Imam Muhammad Zahid al-Kauthari (1371 A.H; Cairo): Hijab & Western influence in Muslim Lands

Kufi by Lutfi

Imam Muhammad Zahid al-Kauthari (1371 A.H; Cairo), formerly the Deputy Grand Mufti of the Ottoman Empire, explained in his article on “Hijab al-Mar’ah” ( “Women’s Hijab”, meaning to cover her body completely with loose clothing, not the modern misconception of the hijab as a “head scarf”):

ولتلك النصوص الصريحة في وجوب احتجاب النساء تجد نساء المسلمين في مشارق الأرض ومغاربها في غاية المراعاة للحجاب منذ قديم, في البلاد الحجازية واليمنية وبلاد فلسطين والشام وحلب والعراقين وبلاد المغرب الأقصى إلى المغرب الأدنى وصعيد مصر والسودان وبلاد جبرت والزيلع والزنجبار وبلاد فارس والأفغان والسند والهند, بل كانت بلاد الوجه البحري بمصر وبلاد الرومللى والأنضول وبلاد الألبان قبل مدة في عداد البلدان التي تراعى فيها نساؤها

الاحتجاب البالغ, بل كانت بلاد الألبان تثور عندما تريد الحكومة تسجيل أسماء النساء, سبحان من يغير ولا يتغير

Because of those clear-cut texts (nusus) prescribing the covering of women [that is, the ayats of the Qur’an and hadith], one finds the Muslim women in the East [of the Muslim lands] and in the West [of the Muslim lands] have been most dutiful in complying with the regulations of hijab since earliest times in the lands of Hejaz and Yeman, and in the lands of Palestine and Sham [that is, Syria and Lebanon] and Aleppo, and the Two Iraqs [Iraq of the Arabs and Iraq of the non-Arabs which is present-day Iran], and the lands of the far Maghrib [Mauritania, Morocco, and Algeria] and the near Maghrib [Tunisia and Libya], and Upper Egypt and Sudan and the lands of Jabart [a territory between present-day Egypt and Sudan] and Zaila’ [a territory in present-day Sudan] and Zanjabar and the lands of Persia and Afghanistan and Sind and Hind; indeed until a short while ago even the lands on the coast of Egypt and the lands of Rumalli [the name of all the Ottoman possessions in Europe including Bulgaria, Greece, Romania, and the Balkans] and Anatolia and the lands of Albania among those lands in which the women used to cover themselves completely; in fact, when the government tried to [take a census and] register the names of the women in Albania its citizens revolted.

Exalted is He beyond all defect and imperfection who changes things but Himself does not change! [This exclamation while affirming the incomparability of Allah Ta’ala also implies an expression of grief and dismay over the fall of those once noble and independent people into the dregs of blind and servile imitation.]

وليس بقليل بمصر من أدرك ما كانت عليه نساء مصر كلهن من ناحية الحجاب قبل عهد قاسم أمين-داعية السفور في عهد الاحتلال.

They are not few in Egypt who can remember how thoroughly the women in all of Egypt used to veil themselves before the time of Qasim Amin (d. 1326)[1], the great propagandist for the removal covering during the colonial occupation of Egypt.

والغيرة على الحريم رمز الإسلام الصحيح, ومن فقدها من أبناء البلاد الإسلامية إنما فقدها بعد اندماجه في أمم لا يغارون على نسائهم ولا يرون أي بأس في مخاصرة زوجاتهم لرجال آخرين في مرأى منهم ومشهد.

A sense of honour (ghairah)[2] for women is a true symbol of Islam and those who live in Muslim lands but lack this sense of honor became deprived of it only after becoming affiliated with nations that do not feel any indignity for their women and do not feel there is anything wrong with letting their women appear with heads uncovered before other men in their own presence and in their full sight.

وكان العلامة أحمد وفيق باشا العثماني سريع الخاطر, حاضر الجواب, سبق أن تقلد كثيرا من الوظائف الديبلوماسية في عواصم أوروبة قبل أن يتولى الصدارة العظمى في أوائل سلطنة السلطان عبد الحميد الثاني, وقد سأله بعض عشراته من رجال السياسة في أوربة في مجلس بإحدى تلك العواصم قائلا: لما تبقى نساء الشرق محتجبات في بيوتهن مدى حياتهن من غير أن يخالطن الرجال ويغشين مجامعهم؟ مستنكرا لتلك العادة المتوارثة في الشرق, فأجاب في الحال قائلا: لأنهن لا يرغبون في أن يلدنا من غير أزواجهن, وكان هذا الجواب كصب ماء بارد على رأس هذا السائل, فسكت على مضض كأنه ألقم الحجر

The great scholar and Ottoman statesman Ahmad Wafiq Basha was a quick-witted fellow and one never to be embarrassed for he was always ready with an answer. Before he became the prime minister in the beginning of the reign of Sultan Abd al-Hamid II, he held many diplomatic posts in the capitols of Europe. One time during an assembly in some capitol of Europe one of his diplomatic colleagues asked him: “Why to the women in the east remain cover in their houses all their lives without ever mixing with men or attending their gatherings”? The questioner was denouncing the inherited tradition in the East. Ahmad Wafiq Basha replied instantly: “Because they do not wish to give birth to children from other than their husbands.” His answer was like a dousing of cold water on the head of that questioner; he shut up reluctantly as if a rock were put down his throat.

أيقظنا الله سنحانه من رقتنا, وأشعرنا الاعتزاز بالعزة الإسلامية والشرق الإسلامية, وأبعدنا عن الاندماج في أمة غير أمتنا, وهدانا سبيل السداد.

May Allah, exalted is He, wake us from our slumber, and cause us to take pride in the glory of Islam and in the Islamic East, and may He keep us from becoming incorporated [culturally] in a nation other than our own, and may He guide us in the right way.

[1] Qasim Muhammad Amin (1279-1326=1863-1908) was one of the early advocates of so-called women’s liberation in Egypt. He studied in France and returned fully Westernized to Egypt in 1885 where he occupied a number of high governmental posts. He wrote a number of pernicious works that contributed enormously to the acculturation of Egyptians especially their women. He wrote three books: Tahrir al-Mar’ah and al-Mar’atu ‘l-Jadidah and Kalimat Qasim Baig Amin.
Another one of the notorious propagandists was Taha Husain (1307-1393=1889-1973).

[2] Ghairah with respect to women is usually translated as jealousy, but since “jealousy” in English has pejorative connotation, it is not a poor substitute. Ghairah is also used with respect to religion, and in implies that a person holds his religion in such honor that when he sees it violated he becomes indignant and outraged. The same with ghairah for women; a Muslim should hold them in honor and become indignant when he sees them being dishonored or dishonoring themselves.

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