By : Ustadz Faqihuddin Abdul Kodir, MA.

Public discourse seems to never quit defining everything related to women. If jilbab is always to be disputed; turban, cap, or other attributes which adhere to men are not so. Jilbab is so interesting because it is worn by the women. Designs, colors, models, business, social, political, and what is not less interesting is labeling Islamic or non-Islamic. In another expression: whether it has been already fit with the Shari’a or not. It will always be attractive to be discussed and to be defined. In the context of Islamic studies, particularly in the Hadith and fiqh (Islamic Jurisprudence), the discussion cannot be separated from the other two key words, namely ‘slander’ and ‘ornament / aurat’. Unfortunately, the discussion of these two key words often discriminates women. The women then, because they are often considered unveiling their ornament and enticing, are proclaimed as the main cause of moral decadence of the people and nation. 

This paper would like to discuss those two key words, together with its relation with the jilbab, in the perspective of reciprocal (mubadalah) based on Hadith studies. The discussion is presented to create mutual understanding, so that the ethic of mutual responsibility could appear, does not discriminate and does not humiliate. That women are interesting is natural and so are the men. Likewise, if one is interested in the other. Attractiveness and attentiveness are natural. Being a problem, if “attractive” and “attentive” are only defined, managed, and controlled from monolithic viewpoint, that is the men alone. Thus, when it brings all benefits for men, on the contrary it brings disgrace to women. So anything must be viewed in the fair manner and reciprocal in order that it will not happen. The study of this Hadith, through the issue of jilbab, will help to straighten this perspective.

Start from Slander

A Hadith, “Women are slander of my ummah (people)” is familiar in the ears of many Muslims, especially among the scholars of Hadith. It was narrated by al-Bukhari in his Book (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab an-Nikah, no. 5096). Shahih Bukhari is regarded as the most authentic book after the Qur’an. But what does it mean to us, what does it mean for men and women? This is the beginning of a problem. Simply, slander is usually interpreted as teaser, sexually attractive, and potentially to be able to make men deviate from the right path and obedience. This is the definition we often find from the books, sermons, and speeches conducted by men since the beginning until now.

This is surely the male’s definition. Precisely, the definition by which the men put themselves as the subjects which determine “what and who the teaser is”, while women are being defined. Men are teased but they are determinant subjects and women are the teaser but they are determined objects. From the viewpoint of men, “attractiveness” and “attentiveness“ of the women are controlled and managed. This, later, manifests in any kind of teachings and guidance, among others is through the jilbab. Apart from any views regarding limitation, design, and model; anyone views that jilbab is compulsory / good / important to ensure that women are not supposed to be the slander that are able to mislead men. But this viewpoint surely can be reversed that any women who become the slander are not supposed to be the victims of men’s violence. That is the main function of jilbab.  

The question is, are the women who wear jilbab not “interesting” anymore? No longer have potentiality to “tease”? No longer “mislead” the men? If we ask the answer to the men, it is certainly “yes”. Therefore, the rules of jilbab will never end at this point. Why, because of the differences of men’s viewpoint in looking and perceiving women’s attractiveness, from one person to another. The difference in time, place, culture and ideology also influences. Jilbab alone, in fact, is not enough. Precisely, it has not finished yet. For instance, jilbab should be loose, for some people. It should be invisible, for others. It should be dark, for many Ulama (Muslim scholars) in the Middle East. It must cover all parts of the body including the face, according to the Salafi scholars. 

Is the jilbab enough? In fact, it is not. Because slander has attached to the women’s body, jilbab is not enough. It is never enough, even if it is the loose one, and has already covered all parts of the body. Or it has been dark, even the black one. So except jilbab, it needs additional rules in order that the slander of women does not mislead the Ummah. They must live at home, not allowed to work or any activities. This view is adopted by many Ulama of the Middle East, especially Salafi-Wahhabi. The government of Taliban, in Afghanistan, has demonstrated this rule to the world in the name of Islam, the Quran, and the Hadith. It is not surprising, in Indonesia, there are also many Ulama or common people who have the same point of view.  

At pesantren (Islamic boarding school), such Hadith also spreads, though it is weak: “good women are those who never see men and have never been seen by men”. Another Hadith that also spreads among ordinary Arabian and possibly Indonesian: “The best place for women is the home. And the best women are those who never leave the house except when they get married due to moving to husband’s house, or when they die due to moving to the grave”. These both Hadith certainly have been denied by prominent Muslim scholar Shaikh Muhammad al-Ghazali from al-Azhar. But the impact of these Hadith may still adhere among the men and possibly the women.

