Koranic evidence that the legislation of veiling aims at making it possible for young men to harass slave girls

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Note: We were unable to provide links to the English translations. The links, therefore, refer to the original Arabic sources. If the researcher is familiar with both English and Arabic, he/she will be able to compare the two languages and judge the credibility and accuracy of the translation for themselves.

 

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The reason for the revelation of the verse of ḥijāb was to provide harassment of slave girls:

1)Verse of ḥijāb: the first verse revealed that legalized the veil:
The veil (ḥijāb) has been known in the Arabian Peninsula, where women used to place khimār over their heads and leave the upper chest, neck and ears without cover (Qurṭubī 15: 215). Woman would leave home dressed that way in front of men (Ibn Kathīr 10: 217), including those Muslim women who maintained their old dress code. But some of the social changes in Medīna impelled Muḥammad to impose the veil, because women, including Muḥammad’s wives themselves, had to go out at night to relieve themselves, but men would sit in the middle of the road to harass them. When women complained of this to Muḥammad (Qurṭubī 17: 230), he commanded them to wear a ḥijāb in fulfillment of the verse that says: O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks closely around themselves [when going out]. That makes it likely for them to be recognized and not be molested, and Allāh is all-forgiving, all-merciful. (Sūrah Al-Aḥzāb 33: 59).

Commentary of Ibn Kathīr: Here Allāh tells His Messenger to command the believing women — especially his wives and daughters, because of their position of honor — to draw their jilbābs [i.e., cloaks] over their bodies, so that they will be distinct in their appearance from the women of the Jāhiliyya and from slave women. The jilbāb is a cloak worn over the khimār [a scarf similar to a muffler] … ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭalḥa reported that Ibn ʿAbbās said that Allāh commanded the believing women, when they went out of their houses for some need, to cover their faces from above their heads with the jilbābs, leaving only one eye showing. Muḥammad b. Sīrīn said, “When I asked ʿUbayda As-Salmānī about the verse that says, “to draw their cloaks closely around themselves,” he covered his face and head, with just his left eye showing … As-Suddī said with regard to Allāh’s saying: “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks closely around themselves. That makes it likely for them to be recognized and not be molested,” there were lewd people of the inhabitants of Medīna who went out to the roads of Medīna at night after dark, to harass women. Now the dwellings of Medīna were narrow, and as night fell, women took to the roads to relieve themselves. Those lewd men were on the lookout for just this purpose. Whenever they saw a cloaked woman, they said, “This is a free woman. Stay away from her. If they saw that the woman was not cloaked, they said, “This is a slave girl.” And they would fall upon her. Mujāhid said, “They were to cloak themselves so that it might be recognized that they were free women, that no person should expose them to harm or indecency...
A photo illustrating Ibn Kathīr’s interpretation of the verse. Here the lewd men of Medīna identify slave women by their lack of a veil covering them. They, therefore, harass and rape them. Nakedness of a slave woman in Islam is just from the navel to the knee. 

 

 

Aṭ-Ṭabarī’s commentary: With regard to the command of Allāh, may His name be praised, to His Prophet Muḥammad, Allāh’s peace be upon him: “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers…,” they were not to imitate slave women in terms of their dress when they went out of their homes on an errand, by exposing their hair and faces. They should rather draw their cloaks closely to their bodies; for fear that a lewd person might verbally harass them if he knew they were free women. ʿAlī reported, on the authority of Abū Ṣaliḥ, on the authority of Muʿāyiwa, on the authority of ʿAlī, on the authority of Ibn ʿAbbās, that Allāh’s saying: “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks closely around themselves,” is a command from Allāh to the believing women, when they go out of their homes on an errand, to cover their faces from above their heads with jilbābs, showing only one eye. … Bishr reported that Yazīd said, on the authority of Saʿīd, on the authority of Qatāda, that Allāh’s saying, “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers” is an instruction from Allāh to them [i.e., the women] that when they go out, they should be veiled to the eyebrows; “That makes it likely for them to be recognized and not be molested.” Whenever a slave girl would pass by, they [i.e. lewd men] would abuse her. God, therefore, forbade free women to dress like slave women.
A photo illustrating Ṭabarī’s and Zamakhsharī’s interpretation of the verse. Young men identify slave women by their lack of a veil on their heads. They, therefore, harass them.

 

 

Commentary of Az-Zamakhsharī: Because “young men and some rascals” used to harass slave girls (and women) whenever they were out to relieve themselves between the palm trees and fields, and in some cases they even harassed free women, on the pretext that they could not distinguish between a free women and a slave, Muḥammad ordered free women to dress differently from slaves.
Explanations and comment:
As is clear from the commentaries, it was quite usual for Arab women before Islam to cover their heads. They wore khimārs over their heads and left the upper chest, neck and ears without cover, but when women, including Muḥammad’s wives, went out at night to relieve themselves, men would sit in the middle of the road to harass them. Therefore, this verse was revealed, ordering women to cover their faces with jilbābs, that the lewd men of Medīna might recognize them as free women and not harass them or fall upon them. This way they won’t come to any harm. So unveiling became a characteristic of slave girls and an indication that they were open to everyone. So the story of the veil began as a social legislation aiming at helping the lewd men of Medīna differentiate between free women and slave women, that they might harass and fall upon the slave women only, but stay away from free women. The principle, then, was not that women were a “nakeness” (ʿawra) and that they tempted men and, therefore, must be veiled. It was rather a sign to help immoral people identify which women they could molest and which ones to stay away from. If they found the women veiled, they did not molest them, but if they did not find them veiled, they fell upon them.
How merciless you are, Messenger of Allāh! What is the fault of slave women that they may suffer shame and be violated in this harsh way?

