Discussions about hijab are almost always political or sexual. But what about its spirituality? After all, it is part of a religion…
Could you please elaborate on the spiritual aspects of hijab for a relatively new Muslimah?
I admit that I myself am woefully ignorant of many of the spiritual aspects of hijab that you mentioned.
From my experience, even in conversations with other Muslims, the issue of hijab is almost always raised within a context of sexuality, not spirituality. My primary reason for wearing it, as many women in the article said, is that “when I wear my headscarf or chador, people relate to me as an individual, not an object; I feel respected.”
There is a lot to talk about regarding the spiritual side of modesty, so I’ll try to keep it brief.
1. Modesty is an expression for one’s love for Allah and seeking his forgiveness.
In the Quran, 3.31, Allah instructs the Prophet to tell us “If you love Allah then follow me and Allah will love you and forgive your sins.”
One of the greatest traits of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was his remarkable level of modesty. By following his example, we establish our love for Allah and open ourselves to receiving His love and forgiveness.
2. We draw nearer to Allah through ascending through levels of modesty.
When we talk about modesty, we must understand that there are levels.
A. There is the obligatory level, which is the most beloved to Allah, because all of the other levels build upon that level.
Allah says in a hadith Qudsi: “The most beloved thing to Me that a person can do to draw nearer to me is doing that which I have made obligatory upon him.” (Hadeeth Qudsi 25)
The obligatory level consists of being modest in public by concealing one’s ‘Awra (the legally-defined private areas of the body) and refraining from all forms of sexual deviance.
B. One higher level of modesty consists of being modest in private, in your own household with your family and even with yourself.
The Prophet’s modesty at home was at such a high level that, although they had healthy marital relationships, his wives didn’t look at his private parts. nor did he expose himself in such a way. This is narrated in a hadith of ‘Aisha: “I never looked at the Prophet’s private parts and never saw them.”
C. Then, the levels of modesty continue to strengthen until we become modest with the Jinn and the angels.
This modesty can strengthen so much that, as one scholar said, “the unseen will become like the seen,” such that you become so aware of the angels’ presence that it will be as if you see them plainly.
A person can become so conscious of his modesty with the angels that the angels will become shy of him! This is a level the companion Uthman b. ‘Affan reached.
The Prophet encourages us to observe this level of modesty in a hadith: The Prophet said, “Didn’t I forbid you from nakedness? Didn’t I forbid you from nakedness? There are beings [angels] that never leave you in the day or night, except when you are engaged with your spouse or when you are using the bathroom, so lo, be modest with them, and lo, be honorable with them.”
We are even advised to be modest with the jinn as well, even though we generally don’t see them. This is achieved by creating a spiritual veil between us and them when taking our clothes off by saying, “bismillah aladhi la ilaha illa hu”, as indicated in hadith. The translation of it is: “In the Name of whom there is no god other than Him.”
D. And finally, and most importantly, the highest level is being in a constant station of modesty with Allah at all times, even when we are asleep, and even in our dreams.
This level is affirmed in a hadith, when, one day, the Prophet told the people to cover their ‘Awrah (legally-defined private areas of the body) from everyone except their spouses, they asked, “what if we are alone, o Messenger?” He replied, ‘Allah is more deserving of your modesty than the people.”
3. The more modesty and shyness we have with Allah, the more shyness Allah will have with us.
He will refrain from punishing us because of this. We know this because the Prophet mentioned a man who was shy with Allah, and hence Allah was shy with him. And Allah’s shyness is manifested by saving us from his punishment and answering dua.
4. Hence, modesty and faith are linked.
As believers, we cannot increase our faith without increasing our modesty. If one increases the other increases.
The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Modesty and faith are linked, if one of them increases the other will increase.”
Similarly, if our modesty decreases our faith will decrease. Hence the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Modesty and faith are linked, once one of them is taken away, the other will follow.”
Modesty is such an important part of Islam that Islam is almost defined by it. Hence, the hadith, “Every religion has a outstanding attribute, and the attribute of Islam is modesty.”
5. In light of this, it must be said that the hijab is only one part of the multi-dimentional state of modesty.
Moreover, hijab is only a partial, yet fundamental, part of the spiritual station of modesty. In a broad sense, modesty encompasses our speech, our eyes, our movements, even our thoughts, as well as our dress. Yet, we must note here that without practicing physical modesty, spiritual modesty can not increase. Hence, outward modesty is vital to one’s spiritual growth.
This is why the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whoever doesn’t have modesty with Allah in public will not have modesty with Allah in private.”
And regarding the topic of the hijab, it is said that the Prophet said, “A woman that removes her veil outside of her home has removed the veil [of modesty] between her and Allah.”
So the hijab, in all of its components, is a vital part of a woman’s relationship with Allah. It serves as a doorway that leads to many spiritual openings and secrets. In fact, it plays such a profound role in a woman’s relationship with Allah that Allah explicitly mentions that the Virgin Mary’s adorning of the hijab was a prelude for the immediate arrival of Prophet Jesus, peace and blessings be upon them both:
Relate in the Book (the story of) Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place in the East.
She took up a Hijab (to screen herself) from them; then We sent her our angel, and he appeared before her as a man in all respects.
She said: “I seek refuge from thee to (God) Most Gracious: (come not near) if thou dost fear God.”
He said: “Nay, I am only a messenger from thy Lord, (to announce) to thee the gift of a holy son.
These are just some of the spiritual aspects of modesty. As with all spiritual stations, they can only truly be realized by experience. Words can’t do justice to these realities.
Wow! thank you so much for this much needed clarification! This is one of the best explanations of hijab that I have received since taking my shahadah. I now seek to increase my understanding of spiritual modesty. Allah knows best!
(Hadeeth references were not provided, but are familiar to the blogger.)