Undoubtedly, women are slander. But do we ever think that men are also the slander? In the Qur’an, the word “slander” is reciprocal. Anything in life can be a slander for anyone (the Qur’an, 21: 35). Every person also can be a slander for others (Qur’an, 6: 53 and 25: 20). Property, family, every pleasure, knowledge and faith are also the slander (Qur’an, 8: 28; 39: 49 and 64: 15). Even, angels, revelations, and the apostles are also considered as the slander for humans (Qur’an, 2: 102; 17: 60 and 44: 17). Therefore, the above explanation that women are slander is meaningless, because men are also slander. Let’s try to think in the manner how the men look at women as slander and apply it to look at men. So the men are teaser, sexually attractive, and potentially are able to make women deviate from the right path and obedience. 

Then, if there are any women who go astray from the truth and obedience, we could blame the men, as the slander, as the cause of moral decadence that must be controlled. Then we imagine the emergence of rules as such to restrain the men’s slander potentiality. They are prohibited to wear any dress, to perform any activity, and to go everywhere. With the same reason, they likely mislead the women. Indeed, this point of view is unthinkable. Because this world has been designed as such in men’s perspective who control and define.

If we do not want any restraints on men, why do we want to restrain women? Just because we believe in the above Hadith of al-Bukhari, our understanding becomes unfair. So back to the original question, what does it mean for us? What does it mean for men and women? Should we understand slander to restrain women? Is there another meaning of the above Hadith which is fairer and does not discriminate women? Is there another understanding which is more reciprocal or mutual? I think there are many, it can be, and it is supported by Hadith and even the verses in Quran. It is just hidden because so far our viewpoint is never reciprocal but just controls and even marginalizes women. 

Slander is defined as anything interesting. Anything interesting will tease. It is natural and reasonable. If it is related to humans, we do not need to restrain them so that they are no longer honorable and independent human being. It is enough to remind them. To those who are attractive, they are supposed to be mindfulness. While to those who are easily attracted, it is better to them to keep away. This is the message of the Qur’an in Surah an-Nur. Jilbab, or precisely covering ornament (aurat) was born in such social context, to be more mindfulness and maintain ourselves, for all the parties. We are not supposed to make various prohibitions, even any restraints of life. Moreover, it is haphazardly conducted by men to women. 

Covering the ‘Aurat

If we only read the Qur’anic’s verses and Hadith, without explanation from tafsir (commentary) and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), we actually will not get certainty regarding the limitations of one’s body which must be covered, or being well-known as ornament or finery (aurat). The Qur’anic verses which talk about this are more general and associated with social etiquette and modesty. It is the same subject, even mentioned concurrently with the verses which speak about greeting, telling or asking permission before entering someone’s house, and the suggestion to behave good to the others and likewise the Hadith. In addition, the explanation on limitation of aurat can be found in tafsir and fiqh. Still, there is a different opinion among the Ulama. Today, the difference is still going on and will never end.  

For instance, Hadith about chador or niqab which covers the face, the text of this Hadith is the Prophet forbade women to wear niqab during ihram in pilgrimage / hajj (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab as-Sayd Jaza, No. 1838). Then the interpretation of this Hadith, because niqab was prohibited during the ihram in pilgrimage, then the women were used to wear it in the life time of the Prophet. Like wearing sewed clothes and perfume is prohibited while doing ihram in pilgrimage. It means that women were used to wear niqab outside the pilgrimage. Because it was commonly used by the women outside of the pilgrimage in the time of the Prophet, then it is supposed to be worn by other women following the custom of the women during the lifetime of the Prophet. This is the reason of wearing niqab. But is wearing sewed clothes, using perfume and wearing head cover for men also required outside the pilgrimage? Since this is also prohibited in the time of ihram in the pilgrimage. That is the question of people who do not consider niqab as obligation. 

The Hadith of Abu Dawud about Asma bint Abu Bakr who was reminded by the Prophet in order not to show the parts of her body except face and palms is also debated by the scholars of Hadith regarding its status (Sunan Abu Dawud, Kitab al-Libas, no. 4104). Abu Dawud himself considered it as weak Hadith. But there is another better Hadith also narrated by Abu Dawud about Umm Salamah who was asked to wear khimars to cover her head and clothes that extends covering the feet. (Sunan Abu Dawud, Kitab al-Salah, no. 640). Another Hadith narrated by Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah also about women’s praying who wear khimars (Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab ath-Thaharah, no. 655). Therefore, the explanation of fiqh regarding covering aurat (ornament) is only found in the chapter of the requirements of prayer, not in the chapter of clothing or jewelry.  

