Battle Over Niqab
by Eric Winkel
When I read the article “Battle over face veil brewing in Egypt” by Mariam Karouny, which noted that “Rokaya Mohamed, an elementary school teacher, would rather die than take off her face veil, or niqab, thrusting her to the forefront of a battle by government-backed clerics to limit Islamism in Egypt”, I was reminded of a story Ibn `Arabi told.
A man used to be in the front row at every prayer, for 70 years. One day, he was late, and as he was rushing into the mosque, he heard people say, Where is he, he’s always here in the front row! At that moment, the man breaks down sobbing. Eventually, he is able to explain that he just realized that he wasted 70 years of prayer, because all this time he was praying in order to be seen by others and not for God.
This is of course related to the Sufi practice of keeping a vigilant watch over our egos, our selves. I worry for myself, am I so attached to something because it’s a sunnah or because it’s a habit? When I read the above, I worried for that person too. I thought that now might be a good time to bring out a passage from Ibn `Arabi’s Futuhat which discusses this issue of niqab. The passage is packed with ideas and I welcome comments and feedback.
From chapter 72
Othman Yahya 11:107
Dar Qutni reports from Ibn `Umar that Prophet said, “The woman on pilgrimage does not cover her face.”
Return to the origin, because the origin is that there is no hijab and no covering.
The origin supports the essence, not what she (fem., essence) becomes.
She continues to be described by this description (no hijab, no covering)
and by her receptivity to hear the word, when it addresses the one so described.
She is ready to accept the description of being,
hastening to the sight of the object of her devotion.
So when he says to her, while she is in emptiness,
she becomes. Her self comes to light.
And what a coming to light!
She finds herself with no constriction,
in the form of her creator
(“God created Adam upon his form”)
humble before the majesty of what she sees
not perceiving any hijab,
nor being aware of any.
Then, when the levels are clarified for the essences,
and the instinctual stinginess is stamped on the animal
—it is increased in the deep reality of the human soul
as God has placed a rider over one during one’s development,
in the form of increased intellect
and powerful control by the spiritual and physical faculties—
jealousy is dredged up, accompanied by the instinctual stinginess.
So jealousy is more with us than the animals,
because the dominion of stinginess and self-delusion is stronger
in us than in others.
Between jealousy and the intellect there is no interaction, in the deeper reality,
and because of this, God created intellect in human beings to repel
the power of desire and ego,
which follow inevitably from the force of jealousy in one.
Jealousy (ghayra) comes from seeing another (ghayr),
like one, a rival to one for what one wants to possess;
or, something he owns, something that if one person can seize it,
no one else can have it.
God has fashioned us with wanting and desiring
that everything be under our control,
in order to bring out a force of the dominion of form,
upon which we were created.
(“God created Adam upon his form”)
So, in fact one of the form’s deeper realities is that
everything is under its dominion;
until someone sent the force of his jealousy to where
it should not have been sent.
He was jealous of God!
But he was only created, and he was only told,
to be jealous for God’s sake, not of God.
So thereby in the creature the sway of deep-seated jealousy
gets exaggerated and he joins the ranks of the ignorant.
The person with complete intellect
knows that one was created for one’s lord,
not for anyone else.
And one knows automatically that the one who created us cannot
be competed against in anything, or opposed in his decision.
One says, He is he, involved in what he is in himself,
and “there is none like unto him,”
and I am me, involved in what I am in myself,
and there are beings like me.
He has no part in what I am in, except to rule
and I have no part in what he is in, except to accept the rule.
So there is no competition and no jealousy.
Then human beings, as far as they are rational,
if they are under the dominion of their intellects,
will not be jealous,
because we are only created for God,
and God is not to be jealous of.
So if a rational person is jealous, one is jealous
with respect to one’s spiritual knowledge.
One is jealous for God’s sake.
It has specific contexts set down in the law,
not to be overstepped.
So every jealousy that oversteps that limit
is extraneous to the dominion of intellect,
driven out by instinctual stinginess and
the force of self-delusion;
until one person seeing things that the law allowed
found in himself that,
had the decision been his about them,
he would have restricted them,
or forbade them.
So, he prefers his viewpoint about the likes of this
over what God allowed one to do.
He considers that he is, in his perspective,
weightier than God in the scale, and than his Messenger,
God bless him and give him peace!
concerning this that occurred to him.
And then perhaps he got irritated, until he would say,
“What can I do? This thing has been allowed by God,
so I must bear it.”
But he bears it grudgingly, and he feels strangled with his lord.
He is silently fuming.
This is the worst there can be of bad manners toward God.
He is one of those “God misleads, with knowledge” [45:23]
The likes of this appeared in the first period among some ones;
as for today, it has spread throughout the population completely.
So, we, we know that the lawmaker is God,
and Messenger is a person who transmits God’s decision
about whatever he shows him.
“He does not speak from ego” [53:3]
and “It is only revelation revealed” [53:4].
And God says about himself,
“Your lord does not miss anything” [19:64],
pointing to an indication of the intellect.
