Friday, May 17, 2013

What is zeena?

The root z-y-n (zai-ya-nun) appears 46 times. It appears almost half as zayyana meaning beautified/made attractive and the other half of the time as zeena. For example, the earth has been adorned and made beautiful (10:24), with the sky and stars for example (37:6), often translated as beauty, decoration or adornment. Beauty and other niceties of this world are provided by God for us to enjoy and can be a form of worship (18:7, 7:31) and should not be made forbidden because it is a mere taste of what believers can enjoy in the afterlife (7:32). Examples are gold (20:59), horses (16:8), wealth and children (18:46, 57:20), and festivals (20:59).

We are encouraged to look moderately nice at the masjid (7:31). But we shouldn't be excessive, as Pharaoh (10:88), and lead ourselves astray with it (11:15, 18:28). Disbelievers will be attracted to worldly life (2:212, 3:14, 33:28, 28:60) and just like every other community, be pleased with their wrongdoings (6:43, 6:108, 6:122, 8:48, 9:37, 10:12, 13:33...).

So most of the time, zeena is referring about something beautiful, aesthetic, and enjoyable, than can be enjoyed in moderation. It only becomes harmful when taken to excess.
And tell the believing women, they should lower their gaze, guard their private parts, and not display their zeena except what is apparent of it. And draw their khumur over their bosoms, and not display their zeena except to their husbands... (list of un-marry-able men here)... or their women, or what their right hands possess, or male attendants with no physical desire, or children who are not aware of the awra of women. And don't let them strike their feet to make known what they conceal of their zeena. And turn to Allah altogether believers, so that you may succeed. (24:31)
There is no harm for a woman to reveal her zeena in front of helpers, attendants, and children who do not yet know a women's awra (24:31)There is also no harm for older women with no more sexual desires, to remove some of her clothes, but without revealing zeena (24:60). Women should not reveal their zeena except what is zahara or apparent/obvious/dominant (24:31). But we still don't know what zeena is. Some say hair is naturally apparent and thus the exception which can be revealed. Some say it's what you cannot control when it rains, the wind blows, etc.

So what is zeena?
  • It comes from the root meaning beauty, adornment, ornamentation and attractiveness.
  • It can be revealed in front of certain groups of men.
  • It can cause desire in front of unrelated and marriageable men (although arguably men can still feel desire for their marriageable female relatives, so for me it's weird to lump husbands and all the other men together)
  • It can cause desire in the sexually-mature / who are aware of the 'private aspects of women'.
  • It can be exposed when the feet are stamped / struck e.g. catwalk?

Perhaps a clue: Women should draw their khumur or (head) coverings across their bosoms/ cleavage, and not display their zeena. If zeena is referring to breasts or cleavage, then it makes sense that revealing it in front of attendants or young children is acceptable, in the case of nursing or caregiving. That older women who are relaxing their dress code around men should still not reveal breasts makes total sense. As for 'what is apparent', this could refer to whatever is out of the women's control.

But it doesn't make sense that one could reveal breasts among related and marry-able men. I certainly wouldn't!!

Perhaps zeena is hair then, as the mainstream argument goes? Some argue that a woman's zeena is her beauty (pretty vague), and according to various schools of thought, include her hair, neck, cleavage, feet, or voice. Some even say the entire woman is zeena and therefore cover completely. The vagueness of the concept, and the contested authenticity of its hadith, means that there is still no certain answer.

But then it wouldn't make sense that hair causes desire in only certain men, or that you are allowed to show your hair to children because hair causes desire in sexually mature people?? However, you could walk in a way that shows off your hair.

I don't think it zeena refers to only one or a few body parts, I think it refers to something more abstract that is beyond me for now. Perhaps it has been left vague, perhaps because it is culturally constructed. What is suitable for women to reveal in front of these men differs in each social context.

Taking everything into account, it seems to be referring to a collection of behaviours that are aesthetic and can cause desire in sexually mature people. I can't say I know for certain the definition of zeena. Perhaps in some other I'll read something else and understand it better, inshallah.

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