By studying the history of prior religions, it is clear that the veil was part of other heavenly religions before Islam and the rules were followed.
Moreover, there were some special laws to divide men and in some religions, women were prevented from some social and economic activities.
For more explanations, we shall present instances from reliable sources.
Veil in Judaism
Waldron in his book “History of Civilizations” (translated in Farsi), Volume 12, page 30 writes about Jewish veil and laws of Talmud, which is the main sources of Jewish jurisprudence, states:
“If a woman acted against the laws of Jewish religion, for example by visiting people without veil, knitting cotton in public, chatting with men or her voice was as loud as at her home, then the husband had a right to get divorce without paying her dowry.”
So the veil and seclusion of the women in Jewish faith was much stricter than in Islam
Veil in Zoroastrianism
Waldron also in the same book, “History of Civilizations”, volume 1, states about the laws of ancient Iranian (Zoroastrians) and states:
“After Cyrus, the status of women declined specially in wealthy groups. Because poor women were forced to work, they came in contact with people and thus kept their liberty. But the other women were in seclusion. Women of upper class of society did not have the courage to go outside the house without covering. They were not allowed to talk to men outside their homes. Married women had no right of visiting a man.”
In remains of the figurines of ancient Iran, there are no depictions of faces or names of women.
Kant Gabion in the book “Three Years in Iran” also believes that the very strict veil of Sasanian period remained in Iran in Islamic time. He believed that what was during Sasanian period in Iran not only the isolation of woman but has also kept them hidden from the public.
Therefore, veil and separation between men and women from each other was common in the ancient Iran as compared to much easier and more practical rules and moderate in Islam.
Veil in the Christianity
“Jawaharlal Nehru” the late prime minister of India believed that the veil from non-Muslim nations in Rome and Iran entered the world of Islam. In his book “A Look at the History of the World”, first volume page 328, he praised Islamic civilization and referred to the changes that were found later and says:
“A great and unfortunate change also gradually happened. Among the Arab women, there was no veil and coverings. The Arab women did not live apart from men in a hidden manner and were even present in public places, went to the sermons and speeches. They even preached the people. But the Arabs also adopted the customs of two neighbouring empires of Iran and Eastern Rome as they conquered them. As it is quoted, it was especially the influences of Constantinople and Iranian empire, which brought about the seclusion and separation of men and women.”
From the above it is clear that the Constantinople Empire under the Romans, who were mainly Christian, paid much attention to veil and separation between women and men.
On this basis, Georges Zeidan, a famous Christian writer says:
“If the purpose of veil is just covering the body by chaddar, scarf, mask and the like, this matter was there before Islam and even before the Christian period. Even Christianity had not changed it and it was common till medieval ages in Europe and the effects of it remain till today.”
The Veil in Islam
As it was said, the veil in Islam is easier and more practical than in other religions because the veil of woman is just covering of the body and the hair for more respect of women.
Islam in the meantime has recommended for women as well as men studying, being involved in social activities and participation in the arena of the society.
Verses about Veil
Major verses related to this subject issues are in two chapters from Quran: The Light and The Confederates.
Sura – 24 The Light
وَقُلْ لِلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ 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 مِنْ زِينَتِهِنَّ ۚ وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
[24:31] And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye believers! Turn ye all together towards Allah, that you may attain bliss.
Sura – 33 The Confederates
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُلْ لِأَزْوَاجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَاءِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِنْ جَلَابِيبِهِنَّ ۚ ذَٰلِكَ أَدْنَىٰ أَنْ يُعْرَفْنَ فَلَا يُؤْذَيْنَ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ غَفُورًا رَحِيمًا
[33:59] O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is oft-Forgiving, most Merciful.
There is another verse where the word “Veil” is used. This is in verse 54 from chapter “The Confederates” of Quran about the wives of the honorable Prophet of Islam:
Sura – 33 The Confederates
إِنْ تُبْدُوا شَيْئًا أَوْ تُخْفُوهُ فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِكُلِّ شَيْءٍ عَلِيمًا
[33:54] Whether you reveal anything or conceal it, verily Allah has full knowledge of all things.
The Philosophy of Veil
The Philosophy and motivation of veil, is to respect the status of women and provide a better protection of their dignities.
The veil in Islam does not prevent the active presence of women in social, economic, cultural, scientific and political lives.
Thus, the honourable Prophet of Islam had 14 centuries ago recommended women to study the human dignities like science and knowledge abreast with men and said:
“To gain knowledge is vital for every Muslim, man and woman.”
The selection taken from “some questions related to Women’s Rights in Islam” by Sayyid Reza Hosseini Nasab.