In the Name of God بسم الله
Inaayah reacted to Qa'im for a blog entry, Allah's Hijab
Allah has placed important symbols in our religion that we must seek to understand.
The word "hijab" appears seven times in the Quran. In 7:46, the hijab is a "barrier" that divides Paradise from the Fire. In 19:16-17, Mary "secludes" herself from her family to devote herself to God in solitude. In 33:53, a "screen" protects the Prophet's wives from onlookers. In 41:5, a "barrier" prevents the disbelievers from heartfelt belief. In 42:51, a "veil" prevents Allah from being seen by those He reveals to. In 17:45, a "partition" prevents the disbelievers from comprehending the Quran. In 38:32, a "curtain" prevents Solomon from seeking his prescribed prayers.
The Quran never refers to the Muslim headdress as a hijab. In our traditional literature, the garment is instead referred to as a khimar, a jilbab, or a kisa'. So this begs the question: what is a hijab in Islamic terminology? A hijab primarily is a barrier that prevents or protects one thing from another. It can be both physical (like a curtain) or metaphysical. A physical hijab may be a simple covering that prevents unwanted access to an object or a person - much like the curtain that would prevent strange men from seeing the Prophet's wives. A metaphysical hijab could be an attitude that a person has - like Mary's seclusion from her people, or like the "social hijab" that prevents unnecessary mixing between men and women. But a metaphysical hijab can also be a boundary that Allah has set between two things.
The precious pearl hides inside the oyster's mysterious shell. In all instances, the hijab protects something of value from those who have not demonstrated a sincerity to it. It prevents both intentional and accidental harm from coming to the object of value. Only those who have demonstrated a sincerity to the gem beyond the barrier can access its excellence. For example, faith, which is a precious light of Paradise ( الايمان في الجنة ), can only be attained by those who seek it and are open to its reception. If one is insincere to faith, a barrier will be put up to protect it from him, preventing him from its understanding and its benefits. Furthermore, inner understandings of the Quran cannot be attained by a cursory reading of it - the esoteric can only be gained by deep reflection and devotion. Through this hijab, God protects the most priceless secrets from the misunderstanding and misuse of those who seek to abuse them.
Likewise, even the hijab (both physical and social) of a woman from a stranger protects her from complete objectification. The only ones that can access her feminine energy, her motherhood, her personality, and her physical beauty are (1) her direct relatives, or (2) a man who has sought her expressed consent, the permission of her guardian, and has devoted himself to her sustenance. Once that sincerity is established, the barriers are gradually removed, one after the other, and the sincere man becomes overwhelmed at her marvel.
The hijab is a Sunna of Allah. It is something that He Himself has enacted, both upon Himself and upon others. Allah has been inclined to put veils in His creation and His religion (الله ستار يحب الستر). He has also created veils for Himself - He created seven veils of light between Himself and the creation ( إن الله خلق السماوات سبعاً والأرضين سبعاً والحجب سبعاً ). This light is said to inspire the creation with His greatness, His guidance, and His love ( لما اسري بي إلى السماء بلغ بي جبرئيل مكانا لم يطأه قط جبرئيل فكشف له فأراه الله من نور عظمته ما أحب ). The purpose of these veils is twofold: (1) to prevent His recognition and His presence from the insincere disbelievers, and (2) to manifest His signs to those who recognize Him. Allah's veils are the epitome example for veiling in Islam - they both prevent and inspire. All other hijabs are a symbol of His ultimate and primordial hijab - a hijab is to be beautiful, inspiring guidance and awe, but also purposeful in providing the security of an object or an idea.
Allah's essence is a mystery. It cannot be compared to anything, and it is contrary to all that comes to mind. The divine mystery of God's nature is called "the secret" (al-sir) in our literature. One of the roles of the Guide is to protect this secret from corruption - meaning, to prevent the people from generating a polytheistic understandings of Allah's nature. The Guide goes through extra trouble to make sure that God's mystery is kept with distance to prevent it from being defiled. Pure monotheism is their priority.
At the same time, Allah has one more very important luminous hijab: the Prophet Muhammad (s). In al-Kafi, the Prophet is called the hijab of Allah ( محمد حجاب الله تبارك وتعالى ), and the same is said in Tafsir al-`Ayashi ( بمحمد صلى الله عليه وآله تطمئن وهو ذكر الله وحجابه ). This is because the Prophet is the ultimate guardian of Allah's essence, protecting monotheistic theology from any and all corruption. Indeed, the Prophet was raised beyond all of Allah's other veils of light during the mi`raj ( فلمّا اُسرى بالنبيّ ( صلّى الله عليه وآله ) فكان من ربّه كقاب قوسين أو أدنى رفع له حجاب من حجبه فكبّر رسول الل ), and was brought closer to Allah than any other creation. The Prophet also fulfills the other function of God's light hijabs, which is to guide and to inspire the creation to God. Everything about his form and his personality has been made for us to approach Allah and understand His attributes better. He is called "the Reminder" (al-Dhikr) because he is the ultimate proof of Allah and His most luminous light. It is not a coincidence that the Ahl al-Kisa' are the "People of the Cloak" - they are a sacred and primordial union that simultaneously protect the hidden and manifest the wisdom of God.
Likewise, Lady Fatima put extra veils between her and those who had oppressed her - she wrapped her scarf around her head, covered herself in her cloak, surrounded herself with her family, stepped on the ends of her dress, and placed a curtain before her and the Caliphal elites ( لما أجمع أبوبكر وعمر على منع فاطمة عليها السلام فدكا و بلغها ذلك لاثت خمارها على رأسها و اشتملت بجلبابها وأقبلت في لمةٍ من حفدتها ونساء قومها تطأ ذيولها ما تخرم مشيتها مشية رسول الله ( ص ) حتى دخلت على أبي بكر وهو في حشد من المهاجرين والأنصار وغيرهم فنيطت دونها ملاءة فجلست ).
It is important that we do not just relegate this beautiful concept of hijab to a headdress. A headdress without the intention and practice of hijab is just another piece of cloth. But a modest dress can be a small part of a larger, more meaningful dynamic. We are to carry out the hijab in all of our practices: we cover our good deeds, we protect our family members from insincere people, we protect the secrets of Ahl al-Bayt from their enemies, we recognize that the hidden intentions are more important than the apparent actions, we seek the esoteric understandings of our religion, and we recognize the limits in both theology and in society.
May Allah plant the needed humility in the garden of our hearts, so that the veil of occultation is lifted between us and our Imam for a nourishing relationship with him.