used in the Quran a total of five times (Q 7:46; Q 19:16-17; Q 33:53; Q 41:5; Q 42:51). These passages are listed below for easy reference. The English translations of Quranic verses provided here are by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem in his new translation of the Quran (Oxford World’s Classics, 2004).
We invite the reader to explore other Quran translations of the same passages to see how the term hijab has been rendered by other translators. The following link gives access to the full Quranic text in Arabic, accompanied by different translations and oral recitation: Multimedia Quran.
A barrier divides the two groups with men on its heights recognizing each group by their marks: they will call out to the people of the Garden, ‘Peace be with you!’-they will not have entered, but they will be hoping, etc.”
Mention in the Quran the story of Mary. She withdrew from her family to a place to the east and secluded herself away. We sent Our Spirit to appear before her in the form of a perfected man.”
Believers, do not enter the Prophet’s apartments for a meal unless you are given permission to do so; do not linger until [a meal] is ready. When you are invited, go in; then when you have taken your meal, leave. Do not stay on and talk, for that would offend the Prophet, though he would shrink from asking you to leave. God does not shrink from the truth. When you ask his wives for something, do so from behind a screen: this is purer both for your hearts and for theirs.
They [the unbelievers] say “Our hearts are encased against [the faith] you call us to; our ears are heavy; there is a barrier between us and you. So you do whatever you want, and so shall we.”
It is not granted to any mortal that God should speak to him except through revelation or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger to reveal by His command what He will: He is exalted and wise.
Interestingly, those Quranic verses that use the word hijab do not address the question of Muslim women’s clothing. In order to continue to explore Quranic discourses on proper Muslim women’s attire, we must look at other Quranic verses that deal specifically with this topic.
The Quran on women’s clothing
There are three references to women’s clothing in the Quran that are made without the use of the term hijab. All three references listed below. In these three Quranic passages about women’s clothing, the Quran uses the Arabic word khimar to refer to women’s headscarves (Q 24:31), jilbab to their outer garments (Q 33:59), and zinah to refer to their “finery” (Q 32:33).
وَقُلْ لِلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَى جُيُوبِهِنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَائِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَائِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي أَخَوَاتِهِنَّ أَوْ نِسَائِهِنَّ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُنَّ أَوِ التَّابِعِينَ غَيْرِ أُولِي الْإِرْبَةِ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ أَوِ الطِّفْلِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يَظْهَرُوا عَلَى عَوْرَاتِ النِّسَاءِ وَلَا يَضْرِبْنَ بِأَرْجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعْلَمَ مَا يُخْفِينَ مِنْ زِينَتِهِنَّ وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ (31)
“[Prophet], tell believing men to lower their glances and guard their private parts: that is purer for them. God is well aware of everything they do. And tell believing women that they should lower their glances, guard their private parts, and not display their charms beyond what [it is acceptable] to reveal; they should let their headscarves fall to cover their necklines and not reveal their charms except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their womenfolk, their slaves, such men as attend them who have no sexual desire, or children who are not yet aware of women’s nakedness; they should not stamp their feet so as to draw attention to any hidden charms. Believers, all of you, turn to God so that you may prosper.”
“Wives of the Prophet, you are not like any other woman. If you are truly mindful of God, do not speak too softly in case the sick at heart should lust after you, but speak in an appropriate manner; stay at home, and do not flaunt your finery as they used to in the pagan past; keep up the prayer, give the prescribed alms, and obey God and His Messenger.”
“And those who undeservedly insult believing men and women will bear the guilt of slander and flagrant sin. Prophet, tell your wives, your daughters, and women believers to make their outer garments hang low over them so as to be recognized and not insulted: God is most forgiving, most merciful.”