And God is more intensely jealous than his creatures.
The revealed religions only set down that which would bring about
goodness in the world,
so there should be no addition to them nor subtraction from them.
As much as was added to them, or taken away from them,
or what was set down was not practiced,
so was upset the order of goodness
intended by God for which he sent down revealed religions,
and set down principles.
So, God allows women to frequent the mosques.
But someone thought, Had the Prophet seen what the women would do
he would have forbidden women from the mosques,
as the women of Bani Isra’il were forbidden.
So they thought that God did not know that the likes of this would occur
among his creatures, he who is the legislator, none other.
They preferred their view over the decision of God,
until one of them got jealous of his wife,
that she would go out to the mosque.
He was able to use his spiritual knowledge;
the woman loved to go to the mosque for prayers;
she was beautiful, refined.
The report mentioned above prevented him from
“forbidding the women to go to the mosques.”
But he found a strong resistance to that.
If he could have sent the decision back to God,
for this person for this issue,
he would have preferred his view over the decision of God
and would have forbidden the women from mosques.
Now, the ought is like the is,
and he kept insinuating to her until
she forbade herself from going to the mosque,
and he was happy with that.
But if the power of intellect were deeply-seated in that man,
he would not be jealous,
and if the power of spiritual knowledge were deeply-seated,
he would not have found resistance in his heart,
and he would have been patient with what God decided on
God said, “But no, by your lord! they do not believe until they
take your decision about what happens to them;
then they will not find in themselves any resistance against
what you have decided, and they would submit securely” [4:65].
We have drawn this parable about this issue by designating this hadith about women,
because I, with the issue of the women, speak for her not covering her face during the pilgrimage.
Jealousy brings about the ruling to cover.
It is established in the authentic hadith collections that
there is none more jealous than God.
Messenger says, “Sa’d is jealous, and I am more jealous than Sa’d, and God is more jealous than me.
One of the things he is jealous about is preventing ugly behaviors.”
So there is no more than God’s jealousy, but he,
in himself and with respect to himself, is more jealous than God!
So that matter (face uncovered) is with God not an ugly behavior,
as if it were an ugly behavior to God, he would have forbidden it,
because God forbids the ugly behaviors,
the outward and the inwards ones; the principle is universal;
but this person has considered an ugly behavior what is not
according to God an ugly behavior, and he calls God a liar
about what he said
(that he “forbids ugly behaviors”)
and he thinks that he, in his jealousy, is a better judge than God
in handling this decision.
One who has this stance will ever be tormented in his soul.
What a fine statement! “Then they will not find in themselves
resistance against what you decided, and they will submit securely.”
If the human being pays attention to one’s soul and puts it into this scale,
one would find one’s self ungrateful, far from spiritual knowledge.
God repudiates spiritual knowledge in one who has this description,
and he swears by himself that such a one is not a believer.
It is a divine principle to make such an oath, for emphasis.
So he said, “But no, by your lord! they will not be believers until”
So if covering her were from the beginning, he would not have said
to her during her pilgrimage, “Do not cover your face.”
Do you not see? the hijab verse was not sent down in the beginning,
but rather it was sent down upon the prompting of one of the creatures,
it and other verses.
There are many laws sent down for everyday reasons;
if not for these reasons, God would not have sent them down.
And because of that,
God’s people distinguish between the original divine ruling
and the divine ruling when it was prompted by one of God’s creatures.
That prompt was the reason for that ruling being sent down.
It is as if God had to send it down,
because if not for this, he would not have sent it down,
which is different from what was sent down originally.
The ones who verify for themselves take the divine ruling
sent down originally in another way than they take the divine ruling
which was not sent down in the beginning.
But do not let us perturb you, you who are traveling on the path,
with the fact that God sent down things by the force of
questions from the questioners.
Rush to accept its ruling, whichever kind it may be,
with open heart, with clean breathing,
if you wish to be a believer.
As for the one with intellect, with an abundance of intellect,
be one who is at peace with God, and the divine ruling will be at peace with you.
He—God bless him and give him peace—used to always say,
“Leave off of me what I leave off of you,”
even saying about the pilgrimage being obligatory each year,
“if I said yes, it would be obligatory; but there is one (obligatory) hajj.”
He disliked the question and reproved it.
May God give understanding to us, and you, of the goals of the law,
and not veil us from its outward and inward dimensions.
The ritual of the hajj has the look of people
in their various states on the day of judgment:
disheveled, dusty, begging, scurrying to the caller,
abandoning ornamentation, throwing rocks, preoccupied like madmen
because they are in a ritual, if they knew what was in there,
it would make them lose their minds.
They are like madmen throwing rocks.
God made hajj a warning for them, in “stoning the pillars”
that the experience would be great, terrible,
taking minds out of their places.
There is then no worship that enthralls more purely in most of its rituals than the hajj.
Like that are the women in the next home, on judgment day,
faces uncovered, just as they are during the pilgrimage.
