The Fourth Step
The number of Muslims in Japan are few and are therefore seldom seen. Yet the response of the Japanese to my white khimaar was encouraging. I encountered neither rejection nor mockery. People assumed that I belonged to a religion, but they did not know which one. I overheard a young girl whispering to her friend that I was a Buddhist nun. Once, on a visit to Paris, I was in the same subway car with a Catholic nun. The Catholic nun’s covering and veil is a symbol of her devotion to God, and Christians respect and recognize her for this. Likewise, the hijaab is a symbol of devotion for every Muslim woman. I wonder why people who respect the nun’s covering criticize the hijaab of a Muslim, considering it instead a symbol of extremism or oppression!
A person once asked me why I was dressed in such a peculiar fashion. I explained that I was a Muslim and that in Islam, women are required to cover their bodies in public. Weak men have difficulty in resisting the temptation of a woman’s charm and beauty. Look at the tremendous amount of sexual harassment and sex-related crime occurring in many societies. We cannot expect prevention of these occurrences by only appealing to man’s morality and self-control. The solution is the Islamic way of life, which orders women to cover themselves and avoid all contact with strange men. Just as a short skirt might be interpreted to mean, “If you want me, you may take me,” a hijaab clearly states, “I am forbidden to you.”
Within my family, my father felt sorry for me because I was fully covered, even on the hottest day. Everyone is hot in the summer, but I found the hijaab a convenient means to avoid the direct sunlight on my head and neck. Perhaps my relatives felt awkward around me, yet I felt uneasy looking at the thigh of my younger sister dressed in shorts. Even before my conversion, the sight of a woman’s shape outlined by skintight thin clothes bothered me. I felt as if I had seen something not to be viewed. If this embarrassed me, a person of the same gender, it is not difficult to imagine how it affects men.
Some wives only get dressed up when they go out, not caring how they appear at home. But in Islam, a wife tries to be beautiful for her husband. A husband also tries to look pleasant for his wife. This consideration for each other makes conjugal life pleasant and joyful. Why would a wife want to attract another man’s attention? She is a married woman! Would she like other women to entice her husband? So one can see how Islamic dress even helps to maintain the stability of a family.
It is not only women who are commanded to cover their bodies, but men must observe modesty as well. Even during sporting activities, males must cover themselves from at least the waist to the knees.
Non-Muslims may think that Muslims are overly sensitive and even backward in their efforts to cover themselves. They may ask, “Why hide the body in its natural state?” Some people feel no shame swimming in bikinis or attending nudist beaches. Yet, in Japan, fifty years ago, it was considered vulgar even to swim in a bathing suit, and in medieval times, a knight trembled at a brief sight of his adored lady’s shoe. This shows that the socially acceptable standards of what should be concealed can and has changed. If you keep something hidden, it increases in value. Keeping a woman’s body hidden adds to its charm, as is evident within various cultures of the world. If moral standards can be affected by time, it is not improbable to imagine people in the future walking on the street without clothes. There would be nothing to prevent it. As for us Muslims, the criterion is fixed for all times by Allah Ta‘ala. We follow His order because we are aware that He is the Creator who knows what is best for His creation.
If a man only seeks to fulfill his bodily desires and functions and does so openly and publicly, he is no different to an animal. Is this the direction in which modern man is going? Who is to determine the boundaries of proper dress and behavior – man himself (whose values change with the wind) or Allah Ta‘ala? Only He, in His wisdom, knows man’s condition at all times and has therefore defined the correct way for him to appear and act in public.
The Fifth Step
Three months after my return to Japan, my husband and I traveled to Saudi Arabia, where he obtained employment. I had prepared a small black facecover called a niqaab. It was not that I had begun to think like the sister in Cairo i.e. that a veil was a required part of a Muslim woman’s dress; rather, I still thought that uncovering the face and hands was allowable. Yet I was eager to go to Saudi Arabia and wear the face cover as I was curious to know how I would feel behind it.
Arriving in Riyadh, I discovered that not all women covered their faces. The non-Muslims nonchalantly wore a black outer garment over their shoulders without covering their heads. Many foreign Muslims did not wear veils. Yet all the Saudi women seemed to cover completely from head to toe.
Previously, I had wondered how easily sisters could breathe under a veil. It seemed to be a matter of habit; once accustomed to it, there was no inconvenience. The first time I wore the niqaab, I felt nice, in fact extremely wonderful, as if I had become a special person. I felt like the owner of a masterpiece who enjoyed its secret pleasure. I had a treasure which no one knew about and which strangers were not allowed to see.
During the first few months in Riyadh, only my eyes were uncovered. But when I made a winter outer garment, I included a thin eye cover. My garment became perfect and so did my comfort. I no longer felt uneasy when I was in public. I felt as if I had become invisible before men. Before my eyes were covered, I was sometimes uncomfortable when my glance accidentally met a man’s. This new covering prevented, like dark eyeglasses, the visual intrusion of strangers.
A non-Muslim might notice a bearded man accompanied by a woman covered in black. Such a couple might be considered a caricature of the oppressing-oppressed or possessing-possessed relationship thought to be characteristic of that between a husband and wife in Islam. But the fact is that the woman feels respected and guarded by one who really cares for her. A woman covers herself in obedience to Allah Ta‘ala for the sake of her dignity and pride. She refuses to be possessed by the stare of a stranger or to be his object. She feels pity for western women who are displayed as objects of desire.
It has been over two years since I became a Muslim. My hijaab has changed five times with the change of both my surroundings and my religious understanding. Soon after my conversion in France, I wore fashionable matching dresses and scarves. Now, in Saudi Arabia, I cover completely in black, from head to toe, understanding my duty to Allah Ta‘ala. Thus, I have experienced the hijaab from the most incomplete form to its most complete form.
Many years ago, when a Japanese Muslimah appeared with a headcover in Tokyo, she was told by another Japanese Muslimah to reconsider the matter of her dress because it shocked people. Very few Muslim women in Japan covered their heads at that time. Now there are more and more Japanese women who are embracing Islam and wearing the headcover in spite of difficult situations. All of them acknowledge that they are proud of their hijaab and that it strengthens their faith.
Viewing hijaab from the outside, one can never perceive what is observed from within it. We see the matter from two completely different perspectives. To a non-Muslim, Islam looks like a prison with no liberty or freedom. But living within Islam, we feel a peace, freedom and joy which is known in no other way. One might claim that a person born into Islam believes it is best only because it is a way of life with which he has always been acquainted – that he grew up without experiencing the outside ·world. But I am convert. I abandoned the so-called freedom and pleasure of modern life and chose Islam. If it is true that Islam is a religion which oppresses women, why are so many women in Europe, America, Japan and elsewhere embracing Islam today? If only people would reflect upon this.
A person blinded by prejudice may not be able to see the beauty of hijaab. The Quraan Majeed describes such people as being blind. How else can we explain their lack of understanding towards Islam?