Assalamu’alaykum wr. wb.
Peace and blessings be upon the Beloved of Allah, Al-Mustafa
May this message find you in the best of conditions, faith and health. I am writing in to you to seek advice on a predicament that I find myself in, and would definitely need to seek scholarly input, that I can find some measure of peace. I have recently changed jobs, and am currently in employment as a lecturer in the School of Health Sciences in a local institution.We have some female Muslim students in our enrollment, who are wearing the hijab, Alhamdulillah. However, the disciplines of Physiotherapy, and Occuaptional Therapy (which I am teaching) require an adept knowledge of the human body, as a prerequisite skill to develop further competencies as a clinical practitioner. This is not unlike modules in medical studies. As such, there are some elements and modules during the education process, that require the students to expose certain parts of their body in practical/ hand-on sessions. For example, they are required to identify anatomical landmarks on the arms, shoulders, hips and legs; to discern the locations of particular muscles; to palpate and assess for the tone and condition of muscles, and others. Being a health-related course of study, there are of course both male and female students in our enrollment. While we can put the students into single gender groups, the practical sessions are still mixed-gender classes so that a better appreciation of the variation between the male and female musculature is obtained.
I have some quick solutions which I can recommend to the students for their practical sessions:
1) Wearing a sweater or jacket, or sleeves, to be removed only as and when needed.
2) Modifying the hijab to be “less visible” i.e. still covering their ‘awrah using bonnet caps, rather than the regular headscarves.
3) Achieving some compromise within their immediate practical groupmates, that they may not need to disrobe, unless there is absolutely no one else to be the model for skills to be practiced upon.
However, another issue arises when they take their exams or assessments. During these situations, they will be required to dress in uniform, as part of professional standards, meaning that they have to remove their hijab. What are the positions regarding this matter?Are there any particular dispensations that can be applied?
The requirements of testing and learning/demonstrating palpation, uniforms etc. can be met as required by the current standards in the profession and then it’s back to normal. In the same way as a woman in a hospital giving birth is completely exposed to strangers, perhaps even of the opposite sex, for the duration of her need then it’s back to hijab. In the case of medical students they have even more of an excuse as their purpose is to preserve many lives not just one or two; plus, in their case, the nudity (`awra) exposed is secondary (mukhaffafa) not primary (mughallaza), i.e. not genitals as in the case of childbirth. So sleeves etc., bonnet caps or even bands as long as the intention is for it to stand for the hijab in that context, are all accepted insha-Allah since the context is not a Muslim country and the professional standards require it in good faith. In a Muslim country they might try to find a way to safeguard modesty but even there nowadays you find lower standards than those you are trying to meet. So may Allah reward you for your intention. And Allah knows best what is right.
Hajj Gibril Haddad