There are many reasons behind the obligation of Hijab. Almighty Allah in His wisdom gave a physical body – male or female – to the soul while on earth. Each gender has different roles and rules to follow. These rules are to maintain virtue and decency in society. Both men and women are asked to lower their gaze and to cover certain parts of the body. Hijab is an act of obedience, an identity for a Muslim woman, and promotes modesty in society. It is also a spiritual manifestation of the majesty and beauty of Allah’s names. It is an integral part of submission to Allah.
Hijab is one of the obligations set out by God for the good of the human being both in this world and in the Hereafter. We believe that the human being is essentially a soul first, which existed before coming into this world and will exist after leaving it. The body is a sort of shell to house the soul. Perfection and beauty of the soul are gained by traveling towards God on the path He has prescribed.
Laws given by Allah keep human beings from getting distracted from the ultimate goal of achieving closeness to Allah (s). Having certain checks in place, like that of lowering the gaze and abiding by the Islamic dress code of hijab, allow one to create an atmosphere of virtue and discipline. This atmosphere in turn aids in the maintenance of healthy relationships between the genders, and furthermore, a healthy society (Academy of Islam, 2020).
Hijab could be better understood through the following points.
1) First and foremost, it is to gain spirituality and closeness to God through obedience. It is a command of Allah, as attested to in the Quran, hadith, and unanimously agreed on by scholars of Islam. Just as salaat, fasting, etc. are laws that we obey, hijab is also one such law.
2) Hijab is an identity for Muslim women. It declares, without speaking, that the wearer is a God conscious believer. The decency and virtue it exudes are more powerful than any words that could be used to convey the same.
Modern culture today is replete with examples of the results of such exploitation.
3) Hijab promotes modesty in society. Hijab preserves modesty and fosters decency in interactions with the opposite gender and thus, in society as a whole (Rizvi, 1997). Islam is a religion that does not just function at the individual level, but at a societal level as well. Hence hijab is not only prescribed as an obligation to women, but to men as well. It is important to note that hijab is not only the physical covering in the form of a headscarf, but it extends to one’s other body parts as well; one example being the hijab of one’s eyes (Rizvi, 1997).
4) A spiritual and metaphysical meaning behind the hijab exists as well. As discussed previously, God has beautiful names which comprise of beauty and majesty (Jamal and Jalal). The male and the female are creatures of God, each manifesting certain aspects of His names and qualities. A woman represents the beautiful qualities of Allah, manifesting Divine beauty. The Jamal of the women is balanced with the Jalal of the hijab, a dignity and majesty for the beauty within her. According to Seyyed Hossein Nasr, the Absoluteness and Majesty of the Almighty is manifested most directly in the masculine state and His Infinity and Beauty in the feminine state (Nasr, 1980). Islamic spirituality necessitates social patterns, art of dress, and many other ways of life to create the balance of qualities in the genders.
Western society has long seen the hijab with a derogatory perspective. Along with the secularism and individualism that is an integral part of Western society, this has led some to proclaim that hijab is outdated and unnecessary. For a believer who submits to the Almighty, there can be no doubt that hijab is an integral part of obedience to Allah.
Academy for Learning Islam. (2020). Reflection No. 254 on Q 33:59 – Hijab – A Respectable
The hijab was not meant to restrict women from working, studying, or interacting with society. In fact, it was meant to allow women to perform all these activities alongside men, within certain guidelines. Islam encourages both men and women to learn, study, and contribute to their communities. Motherhood and the family are primary roles for women but that does not mean they cannot contribute to other areas. There are examples of women in the Prophet’s own household that demonstrate such participation. The Prophet’s wives, daughter, and granddaughters used to teach other women, successfully engage in business, raise awareness about Islamic rights, and bravely challenge oppressors. Looking at examples today, we see that many Muslim leaders emphasize the importance of women studying, even in countries which strictly enforce hijab. Hijab is not a barrier to participation in society – it simply sets certain guidelines on the type of interactions that can take place between the genders. These guidelines are to dignify the individuals, maintain virtue and chastity in society, decrease sexual tension and distractions, and preserve family structures. Hijab reflects commitment and strong values, which are assets for society.
Perhaps the more pertinent question is, was the hijab meant to restrict women from working, studying, or otherwise interacting with society? The answer to this question is: no.
We see many examples in Islamic history where women in hijab, including members of the Prophet’s family, participated in all aspects of life – studying, teaching, working, and even challenging oppressors. Hijab simply governs how people should interact with each other, by providing guidelines that make these interactions more respectful.
Islam encourages both men and women to learn, study, and contribute to their communities. Dating back to the Prophet’s time, Lady Khadija, the first wife of the Prophet, was a successful businesswoman (Al-Jibouri, n.d.). Lady Fatima (a) and Lady Zaynab (a) were both known to have held classes to teach other women from their homes, and answer inquiries from the public (Ordoni, 1987). They also both had times where they fought publicly in court for their rights (Rizvi, 1999). Lady Fatima (a) participated in helping during the battles fought during the Prophet’s time. These women all engaged with society in a time and setting where women were looked down upon so harshly that newborn girls were buried alive. Islam empowered women by pronouncing them as also having their own rights and roles in society. The hijab allowed them to engage with society while being recognized for their minds and abilities rather than for their looks.
