Although long seen as the most distinctive emblem of Islam, the veil is, surprisingly, not enjoined upon Muslim women anywhere in the Quran. The tradition of veiling and seclusion (known together as hijab) was introduced into Arabia long before Muhammad, primarily through Arab contacts with Syria and Iran, where the hijab was a sign of social status. After all, only a woman who need not work in the fields could afford to remain secluded and veiled.
In the Ummah, there was no tradition of veiling until around 627 C.E., when the so-called “verse of hijab” suddenly descended upon the community. That verse, however, was addressed not to women in general, but exclusively to Muhammad’s wives: “Believers, do not enter the Prophet’s house… unless asked. And if you are invited… do not linger. And when you ask something from the Prophet’s wives, do so from behind a hijab. This will assure the purity of your hearts as well as theirs” (33:53).
Anyone who wants to talk about Islam in the public should first read Aslan’s book.