Hijab not obligatory? Fact or fiction?

Recently, there have been reports that a PhD student at Al-Azhar University (probably the most well-respected Sunni Muslim religious institution), Sheikh Mustafa Mohammad Raashed, had published an accepted thesis that ultimately declared that the hijab (headscarf) was not obligatory for Muslim women. There are skeptics about this report as the full text of thesis is not available. However, the news does bring up some interesting questions. First and foremost, even if the doctoral thesis was accepted, does that mean that Al-Azhar endorses the point of view? Just because a student publishes something, does that mean that the head jurists also accept the view and will adopt it? Keep in mind that this debate can only be had if the dissertation does, in fact, exist. There have been reports that the dissertation, and even the student, do not exist. The well-known American-Muslim scholar (who spent some time at Al-Azhar), Imam Suhaib Webb posted this on his facebook page condemning the validity of the story:

If the story turns about to be valid, I am curious to see what this means for the relationship between the student’s work and the institution. Can a PhD thesis from Al-Azhar be equated to a fatwa? If the board okays the thesis, does that mean they support the conclusion or are they merely applauding the efforts of the researcher? Let’s see how this thing plays out.

For those who are interested, here are links to some more in-depth looks at the hijab “debate”

http://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2012/06/45564/hijab-is-not-an-islamic-duty-scholar/ (previous arguments used to justify that hijab is not obligatory)

http://www.onislam.net/english/ask-the-scholar/fiqh/449534-hijab.html (position of Shaykh from Al-Azhar)

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Hijab not obligatory? Fact or fiction?

  1. EmanA

    There is no question in my mind that the hijab issue needs to be re-hashed by Muslim scholars. But Muslims seem to be entirely unable to embrace the process of scholarship, which is for an opinion to come forth..then another…then another and a debate to emerge on the scene. Everyone tends to “jump the gun” whenever any opinion comes out and claim some apocalyptic change of pace, when in reality that’s simply not how ANY scholarship works, “Islamic” or otherwise.

    (I’m very annoyed by the way this debate has been happening, as you can tell haha.)

    • I think this is because of the romanticization of the idea of a Muslim tradition that is unshakeable. Muslims pride themselves in the idea that the Quran has been the same for 1400 years. It has been the same so the message and its practice should be the same. This is an obstacle that we are gonna face for a while. Change has recently been demonized making reform or even debate difficult.

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