And if the selfish aim had not been attached to the coming down of the hijab,
the hijab verse would not have come down,
and God only postponed it for this reason,
it and other rulings occasioned by the likes of this,
to be an accumulation for the reckoning of this person
who was the cause
of people being told they have to do something.
He will wish on the judgment day that he was not the reason for that,
as it will be very hard on him.
But about this people are forgetful.
In the same way, the people of independent decisions, on judgment day,
are two people:
One makes forbidding weightier in the scale,
the second preponderates lifting burdens from this community,
going back to the verses,
returning to the origin.
He is, according to God, closer to God and
of greater station
than the one who preponderates forbidding,
as “forbidden” is something that happens
by chance to the origin,
but lifting burdens goes along with the origin,
and to the origin will return the people’s state,
in the gardens,
settling in the garden wherever they like.
None are more forgetful than the self-deluded people,
even if they are believers,
about this issue.
But they will be sorry.
“God speaks the truth and is the guide along the way” [33:4]
Existence is one realm. Lord is one realm.
The creatures are God’s dependents, spread out over this realm.
So where is the hijab?
Does any but God see?
Is any but God seen?
Is the thing covered up by its reality?
The part of the whole is from its essence.
Eve was created from Adam.
“Women are cleft from men.”
These are medicines; who uses them against the sickness of jealousy
his sickness will disappear,
and only the jealousy that is part of spiritual knowledge will remain,
because it will not disappear in the lifetime of the world,
in the contexts for which it was ordered to be carried out.
So beware, my friend, of natural foolishness!
The creature in it is fooled by it in ways one doesn’t realize.
There is no quicker humiliation of him before God.
He—God bless him and give him peace—said,
“God would not stop you from taking interest and then take it from you!”
So, if one is jealous with the jealousy that is part
of spiritual knowledge—he assumes!
its dominion is that the thing he is jealous of
will not bring about and will not make arise in him jealousy,
when he sees it in another,
because if it does make jealousy arise in him,
then this is not a jealousy that is part of spiritual knowledge;
this is the jealousy of human nature and its stinginess.
God will not protect him from it.
There is no good that comes from his jealousy.
How often this happens.
How much have I suffered of this from
the “covered up” people,
when their self-delusions overcome their intellects.
I would grab their belts to save them from the fire,
but they throw themselves into it.
Dispatching jealousy in its proper context
is a duty of the one chosen
the one who dispatches it everywhere,
he is in a place where its traces must be obliterated
the sickness of jealousy is a chronic disease,
and God has shown how to cure it
who takes the remedy recovers,
and who turns away from it will be ever corrupted
the least thing to do is
see that one is described by jealousy, and recognize it.
One of the companions of Prophet invited him to dinner, and Prophet said to him, “I, and this one,” pointing to Aisha.
The man said, No. So he refused to respond to his invitation, until he made good with him about her, that she should come with him.
So the two accepted and came over to the house of that man, Prophet and Aisha.
And God said, “You have in Messenger a fine exemplar” [33:21]. So where is your spiritual knowledge?
If you see today someone of rank, a judge, a lecturer, a minister, a king, do like this as an example,
would you not attribute it simply to poor character? But if this attribute were not part of Good Character,
Messenger would not have done it, he who was “sent to complete Good Character.”
Messenger saw, while he was giving the lecture for Friday prayers, on the podium,
Hassan and Hussayn running to him and tripping over their hems,
and he couldn’t help but to come down off the podium and hold them and bring them up to the podium,
and then return to his lecture.
Do you see that as a deficiency in his state (of awareness)?
By God, no, rather it is from a perfection of his awareness.
He sees, with whose eye that sees?
And for whom does he see?
It is the “who” who is hidden from the blind who do not see.
They are the ones who say about the likes of these behaviors,
If he were occupied with God,
he would not have been distracted by the likes of this.
But he—God bless him—was occupied only with God.
It’s like she said, she who didn’t understand,
may she be spared!
when she heard the reciter reciting,
“The companions of the garden today
are occupied, having fun, (they and their wives)” [33:54-5]
O poor people of the garden, occupied in their amusements,
they and their wives.
O poor woman! The word “occupied” is beyond these things,
and you have not been informed who, and with whom,
they are having fun, they and their wives.
So why does she pronounce judgment on them that
they are preoccupied and distracted from God?
If this speaker were occupied with God,
she would not have said that statement,
because she would not impute to them
preoccupation with another than God
until there formed in her own mind
this state which she presumes they are in.
And when it became formed, her experience of that moment was only this form.
So she is the poor one, since we can verify from her words that
her moment, that one, was a preoccupation and distraction from God.
The companions of the garden are in the midst of being and becoming,
while she has testified against her self with an experience that confirms
that she was with other than God in her preoccupation.
This is one of the concealed tricks of God,
used to trick spiritually knowledgeable people,
by disparaging another in the blink of an eye
and intimating about themselves that they are immune to that.
Like this are the people jealous in any circumstance,
ever in their torment, forever
troubled in their minds.
They are at the utmost distance from God,
without realizing it.