Salam Dear Zahra,
Let me first thank you for your question which reflects a great interest in understanding the meanings of the Quran and reflecting upon its great teachings.
Actually, we are all called, in these difficult times, to get back to the Quran and take from its guidance and light what can help us solve our individual as well as collective problems.
Allah tells us that He made the Quran easy to remember, and asks if there is anyone who can reflect.
Different Meaning of “Hijab”
First of all, it is important to clarify that within the context of the verse you are referring to, the word hijab is not referring to Muslim women’s dress as it usually does, but is referring to the broader meaning of “veil”.
A misunderstanding here might take place due to the rich nature of the Arabic language, where the one term can have several meanings.
Coming to the heart of your question regarding the meaning of hijab in the verse that says what means:
It is not fitting for a man that Allah should speak to him except by inspiration, or from behind a veil, or by the sending of a messenger to reveal, with Allah’s permission, what Allah wills: for He is Most High, Most Wise. (Quran 42:51)
We find that Imam Al-Qushairi in his excellent exegesis of the Quran known as Lata’if Al-Isharat tells us that the one who is behind the hijab is the human being, not the Lord.
The veil here does not mean a physical veil that can be touched by hand or seen by eyes; rather, it refers to a “barrier” created by Allah in the sphere of seeing.
This means that He creates something hidden from ‘sight’ so that man will not be able to see Him.
Or, it means that God is capable of stopping the functioning of the divinely-created human sight, so that humans would not be able to see Him.
Simply speaking, this “hijab“, according to Imam Al-Qushairi, may be referring to the limits of human vision which cannot see what is beyond its human capacity and this is simply what constitutes “hijab” for it.
It’s not that Allah is hiding as much as that our eyes cannot see Him.
An Example: Bright Light and Glasses
For example, if, during a very dark night, there was a very strong light and I wanted to see it, because of the limits of my vision, I would have to wear glasses to be able to look at it.
The glasses here may be a veil for me because I can see that light from behind them, but they protect my eyes from the power of the light. Therefore, the glasses constitute a veil for me but not for the light.
When a solar eclipse happens, people go out to see it using special glasses because their eyes cannot bear certain types of rays.
In such a case, it is their eyes which are hiding behind a “veil”, not the solar eclipse, because the solar eclipse is everywhere around us and it is only us who are within the laws of our limited humanness.
Some other scholars give another interpretation by saying that the “hijab” here means that Allah will create His words and inspiration in a way that is hidden from the person, much like a king who is speaking to some of his people and they can hear his voice but never define his place.
It is because of this that Moses was called, “Kaleemullah” (“the one to whom Allah spoke”) because he heard a voice that denotes the presence of Allah without being able to see Him.
Bearing all this in mind, we can conclude that the “hijab” here means a veil that disables the person from seeing Allah with his or her physical eyes.
This has no relation to the Creator; rather, it is linked to the person himself because the person lies within the boundaries of his humanness and so it is him who is protected and limited by the veil.
I hope this answer helps.
Thank you and please stay in touch.
(From AboutIslam’s archives)