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Modest Dress

Yousef and Michael met at the train station as they had arranged, at the platform of the train travelling to Paris via the English Channel tunnel… They looked for a suitable seat to sit on and wait until departure.

Michael: I think that we have plenty of time to chat about your view of the issue of women's dress... You wanted to talk to me about hijab. Didn’t you?

Yousef: Many people think that hijab is merely a scarf that covers the head, or a headdress. But those people don’t understand that hijab is actually a concept and an entire social system. Therefore, we should consider the matter in this context.

Michael: Well, I think that you are complicating the matter, my friend, and giving it more than it is worth.

Yousef: No, not at all. We see people differ with regards to how they lay down the limits of covering their bodies. Each group thinks that their limits represent progress and civilization, and while one group considers the others as being backward and puritanical, the others perceive them as being morally corrupt and wrong. Each group begins to look at the other from their own value and intellectual background. So there must be some agreement on a reference to determine the general characteristics of clothing in terms of covering the body.

As I said, the importance of the matter lies in its totality, and if you’ll allow me, let’s first try and agree on some basis that draws our views closer together.

Michael: Please, go ahead.

Yousef: I think we both agree that it is impossible to find a solution, or even solutions, to the fundamental questions of human life, except after we apprehend the reality of a human being and fully know the truth about him.

Michael: That goes without saying.

Yousef: I think that the remarkable and continuous progress of science that we observe is evidence of the limitedness of human knowledge. What was hidden from us yesterday is discovered today, and what was thought true yesterday is reviewed and corrected today; and so too that which will be discovered tomorrow was undiscovered today, or was only slightly understood. This is what our Qur’an said: (And of knowledge, you (mankind) have been given only a little.)

Michael: I totally agree with you. But what has that to do with our subject?

Yousef: Bear with me, my friend. I’m not done yet… If we agree on that, it naturally follows that we should admit that there are hidden aspects in matter that we cannot fathom, that is assuming of course that we are able to free ourselves from whims, personal inclinations and environmental influences - which is something very difficult to avoid. But if we start to address these issues under the effect of such influences, we are at risk of confusion, and the measures that we take on these bases will be incomplete or distorted, in fact, it may be opposite to the correct solution.

Michael: This is a logical consequence, but on the other hand, we have no choice except to use our brains, think and make use of the knowledge we have obtained, and sail in the seas of trial, error and correction. This is better than leaving things unresolved and untreated, just waiting to arrive at a point of moderation where matters become steady.


Yousef: So you acknowledge that these solutions must be characterized by some excessiveness or negligence. You, however, think that we are compelled to take such deficient solutions and that we have no other choice.

Michael: Yes, I do.

Yousef: But we have another choice that allows us to avoid such defects.

Michael: What do you mean by “we have”? And what is this solution?

Yousef: I mean, we Muslims have that choice which we consider as a lifeboat for mankind. This choice, in a nutshell, is that He who created mankind knows everything about them. Allah, Exalted Be He, says in the Qur'an: {Should not He Who has created know? And He is the Most Kind and Courteous (to His slaves) All-Aware (of everything).} He alone, Glorified Be He, knows the characteristics of man, his needs, what benefits him and what harms him. He, the Almighty, is at the same time far above all human desires, whims, passions and inclinations. That is the reason why He alone is capable of creating a clear system or way for mankind, with wisdom and moderation which is manifested in the Qur'an.

Michael (interrupting): Your words Mr. Yousef are consistent. Yet, do not forget that I do not believe in your religion, so do not impose on me what I do not believe in...Talk to me about what we both agree upon, as before.

Yousef: Although this rule is the foundation of belief for every Muslim, and which I think should be the foundation for everyone, I do not mind going on with the dialogue in the manner you want, but of course in light of my convictions, that is, in the context of the social system that I mentioned to you before, of which the headscarf is part and parcel.

Michael: No problem.

Yousef: I mentioned in our last meeting that we cannot ignore the materialism of the body in humans, not only that, but its animal instinct too. A man by nature is attracted to a woman and the first thing that he is attracted to in her is her body. Consequently, adorned and revealing clothing are considered as tools of seduction and arousal, and are an indirect call to men to molest and harass those that wear them.