We see strong women who contributed to society in the time of our Imams, and in all eras of Islamic history. Some of these outstanding women include Mariyah Bint Sa’d (who organized gatherings of Shias in her home in Basra), Habbaba al-Walibiyyah (a transmitter of Hadith and devoted follower of the Imams), Hamida al-Barbariyya (a Jurist who was the wife of Imam al-Sadiq who (a)), Hakima Khatun (daughter of Imam al-Jawad (a), who was the confidante of Imam al-Askari and Imam al-Mahdi (a) ) and many others. Recent and contemporary history also shows the role Muslim women play in society, upholding and promoting their faith. Women in hijab can be seen in all different professions; working, writing, painting, speaking up, all with hijab and within the boundaries of modesty as prescribed by Islam. This is proof that hijab is not a barrier to active participation in society.
Many Muslim leaders emphasise the importance of women studying, even in countries which strictly enforce hijab, such as Iran. Women in such countries work in different areas of society, including politics and leadership roles. The hijab is not a barrier for them. In fact, it facilitates a stable and strong place for them in society.
Some countries may forbid hijab wearing women from certain professions. This type of Islamophobia and Hijabophobia can be seen in different places around the world.
The wearing of hijab does not prevent a woman from performing well in her profession, as is evident from many who have done an excellent job with it.
The identity of a Muslim woman cannot be compartmentalized. She cannot wear the hijab at times and then leave it at home when she goes to work in society. Hijab reflects her commitment to Allah, and that stays with her wherever she goes. Society is better off in having a place for human beings who are strong in their convictions, male or female. Such people contribute well to society. Thus, the hijab promotes progress in society.
Al-Jibouri, Y. T. (n.d.). Khadijah, Daughter of Khuwaylid, Wife of Prophet Muhammed.
All societies have guidelines for appropriate dress in public spheres, whether explicit or implicit. Islam’s version of these guidelines, the hijab, creates a healthy balance for both genders and respects their innate desires, acknowledging them and providing an appropriate safe space to fulfill them in society. Some might argue that hijab is oppressive because it limits women’s freedom of choice, prevents them from participating in certain sports, and because hijab rulings are stricter for women than they are for men. However, we demonstrate that the perception of oppression is based almost fully on societal norms, which are relativistic and differ greatly depending on where one lives. Specifically, the perception of hijab being oppressive in the West is based on colonial narratives that were spread during the 19th century. Though the differences in rulings for physical hijab of men and women stem from biological differences, the spiritual dimension of hijab remains the same for both genders. Contrary to the claim of oppression, the hijab was meant to empower women to integrate in society as ordinary citizens – to study, work, vote, and do all other ordinary civil activities alongside men as equals.
Hijab is not oppressive to women. Allah (s) has created a system in society to help human beings live up to their fullest potential. For this to happen, He has set rules and regulations in accordance with the way He has created us. It is important for people to live their lives in servitude and obedience to Allah. One of the qualities of Allah is that He is the most just. So, while some things may seem unjust and unfair at first glance, upon deeper study a believer comes to realize that Allah, through His infinite knowledge and justice, would not ask a person to do something that is oppressive. In fact, provided everyone fulfills their duties correctly, that which He asks one to do protects one from oppression. If hijabi women are oppressed, it is not because Allah has given them the task of observing hijab that is oppressive; it is because the people around those women do not respect them and possibly mistreat them.
Hijab is often deemed oppressive because it seems like women in hijab cannot participate in many things, such as playing sports that involve uniforms with shorts or swimsuits. But the reason they cannot do these things is not because Islam forbids it, but because the society has norms which are contrary to Allah’s expectations. The fault is not on the religion, but on the society. For example, a female may not be able to participate in women’s soccer because the facility is not private, the referees are male, or the league does not allow them to wear long pants while playing. That is not to say Islam forbids women from playing soccer. It is that society does not accommodate for women to play high-level soccer while maintaining their principles of modesty. In many societies however, wearing the hijab does not prevent women from integrating in society as an ordinary citizen – women can study, work, vote, and do all other ordinary civil activities while wearing the hijab. There are also societies in the East who accommodate for women to play all types of sports while maintaining modesty.
