The Hijab of Men
It is not uncommon for non-Muslims and even many Muslims to associate the Islamic commandments on Hijab with females, even though Islam has ordained Hijab for both men and women. In fact, many of us would be surprised to note that Allah states in the Holy Qur’an: “Tell the believing men to cast down their looks and guard their private parts; that is purer for them; surely Allah is Aware of what they do. And tell the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof….” (24:30-31) Indeed, before addressing women and telling them to conceal their bodies, Allah first addresses the believing men and tells us to lower our gaze!
When discussing the issue of Hijab for men, it is essential to keep in mind the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A man once came to the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) and told him he wished to commit fornication. As the companions got up to strike him, the Prophet restrained them and then said to the man, “My son, how would you feel if someone wished to do the same thing with your mother or sister or wife or daughter?” The man replied that naturally he would want to kill the person. The Prophet then said, “If you do not wish for someone to do such an act with your mother or sister or wife or daughter, then why entertain such a thought about someone else’s mother or sister or wife or daughter?!”
Islamic teachings on Hijab for males can be divided into three categories:
The Physical Hijab
Let’s face it – if it wasn’t for those skin-tight t-shirts, many brothers would not spend hours working the dumbbells every day. Yet although it may not be obligatory on men to completely conceal our bodies like it is for women, the issue of modesty and humility cannot be neglected. Pride and boastfulness are among the greatest sins in Islam, and attempting to impress others (both males and females) using our physique and attracting attention to ourselves in such a manner certainly falls into this category.
Again, the Golden Rule comes into play here: next time you go out in public wearing clothes that reveal your chest and biceps so that girls can check you out, imagine how you would feel if your own sister or wife was checking out other men who were dressed in a similar manner. The answer should be obvious.
In addition to the physical Hijab, Islam has clear teachings about social Hijab. An alarming number of otherwise religious and pious boys these days think it is perfectly acceptable to have female “friends” and to openly socialize and hang out with them, “as long as we don’t do anything Haram” and “as long as she is wearing a scarf”!
The Holy Prophet is reported to have said, “One who believes in Allah and the Day of Judgment does not remain in a place where even the sound of breathing of non-Mahram women is perceived.” (Wasail al-Shia) It is one thing that Islam permits us to meet with non-Mahrams for school-/work-related or otherwise unavoidable reasons – and even then, complete modesty should be observed – but these days it is a common sight to see boys and girls mingling so freely and casually in the pretense of youth groups, student organizations, camps, retreats, conferences, and “meet-and-greet” programs.
However confident we may be in our ability to avoid Haram, let us not forget that Shaitan even tried to misguide Prophet Ibrahim and Prophet Ismail (peace be upon them). So what special spiritual powers do we possess that make us think we can completely avoid his evil whispers?
Indeed, Shaitan works slowly and patiently. It all starts innocently enough: a social gathering where boys and girls are sitting and “respectfully” talking to each other. That is, until someone cracks a joke, and then someone else makes a somewhat crass remark, and very soon this “Islamic” discussion devolves into an unspoken flirt-fest.
Honestly, who are we kidding here? The people who claim to be so overly confident about their ability to avoid Haram are the same ones who often complain about how “difficult” and “challenging” it is for them to practice Hijab and avoid music and keep beards. How funny that we easily blame shortcomings of faith when it comes to observing the other obligations of Islam, yet when it comes to mixed gatherings, our Eimaan is so incredibly strong that we can be 100 percent sure we will not get involved in anything prohibited whatsoever! The sad reality is that the same brothers who are so incredibly steadfast when it comes to the other obligations of Islam are the very ones who falter in this category, precisely because they are so overly-confident about their ability to avoid Haram.
On a related note, it is quite unfortunate to see the double standard many parents apply here with boys and girls. According to many parents, it is perfectly acceptable for their son to go to a female friend’s birthday party where they know there will be complete mixing of the genders, but if they hear even an unfounded rumor about their daughter doing something questionable, all hell breaks loose! It is certainly not being argued that we should extend the same kind of careless, unrestrained freedom to our daughters; rather, Islamic principles of justice demand that parents should be applying the same standards and scrutiny to their sons as they do with their daughters.
Hijab of the Eye
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (peace be upon him) has said, “The evil glance is fornication of the eyes, the kiss is fornication of the lips, and touching a non-Mahram woman is fornication of the hands.” (Wasail al-Shia)
In today’s hypersexualized Western society, many of us would rather just ignore the concept of lowering the gaze and avoiding inappropriate glances at females all together. And there is no harm in “just looking”, right?
Yet one minor glance can have a spiritually disastrous effect on the human being. Prophet Isa (peace be upon him) once said to his disciples: “Beware of looking at forbidden things, for that is the seed of desire and leads to deviant behavior.” (Lantern of the Path)
Many of us might believe in “lowering the gaze”, but this is an aspect of our Hijab that most of us still need to perfect. In addition to not looking at non-Mahrams, prudence dictates that we should avoid looking at pictures, billboards, magazines, as well as television programs and movies with images of non-Mahram women.
Even a few inappropriate glances at non-Mahrams can over time cause one to abandon his modesty and openly start “checking out” girls. From a psychological point of view, the things we perceive with our eyes during the course of the day are stored in our memory. These images then subconsciously “accumulate” and slowly lead a person to physically manifest them. Hence the alarming rate of Muslim youth today who have become addicted to pornography and cannot help but satisfy their desires through unlawful means. The despicable act of masturbation, so widespread among Muslim youth today, can only be avoided by stopping such images and thoughts from accumulating in our minds in the first place – and that can only be achieved by lowering the gaze at any and all times.
In addition to preventing us from committing vulgar and sinful behavior, the spiritual benefits one attains from observing proper Hijab of the eye are innumerable. In short, our beloved Prophet has said, “Lower your gaze, and you will see wonders!”
For those who still find this obligation a bit cumbersome, let’s get down to the core of the matter and recall the Golden Rule: how would you feel if someone entertained lewd thoughts or glanced inappropriately at your own mother, sister, wife, or daughter? Exactly.
Prophet Yousuf – the Perfect Example
On a final note, it is said that when Zulaikha, the wife of the Aziz of Egpyt, tried to seduce Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him), she covered the face of the idol placed nearby. When Prophet Yusuf inquired, she said she did not wish for it to witness her commit a sin. Prophet’s Yusuf’s reply to Zulaikha encompasses the true essence of the Hijab for men and can serve as the perfect benchmark for us to judge the appropriateness of our actions at all times. He said: “If you exhibit shyness and modesty before a stone that does not see, it is more befitting for me to exhibit shame and modesty before the One Who sees and Who is aware of everything that is manifest about me and everything that is concealed within me.” (Anecdotes for Reflection, vol. 2)