Purdah and Veiling

PARDAH – The Garment of Taqwa

38 The Review of Religions – Janaury 2007 When I first became interested in Islam, Pardah was the one issue I could not accept. I thought ‘modern day women are liberated and cannot possibly present themselves in this way’! I was reading books like ‘Essence of Islam’ and ‘Our Teaching’ every night before I went to sleep and I was entranced. If only the problem of Pardah could be removed! Then I had a dream. Because of this dream I accepted Islam and then began my journey of Pardah. Recently in a meeting with Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih V, I recounted this dream to him when he commented on my Pardah. He said: ‘I wish every Ahmadi woman would have this dream.’ My dream was very simple. It was that I was wearing a full Burkah and Hijab with veil – and I experienced complete peace in that garment. In the morning I was so surprised, both by the dream and the power of the dream. I could not put it from my mind. In that dream was the seed to my Islam. I took it as an encour- agement from Allah. I did not actually properly begin to observe Pardah until I was given a local office a few years later when I was told that anyone who holds an office is expected to observe Pardah. Since then I have understood things about women and myself as a woman that I could not have perceived before. That journey is ongoing and I am truly grateful to Allah for constantly putting things in my path to keep me on my journey. I realised that observing Pardah, reminded me not to fall into my cultural ways. It became the vehicle for me to understand myself as a woman not as a product of culture. And when it is said to them, ‘Believe as other people have believed,’ they say, ‘Shall we believe as the foolish have PARDAH The Garment of Taqwa By Saliha Malik – Boston, USA 39The Review of Religions – January 2007 PARDAH – THE GARMENT OF TAQWA believed?’ Remember! it is surely they that are foolish, but they do not know.” (Ch.2:Vs.14) This was the verse that would pop into my mind when facing a struggle related to Pardah on many an occasion. Having come from the ranks of disbelievers I could see both sides. Here I am feeling foolish, going against my own culture in my scarf and coat, while my friends remain coolly casual in skimpy clothing of all kinds! They must think I’ve gone crazy. Then Allah’s reassuring words: ‘it is surely they that are the foolish, but they do not know.’ Why is Pardah so important? There are many answers to this question. We could simply say because Allah and His Messenger(saw) have said we should wear it. Or we could speak about chastity – it is your protection against sexual abuse. Both are grave and powerful reasons, which should stop us in our tracks, but sadly they do not. The answer I wish to dwell upon today is – Pardah is so important because it is the dress of Taqwa. Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) in his address to Lajna USA on the occasion of Jalsa 1991 gives the best explanation: ‘The dress one wears serves two main purposes. One is in relation to the wearer, the other is in relation to society in general.’ He explains. ‘The personal requirements are mostly about seeking protection from the influences of climate – expo- sure to heat and cold. They also serve the purpose of hiding one’s body to satisfy cultural and religious require- ments. In relation to society in general, it is the ego of a person, which is intended to be served primarily, and not her genuine personal require- ments. Most of the expenses incurred with regards to clothing relate to this pur- pose. Those who are devoid of Taqwa righteous-ness tend to wear clothing of a style not to hide their attractiveness, but to display and highlight it. The dress of Taqwa in itself does not have any ethnic, geographical or national identity. It is neither Arabic nor non-Arabic. It could be as much European or American. All dresses worn by the nations of the world could become the dress of Taqwa or the dresses without Taqwa. The question is only decided in relation to the viewing eye. If it is only for the sake of winning human appreciation and pleasure and applause of the society in general and to show off the contours of one’s body, to catch the eye of the opposite sex, then such a dress will continue to be denuded of all traces, colors and hues of Taqwa. But if the wearer is constantly aware of her standing with God and it is not the human eye of which she is conscious but is also mindful of the sight of God, then her dress can safely be described as the dress of Taqwa. If you dress only to please people, the whole of your life will be governed by that dominating factor. You will be gradually led away into a materialistic pursuit of vain pleasures. But if you are attired in the dress of Taqwa then whatever you wear, whether beautiful or not, whether fashionable or not, will still have an air about it that will separate you and make you distinct from ordinary society.’ Viewed in this light the subject of Pardah becomes your journey towards Allah. It is the garment of your Islam. Taqwa – a mixture of love and fear. Taqwa, which Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) describes is ‘Love, which begets doubts and fears. A lover always lives in a world of fears and premonition and doubt about the response of his beloved’; he says: ‘At every gesture of one’s beloved one keeps wondering 40 PARDAH – THE GARMENT OF TAQWA The Review of Religions – Janaury 2007 whether it is a gesture of love or one of displeasure.’ On my own journey of Islam and Pardah – I view the two one and the same journey, I remember being prompted further on in my practice by feelings such as these. I had decided to accept Islam, and I began observing Pardah except while I was teaching. Then one day I imagined that Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) came into my class. I felt the true hypocrite. What kind of a promise had I made at his hand? How was I an advocate of Islam in this situation? I began to wear a loose coat in my class. Then another time a student of mine came into the class wearing a scarf and I felt jealous of her. Here she was pleasing Allah more than I, and I was the one who wanted to be a companion of the Holy Prophet(saw), and I was the one who had signed the Bai’at of the Promised Messiah(as), and my Khalifa(ru) had explained to me about Taqwa, and she did not know. I began to wear my scarf in the class as well. I realised through these and many other experiences when I took the next step in Pardah, that the problem is not what the others think,but that it was my own ego that was the stumbling block! My own ego had prevented me from being true to my pledge. My students or the others did not seem to care. The Journey of Pardah uncovers Islam Now I became attached, and one decision led me to the next. I found that as I struggled in Pardah, I struggled against my own self. Vanity, the need to be like the others rather than stand for my own values, fear of being criticised – these were among the stumbling blocks to my progress in Pardah. The journey forces me to evaluate my capacity to practise what I believe and have promised to practice, to be comfortable in it and to do it out of love for Allah and His Messenger(saw), and out of obedience to the Khalifa of the time. When we accept Islam, we become refugees in a way, displaced from 41 PARDAH – THE GARMENT OF TAQWA The Review of Religions – January 2007 our own culture. Sometimes the way Allah wants us to live seems unattainable, because we ourselves are standing in the way. We need courage. We have to strive against our own ego voices. We need prayers. Hadhrat Khalifatul Masih IV(ru) explains: ‘So Allah tells you that when you appear before Him, remember that you only go to Him because you love Him. If this is not so, then your going to meet Him is meaningless. When you love Him, of course, it is natural that you want to be loved in return, so make the best of yourself. Decorate yourself with the quality of inner beauty and loveliness, which would generate love in the heart of your beloved God. I hope and beg of you to wage a Holy war of Islam, not with swords nor against human beings, but with wisdom and beauty and with truth against insanity, ugliness and false- hood. Turn to God. Be godly. Be armed with Taqwa and get attired in the most beautiful garment of taqwa and all the rest will be just smooth sailing. You will be liberated and you will have the power to liberate others. The society here is completely enslaved by Satan. Whatever is your concept of Satan, whether Satan pervades your inner being or speaks from without, I am referring to whatever is wrong, and whatever is ungodly. This society has been almost completely enraptured by all that is evil. You cannot liberate them without first liberating yourselves. Allah bless you and may you carry this message in your heart and may you transform it into your actions.’ (Khalifatul Masih IV’s(ru) address to Lajna Imaillah, USA, Jalsa 1991) 42 PARDAH – THE GARMENT OF TAQWA The Review of Religions – Janaury 2007