Hijab is a special outfit of honour. Historically, there has been a custom among kings to give special clothing to people who had done a great service to him or to those who were highly revered in his court. This clothing was considered very respectable and was not used, for example, in the house or when going to buy something from the market.
It was an outfit of respect and was normally only used in official ceremonies, to receive guests, or to visit the king. Hijab is this clothing of honour given to women by Allah (swt) indicating that is more than a protection. The following are a few examples that further portray its reverence: When a woman prays in her home while no one else present, not even a child, she must still wear hijab when she is standing before Allah (swt), the Lord of all the worlds. If hijab was something only intended to protect a woman from men who are not relatives and may have bad intentions, then why should she wear it when she is standing alone before Allah (swt)?
This shows that hijab is clothing of honour and should be worn when we meet those who are very important. So a woman should wear her best dress i.e. her hijab when she stands before Allah (swt) in prayer, when she visits the shrines of the Holy Prophet (s) and the Imams (a), a masjid, and going out into the public. A woman at home does not need to wear hijab the same way the beneficiaries of the king wear it. Indeed, sometimes she should not wear it at home. It is only when she goes out that she should observe it.
A further piece of evidence is as follows. Slavery was a phenomenon that existed all over the world and Islam managed to end it relatively quickly and indeed centuries earlier than it ended in other parts of the world. During the era in which slavery still existed but was being tackled and was finally stopped by Islam, the female slaves were not obliged to wear hijab. For them, hijab was not compulsory though they could choose to wear it.
However, a free woman, or the mistress of a house, was required to observe hijab. So if hijab is a burden or is only a form of protection, why must a free woman observe it? Many people who do not understand hijab think that it is a sign of a woman’s inferiority and that they are to wear hijab because they are inferior to men or to unveiled non-Muslims. On the contrary, those in higher positions are supposed to observe hijab more. Thus, whoever is closer to Allah (swt) should observe hijab more.
We know that historically people like Lady Fatimah (a) observed hijab more than anyone else. If hijab is a burden then presumably she should have been exempted from it or at least only have to observe it to a very minimum extent. Lady Maryam (a) also observed hijab more than anyone else at her time.
So hijab is an outfit of honour and the people who are closer to Allah (swt) should observe it more. Though real elevation is being close to Allah (swt), those who are considered to be in a high position in society, for example, a lady who is more educated than others, such as doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers or university lecturers should dress in hijab more because Allah (swt) Himself has offered them this clothing of honour.
Women who are educated are expected to appreciate and understand it more than those who are not. If Allah (swt) has given someone more blessings in this world such as intelligence, education, wealth, and possessions, and if someone is given respect because, for example, they come from a respectable family or a large tribe, such people are supposed to observe hijab more because this shows that they know how to appreciate this outfit of honour that Allah (swt) has provided.
It is a matter of disgrace and sheer ungratefulness that the king gives someone something and the beneficiary refuses to take or use it and instead of appreciating it, it is regarded as a burden. This is definitely not the way that hijab is to be regarded.
Furthermore, for women who are not Muslim and do not observe hijab as a requirement of their own faith for whatever reason, a faithful Muslim man, who is not to look at the hair of a Muslim woman, may look at the hair of a non-Muslim woman provided that he does so without wrong intentions.
If a man has bad intentions, he is not permitted to even look at a woman’s clothing that is not worn. However, if a man has to speak for a good reason to a lady who is not a Muslim and therefore does not wear hijab, then he may look at her hair, but of course without any wrong intentions. Thus, if hijab is a form of restriction and pressure, then the non-Muslims who lived in Muslim lands and under Islamic rule would be required to observe hijab more and men would be allowed to look at them even less than at Muslim ladies.
Therefore we can conclude that hijab is not a form of restriction.
Hijab is to be used as a way of protecting ladies and as a means to be active in society. It also reminds everyone that ladies are not to be treated as someone’s wife when they appear in public.
Men must remember that when a lady comes out in public she is not someone from whom they should want to gain something physically or sexually. When a lady appears in public she is to be regarded as a human being. She must be judged, examined, and treated based on her intellectual and spiritual merits.
If a lady is to be employed in an office or as a lecturer, for example, should she be employed simply because she is very beautiful or because she dresses in a way that can attract the youths? Is this the attitude of a rational society? What about those people who are not that beautiful? What about those people who are aging? Should a woman only be treated with respect in public when she is beautiful and when she does not dress properly?
This is obviously wrong. Hijab is there to make sure that when a woman appears in public she would only be treated according to her human qualities such as her good character, good behaviour, intelligence and wisdom.
These human qualities are things that can be easily maintained, promoted and improved by her, but no one can change their appearance without spending large amounts of time and money which are not available to everyone. Hijab assists in creating a proper and rational society in treating people according to the moral qualities they strive to achieve rather than their mere physical appearance.
Furthermore, what is wrong with someone who is not considered by others to be beautiful? Do they have to remain at home and should not appear in public? This is an incorrect idea. A good, proper and rational society would treat people according to the good qualities that they have achieved and not according to their physical appearance. Thus hijab also helps in this regard.