The Ulama of fiqh distinguish the aurat of men and women. Women are also divided into two, slave and free women. For free men, slave men, and slave women, the aurat which must be covered is only limited between the navel and the two knees. The Ulama argue that they are supposed to work, especially on the outside. It will be burden if they are asked to cover most of their body. There is also no explanation from the Quranic verses and Hadith. Only Ibn Hazm who states, the limitations of the slave women are similar to that of the free woman. Both are women. 

So what is the limitation of aurat for free women? The whole body is aurat according to the majority of the Ulama. The majority consider face and both palms can be unveiled. Some other Ulama, from school of Hanafi: half of both hands as well as the ankle can be unveiled. The reason is because it makes difficult for women if entirely covered.  Then why is the aurat of slave women differentiated from that of free women? Again, it is because of masyaqqah (difficulty) and work. In particular analysis, considering this as a social identity, in which the free women do not want to be similar with slave women who passing by, going to the market to help the employers, working in the fields, and providing domestic service.

That is the interpretation of jilbab for the purpose of covering aurat discussed by Ulama of fiqh. Then, can the same reason, namely masyaqqah and work, applied for women also? Some Ulama also elaborate between the aurat at home and outside home, between in public and in front of women’s own family, between in front of men who are sexually active and who are inactive or impotent. Besides, it is also distinguished between young and adult women. Thus, eventually covering aurat is the matter of courtesy and propriety. Defining it will be different from one time to another time and also the place. It is closer to cultural issues rather than religious requirements.

Jilbab: between Freedom and Restraint

Actually the term jilbab is only known in Indonesia. In the Middle East, it is known as hijab. However, both jilbab and hijab, which are understood and practiced now, throughout the Islamic world, are not exactly the same as the terms used by the Quran. Jilbab, for instance in the Qur’an, means the long clothes. While hijab also means curtain divider in the room, instead of a veil. But apart from that, in the Qur’an and the Hadith, there is the teaching on keeping ourselves especially related to covering aurat of the body as already mentioned above. The teaching is then translated into the term of hijab or jilbab

According to Jamal al-Banna, the younger uterine brother of Hasan al-Banna, the founder of Ikhwanul Muslimin, jilbab / hijab is a kind of domestication of women. Through the jilbab, the women formerly were prohibited to leave the house. If they want to go outside, they are supposed to wear jilbab, supervised, controlled, even accompanied by a mahram. Even, that is only for limited affairs. But now, as being practiced by the majority of the Muslim in the world, the hijab is an expression of dressing in the public for courtesy and may be to keep away from naughty men. As long as not to restrain and prohibit the activities of women, jilbab is good from Islamic perspective and could be preserved. He criticized feminists who ask women to take off their jilbab like Huda Sha’rawi. 

But jilbab, still the statement of Jamal al-Banna, is not the main principal in Islam. Here, he strongly criticized the slogan of the Taliban of Afghanistan, which is also echoed by various Islamic groups including the Ikhwan: “God is our goal, Muhammad is our leader, and jilbab is our identity”. He also rejected the religious officers who force and punish women who do not wear jilbab or wrongly in wearing jilbab. Jilbab is good and recommended in Islam. But the implementation belongs to women’s right, not the men, moreover the state. Let women, individuals, who understand jilbab, define its design, model, and the way to wear it. Right or wrong, let it be the responsibility of women. Likewise, the way of men in wearing clothes also becomes the individual right of men. The others may give advice, but should not compel it.   

Jilbab is basically also not associated with aforementioned two words “slander” and “ornament”. This is the product of interpretation of former Ulama and Muslim thinkers which is exaggerating. This is the effect of thinking by using the method of “sadd al-dzari’ah”. The fear from the ideology of these two words, if it is ignored to keep haunting, the domestication of women will never quit and never be finished. The perspective of these two words, if it is neglected, will keep discriminating, restraining, restricting, and ultimately humiliating women as human beings who have dignity, independency, and basic rights. Jilbab should not be the reason to revoke these basic rights: the right to life, education, economic, and politic. According to Jamal al-Banna, this is the Islamic constitution which is the most fundamental for women. It is in accordance with the guidance of the Quran and Hadith. While, jilbab is not fundamental teaching. Something fundamental should be prioritized instead of something else. Wallahu a’lam bi al-shawab. {}

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