Michael: But I think that this view it is an insult to both women and men alike. An insult to women, because it focuses only on the bodily dimension of women and neglects their minds, culture and morals. It also looks at them as if they are minors, who do not know how or are unable to protect themselves. It is also an insult to men, depicting them as predatory wolves who only think about their lower parts, and nothing but sex!

Yousef: Do you think, my friend, that when a woman stands in front of a mirror to adorn herself and choose her enticing cloths, that she is doing that to please the higher values of the mind of men, or the nobility in their characters? Or does she do that at least to gain the admiration of men, if not to arouse them or to seek them out? Do you think that when man sees a beautifully adorned woman, he thinks of her wise mind or vast knowledge at the first sight?!!

We all know that human beings are of varying degrees in their feelings and desires, and in their willingness to infringe and abuse, as they are of varying degrees in sublimity, virtue and morality. Hijab signifies that the woman wearing it is chaste and does not want to draw the attention of men to invite them to harass or molest her. Thus, it is a factor that drives away those who have weak souls and a low moral constitution. The Qur'an clearly states that hijab is a protection for women from immoral people.

Michael: But I see, Mr. Yousef, that the behavior of some women wearing hijab does not correspond with morality, which proves that the matter goes back to factors other than wearing the hijab; such as education and a commitment to moral values.

Yousef: There is some truth in what you are saying. No one can claim that a woman, once she puts on a piece of cloth, will be transformed into a virtuous woman. This does not mean, however, that she should not wear the hijab. If someone poses as a doctor, for example, or if a doctor commits a mistake or takes advantage of his profession, this does not mean that the defect is in this profession. This means that the person himself needs to be corrected. That doctor, or in our case here, the woman wearing the hijab, or anyone else, is ultimately a human being, and human beings have weaknesses. On the other hand, when Islam makes it obligatory for Muslim women to wear hijab as a preventive measure from falling into immorality, or even walking along the path leading to immorality, it does not stop at that, but also builds a complete integrated system of ethics and measures to ensure that human beings actually reach the highest degree of virtue. In short: a virtuous woman is one who wears the hijab, and it is not necessarily that every woman wearing a hijab is a virtuous woman.

Michael: But does that not involve a negative view that is represented in the demonization of the female body? Are we required to abandon this body?

Yousef: Islam makes hijab obligatory, not because a woman's body is something bad that should be hidden, but so as not to arouse the natural sexual desires of men, especially in people who are spiritually and morally weak. Islam makes hijab obligatory to protect women from harassment and rape, and to protect men from arousal and the urge to commit adultery. Moreover, Islamic law takes great steps to keep the emotional feelings of intimacy and sexual arousal only within the marital relationship, and this leads to the cohesion of the social structure.

Michael: But, Mr. Yousef, if hijab is a preventive measure to prevent the attraction of men to women, why should men not also wear it, to prevent the attraction of women to men. Does a woman not lust over a man as well?

Yousef (laughing): Good question! It is true that Islam imposes limits on how men dress that are less restrictive than the limits on women, and perhaps the reason for that is more apparent when we know the characteristics of each. A recent U.S. study by Dr. Benjamin Hayden, who is a specialist of Neuroscience at Duke University, published in the German (Berliner Morgen Post) newspaper, ascertains that men enjoy looking at attractive women due to the fact that some brain centers force them to exert an effort to enjoy looking at a beautiful woman; while on the contrary, women do not exert any effort to look at handsome men.


Through this study he examined the reasons that make men sometimes exert costly efforts to enjoy looking at a beautiful, attractive woman, although the opposite is the case for women. The examination showed that the marked difference between both sexes is due to the brain; since in the brain of a man there are some centers that are activated when he sees a beautiful woman, which makes him feel comfortable and enjoy what he sees, but women are different since they are not affected in the same way when they see an attractive man.

Among the findings of the study is that the first thing that draws the attention of men in photos of beautiful women is their faces, while women throw a passing glance at the whole picture, without focusing on any particular area.

Another point is that men are bolder and more venturesome in carrying out infringements than women, as studies have shown that the rate of criminality in males generally reach five-fold of that compared to females. If women then close the door to excitement and so do not take the first step, they will prevent men from trespassing beyond their limits or molesting her.

Michael (hastily): I see that it is time for us to catch the train… Let's get going!