Why Hijab and Mental Health?

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The issue of ijāb has been studied and investigated from various dimensions, and many books and articles have been written in this regard, but the psychological dimension of ijāb and its psychological effect upon the woman herself have been given less attention. By examining the role of ijāb in mental health, this research attempts to make a small step in addressing this need and to provide the teachers and cultural workers of society a new insight on the psychological effect of ijāb upon the women and girls.

Constituting half members of society, the women have a very significant role in the spread and promotion of chastity, purity and morality in human society. The woman’s chastity and modesty, which is one of the most important factors that contribute to the preservation and perpetuation of public chastity, is not only emphasized in all religions and belief systems but is also confirmed by human reason or intellect.

From the Islamic perspective, the importance of this issue is such that some Prophetic traditions (aḥādīth) have regarded it as the totality of religion. In a tradition from the Holy Prophet (), he is reported to have said:

“Modesty is the totality of religion.”

Regarding modesty and chastity, Imām ‘Alī (‘a) also says:

“Chastity is on top of all goodness.”[1]

For this reason, in all religions and belief systems various laws for the preservation and persistence of public chastity and modesty have been prescribed, and ijāb or covering of women is one of them.

ijāb which means covering of the body and outward beauty of the woman in front of male strangers is meant to prevent and control some inclinations, exhibitionism and insinuations. This is while by nature women are inclined to beautify themselves in front of the opposite sex and to display their female beauty.

Now, these questions come to the fore: To what extent is this Islamic law compatible with the nature of woman? Like what some oppositionists claim, is this limitation regarded as hindrance to the emotional and psychological growth of women? Or, on the contrary, is it in line with that and a way toward their mental health? In other words, does the freedom of woman from the bond of ijāb and the permission to display herself in front of the opposite sex bring about agitation in her and undermine her mental health? Or, on the contrary, do ijāb and the restriction to woman to establish a libertine relationship with male strangers give such a result, just as what nowadays the Westerners do affirm?

The importance of studying this subject is clear, for first of all, ijāb or woman’s covering is certainly one of the most formidable strongholds that protect the Muslims, the youth in particular, from corruption and obscenity, and it is a steely dam that stands in the way of the influence and onslaught of the enemies of Islam. For this reason, as the brilliant Leader of the Islamic Revolution has said time and again, it is incumbent upon all of us to be wary of this all-dimensional onslaught and to combat it.

Secondly, the relationship of ijāb with the woman’s mental health – be it a positive or negative relationship – provides more importance to the subject, for without any doubt, due to the important and crucial role of the woman in the physical and mental life of the human beings, it seems necessary and essential to discuss and examine the aspects of her mental health.

Nevertheless, since the religion of Islam gives much importance to the mental health and wellbeing of individuals, even regarding attainment of a ‘soul at peace’ (nafs al-muma’innah)[2] as the ultimate outcome of servitude (‘ubūdiyyah) to God and considering only those who have a ‘sound heart’ and psychological wellbeing to be the people of salvation and felicity,[3] certainly in all its laws and ordinances, including ijāb, it has paid attention to their role in the mental wellbeing of individuals, thereby giving the best prescription for the wellbeing and prosperity of human societies.

The women, therefore, who have very critical responsibilities in the family such as being a wife and a mother and taking charge of the household chores, are more in need of peace of mind and tranquility compared to others. Agony and stress in the women shall be responsible for their impending failure to perform their main responsibilities, and instead of them becoming the source of tranquility for their husband, children and society, they will become the eliminators of peace of mind for them.

From the Qur’anic perspective, the role of woman in human creation is such that she is described as ‘a secure place’ (qarārin makīn).[4] In the same vein, the Qur’an regards the existence of woman for the man as ‘garment of the soul’[5] and source of peace of mind.[6] For this reason, in order to protect the woman and her valuable assets the religion of Islam has given obligatory orders such as the observance of ijāb and the segregation of sexes.

Nowadays, notwithstanding the tremendous and multifaceted scientific and cultural advancements, the human societies have never been before bereft of mental health and psychological wellbeing. This is while the expectation and anticipation from the scientific and technological advancement is that the human life will become more comfortable, and agony and depression will be no more. Perhaps, the reason behind all these problems is humanity’s detachment from spirituality, religion and servitude to God, as acknowledged by religions with Divine origin, such as Islam. In this regard, the Qur’an thus states:

But whoever disregards My remembrance, his shall be a wretched life.’[7]

For this reason, Islam regards acting upon each of its laws as the only way to attain mental health,[8] and one of these laws is the prescription on ijāb or covering. From the Islamic perspective, by observing ijāb and guarding her privacy from the intrusion of non-maram,[9] the woman takes a bold step for the sake her mental health, and on the contrary, through libertarianism and the lack of suitable covering, she will gradually lose her mental health; instead, her anxiety and depression will increase. This point, in addition to the fact that it can be inferred from our religious teachings, can also be understood through a bit of reflection and scrutiny. As such, many of the social reformers oppose it (lack of ijāb). In the next chapter we shall point to some of their views.

It appears, therefore, that there is a great possibility that the level of mental health of women and girls with ijāb is far higher than that of those having no ijāb. For this reason, we are of the opinion that an extensive field study on this topic can clarify many issues and provide answer to many questions, thereby providing better approaches for women and girls to attain mental health and psychological wellbeing.

At this juncture, it is necessary to mention two points: Firstly, although in this research a field study is utilized, its theoretical and descriptive dimension is of great importance, and prevails over its field-based and practical dimension. In other words, in this research the relationship between ijāb and mental health is more of a theoretical and description dimension. Even then, a field study shall be utilized so that scientific and experimental results could also be appended.

Secondly, considering the fact that first of all, anxiety is the foundation of many psychological problems[10] and its absence can be considered to some extent a sign of mental health, and secondly, an experimental examination of the level of mental health is a difficult task as it requires a comprehensive investigation of a lot of components, in field work a survey on anxiety shall be utilized in order to measure the basic part of mental health.

[1] ‘Abd al-Wāḥid al-Āmadī, Ghurar al-Ḥikam wa Durar al-Kalim, vol. 1, p. 40.

[2] “O soul at peace! Return to your Lord, pleased, pleasing!” (Sūrat al-Fajr 89:27-28) Unless otherwise stated, the translation of Qur’anic passages in this book is adapted from Sayyid ‘Alī Qulī Qarā’ī’s The Qur’an with a Phrase-by-Phrase English Translation (London: Islamic College for Advanced Studies, 2004). [Trans.]

[3] “The day (Day of Resurrection) when neither wealth nor children will avail, except him who comes to Allah with a sound heart.” (Sūrat al-Shu‘arā’ 26:88-89)

[4] See Sūrat al-Mursilāt 77:21.

[5] See Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:187.

[6] See Sūrat al-Rūm 30:21.

[7] Sūrat Ṭā Hā 20:124.

[8] In many verses such as Sūrat Yūnus, verse 62, the Qur’an says, “Look! The friends of Allah will indeed have no fear nor will they grieve.” If we want to express this verse academically, it can be said that ḥazn and khawf in the verse refer to fear, grief and agitation which are totally far from the friends of God (awliyā’). It follows that through faith in God and doing of worthy deeds that a person experiences psychological wellbeing can be achieved.

[9] Maḥram: one with whom marriage is prohibited (usually because of close kinship). [Trans.]

[10] P.E. Nathan, et al, p. 1980.

(Source: HIJAB AND MENTAL HEALTH, pp. 19-25)

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