Some argue that hijab is oppressive because it limits one’s freedom to wear what one wants. Freedom of expression, however, is a socially constructed concept, and different cultures define ‘freedom of expression’ very differently. In the West, the norm is for women to beautify themselves publicly, and so the imposition of hijab – which goes against this norm – might seem unfair. It is important to remember, however, that society’s rules are publicly constructed – they are not the solid truth. They are also relative, and they have their limits. For instance, going to work in clothes constituting underclothes is generally considered inappropriate; however, it is considered appropriate as swimwear whilst relaxing on a beach on vacation. Different settings dictate different rules for how one should dress, even in Western society. In fact, different settings have a wide range of what is acceptable in terms of modest dress. Some cultures limit female beautifications in all settings due to political views, such as in North Korea. In the Gulf, the norm is for women to beautify themselves in family and female-only settings whilst heavily covering themselves in the open public. Catholic nuns, orthodox Christian and Jewish women also practice public modesty according to their spiritual views. From these examples, we see that there are many views all along the spectrum of what the public deems is “appropriate” dress for women in each society.
It is important to note that the Western perception of hijab being oppressive is one that was created by Western powers during colonial times. During the late 19th and 20th centuries, Western colonial nations established themselves in various parts of the world, including Muslim countries in the Middle East (Ahmed, 1992). The dominance of such colonial states was promoted by the narrative that Western countries spread about the headscarf being a symbol of backwardness (Ahmed, 1992). The idea that removing the veil allows women to be free is an idea that British patriarchs and missionaries, amongst others, spread (Ahmed 1992). While this narrative of the veil served the Western powers’ in their colonial activities, women within Western countries like England were yet to be given basic rights, such as the right to vote (Ahmed, 1992). Therefore, not only is the Western definition of ‘freedom of expression’ a socially constructed concept, but it was socially constructed for the purpose of serving illegitimate colonial activities. This puts into perspective the negative sentiments towards hijab in the West today. We need to view the Islamic stance on hijab without the Western bias.
Islam’s stance on the observation of hijab is one of balance. In Islam, there is both an environment where women can beautify themselves in appropriate settings (e.g. within marriage) and yet also be very modest in public and at times of worship. Islam does not suppress men and women’s innate desires, nor does it give them full rein. It creates a healthy balance for both genders and respects their innate desires, but it also acknowledges physical nature. It does not suppress it. Hijab is not oppressive, because it acknowledges human desires. It does not deny them by discouraging adornment or marriage, nor does it let them go out of control with public display. Rather, it provides an appropriate safe space to fulfill desires in society.
Some argue that hijab is unfair because the ruling of hijab is stricter when applied to women compared to men. Why must women wear long sleeves, long pants, and a head covering even in the summer, while men can wear short sleeves and shorts? Women must search hard in shopping centres to find loose-fitting, modest clothing while men can virtually pick up any item from a store and be able to wear it.
Firstly, the unfairness of the situation again relies heavily on the setting – the reason modest clothing is hard to find in stores in the West is because most Western standards do not place as much value on modest clothing. In other settings, where cultures value modesty more, such clothing is much easier to find, and wearing hijab becomes easier and more enjoyable, even during summer.
Secondly, it is true that women need to cover more parts of themselves than men do, however, inequality of the rulings does not imply injustice. Equity, not equality, is what governs fairness and justice. Men and women have biological differences, and rules apply differently to them because of this. Despite this, some men choose to cover up more than is Islamically required, because they realise that undue attention can be problematic.
To have justice, fairness, and order means that everything exists in its appropriate place. ‘Unfairness’ to women through hijab is largely the result of comparison against societal standards that encourage immodesty. Hijab, both of men and women in their different forms, sets standards of modesty in society and preserves virtue and dignity in society.
Ahmed, L. (1992). Women and gender in islam: Historical roots of a modern debate. Yale University Press.
Rizvi, S. M. (1997). Hijab, The Muslim Womens Dress, Islamic or Cultural?
The hijab is an Islamic code of conduct intended to guide gender interactions and is applicable to both men and women. Although the hijab is more visible on women, note that the Quran first instructs men to lower their gaze before guiding women to don their physical hijab (The Quran 24:30-31). Women too have the responsibility to lower their gaze, for the hijab (in both men and women) aims to build a mindset where people are valued for their personality and intellect, not their physical appearance. Recognizing that there are differences between man and woman in their psyche and how they are portrayed in society, Islam takes a gendered approach to hijab. Implementing the hijab liberates a woman from being objectified, allowing her to be valued for her intelligence and character, not her beauty.
Hijab: A Conversation for both Men and Women
It is important to recognize that the hijab refers to both a conduct of action and a dress code applicable to men and women (Rizvi, 2012). In fact, when introducing hijab in the Holy Quran, Allah (s) first speaks to the believing men, commanding them to mind their conduct by lowering their gaze. They are not to stare at women and invade their private space. Then the Quran instructs women to do the same, and to also put on a physical covering (The Quran 24:30-31). Note that women too are expected to lower their gaze, and men too are responsible for covering certain parts of their body.
On a finer note, hijab means a covering (Rizvi, 2012), and thus is used to denote the boundaries that Islam has placed between men and women when they interact. Although this is a non-gendered term, the hijab of a woman is more visible and so the term is often associated with a woman’s head covering.
Hijab: Why the difference?
The obligation of Hijab has many reasons behind it. Most people focus on the physical and social reasons for it. While those are true, there is also a profound spiritual and metaphysical meaning behind the Hijab. Almighty Allah has al-Asmaa al-Husna, beautiful names which comprise of beauty and majesty (Jamal and Jalal). Both the male and the female are seen as two creatures of God, each manifesting certain aspects of His names and qualities. A woman represents the beautiful qualities of Allah, manifesting Divine beauty. The Jamal of the women is balanced with the Jalal of the hijab, a dignity and majesty for the beauty within her. Seyyed Hossein Nasr in his article ‘The Male and Female in the Islamic Perspective’ says that the Absoluteness and Majesty of the Almighty is manifested most directly in the masculine state and His Infinity and Beauty in the feminine state (Nasr, 1980). Islamic spirituality necessitates social patterns, art of dress, and many other ways of life to create the balance of qualities in the genders.
Men and women have been created differently, with separate roles to play on earth, thus requiring different responsibilities. Both are expected to fulfill their roles while in the world. The soul has no gender and is equal. God’s rules apply to both genders, but in diverse ways. For example, men are also required to cover parts of their body out of modesty, but not in the same way as women. Similarly, men are prohibited from wearing silk clothing and gold ornaments whereas women have no such restrictions. Men too, like women, must not wear clothing that is not appropriate, tight fitting, and those that show off the body. God has ordained different commands for men and women while encouraging both to be modest.
In Islam, the responsibility falls on each gender to protect their own modesty and to control their own desires. Whether a woman dresses modestly or not, it is the obligation of each man to guard his own chastity.
There are many reasons for the Hijab. Indeed, it is not the woman’s duty to regulate the behavior of men. Men are accountable for their own conduct. They are equally required to be modest and to handle themselves responsibly in every sphere of their lives.
Hijab: A Mindset
Moving beyond the notion that the hijab is merely a headscarf, one recognizes that the hijab is in fact a mindset. For both women and men, it is a very physical reminder to themselves and to those around them that there are rules to follow.
The Hijab conveys an inner commitment and a submission to the authority of Allah. There is an inner modesty that is manifested in the outer form of hijab, differently for each gender according to the way God created them. Thus, the outer covering without the inner modesty is not a complete picture of the Hijab. Nor is it true of the other way around. Independent of the intentions and actions of others, an individual should maintain their hijab to preserve their own sense of modesty. This is beautifully illustrated in a tradition of Lady Fatima (a) where she kept a veil between herself and a blind man visiting with her father. When Prophet Muhammad (s) asked about her reasoning for doing so when the man could not see, it is reported that she replied:
“Messenger of Allah, it is true that he cannot see me, but I can see him…”
Lady Fatima (a) was very aware of her hijab and the impact that it had on her and those around her. For this reason, her choice was commended by the Prophet (s).
It is empowering to recognize the liberating effect the hijab has on a woman. She controls what part of her can be viewed by men.
Through her hijab she states that she will not be objectified by a culture that exploits the beauty of women.
It is through Allah’s (s) wisdom and knowledge of the uniqueness of men and women that He ascribes different guidelines on them. The Qur’an speaks of equality between the two genders since each is a soul sent to earth to gain perfection. The body – male or female – has been given to help establish a system on earth for the perfection of humanity. Justice is found in the equitable treatment of both then male and female, not in equal treatment. Islam’s approach to hijab and its gender-specific forms recognizes and applies the unique and complementary natures of men and women. It clearly states how modesty and decency are to be maintained by both genders.
Rizvi, S. M. (1997). Hijab, The Muslim Womens Dress, Islamic or Cultural?
Islam has provided us with clear guidelines to follow when it comes to the physical hijab. For women, that means wearing a loose-fitting garment that does not reveal her body with the exception of the face and hands, as well as a scarf that covers her hair as well as neck and chest. With this being said, it is important to keep in mind that when it comes to different cultural adaptations, the parameters of these guidelines can often be subjective; however, the minimal guidelines that Islam has set in place should be adhered to.
When it comes to the physical hijab and its rulings, Islam provides a clear guideline to which one must adhere. There are also multiple verses of the Quran that refer to the physical hijab:
Scholars have described the word, “khumur” in this verse as being, “something with which a woman conceals her head” (Rizvi, 1997). This head covering should cover the hair, neck, and the bosom.
In addition, the Quran states:
Scholars explain that the jalabib refers to, “a loose outer garment” (Rizvi, 1997). This means that the Islamic dress code for a woman must not only include a scarf that covers her head (her hair), but that the overall garment must be longer and loose fitting so as not to reveal her body, with exceptions of her face and hands (Rizvi, 1997). Scholars also specify that the feet must be covered completely (Hijab in Islam, Al-Islam TV, 2021). The physical Hijab must also not be a display to attract attention. Flashy clothing and clearly visible adornment of all sorts must be avoided to make the hijab aligned with Islamic principles.
