In 2001, the Islamic identity undertook a complete transformation to represent oppression and terror. A bearded man in the Islamic dress (kurta or thaub) is now an instant bomb threat. The veil is an object of torture, oppression and imprisonment. The Islamic identity has been reduced to something vile, reprehensible and abhorrent.

What many people do not understand (Muslims included) is that the Islamic identity is an integral part of Islam. What many Muslims have forgotten in their search for a ‘unified Muslim Ummah’ is that by abandoning that which was intended to unite, it will be very difficult to remain united.

In so far as women are concerned (and herein lies the greatest obstacle), Islam is quite clear in the requirements of Hijaab. The Hijaab is not just a long, rectangular or square piece of cloth used to cover the head. When a woman practises Hijaab, she is practising an act of concealment. Islamically, this is what has always been required of her.

I have always been amused at the amount of women who usually complain with respect to the Hijaab. They usually offer the excuse that it is a man’s duty to be in control of his natural instincts and practise self-control. What is unusual for me is the finality with which it is usually said. It’s as if to say, ‘Well, that’s that then, let’s get on with it!’

Had this instruction not been Divinely decreed, I would definitely harbour the same sentiment. Who knows His creation better than the Creator? If it was in the nature of a man to be in full control of his desires, women would not be expected to conceal their most precious gift which is their beauty. As is often expected of those living in the twenty-first century, we firmly believe that ours is the most humane existence. Ours is a time wherein we have people of understanding, intelligence and sanity. Almost all traces of barbarism and savagery have been eliminated and eradicated from the world in which we live. In this lies the assumption that man has reached a stage of almost intellectual and moral perfection.

Therefore the notion of a man not being able to control his desires is seen as archaic and biblical. The so-called modernist prances about in this fantastical garden of freedom. In drawing the curtain of advancement, intelligence and seeming morality over the eyes of Muslim, the modernist Muslims have eradicated the need for a woman to practise the concealment of her beauty. Islam has become more about who you are, not the way you look.

These notions are expected, especially when a person would like find proof to fuel his/her ideologies. This is a perfect example of such ideology: ‘Islam does not require a woman to wear the veil’. There have been many literary works detailing the explanation of the requirements of Hijaab according to Islam. It is each woman’s choice to act upon whichever part of Islam she would like to put into practise. However, it is not the prerogative of each and every Muslim woman, or otherwise, to change the ruling of Islam as she/he sees fit purely because the ruling does not accommodate his/her lifestyle.

The sad reality is that it is neither in the nature of a woman to want to control her desires either and so we have the situation we’re in today. We have women all over the world who insist that the veil or the headscarf is by no means a part of Islam, but rather a concocted symbol of backwardness thought up by some misogynistic and over-bearing Islamists. For those women who have chosen to adopt this view, through contemporary reinterpretation of Qur’aanic texts, rejection and manipulation of ahaadeeth, they have found ‘evidence’ in support of this.

In recent times, many Muslim women have adopted the stance which supports the idea of ‘modest dressing’. Whilst there surely may not be anything outwardly objectionable to such a statement, the problem lies with the definition of ‘modest’. For some, wearing calf-length skirts may be modest; for others, modesty may be embodied in loose-fitting clothing; the newer generation would regard a pair of skinny jeans paired with loose-fitted mid-thigh length blouse still within the range of ‘modest’. So how exactly is the term ‘modest’ defined? Whose definition do we accept etc.?

Islam has given women the solution to ‘modest’ clothing. In Islam, the ‘jilbaab’ is the embodiment of modesty. It is the covering of a woman’s beauty. It is the protector of her chastity. This is Islam’s gift to women, a gift which has been Divinely decreed. It is the gift of the garb. A garb which protects, conceals and empowers the woman who chooses to cover herself with it.

And so it is at this other end of the spectrum where we find those who choose to become objects of concealment. They are those who do not find themselves compelled to do so but rather wanting to do so and in doing so, are fulfilling that very important part of their Deen which many women today are just unable to fulfill.

They are not oppressed; they are not prisoners; they are not backward or uneducated. They simply have not chosen to live life the way you do and in this decision, you have taken it upon yourself to lift their veils, contract their clothing and risk their modesty. This is not empowerment. It is just plain ignorance.

Muslim men have, through the years, fallen prey to this type of ideology. In labeling the Islamic dress for men as ‘cultural’, Muslim men have found their excuse for not practising on the ‘Hijaab’ that is required of them. The practises have all been restricted to certain times, ‘Holy’ days or when the occasion calls for it.

In opting to be without a beard which is fist-length, reading salaah without a hat (topi), walking around with clothing below their ankles etc. smacks of a distinct desire to not want to incorporate the practises of an Islamic identity. This may as well be a contributing factor for Muslim women favouring to abandon the idea of an Islamic dress code altogether attributing its practise to Muslim male dominance and hypocrisy.

But Muslim men also have requirements which they are required to fulfill with respect to their dressing. This is not only an area which affects women or is aimed at women alone. A man observing ‘modesty’ and concealment in his dressing is just as important as a woman observing modesty and concealment in her dressing.

Apart from the obligatory Aurah which must be concealed at all times, a man’s clothing must not be tight fitting so as to reveal the shape of his body parts e.g. tight fitting jeans, pants or shirts which accentuate muscles, physique etc. and serve to to advertise the male form, not unlike the figure-hugging clothing usually worn by women. To say that men are completely immune to vanity would be just untrue. Men have become ensnared in dressing according to what the media and fashion houses around the globe portray as ‘fashionable’. Just as many women have become enslaved by the fashion industry, so too have many men begun living their lives according to the dictates of Paris and New York Fashion Week.

It should be apparent that the idea of observing Islamic dress is very important to the Muslim, whether male or female. We should not be hiding behind the excuse of ‘terrorism’ in abandoning that which is meant to unite us. As for those who continually sing the song of unity, this would be a good place to start. If you do not act like a Muslim, behave like a Muslim and most importantly, look like a Muslim and embrace the Islamic identity in its entirety, how can you ever aim to achieve unity?

The Say What? column featured on Muslimality is meant to inspire, teach, engage debate or simply make you laugh. This column revolves around a variety of issues relating to Muslims in South Africa and Muslims around the world.

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