By Zoha Talpur
Purdah is an Arabic word meaning barrier or partition. In Islam however, it is a principle of modesty. The word is a symbol of honour, respect and dignity which allows women to be judged by their inner beauty rather than physical beauty. Purdah, however, is not for only women but is addressed towards wider society for the purpose of purifying humanity. To understand the importance of purdah and modesty, we must understand the two stages of purdah; the first being purdah of the eyes and the second being of the dress.
It has been narrated by a Muslim that the Holy Prophet PBUH stated that,
“The glance is a poisoned arrow of Satan. Whoever lowers his gaze for Allah, He will bestow upon him a refreshing sweetness, which he will find in his heart on the day he meets Him.”
This Hadith shows the emphasis for the believers, both men and women, to lower their gaze for the opposite gender. In the Quran Allah has stated,
“O Prophet!˺ Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their chastity. That is purer for them. Surely Allah is All-Aware of what they do.” (25:30)
Both the Quranic verse and Hadith further deepen the understanding that if purdah of the eyes is not sustained, however small a glance may be, it is indeed the work of Satan and is haram as evident through various other Hadith and verses of the Quran. As William Shakespeare once said, ‘The eyes are windows to the soul.’ They reveal what your words and actions do not, they reveal your uttermost feelings and allow’s one to give into any temptations. Lowering your gaze allows one to avoid these temptations and therefore the importance of purdah of the eyes is reinforced.
The second stage of purdah is the purdah of the dress. There are many benefits of this stage of purdah for women mainly being protection from harm and evils, being hidden from society’s expectations of beauty as well as allowing muslim women to show their dedication to Allah through purdah.
In the Holy Quran, Allah states,
“O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their outer garments. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful.” (Surah Al- Ahzab 33:60)
In the Quranic verse mentioned above Allah Almighty makes it clear that the purpose of purdah is to protect women from evils in society and harm. This particularly includes various forms of abuse and harassment, which are common in societies in which few women cover. Purdah, on the contrary, allows women to be protected from the evil’s in society. In this verse it is clear that the true purpose of purdah is for the own benefit of those who chose to wear it. Purdah allows women to be recognised and respected, not just because of their beauty which reinforces its importance.
When a Muslim woman does purdah she is obeying and submitting to Allah. Even though there are many benefits of purdah, it is first and foremost a commandment from Allah therefore wearing it is an act of obedience and faith to Allah Almighty. In the modern westernised society, purdah is seen to be a sign of backwardness and oppression. It is viewed as something of only cultural and traditional value and that it is not of any religious significance. Allah, the All-Wise, knows what is best for us, and has therefore provided guidance in order to benefit humankind. Purdah, just like any other act of obedience to Allah, brings one closer to Him and helps bring a sense of satisfaction and contentment to the person wearing it. Purdah in no way is a sign of backwardness as stated by Nobel Peace Prize winner, Tawakkul Karman, “Man in early times was almost naked, and as his intellect evolved he started wearing clothes. What I am today and what I’m wearing represents the highest level of thought and civilization that man has achieved, and is not regressive. It’s the removal of clothes again that is a regression back to the ancient times.”
Purdah also allows women to remain hidden and not have to live up to society’s expectations of beauty. The world has a very clear idea of what is desirable. One who choses to wear purdah no longer has to use her beauty to obtain recognition, respect and acceptance from those around her. A woman who wears purdah liberates herself from the vain and selfish desire to show off her beauty and to compete with other women around her. Purdah allows woman to receive respect without using her beauty and the unreal beauty expectations that surround the world today. Islam teaches that a woman is to be respected according to her virtuous character and actions rather than by her looks or physical features, of which she has little or no control. She does not have to use her body and charms to gain recognition or acceptance in society, as purdah directs self-worth away from appearance and onto qualities such as piety, virtue, modesty and intellect – attributes which are more equally accessible to all.
Purdah is not only a part of Islam but is also apparent in the bible however some people chose to dismiss the verses of the bible that state so. In the bible, Allah has stated,
“And every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonours her head.” (1 Corinthians 11:3-6)
“I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.” (1 Timothy 2:9-10)
These verses from the bible are evidence that purdah is also apparent amongst other religions as well, and is not only relevant to Islam but is a commandment from Allah to all of humanity.
Therefore, it is evident through all the verses and Hadith provided that purdah is a very important part of our modern society. Purdah constantly demonstrates the benefits of both stages; of the dress and of the eyes, as it continues to protect women from society’s evils and harm, allows them to avoid having to live up to unrealistic expectations of beauty and most importantly allows them to show their obedience to Allah. Purdah gives women the ability to be judged and recognised not through their beauty, but through their personality which gives women the respect that they are deprived of in today’s day and age.