Now, I have always seen the Islamic background and isnad for the idea of modesty and covering in general, yet there has always been in my mind a cloud of doubt around the exact isnad for the very specific modern hijab Muslim women wear today, i.e. covering the hair. For example, with the ayah in the Qur'an, people have contested the meaning of the word "juyubihinna" to mean chest. Others have had various understandings of the hadith when the Prophet (ﷺ) tells Asmaa to cover. Can you please refer me to these isnadaat or some books that describe the exact isnad for the specific modern idea of hijab? Furthermore, I have never understood why hijab is so incredibly emphasized in today's Muslim society. Much more even than the essentials in our deen. Does this have some Islamic basis, or is it just society's obsession with ath-Thahir (the apparent)? Thank you.
Since you mentioned in your question the issue of having doubts about the specific ruling on hijab, insha'Allah let us first address some basic issues of beliefs. In order for us to understand any aspect of Islam it is important to know the context first in which a specific issue falls under. We cannot possibly move on without clarifying the purpose of creation as defined by Allah (عز وجل). Without this, all else remains a futile attempt, and often people get caught up in useless discussions based on conjecture as to why Allah (عز وجل) ordained certain things such as hijab. So in order for us to be clear we need to state the purpose of creation. Allah (عز وجل) says:
وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ
And I (Allah) created not the jinns and humans except they should worship Me (Alone). [adh-Dhariyat 51:56]
Here we see the purpose of creation - to worship Allah (عز وجل) alone. On the same note Allah (عز وجل) commands us:
لَقَدْ بَعَثْنَا فِي كُلِّ أُمَّةٍ رَّسُولًا أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّـهَ وَاجْتَنِبُوا الطَّاغُوتَ ۖ فَمِنْهُم مَّنْ هَدَى اللَّـهُ وَمِنْهُم مَّنْ حَقَّتْ عَلَيْهِ الضَّلَالَةُ ۚ فَسِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَانظُرُوا كَيْفَ كَانَ عَاقِبَةُ الْمُكَذِّبِينَ
And verily, We have sent among every Ummah (community, nation) a Messenger (proclaiming): "Worship Allah (Alone), and avoid (or keep away from) Taghut (all false deities, etc.i. e. do not worship Taghut besides Allah)." Then of them were some whom Allah guided and of them were some upon whom the straying was justified. So travel through the land and see what was the end of those who denied (the truth). [an-Nahl 16:36]
Here we see that Allah (عز وجل) sent every people a Messenger with one message which is to worship Allah (عز وجل) alone and one command to avoid taghut.
It is not enough to worship Allah (عز وجل) alone, but we MUST also avoid taghut. Taghut, in its linguistic definition, refers to that which goes over and beyond boundaries. In a shari'ah definition, Taghut means anything that is worshipped besides Allah (عز وجل) (ie. leaders, sorcerers, a shaykh, communism, capitalism, etc.)
This ayah is very important to understand because it is very much misunderstood. Many believe the Prophets came to tell them to believe in Allah (عز وجل) , that there is only one god, and it is enough to do good actions. But this is false because people already believed in Allah (عز وجل) when the Prophets were sent. The problem was that they associated partners with Him, and this had to be eliminated.
From this ayah we also must understand that La Ilaha ilallah is not affirmed until there is bara'a (enmity, hatred, avoidance of that thing) to the taghut. That taghut can be the general taghut or specific tawagheet. It is important to note that if anyone places anything such as secular knowledge above Allah's words, and makes it their source of standard for truth and falsehood, that secular knowledge becomes a form of taghut.
