Recently, I came across a YouTube video which was about Muslim female vloggers. It claimed these women, by making vlogs on make-up and clothing were directly disobeying a verse from the Quran. I have heard the same verse used many times by ‘scholars’ to propagate that a Muslim woman
-Must stay at home unless there is a real necessity to come out (i.e. must not have a job outside the home).
-Cannot wear make-up outside her home
-Must be completely shrouded so only her eyes are uncovered
-If she must leave the house, a male companion will accompany her
However, as I’m sure you’ll know, many people repeating the same mantra does not make the mantra a truth.
Let’s take a look at the verse. It is from Surah Al Ahzaab, verse 33:
وَقَرْنَ فِى بُيُوتِكُنَّ وَلاَ تَبَرَّجْنَ تَبَرُّجَ الْجَـهِلِيَّةِ الاٍّولَى وَأَقِمْنَ الصَّلَوةَ وَءَاتِينَ الزَّكَـوةَ وَأَطِعْنَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُـمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيــراً
And stay in your houses, and do not Tabarruj yourselves like the Tabarruj of the times of ignorance, and perform the Salah, and give Zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah wishes only to remove the Ar-Rijs from you, O members of the family, and to purify you with a thorough purification.
Above is the common translation of the verse and the English translation is a direct reflection of what the ‘scholars’, for centuries now, have been interpreting the verse to mean. An interpretation tainted with deeply embedded misogyny and a need to control women. Yet, despite the layers of distortion and misguidance, the truth remains; The Quran holds the key to true understanding.
Firstly, if you look at the verse before this one in the Quran, you will clearly understand these words are directed towards the wives of the Prophet. Secondly, the word (an imperative verb) ‘قَرْنَ’ is interpreted as ‘Stay’ when its root ‘وقر’ is in fact the same for the noun used in Surah Nuh, verse 13:
مَّا لَكُمْ لَا تَرْجُونَ لِلَّهِ وَقَارًا
What is the matter with you, that you do not hope for any majesty/dignity from Allah?
Hence, the true meaning of this part of the verse is ‘Dignify yourselves in your homes’.
Now, the meaning of ‘tabarruj’ is of paramount importance. It is often translated like this because many ‘scholars’ who studied the Quran did not have a definitive meaning for it but instead offered the opinions of other ‘scholars’ as possible interpretations. Yet, the answer, I believe is there if your mind is open enough.
In Surah An Noor, verse 60, Allah (using the same term ‘tabarruj’, in a different form) states:
وَالْقَوَاعِدُ مِنَ النِّسَآءِ الَّلَـتِى لاَ يَرْجُونَ نِكَاحاً فَلَيْسَ عَلَيْهِنَّ جُنَاحٌ أَن يَضَعْنَ ثِيَابَهُنَّ غَيْرَ مُتَبَرِّجَـتِ بِزِينَةٍ وَأَن يَسْتَعْفِفْنَ خَيْرٌ لَّهُنَّ وَاللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عِلِيمٌ
And the Qawa`id among women who do not hope for marriage, it is no sin on them if they discard their clothing in such a way as not to be those who do tabarruj/show their adornment. To refrain from tabarruj is better for them. And Allah is All-Hearer, All-Knower.
Interestingly, here the ‘scholars’ have defined ‘tabarruj’ as ‘showing their adornment’ and correctly so. This would also correlate with the verse in Surah An Noor (31) which clearly outlines how and when exactly a Muslim woman should cover.
Now, going back to our initial verse (Surah Al Ahzaab, verse 33), ‘tabarruj’ means ‘not to show what Allah has told you to cover’. So, the translation of verse should read as the following:
‘And dignify yourselves in your homes and do not show of yourselves what Allah commanded you to cover, like women did in the times of ignorance…’
In other words, be dignified, honour yourself by only uncovering/showing your body in your home and do not be immoral by doing such outside. The two statements are one command. It is like saying, ‘Don’t consume margarine and use butter instead’.
This is further supported by sayings of the Companions about shamelessness and nudity when people would circumbulate the ka’ba naked. The collection of Bukhari, for example, offers the following:
Narrated Abu Huraira: “In the year prior to the last Hajj of the Prophet when Allah’s Apostle made Abu Bakr the leader of the pilgrims, the latter (Abu Bakr) sent me in the company of a group of people to make a public announcement: ‘No pagan is allowed to perform Hajj after this year, and no naked person is allowed to perform Tawaf of the Ka’ba.’
In summary, the verse in Surah Al Ahzaab, despite being quoted by many – as evidence for the many things a woman cannot do, was in fact a simple command for the wives of the Prophet to dress appropriately or morally as defined by Allah in the Quran.
The reality is as Albert Einstein is quoted to have said. ‘Few are those who see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts.’ Yet, with the light of the Quran to guide us, as Muslims, we have no excuse.