An image fully illustrating the difference between a free woman and a slave woman. A slave woman was naked except from the navel to the knees, while a free woman wore ḥijāb.

 

 

2) Further evidence of the fact that exposing the hair was an express command to slave women, and that they were forbidden to wear a veil:

2)a) When the Messenger of Allāh took Ṣafiyya bint Ḥuyay captive, Muslims wondered, “Is she (Ṣafiyya) considered as his wife or his slave girl [literally: a possession of his right hand.]?” Then they said, “If he orders her to veil herself, she will be one of the Mothers of the Believers; but if he does not order her to veil herself, she will be a slave girl.” So when the Messenger proceeded from there, he spared her a space behind him (on his she-camel) and put a screening veil between her and the people. Immediately Muslims were assured that she had become his wife. This incident is reported in »Ṣaḥīḥ Al-Bukhārī »book of marriage» Section on taking concubines and whoever freed his slave girl and then married her
4797 Reported Qutayba, on the authority of Ismāʿīl b. Jaʿfar, on the authority of Ḥāmid, on the authority of Anas, may Allāh be pleased with him: The Prophet stayed for three days between Khaybar and Medīna, and there he consummated his marriage with Ṣafiyya bint Ḥuyay … Muslims wondered, “Is she (Ṣafiyya) considered as his wife or his slave girl?” Then they said, “If he orders her to veil herself, she will be one of the Mothers of the Believers; but if he does not order her to veil herself, she will be a slave girl.” So when the Messenger proceeded from there, he spared her a space behind him (on his she-camel) and put a screening veil between her and the people.

2)B) Whenever ʿUmar saw a slave woman wearing ḥijāb, he struck her and said to her, “Do not imitate free women.” ʿUmar b. Al-Khaṭṭāb prohibited slave girls from wearing ḥijāb > Narrator: Anas b. Mālik. Transmitter: Al-Albānī > Source: Irwā̱ʾul-Ghalīl > Summary of the narrator’s judgment: of an authentic Isnād.
ʿUmar saw a slave woman of ours who had a veil on. He struck her and said, “Do not imitate free women.” This tradition means that ʿUmar saw this slave woman wearing a cover on her head, so he struck her to make her remove it from her head, so as not to look like a free woman.

 

2)C) Another piece of evidence comes from the following tradition: The slave women of ʿUmar, may Allāh be pleased with him, used to serve us with their hair exposed and breasts quivering (which means that they were scantily clad). Narrator: Anas b. Mālik > The transmitter: Bayhaqī > Source: As-Sunan Al-Kubrā of Al-Bayhaqī. Summary of the transmitter’s judgment: Authentic.
How could the slave girls in the house of Al-Fāruq ʿUmar b. Al-Khaṭṭāb (known as the Just) have their hair showing and breasts so exposed that they could be seen quivering, unless they were half naked? But then, wouldn’t they represent temptation to men? Where were the teachings concerning the importance of the veil, concealing one’s private parts and the prevention of temptation? Didn’t those slave girls have the same feminine charms and the capability of tempting men that free women had?
These pictures illustrate, to a large extent, that the slave girls in the house of ʿUmar b. Al-Khaṭṭāb were naked except from the navel to the knees.

 


 

2)D) Shaykh Al-Islam stated in Al-Fatāwā (15 | 448): The saying of Allāh: “Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks closely around themselves,” till the rest of the verse, is proof that only free women were commanded to be veiled, not slave women because he singled out his wives and daughters, and did not add “those who your right hand possesses,” your slave women, the slave women of your wives and daughters. This fact is confirmed by the report of the authentic Ḥadīth about the Prophet’s selection of Ṣafiyya bint Ḥuyay for himself. Muslims said: “If he orders her to veil herself, she will be one of the Mothers of the Believers; but if he does not order her to veil herself, she will be a slave girl.” This indicates that the ḥijāb was confined to free women only. There is evidence in the Ḥadīth that the state of being a Mother of the Believers was restricted to his wives, but not to his concubines. He also said (15 | 372): “The veil is confined to free women only, not to slave women, as was the custom (sunnah) of the believers at the time of the Prophet and his successors: that a free woman wore a veil, but a slave woman unveiled herself. Moreover, whenever ʿUmar saw a slave woman wearing ḥijāb, he would strike her and say to her, “Are you imitating free women?”.

 

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