As Allah (عز وجل) says:
كِتَابٌ أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ فَلَا يَكُن فِي صَدْرِكَ حَرَجٌ مِّنْهُ لِتُنذِرَ بِهِ وَذِكْرَىٰ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ (2) اتَّبِعُوا مَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكُم مِّن رَّبِّكُمْ وَلَا تَتَّبِعُوا مِن دُونِهِ أَوْلِيَاءَ ۗ قَلِيلًا مَّا تَذَكَّرُونَ (3)
(This is the) Book (the Quran) sent down unto you (O' Muhammad ﷺ), so let not your breast be narrow therefrom, that you warn thereby, and a reminder unto the believers. [Say (O' Muhammad ﷺ) to these idolaters (pagan Arabs) of your folk:] Follow what has been sent down unto you from your Lord (the Quran and Prophet Muhammad's Sunnah), and follow not any Awliyaa' (protectors and helpers, etc. who order you to associate partners in worship with Allah), besides Him (Allah). Little do you remember! [al-A'raf 7:2-3]
In another surah Allah (عز وجل) warns us not to be of those who take Allah's words with a grain of salt while believing wholeheartedly in the proofs from the mundane:
أَلَمْ تَرَ إِلَى الَّذِينَ يَزْعُمُونَ أَنَّهُمْ آمَنُوا بِمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْكَ وَمَا أُنزِلَ مِن قَبْلِكَ يُرِيدُونَ أَن يَتَحَاكَمُوا إِلَى الطَّاغُوتِ وَقَدْ أُمِرُوا أَن يَكْفُرُوا بِهِ وَيُرِيدُ الشَّيْطَانُ أَن يُضِلَّهُمْ ضَلَالًا بَعِيدًا (60) وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمْ تَعَالَوْا إِلَىٰ مَا أَنزَلَ اللَّـهُ وَإِلَى الرَّسُولِ رَأَيْتَ الْمُنَافِقِينَ يَصُدُّونَ عَنكَ صُدُودًا (61)
Have you seen those (hyprocrites) who claim that they believe in that which has been sent down to you, and that which was sent down before you, and they wish to go for judgement (in their disputes) to the Taghut (false judges, etc.) while they have been ordered to reject them. But Shaitan (Satan) wishes to lead them far astray. And when it is said to them: "Come to what Allah has sent down and to the Messenger (Muhammad ﷺ)," you (Muhammad ﷺ) see the hypocrites turn away from you (Muhammad ﷺ) with aversion. [an-Nisa 4:60-61]
Having said this, we learn that we take the understanding of the Qur'an and the Sunnah according to how the Prophet (ﷺ) understood it, taught it and described it. The ones closest to the Prophet (ﷺ) were ofcourse his companions. His companions then taught their students after the Prophet's death. Then these students taught their students and so on, until this knowledge has become preserved to the scholars of Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jama'ah today. Basically, the science of studying Islam, its rulings, and what you have chosen to call isnadaat are not from our own conjecture but from knowledge that has been passed from the time of the Prophet (ﷺ) to the scholars who are the heirs of the Prophets.
Last, before we finally address the issue of hijab, it must be noted that there is no separation between what you describe as ath-Thahir and what is essential in our deen. If we make the mistake of splitting our deen into two matters (what is essential and what is not) then who is to say what is essential and what is not essential in our deen? And what is the proof for each one? By pitting the issue of hijab against "what is supposedly essential" is posing a false dilemma. It is not an issue of either or. All of Islam is one.
For instance, hijab and prayer are important because because everything we do as Muslims comes from the Shari'ah of Allah (عز وجل) . So one cannot say that there is too much emphasis on hijab and not enough on prayer. Both must be observed as they both are observances of Allah's commands. We are incomplete without either one of them. Meaning, if the internal is sound then the outward should be sound as well.
'Umar ibn al-Khattab said,
People were judged by the revealing of a Divine Inspiration during the lifetime of Allah's Apostle but now there is no longer any more (new revelation). Now we judge you by the deeds you practice publicly, so we will trust and favor the one who does good deeds in front of us, and we will not call him to account about what he is really doing in secret, for Allah will judge him for that; but we will not trust or believe the one who presents to us with an evil deed even if he claims that his intentions were good. [Sahih al-Bukhari 3/809]
The ruling on Hijab with its proofs:
Requirement 1: How far do we cover?
