This article was first published on March 4, 2016, Issue 27.
With all honesty and without exaggeration, I personally do not recall attending a Friday Khutba in any masjid where the Imam/Shaykh has explored the topic of hijab for men. It is as if the hijab became an automatic responsibility and expectation of women and only women. In the last two years alone, I’ve heard far too many khutbas on how Muslim women need to mind their chastity, how they need to watch their manners, and mind the look of their hijab. Which in my opinion is important; in fact much needed reminders. But what about the chastity of Muslim men, their expected acts of decency and modesty, and how they also need to mind their hijab?
Yup, men do have hijab too. My question is, why is this not explored in khutba topics that usually tend to have a high male demographic? Why is it that a man’s dress code and behaviour is often taken lightly to that of a woman? I’m sure I’m not the only lady who steps into such Friday Khutbas feeling like my existence is nothing but a fitna to the man, which is often justified by this phenomenon that men can’t control their urges.
And yes, I understand scientifically that male testosterones tend to be higher than that of the female, but I would like to believe that men deserve to be treated better than to be compared to animals who uncontrollably act on instincts. That is why Allah (SWT) did not dig into the topic of female hijab in Surat Al-Noor (verse 24:30) without first describing the Islamic etiquette of having the man lowering his gaze. In fact the next ayah, which explains the hijab for women, starts with women lowering their gaze as well. Hence, both female and male have urges that need to be in check.
Society tends to focus on the act of covering up as the sole purpose of the hijab. The hijab is not only a piece of fabric a woman puts on her head or something a man uses to cover his belly button and thighs. The hijab is both external and internal. Internal as in to motivate an Islamically modest respectful character for both genders, external as in an identifiable Islamic feature for self-identification.
Many of us have heard of the hadith in which the Prophet’s (SAW) cousin, Al-Fadl bin Abbas, gazed attractively at a woman who was asking the Prophet on the matter of hajj. The Prophet’s (SAW) response was not to smack Al-Fadl for not keeping his urges in check, nor did he accuse the woman of being a fitna. Rather, he gently pulled Al-Fadl’s face by the chin to face the other way. Unfortunately, this hadith is often said on a whim but its lessons are rather profound. The woman here is not shunned or blamed. Instead, the Prophet (SAW) holds Al-Fadl accountable for his action – his inability to act within his Islamic etiquette. Al-Fadl on the other hand did not protest saying “Well, she tempted me!” This is internal hijab – self-control and respect of the opposite sex. Which is an intense responsibility, and that is exactly why Imams/Shaykhs need to emphasize that role for men without putting the blame on women. Respectful conduct is the foundation of hijab before overly focusing onto physical representation, and that goes for both genders.
Now here comes the role of the physical hijab. The issue is, like it or not, we live in a highly sexualized society where in reality both genders are sexualized (not denying that women are more sexualized than men). How are men sexualized some might ask. Just to name a few examples, posters and pictures of male abs and six packs can be found in malls and all over the internet. And if you thought that skinny jeans, skin-tight t-shirts, and make up are targeted towards a female only demographic, think again.
Let’s face it, most Muslim men in the West do not wear a jilbab or wear a taqiyah cap, and the beard is just becoming a hispter fashion statement. Most khutbas do not even explore the rules of the physical hijab of men, in which he should be covering his belly button, not wearing silk, not wearing low rise jeans and skinny shirts…etc. This double standard needs to be challenged in our communities.
Women should not be held accountable for the downfall of men in our community. Each individual is held accountable for his/her actions in front of the Creator. It is about time our mosques start addressing the responsibilities of hijab in its totality and in a fair manner without demonizing one sex over the other. If we believe that Muslim women make half of our Umma and they complete its other half, then we need to reclaim the grace they originally deserve.