It is important to keep in mind that Islam is a world religion that is not bound to one particular culture. Therefore, while hijab guidelines are set in place by Islam, the cultural adaptations of clothing within the parameters of those specific guidelines is often subjective, allowing for diversity in societies. For example, some women may use abayas or chadors, or if we take a look at the West, it is common to find a woman choosing to wear a loose outfit with a scarf to cover herself. It must be clear though that the minimal Islamic guidelines for hijab themselves are not open to interpretation (Rizvi, 1997).
Our Duty with Respect to the Physical Hijab
It is essential to constantly remind oneself of the purpose of the physical hijab, which is to preserve one’s beauty and maintain modesty in interactions with the opposite gender (Rizvi, 1997). One’s duty then, is to learn physical hijab rules and apply them to daily life and circumstances to the best of one’s ability. It can also be extremely helpful to look to resident scholars in the region in which one resides for more guidance and clarifications if needed.
Academy for Learning Islam. (2020). Reflection No. 254 on Q 33:59 – Hijab – A Respectable
According to the Islamic scholar, Imam Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi, in his introduction to Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari’s book Islam and Religious Pluralism (n.d.), pluralism can be delineated into two meanings: “Social Pluralism” in the sociological sense means a society which consists of a multi-faith or multi-cultural mosaic. “Religious pluralism” in the theological sense means a concept in which all religions are considered to be equally true and valid (Mutahhari & Rizvi, n.d.).
God has brought down diversity and plurality on this Earth – whether that be in the form of languages, gender, culture, tribes, and even religion. In every aspect of the Creation of this world there is purpose to it – thus, the diversity and plurality of life is a purposeful Divine action:
Thus, on a socio-political level, pluralism can work, and is in fact encouraged by God. Socio-political pluralism exists in societies, and can, and does within Muslim-dominated societies. Now, let us turn to the discussion and validity of theological pluralism.
The most famous proponent of religious pluralism is John Hick, whose pluralistic hypothesis claims that each religion in its own way represents an authentic revelation of the Divine world and a fully authentic means of salvation. He believes that all religions are culturally conditioned responses to the same ultimate reality; and, therefore, are equally valid, and salvation is possible through any of them (Mutahhari & Rizvi, n.d.).
Hick uses the famous story of the blind men and the elephant of the Hindu mystics to illustrate his point.
An elephant was brought to a group of blind men who had never encountered such an animal before. One felt a leg and reported that an elephant is a great living pillar. Another felt the trunk and reported that an elephant is a great snake. Another felt a tusk and reported that an elephant is like a sharp ploughshare, and so on. And then they all quarrelled together, each claiming that his own account was the truth and therefore all the others false. In fact, of course, they were all true, but each referring only to one aspect of the total reality and all expressed in very imperfect analogies. (Mutahhari & Rizvi, n.d.)
According to Imam Rizvi, in using the story of the elephant, Hicks has assumed all religious people to be blind and that they lack the ability to know the complete truth (Mutahhari & Rizvi, n.d.). It is at this point in the discussion that we should point out that the scholars of the school of Ahlul Bayt (as) make a distinction between the ability to know the complete truth. The difference lies between the incapable (qāsir) and the negligent (muqassir) who have misplaced convictions despite having access to Islām (Mutahhari & Rizvi, n.d.).
In answer to the blind spot of Hick’s utilization of the story of the elephant and the blind men, Imam Rizvi points to the moral presented by the poet Jalal-ud-Deen Rumi:
Some Hindus have an elephant to show.
No one here has ever seen an elephant. They bring it at night to a dark room.
One by one, we go in the dark and come out saying how we experience the animal. One of us happens to touch the trunk. “A water-pipe kind of creature.”
Another, the ear. “A very strong, always moving back and forth, fan-animal.”
Another, the leg. “I find it still, like a column on a temple.”
Another touches the curved back. “A leathery throne.”
Another, the cleverest, feels the tusk. “A rounded sword made of porcelain.” He’s proud of his description.
Each of us touches one place and understands the whole in that way. The palm and the fingers feeling in the dark are how the senses explore the reality of the elephant.
If each of us held a candle there, and if we went in together, we could see it. (Mutahhari & Rizvi, n.d.)
These men were reaching out in the darkness and, therefore, they developed inaccurate descriptions of the elephant; if they had used a candle, they would have seen the truth! In Islām, God does not let a seeker for truth grope in darkness:
What is understood here is that God sent down Islam and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) for a reason – for humans to submit to Islam and the will of God as Muslims (literal translation being “one who submits”), as part of the divine plan in the journey to perfection. What makes Muslims different from the believers of other monotheistic religions is that:
“We believe in Allāh, and what has been revealed to us, and what was revealed to Ibrāhīm, Ismā’īl, Ishāq, Ya`qūb, and the Tribes; and what was given to Mūsā and `Isā and to the prophets from their Lord. We do not make any distinction between (the claim of) any of them, and to Him do we submit. And whoever desires a religion other than Islam, it shall not be accepted from him, and in the hereafter, he shall be one of the losers.”
Ale-Imran verses 84-85, p. 61
This passage clearly explains basic beliefs of God’s religion: Among those basic beliefs is the requirement to believe in “what has been revealed to us” (e.g., the Qur’ān that has been revealed to Muslims). “Islam – submission” only follows when one accepts all the prophets and does not differentiate in the truth of any one of them, including Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). (Mutahhari & Rizvi, n.d.).
Imam Rizvi (n.d) further posits, if Judaism and Christianity are concurrently valid paths of submission to God, then why did the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) work so hard to convey his message even to the Jews and the Christians? If they were already on the Right Path, then why did the Prophet (PBUH) feel it important to invite them to Islām?
That being said, it should be noted that there are degrees to salvation and perdition. Whilst being Muslim and submitting to the Will of Allah certainly sets you with the right intention as willed by God, it does not guarantee that you will reach the highest level of heaven or go directly to heaven. Likewise, being a Christian or a Jew does not preclude you from salvation and entering heaven. Everyone will have their own journey on the path towards salvation and rectifying their mistakes in the hereafter.
Ayatullah Mutahhari remarks that, “Felicity and perdition are in accordance with actual and creational conditions, not conventional and man-made conditions,” (Mutahhari & Rizvi, n.d.). Therefore, the conditions in which an atheist or polytheist will or will not reach heaven are based on the conditions and signs placed in their lives, for which they can choose either to accept or reject. However, the mercy and compassion of God cannot be diminished in any of our judgements, as He is the All-Knowing and All-Aware.
Al-Baqarah. (n.d.) In Qur’an (p. 43).
Ale-Imran. (n.d.) In Qur’an (p. 61).
Al-Ma’idah. (n.d.) In Qur’an (p. 116).
Muṭahharī M., & Rizvi, S. M. (n.d.). Islam and religious pluralism. Retrieved from
One argument commonly used against free will is that if God is All-Knowing and already knows about the future, then everything must be predetermined. It is thought that God’s Omniscience contradicts free will. Either humans do not have free will or God is not All-Knowing.
The problem in this argument is that it equates God’s Knowledge of the future with God causing the future to occur. Just because God knows what will happen in the future does not mean that He is making it happen. God’s Knowledge is independent of what actually takes place.
A simple example can be used to explain this concept.
Assume someone is holding a pencil in the air, about a foot off the ground. We know that if the person lets go of the pencil, the pencil will fall to the ground due to the force of gravity. Let us assume the person told us he will let go of the pencil at a particular moment in time. Now we know that not only will he let go of the pencil, but when he does let go, the pencil will fall to the ground.
Another example would be that of a teacher who after teaching her students for an entire year knows which one will pass and fail – but the teacher still gives the exam so that the students make their own destinies. However, her knowledge of who will pass and fail does not determine who will pass and fail
Our knowledge of what will happen when he releases his grip on the pencil does not mean we are causing the pencil to fall. Rather it is the person’s freedom of choice that causes him to let go of the pencil, which in turn causes the force of gravity to let the pencil drop.
Similarly, human beings are like the person holding the pencil. We have the freedom to make the choices we make. God is aware of what our choices will be along with their outcomes, not because He is making them happen, but simply because He is All-Knowing.
Leghaei, M. (n.d.). Einstein’s paradox: God’s omniscience and man’s freewill. Retrieved from
This question seeks to investigate the Prophet’s (s) treatment of his enemies. Did he order the assassination of individuals and the execution of captives of war? Is it possible to reconcile this with the Prophet’s image of mercy?
The Mercy of Prophet Muhammed (s)
Before examining this specific case of the Prophet (s) and his interactions with his enemies, it is important to establish his character in general. Allah (swt) says:
It is a reminder that our Prophet (s) was a man of mercy who embodied a religion of peace, Islam; mercy was at the heart of his mission. This is exemplified in the Prophet (s)’s interactions with people. Examples such as offering assistance to a woman in her moment of weakness, kindness to a person who threw garbage at him daily all manifest the love and mercy he had towards others (Sheriff & Alloo, 2012). Similar instances of kindness and generosity have been recounted many times throughout the life of the Prophet (s).
The Prophet’s (s) mercy extended to his enemies as well. This is clear in his overall treatment of war captives after the Battle of Badr: they were given horses to ride to Madina and upon arrival easily given freedom in exchange for ransom or by teaching others to read (Rizvi, 1999). A second example is the restraint the Prophet (s) demonstrated when dealing with the Meccans after they broke the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah (Rizvi, 1999). The Prophet (s) went to confront the Meccans with an army of 10,000 men, yet upon their surrender, not a single drop of blood was shed. It is important to note that these were people who had caused the Prophet (s) much pain and difficulty in the past. The fact that the Prophet (s) chose peace when he had the clear upper hand is a testament to his strength and mercy.
