Social pressures Vs Islamic duties

Q607 :Social and cultural pressures are such that women in our society do not cover their hair. Those who do, have been associated with trends imported from Iran. I have no wish that I or my wife be associated with any group or sect. Will I be less of a Muslim if I disallow my wife to cover her hair when we return home? I will be grateful for your advice, since the subject is creating a rift between my wife and myself.

A607 : It is true that Muslim communities have ignored over the years some of the Islamic practices which are in favor of different social and cultural traditions. In some Asian Muslim countries, the requirements of Islamic dress for women continued to be unobserved, generation after generation. When you go to these countries and you speak to Muslims there, you feel as if they have not heard of the Islamic requirements that women should cover their heads. But this is by no means limited to this particular aspect or to Asian countries. In some places, certain traditions and social customs continued to prevail in Muslim communities although Islam prohibits, or at least frowns at them. Yet the Islamic requirements and duties are the same throughout the world and they are required of every individual. As you realize, every Muslim, man or woman, is accountable for his or her deeds. He or she has to answer to Allah directly on the day of judgment. Hence, everyone is required to learn what duties Islam expects of him or her to fulfill. Those who do not inquire about these put themselves into a very difficult position, because ignorance of the law is not an acceptable justification for breaking it. Allah has made our duties known to us through the Prophet. He has revealed the Qur'an and guaranteed that it will be preserved intact so that Muslims can have easy access to it and learn their duties properly. On the other hand, it is not uncommon for a community or society to change their practices once a trend begins to take place, particularly if that trend is associated with a sustained information campaign. Let me give you an example. The major fashion houses in Europe are able to bring out every few years a complete change of what is socially acceptable and what is unacceptable in respect of women's dress. In the 1960s these fashion houses started the trend of mini-skirts and were able to spread it through sustained aggressive marketing, to the extent that it was practically impossible for any woman in the west to buy a ready-to-wear knee-length skirt. The miniskirt was able to find its way into a number of Muslim countries where it became a familiar sight in large cities, although the social and moral opposition to it was much stronger in these countries. In the mid-seventies, the same fashion houses scrapped the miniskirts and reverted to longer dresses. The result of their effort was a continued acceptance of very short dresses in many communities. To give an example in the opposite trend, we need only to look at Egypt, a naturally devout Muslim country. In the fifties and sixties of this century, you could walk for days on end in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria without meeting a single woman wearing proper Islamic dress, which covered her head, arms and legs. Today, more than half of Egyptian women in Cairo and other cities conform conscientiously to the requirements of Islamic dress, without giving any appearance of a uniform, national type. The sum-up of both examples is that it is possible to change social and cultural traditions, without being equipped with the force of law, as in the case of Iran. What is needed for such a change is, as I have already mentioned, a sustained information effort and a number of individuals to take the lead and make their presence felt. It is of utmost importance, therefore, that scholars and those who are well-read in Islamic teachings, make a determined effort to change the social practices and traditions in their communities which are in conflict with Islamic teachings. I believe that if scholars in your community make such an effort, and find good response by young men and women, without bringing their case to a stage of polarization, then the proper Islamic dress will gradually find its way into your community. It will be only a few years before it takes hold and becomes the accepted norm. What we have to remember in such a situation is that a change is required by Allah Himself. He has revealed His message to us so that we put it in practice. If we were to continue with our social traditions which are contrary to Islam, while giving lip service to Islamic teachings and limiting our knowledge of the Qur'an to occasional recitation at social functions, then we are guilty of turning our back on the Qur'an. We will find it very difficult to account for such a negligent attitude on the day when Allah gathers us to His presence and requires everyone of us to account for his or her attitudes and actions. Your community is required, collectively and individually to change its tradition so that Muslim women are dressed as Islam requires. This means that your whole community is jointly and severally responsible for bringing about such a change. In other words, every individual in that community bears a share of that responsibility. How can this be achieved, unless a few of your number rise up to the occasion and start a social trend? It seems to me from the drift of your letter that your wife is willing to play such a leading role, and that perhaps there are other women in the community who have started to do so. You, on the other hand, find it too much of a burden to help her take such a lead. Well, I can tell you that you are putting yourself in a very difficult position and assuming an authority which does not belong to you. It is better that you should know what you and your wife can or cannot do so that you may be on your guard. It is not permissible for you to instruct your wife not to cover her head, or to disallow her to cover it. You may not even try to persuade her to do so. If she wants to do her Islamic duty, you cannot put your foot down against it. If you, nevertheless, do that and ask her not to cover her head, she would not be doing anything wrong if she ignores your instructions. Indeed, she should ignore them. If she obeys you, she is not free of blame. She cannot try to justify her attitude in front of Allah, on the day of judgment, by saying that she only obeyed you as a Muslim woman should obey her husband. The operative rule in this case is that "no creature may be obeyed in what constitutes disobedience to Allah". Exposing her head in public constitutes such a disobedience. Hence, she may not obey you in that. As an educated person, you should speak out when you go home that Islamic dress is not imported from Iran and is not a mark of what is wrongly termed as "fundamentalism". Islamic dress is Islamic and it applies to all Muslim women. Those who wear it are virtuous, God-fearing, obedient Muslim women. They should be respected and congratulated on their efforts. Having said that, my advice to you is to adopt a more understanding attitude. You should cooperate with your wife so that your family life is free of tension and pressure and the like. You should try to understand each other's point of view. You should indeed help her lead a proper Islamic life. You ask a pointed question, saying: "Am I less of a Muslim for doing so and so?" This is a question that I simply cannot answer. Who am I to judge you or anyone else? You may be a much better Muslim than me and [better] than many others who make extravagant claims that they follow Islamic teachings conscientiously. It is Allah alone who judges people. He knows perfectly well their motives, intentions and attitudes. His judgment of them is made on the basis of His perfect knowledge. That does not stop me, however, from telling you that if you prevent your wife from wearing Islamic dress, you do something very grave. You assume an authority which does not belong to you. You should be careful lest you incur Allah's displeasure for that. But even if you do that, you should continue to attend to your other Islamic duties. Indeed, you should show much stronger determination to fulfill your Islamic duties and to other voluntary actions, such as giving much in sadaqah, and pray Allah for forgiveness. As we are all liable to sins, we should remember to do more good actions in the hope that they will help bring us Allah's forgiveness. For He says in the Qur'an: "Indeed, good deeds annul bad ones." (11;114). One last word: do not allow this tension to cause your separation from your good wife. She is only trying to lead an Islamic life. Indeed, she should have looked up to you for support. If you do split, you may regret your decision for the rest of your life. Therefore, do not be hasty and always look at the good side in your wife's character.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )