KUALA LUMPUR, June 22 - The Quran does not specifically mention hair as part of a woman’s “aurat”, Sisters in Islam (SIS) has said amid rising religious conservatism in Malaysia.

The Muslim women’s rights group said the perception that a woman’s “aurat” covers her entire body except for the face and hands came from a hadith narrated by Asma Abu Bakar. A hadith is a collection of sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad.

“However, this hadith has been greatly contested by Islamic scholars, such as Thariq Iwadullah and Sheikh Nasiruddin Al-Abani, on the grounds of its authenticity in the chain of message as the ‘rawi’ (transmitter of hadith) was renowned for being dishonest,” SIS told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview.

“SIS is of the opinion that hair is not part of a woman’s ‘aurat’. In fact, the Quran has never mentioned hair as being specifically a woman’s ‘aurat’.


“When reading Surah an-Nur (24:31) on covering one’s modesty, it is important to understand the context of when the verse was introduced,” the women’s rights group added.

SIS said that the verse which states that women should “draw their khimar (head covering) over their bosoms” was made in reference to the culture of 7th century Arabia, in which women traditionally already wore the khimar.

“The message of this verse is to advocate modesty by calling on women to cover their bosoms with the khimar, as bosoms traditionally did not constitute body parts which was (sic) already visible.


“If hair was also considered a woman’s private part, the Quran would have clearly specified it in 24:31 when women were instructed to cover their bosoms,” said the group.

The increasingly conservative stance of Islamic authorities and figures in Malaysia has been reflected in the way Muslim women are told to wear the tudung and are harshly criticised if they do not so, even though most Malay-Muslim women in the 1950s and 1960s, before the 1979 Iranian Revolution, did not cover their heads.

Tudung brands in Malaysia have boomed since the Iranian Revolution started the popularisation of the tudung in the country, with one company estimating about 80 to 90 per cent of Muslim women aged between 25 and 50 years now wear headscarves.

Women’s rights activist Norhayati Kaprawi, who had made a documentary titled Aku Siapa (Who Am I?) about why women wear the tudung, told Malay Mail Online recently that she found that some Muslim women in both villages and cities in Malaysia were ostracised for not covering their heads.

Following the uproar over several Muslims who had recently accused artistic gymnast Farah Ann Abdul Hadi, who did not wear a tudung, of exposing her “aurat” and the “shape of her vagina” in a leotard, some Twitter users have insisted that Muslim women should wear the tudung even when playing sports.

Twitter user Ar.Zainur tweeted via the handle @ibnzainal95 last Sunday a picture of women athletes wearing headscarves, track bottoms and long-sleeved shirts.

A tweet by HanyaTweet @TapiUntuk Semua on May 31 that lists body parts like hair, arms, legs, and the chest as “aurat” that must be covered, or “wajib tutup”, has been retweeted over 3,000 times.

SIS told Malay Mail Online that the interpretation of the “aurat” in Malaysia has become increasingly influenced by Arab culture since the 1980s, noting that most Malay-Muslim women did not wear the tudung during the 1950s and 1960s, including the wife of the Kelantan mufti then and the spouse of Indonesian ulama, Prof Dr Haji Abdul Malik Karim Amrullah, better known as Hamka.

“This very narrow and conservative interpretation of ‘aurat’ has also been directed mainly to women and as a result, the growing obsession with controlling women’s bodies by making wearing the hijab compulsory,” said SIS.

Perak Mufti Tan Sri Harussani Zakaria told Malay Mail Online recently that Muslim women must cover their entire bodies except for their face and hands.

Malaysians have come to Farah Ann’s defence, with a Facebook page even set up to support the 21-year-old athlete, who had won a gold medal in floor exercise during the recent SEA Games.

Youth and Sports Minister Khairy Jamaluddin also said last week that the authorities should come out with guidelines for “perverts” instead of trying to regulate sportswear.

Khairy’s remark follows his Cabinet colleague Datuk Seri Jamil Khir Baharom, minister in charge of Islamic affairs, who told Parliament last Monday that the federal government will carry out an in-depth study on Islamic compliance for clothing used for sports and other fields, amid the uproar over Farah Ann’s outfit at the SEA Games in Singapore.