Islam is also a religion of justice which beautifully combines the concepts of turning the other cheek (i.e. no revenge) with an eye for an eye. The Prophet (s) was not foolish to blindly forgive others in the face of injustice and terror. Rather, he stood up for justice and was a source of fear for oppressors. To do so otherwise would have been a disservice to the rest of society and a form of injustice. On this note Imam Ali (a) has said (Qara’ati, 2012):
Islamic justice stipulates that the punishment for an individual who intentionally kills an innocent person or whose actions lead to the killing of innocent lives is death; it is a life for a life. In the Quran, certain circumstances are mentioned in which it is acceptable to kill another;
“Verily the recompense of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and do mischief in the land is only that they shall be killed or crucified’
The Quran 5:33.
As an extension of His justice, Allah (swt) says that the punishment for waging a military, ideological, or propaganda war against Him or His messenger as well as committing activities that will disturb the security of the community, may be death, depending on its severity (Leghaei, 2018). Even then, the verse after talks about forgiveness if the person repents – Except for those who repent before you apprehend them. And know that Allah is Forgiving and Merciful (5:34).
Another instance when the penalty is life, is when a person kills someone. The Quran says:
‘O you who believe, prescribed for you is legal retribution for those murdered . . . ‘(2:178). This is justice. But again, it tempered by mercy. The verse continues to say, ‘But whoever overlooks from his brother anything, then there should be a suitable follow-up and payment to him with good conduct. This is an alleviation from your Lord and a mercy.’
Taking life without any of these just causes is so serious that the Quran declares, ‘whoever kills a soul unless for a soul or for corruption [done] in the land – it is as if he had slain mankind entirely. And whoever saves one – it is as if he had saved mankind entirely’ (5:32) The Prophet (s) who received the Quranic revelations and commanded people to obey it, would not go against its laws.
The Executions and Assassinations linked to Prophet Muhammed (s)
As per Mansour Leghaei’s article, Was Muhammed (S) a Prophet of Terror?!, the four accounts against the Prophet are as follows:
Assassination of Ka’ab Ibn Ashraf: a chief of the Bani Nadhir (a Jewish tribe in Medina) who cried over the dead soldiers of the Quraysh and harassed the Muslims. It is said that the Prophet (s) was disturbed by this and asked his companions to end his mischief in the land (i.e. to assassinate him). Ka’ab was assassinated in the outskirts of Medina and his head was taken to the Prophet (s). This was a practice at that time.
Assassination of Abu Ra`feh: a man who assisted Ka`ab Ibn Ashraf. Some Muslims requested permission to assassinate him from the Prophet (s) and he granted it. They killed him at night in his bed.
Execution of two captives of war: of the 70 captives of war from the Battle of Badr, two were executed. The first was Uqbah Ibn Abi-Moee’t, a man similar to Abu Lahab, who mobilised many of the Quraysh to fight against the Prophet (s) in the Battle of Badr. The second was Abu Azza, who promised to never again fight against Muslims or incite others to do so once captured at the Battle of Badr, but broke his promise and was executed once captured again at the Battle of Uhud.
The authenticity of the narrations related to these incidents is questionable. In Islam assassination is haram. As outlined earlier, the Quran (and the Prophet) lays down stringent rules for justice. Even if we were to assume that these narrations are true, they align with the concepts of Islamic Justice as all four men were mischief makers and thus their death is acceptable according to the above verse (The Quran 5:33). Also note that in the case of Abu Raf’feh’s assassination, it is mentioned specifically that his family was not harmed, indicating that the Muslims were only killing the one they were authorized to do so. As for the war captives, note that of the 70 captives from Badr, only two were executed, and Abu Azza’s execution was not even after the Battle of Badr.
From this, it is clear that the execution of war captives was not the norm for the Prophet (s).
No, Prophet Muhammad (s) did not marry Lady Aisha when she was a child. When discussing such questions, it is important to note that hadith like these have untrustworthy narrators attributed to the Bani Ummayah (Al-Qazwini, 2015). Such hadith were used to defame the Prophet (s) (Al-Musawi, 2019) and are commonly referenced to elevate the status of Aisha (Al-Qazwini, 2015).
This false claim is linked to a fabricated hadith that places her at the age of six or nine years upon marriage. As the year of Aisha’s birth is unknown, circumstances linked to her life allow us to better gauge her age and indicate that she was at least a teenager of 15 or 16 years when she married the Prophet (s), an age common for marriage in many cultures at the time. We can draw this conclusion by comparing these circumstances to the year of Aisha’s marriage, which took place either in 1 AH, 2 AH, or 4 AH, according to various hadith. (Al-Musawi, 2019; Al-Qazwini, 2015; Masterton, 2020).
One way to establish Aisha’s age at the time of her marriage to the Prophet (s) is by comparing her age with that of her elder sister, Asma bint Abu Bakr. Asma was 10 years older than Aisha. Given that traditions state that she died at 100 years old in 73 AH, Asma was 27-years-old at Hijra. This means that Lady Aisha was 17 years old at Hijra and could have been between 18-21 years at the time of her marriage. (Al-Qazwini, 2015).