The dress worn in public must cover the entire body except what has been specifically excluded, based upon the following proofs:
1] Allah (عز وجل) says:
وَقُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا ۖوَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَىٰ جُيُوبِهِنَّ ۖ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَائِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَائِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي أَخَوَاتِهِنَّ أَوْ نِسَائِهِنَّ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُنَّ أَوِ التَّابِعِينَ غَيْرِ أُولِي الْإِرْبَةِ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ أَوِ الطِّفْلِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يَظْهَرُوا عَلَىٰ عَوْرَاتِ النِّسَاءِ ۖ وَلَا يَضْرِبْنَ بِأَرْجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعْلَمَ مَا يُخْفِينَ مِن زِينَتِهِنَّ ۚ وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّـهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts, etc.) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like palms of hands or one eye or both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer dress like veil, gloves, head-cover, apron, etc.), and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms, etc.) and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husband's sons, their brothers or their brother's sons, or their sister's sons, or their (Muslim) women (i.e. their sisters in Islam), or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And all of you beg Allah to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful. [an-Nur 42:31]
The word zeenah above means adornment and includes both that which Allah (عز وجل) has adorned them (i.e. the woman's natural/and or physical beauty) and that with which they adorn themselves (i.e. jewelry, eye shadow, attractive clothing, hand dye, etc.).
The issue among Islamic scholars of today and the past have never been the issue of defining Juyubihinnah. The majority of the Muslim scholars such as Ibn Abbas (رضي الله عنه), Qatadah, Ibn Katheer, Imam Qurtubi, Ibn Hajar al Asqalani, Imam ash-Shawkani, at-Tabari, Imam adh-Dhahabi and so on all define the starting point of Juyubihinna as starting from the head not from the bosom. This is evident by how the female companions observed the Hijab, especially the wives of the Prophet (ﷺ) who are examples for the whole Ummah.
The word Khumur refers to a cloth which covers the head hair neck and bosom. The Mufasir al-Qurtubi explains:
Women in the past used to cover their heads with al-Khimar, throwing its ends over their backs. This left the neck and the upper part of the chest bare, in the manner of the Christians. Then Allah commanded them to cover those parts with the khimar.
This ayah also lists in detail those with whom a woman is permitted to be without hijab.
2] Allah (عز وجل) says:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُل لِّأَزْوَاجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَاءِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِن جَلَابِيبِهِنَّ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ أَدْنَىٰ أَن يُعْرَفْنَ فَلَا يُؤْذَيْنَ ۗوَكَانَ اللَّـهُ غَفُورًا رَّحِيمًا
O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies (i.e. screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way). That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed. And Allah is Ever OftForgiving, Most Merciful. [al-Ahzab 33:59]
Among the authentic hadith that adds to this point is the following:
Ibn 'Umar reported that Rasulullah (ﷺ) said,
On the day of resurrection, Allah will not look at the man who trails his garment along out of pride." Umm Salamah then asked, "What should women do with the hems of their garments?" He replied, "Let them lower them a handspan." She said, "Their feet would be exposed!" He then said, "Let them lower their forearm's length but no more." [reported by at-Tabarani: Sahih]
This ayah orders Muslim women to draw their cloaks over their bodies when they go out. Abu Dawud related that A'isha said,
After this ayah was revealed, the women of al-Ansar appeared like crows (because of the color and shape of the cloaks they wore).
Hence, an outer garment or cloak must be worn by a Muslim woman whenever she goes out in public or if she is in the presence of strangers.
Requirement 2: How thick should it be?
The garment should not be see-through so as not to display the skin color and form of the body under it. Transparent clothing does not constitute a proper hijab. The following hadith is the proof for this:
Rasulullah (ﷺ) said,
There will be in the last of my Ummah, scantily dressed women, the hair on the top of their heads like a camel's hump. Curse them, for verily they are cursed. In another version he said "..scantily dressed women, who go astray and make others go astray; they will not enter al-Jannah nor smell its fragrance, although it can be smelled from afar." [at-Tabarani and Sahih Muslim]
"Scantily dressed women" are those who wear clothing which reveals more than it conceals, thereby increasing her attractiveness while opening the path to a host of evils.
