Dear Dr. Abou El Fadl,
First I'd like to thank you for your efforts and thoughts, which I very much appreciate.
I wanted to reach out to you however for a personal Enquiry or rather a spiritual crisis as you once called it.
I have seen your fatwa on Hijab, thinking it will relieve my struggle but I'm still unsure of which way to go.
I have been wearing the headscarf for 24 years (since I was 16) out of strong urge by sheikhs and the belief that it is mandatory, and the strong fear that I'd be sinning without it.
Logically speaking I could never understand why it is mandatory though. Why is my hair any different than any man's hair? Why should women live in suffering while men live a normal life?
The answer was that God's orders have their hikma, and that we don't always know, and that the problem is in the time we live in not in God's law. That women at the time of revelation obeyed without doubt.
And so I lived with the belief that I've sacrificed my own will to God's, and asking Him to reward me.
After two years of real emotional struggle and tears, I pushed myself to become stronger and more confident the way I am.
It almost feels that I have a disability that I need to live with and prove myself with.
(Deep inside I'm sure God would not want our faith to feel like that but I have no solution).
I never stopped doubting and searching but never found something that could prove by 100% that hijab is optional.
Until very recently all people who argued that head cover is not obligatory were thinkers, journalists, not with an Islamic background, hence not أهل ذكر.
I never agreed to their views and thought it's because they're not religiously educated and resisted any discussion with those type of people.
Now however, I started seeing more people with religious education and background claiming the possibility that head-cover might be optional depending on verse interpretation.
Dr. Saad El Din el Helaly inEgypt and Dr. Adnane Ibrahim implied that اجتهاد in this matter is due but have not made any fatwas or clear cuts themselves, which is very frustrating for a person who learnt to depend on أهل الذكر.
Al Azhar on the contrary and Dr. Ali Gomaa claimed that this is من الدين بالضروره and that إنكار الحجاب could be considered كفر.
So now I'm torn between my fear of disobeying God, my habit that I've been wearing for most of my life, and my long term wish of being a "normal" person!
Just to give you my background, I'm originally from Egypt with a European education, hence the struggle between cultures in my teenage years. My family circle however praised hijab. I struggled with my job in a German company initially due to Hijab but then I managed to prove myself.
I moved to Germany then to England since 13 years, always being the "alien" until I prove otherwise, and wishing I could just be another random not labelled person.
I do have a decent job and friends, but I always feel that I'm not living up to my full potential and that I have to prove myself to remove the first impressions of being different. Like I'm disabled as I mentioned.
Where I stand is that my mind is encouraged to break free, but my heart is too scared of a potential sin, or of breaking the habit, from arguing with my family who strongly believe in a Hijab.
My own small family and husband is very supportive either way, and his views are very close to your fatwa (but he's not had any religious education) and do I never rely on that support.
The question is: how Can I be sure that taking the scarf off is not wrong?
Can I make that decision freely without registered أهل الذكر like al Azhar confirm it permissible?
Should I work on eliminating the feel of guilt and fear, or just stick to what I've been doing all along, after all, I will not live as long as I already did.
This thought feels sad, as if I lost the ability to live this life after my own will.
But taking it off, which I did for a few days, also makes me sad, as if I don't recognise myself, and as if I'm drifting away from God or sinning. Because what if I'm wrong? Will I lose 24 years of devotion?
The idea that religion is simple and that a woman without a headscarf could be just as good seems like a dream, hard to believe, which I find very very sad that I see the faith from this view. But I'm afraid this is what I've been taught and I'm too scared to surrender to my own decision on the matter or defy my parents view, and al Azhar claims (although it doesn't make much sense to me anymore and makes me rather angry).
The can be flexible in any matter, and change rules, except when it comes to the woman's headscarf, which I just cannot understand.
Sorry for such a lengthy email and I look forward to your reply.
[Name Withheld for Privacy]
I pray that Allah grants you and your family peace and blessings and grace.
Thank you for your message regarding the hijab. On this matter, as in most matters, I say it is definitely commendable that you consult ahl al-dhikr, but remember that the role of ahl al-dhikr is to remind, not to make up your mind for you. Ahl al-dhikr can give you their opinions in regards to Allah’s authority and will, but none of them embody and perfectly represent Allah’s authority and will. In this regard, my advice is that after having done your homework, to consult your heart as the Prophet is reported to have said: Istafti qalbak wa lau aftawka, and he repeated wa lau aftawka three times.
The problem is that all of us talk about the necessity of ijtihad in our age, but the vast majority of us are terrified to exercise ijtihad precisely because of the social anxieties that plague Muslims in the modern age. So many speak about ijtihad, but so many fear the ostracism and the anxious reactions that confront efforts at exercising ijtihad. The real plight of our age is that those who are least qualified have no sense of responsibility and are happy to throw around speculations without refrain, and those who are qualified allow their sense of responsibility to weigh them down to the point of becoming frozen and indeed mummified. Dr. Saad El Din el Helaly and Dr. Adnane Ibrahim, with all the respect that I have for them, are weighed down by the responsibilities and by the communities that follow and admire them. As you correctly point out, they have made hints but never addressed the subject explicitly. As to Ali Gomaa, subhan Allah, I am not sure what to say. Ali Gomaa was a good friend, but it is as if the Ali Gomaa that I knew before Raba‘ah is a completely different person than the one I hardly know after Raba‘ah. I say this because while he has said in public recently that hijab is al-ma‘lum min al-din b’il-darurah, in the past, he has told me and other friends that hijab is a matter of customary law and subject to ‘urf and ‘adah.
Dear sister, I realize that the picture is confusing. Do not worry about those who keep silent, and do not worry about those who issue declarations as to what is of necessity a part of the faith or not. Look at the evidence yourself. In addition to what I have written, I have given a four hour halaqa that you can easily listen to on the matter. After hearing and reading all the evidence, sit in the sanctuary of your conscience--you and Allah alone--and then decide. Either your heart will tell you hijab is the right path, and then you must follow it, or your heart will tell you hijab is the wrong path, and then you should follow it. And in all cases, pray to Allah sincerely and with all your heart to forgive your errors of judgment and to accept the best of your efforts, for after all, Allah rewards what is in our heart and rewards our motives, not our actions. This is the best advice I can give you. And may Allah forgive my sins and yours, and may Allah guide your path with a shining luminous light that reveals all that is beautiful and righteous before your eyes.
With my prayers and warm regards,
Shaykh Abou El Fadl