Another event to consider is the age of Aisha when she converted. According to the prominent scholars of Ahl al-Sunnah, Aisha accepted Islam during the first year of the mission of the Prophet, while she was a child. This has been mentioned in Ibn Hisham’s version of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rashul Allah, the earliest surviving biography of Muhammad. If she was about 7 years at that time, she would be between 21-24 years at the time of her marriage (Al-Qazwini, 2015). Even if she was only 5 years old at the time of her conversion, she would be between 19-23 years at the time of her marriage.
Yet another event worthy of consideration is her age when Surah al-Qamar (The Quran, 54) was revealed. According to al-Bukhari Aisha is reported to have said that at the time that sura was revealed, ‘I was a young girl’. The 54th Surah of the Qur’an was revealed nine years before Hijrah (Masterton, 2020). If we consider a ‘young girl’ being about 7 years (could be older), at the time of her marriage she would be at least 17 years old.
It is thus logical to conclude that the Prophet (s) did not marry Lady Aisha when she was a child. As for Aisha’s exact age at the time of her marriage, Allah knows best.
Despite the numerous suspicions over the course of history that claim that Prophet Muhammad (s) suffered from epilepsy, there is no real evidence to support this idea. Rather, if one studies his life and analyses the way the Prophet (s) behaved, it is evident that he was a wise and knowledgeable man and did not have the symptoms common to epilepsy.
In order to better understand this question, we first define epilepsy and the symptoms associated with it.
According to Mayo Clinic (2021), epilepsy is defined as “a central nervous system (neurological) disorder in which brain activity becomes abnormal, causing seizures or periods of unusual behavior, sensations, and sometimes loss of awareness.” It is often accompanied by a temporary confusion, a staring spell, uncontrollable jerking movements of the arms and legs, and sometimes even loss of consciousness or awareness (Mayo Clinic, 2021).
Methods of Revelation:
There were three main modes of revelation used to convey messages to the Prophets of Allah (swt), as explained in the book, The Qur’an and Hadith by Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi (Rizvi, 1994). The first mode was inspiration in the form of true dreams, or Prophetic inspirations. The second consisted of revelations sent from ‘behind a curtain’ which could be done in various different ways. The story of Prophet Musa (a) is one that exemplifies such a mode of revelation. There are accounts in the Bible as well as in the Quran that report God speaking to Prophet Musa from behind a burning bush, and the Prophet feeling intense fear that caused him to fall down at the sound of The Voice (Aziz, 2019). The third and final mode of revelation, being the easiest and clearest form, took place through an angel (Jibrail).
“It is not possible for a man that he should receive the message of Allah except either by inspiration or from behind a curtain, or Allah sends angels and the angels bring the message of Allah, whatever Allah wishes. Verily Allah is High, Omniscient”
The Quran 42:51.
Revelations to the Prophet (s) and Accusations of Epilepsy:
Of all the different modes of revelation mentioned above, the hardest form experienced is said to be the revelations from ‘behind a curtain.’ For Prophet Muhammad (s) there would sometimes be a continuous high-pitched ringing that reached his ears, causing him to go through physical and emotional discomfort before he received the revelation and was able to convey it to others.
Some accounts state that the Prophet (s) “would be gripped by a feeling of pain, and in his ears, there would be a noise like the reverberation of a bell. Even on a very cold day, the bystanders would see great pearls of sweat on his forehead as the revelation descended upon him” (Aziz, 2019).
It was accounts like these, as well as others, that noted symptoms such as the “unconsciousness” of the Prophet (s) during these revelations, that led some to suspect the presence of epilepsy. However, one must note that after an episode of unconsciousness in epilepsy, the individual often “does not know what has happened. Sometimes, he is confused, forgets where he is, and wanders away in an attack of loss of memory (amnesia or epileptic fugue)” (Rizvi, 1994).
One might wonder, where did these accusations stem from in the first place? It is believed that these accusations against the Prophet (s) were a result of religious and political propaganda that sought to discredit him and his divine mission by spreading dread and falsehood about him (Aziz, 2019). It is interesting to further note that the effects the Prophet (s) endured during the time of revelation were not unique to him alone. Rather, they were common to other Israelite Prophets as well – those against whom such claims of epilepsy are not made (Rizvi, 1994).
It is therefore clear that the Prophet (s) did not suffer from epilepsy. Rather, the intense discomfort that he went through during the moments of revelation was a natural reaction to the transferral of a divine message – from a divine entity to a finite human being (Aziz, 2019). The Quran also confirms the validity of the statements of the Prophet (s) by saying, “He [i.e. the Prophet] does not speak of his own desire, it is not but a revelation revealed” (The Quran, 53:3-4).
Aziz, H. (2019). Did Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) have epilepsy? A neurological analysis.