Requirement 3: How Loose should it be?
The clothing must not be so tight-fitting as to show the shape and size of the woman's body. The following hadith is the proof:
Usamah Ibn Zayd said, "Rasulullah (ﷺ) gave me a gift of thick Coptic cloth he had received as a gift from Dahiah al-Kalbi, and so I gave it to my wife. Thereafter an-Nabi (ﷺ) asked me, 'Why didn't you wear the Coptic cloth?' I replied, 'I gave it to my wife.' an-Nabi (ﷺ) then said, 'Tell her to wear a thick gown under it for I fear that it may describe the size of her limbs.' [Narrated by Ahmad, al-Bayhaqi, and al-Hakim]
Requirement 4: What is the color and appearance?
Allah (عز وجل) commands the believing women thus,
وَقَرْنَ فِي بُيُوتِكُنَّ وَلَا تَبَرَّجْنَ تَبَرُّجَ الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ الْأُولَىٰ ۖ وَأَقِمْنَ الصَّلَاةَ وَآتِينَ الزَّكَاةَ وَأَطِعْنَ اللَّـهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۚ إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّـهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا
And stay in your houses, and do not display yourselves like that of the times of ignorance, and perform As-Salat (Iqamat as-Salat), and give Zakat and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah wishes only to remove Ar-Rijs (evil deeds and sins, etc.) from you, O' members of the family (of the Prophet ﷺ), and to purify you with a thorough purification. [al-Ahzab 33:33]
Allah (عز وجل) has commanded women not to display both their natural and acquired beauty. A garment cannot be a thing which enhances her beauty and draw attention to her. Thus, the garment cannot be of bright colors, have Bold designs, or be made of shiny and reflective material. The word above 'tabarruj' means not only to display oneself but also to make oneself attractive in public.
Imam adh-Dhahabi says in Kitab al-Kaba'ir (the book of major sins):
Amongst the deeds which a woman is cursed for are displaying the adornments she wears, wearing perfume when she goes out, and wearing colorful clothes…
Hence, the Muslim woman is encouraged to wear muted, somber colors, and is ordered to avoid bright designs, patterns and colors.
Requirement 5: Should It be different from Men's clothing?
The clothing of a Muslim woman must not resemble the clothing of men. The following are proofs:
Abu Hurayrah said Rasulullah (ﷺ) cursed the man who wears women's clothes and the woman who wears men's clothes. [Abu Dawood and Ibn Majah: Sahih]
Abdullah Ibn 'Umar said he heard Rasulullah (ﷺ) say,
The man who resembles a woman and the woman who resembles a man is not of us [i.e. not of the believers]. [Ahmad and at-Tabarani: Sahih]
Requirement 6: Can we Resemble the Dressing of the Disbelievers?
A Muslim woman's clothing must not resemble the clothing of disbelievers. This is a general ruling of the Shari'ah of Allah which includes not on only dress but also manners, customs, religious practices and festivities, transactions, etc. Divergence with disbelievers is a standard that was established by the first generation of Islam. The following is proof for this position:
Abdullah Ibn 'Amr ibn al-Aas said Rasulullah (ﷺ) saw me wearing to saffron colored garments, so he said,
Indeed these are the clothes of kuffar [unbelievers] so do not wear them. [Sahih Muslim]
Abdullah ibn 'Umar said Rasulullah (ﷺ) stated,
Whoever resembles a people is one of them. [Abu Dawood]
Abu Musa al-Ashari related that Umar told him,
I shall not honor those whom Allah has dishonored, nor esteem those He has humbled, nor bring close those whom he has kept afar. [Ahmad]
Requirement 7: Can we be excessive in our dress?
The Muslim woman's dress must not be an expression of vanity or as a status symbol, nor must it be excessively ragged so as to gain admiration and fame for being humble.
Ibn 'Umar reported that Rasulullah (ﷺ) said,
Whoever dresses for ostentation in this world, Allah will dress that person in a dress of humiliation on the day of resurrection, and then set it on fire. [Abu Dawood]