Notes and my reflections as I read Muhammad: A Prophet For Our Time by Karen Armstrong
Muhammad had his wives' apartments surrounding the mosque and in order to conduct business or get advice, people would often drop by whichever wife's house he was presently staying. Apparently they often made nuisances of themselves by overstaying their visits and some men even started harassing Muhammad's wives. Therefore some revelations were given in order to instruct the community on good manners as they pertained to their leader and his family. Also it gave instruction about Muhammad's wives speaking to men from behind a curtain or hijab. Karen Armstrong agrees that hijab has become a more controversial aspect of Islam especially among those who believe it oppresses women on one hand to the other spectrum that all devout Muslim women MUST wear a head scarf at the very least. However at the time of the revelation it was only to keep Muhammad's wives from being under the prying eyes and scrutiny of the male members of Medina. Although Muhammad's wives were now kept a bit more separate from the men (e.g. remaining in tents when going on military expeditions), other women still went around freely. "The hijab was not devised to divide the sexes," Armstrong writes.
I thought this part was interesting: "The introduction of the hijab was a victory for 'Umar, who had been urging the Prophet to segregate his wives for some time -- a somewhat superficial solution to a complex problem. Muhammad had wanted to change people's attitudes, and the imposition of this external barrier was a compromise, because it did not require Muslims to exercise an internal control over their actions. But he gave in to 'Umar, because of the crisis that was tearing Medina apart." (pg. 171)
The reason I found this of interest is because I often read on blogs how women are harassed in Muslim countries even while covering their hair, faces and so forth. Some claim the men in Muslim-majority countries are the worst at catcalling and pinching and rubbing on women. I've also heard people argue that one reason for this is the men are never taught to control themselves because they are, in some cases, segregated from all non-related females or they expect somehow these pieces of covering clothes to be the barriers needed to ensure godly behave. You know ...so the men won't see something that they want to touch. No seeing equals no temptation. Where's the test of a good Muslim deciding between right and wrong there? So it was telling that Armstrong mentions here "it did not require Muslims to exercise an internal control over their actions." Are men robots unable to control their actions? Must there be a curtain (pieces of cloth) in place to discourage them from touching women? And why for the most part is this not a huge problem among Western countries where women don't usually cover nearly as much skin? Shouldn't one logically believe the more godly people would act, well, more godly?