One of the things that I dislike so much about our desi culture is the twisted understanding of who constitutes a mehram, or a complete lack of understanding thereof. Your cousins are NOT your mehrams. “But we grew up together. He’s like my older/little brother!” No, he’s not. Who are you trying to delude? Your dad’s or mom’s cousin whom you call ‘chacha’ or ‘mamu’ are not your mehrams like your dad’s and mom’s real brothers. Your maternal and paternal aunt’s husbands are not your mehrams. Your dad’s best friend who treats you like his own daughter doesn’t become a mehram like your dad either. Don’t let him pat your head. Oh, and the big one, your brother in laws are NOT your mehrams even if they are “temporarily” haram for you in marriage. You are supposed to do hijab in front of him. This one annoys me the most, especially because of all the cheap desi jokes associated with being a “saali” (wife’s sister) and stupid traditions rampant in our society, mostly adopted from Hindu culture (eg: holding your brother-in-law’s little finger while coercing him to give out money to all the bride’s sisters during the wedding). These are acts of fahsha, indecency and have no room in Islam. All these non-mehrams in our immediate family and social circle are just as much non-mehrams for us as the random stranger walking down the street. In fact, we should be most cautious around them when it comes to preserving our modesty and observing hijab since our interaction with them happens more frequently, and there is greater room for fitnah and for Shaytan to cause us to slip. Allah swt has clearly laid down the injunctions in Quran about how to guard our modesty and who constitutes a mehram. Ignorance is no excuse.
“Tell the believing men to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what they do. And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their headcovers over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. And let them not stamp their feet to make known what they conceal of their adornment. And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.” Surah Nur, 30-31.
If a man “loses” a modesty debate, nothing about his life changes. If a man “wins” a modesty debate, nothing about his life changes. But if a woman loses a modesty debate, the entire fabric of her existence changes. If a woman loses a modesty debate, she has lost whole areas of freedom in her life. She now has more things to worry about not doing so that men will not get aroused. There is no such thing as an “objective” argument in which the stakes are astronomical for one side and nonexistent for the other. Furthermore, by even accepting modesty as a valid area of concern for women, you have accepted a premise that defines women by their looks and objectifies them. Women have already lost the moment a modesty debate begins.