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Hijab: The Dress of Modesty in Islam

By: Allamah Sayyid Sa'eed Akhtar Rizvi
The essence of Islam is “Submission to the Will of Allah”, to make one's opinions, inclinations and actions subservient to the commands of Allah.
”And it is not for a believer man or believer woman to have any choice in their affair when Allah and Hiss Messenger decided a matter; and whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, indeed he has strayed a manifest straying.” [1]
Therefore, if one asks why Hijab or Purdah is necessary, the only proper reply would be, 'because Allah and His Messenger have so decided'. And that should be the end of all arguments, so far as the believing men and believing women are concerned.
But in this age, Hijab has been equated with backwardness of society and is regarded as a symbol of servitude of women. Many preachers think it is safer to avoid this subject in their lectures. But the Holy Prophet has said: ”When Bid'ats appear and an 'Alim does not say what he knows (against that Bid'at) then he is cursed by Allah, the angels and the men.” [2]
Islam is a compact religion in which all rules and regulations are well-synchronized, and if one wants to tamper with a certain part, the whole system would disintegrate. You have to accept the whole machinery as it is; you cannot choose from it.
Islam believes in keeping men and women apart. It has entrusted males and females with completely separate responsibilities, according to their natural ability. Man is obliged to earn livelihood for himself and his family. Woman has been entrusted with responsibility of managing domestic affairs, and upbringing the children in Islamic background.
The proponents of the “liberty” of women sneer at this division of labour, implying that proper upbringing of children is an inferior duty which degrades women. They do not realize that their new social order, which deprives the children of parental care and control is a major factor in increasing juvenile delinquency, which in its turn is tearing the society apart.[3]
Hijab as we know it, was not in Arabia before Islam. It was introduced in Madina by specific injunctions of the Qur'an, long before non-Arabs came into the fold of Islam.
Ummu'l-muminin 'Ayeshah is reported to praise the women of al-Ansar in these words: ”I did not see any women better than those of Al-Ansar, in their confirmation of Allah's Book and the faith in the revelation. As soon as the chapter of an-Nur was revealed, containing the words, and they draw their head covers over their neck slits, {and they were informed of it by their men} everyone of them without exception took her robe (shawl) and wound it around her head, in conformity with, and faith in, what Allah had revealed in His Book.
They came next morning behind the Messenger (s.a.w) with those wound robes on heads as if a crow was sitting on their heads.” [4]
Therefore, the attempts of some self-appointed non-Muslim experts of Islam, to show that Hijab came to Islam when the Arabs conquered neighboring countries, has no leg to stand. Modesty is one of the fundamentals of Islamic Shari'ah. Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s) said: ”Modesty is a part of Iman.” [5]

Verses of Hijab
First let us read the verses of the Qur'an on this subject:- There are three verses in Sura An-Nur:- ”Say unto the believer men that they cast down their gaze and guard their private parts; that is purer for them. Verily, Allah is well Aware of all that you do.
”And say unto the believing women that they cast down their gaze and guard their private parts, and they display not their “Zinat” (adornment) except what becomes apparent of it; and they draw their “Khumur” (head covers) over their “Juyub” (neck-slits); and they display not their “Zinat” except to their husbands, or their fathers, or the father of their husbands, or their brothers, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brother's sons, or their sister's sons, or their women or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants void of sexual desires, or the children who have not yet attained the knowledge of women's secrets (or nakedness), and they should not strike their feet so that what they hide of their “Zinat” becomes known; and turn you all unto Allah, O you believers, so that you may be successful.” [6]

Explanation of Important Words
Zinat: What a human being uses to adorn himself/herself like ornaments, clothes and similar things.
Khumur: With their khumur i.e. with their head covers; plural of khimar.
Juyub: Plural of jayb, i.e. neck-slit. Before the revelation of this verse, Arab women did not cover their necks and neck lines were usually low (they anticipated the 20th century fashion). So, they were ordered to cover their necks with their head covers.
Mahram: The relatives before whom a woman is allowed to display her Zinat are listed in this verse. They are called Mahram. Mahram means those relatives (by birth, fostership or marriage) with whom marriage is perpetually forbidden. Thus, father-in-law is Mahram; but sister of wife is not mahram, because one may marry her after death of the wife or after divorcing her. The phrase, “their fathers” includes paternal and maternal uncles.
Illa ma Zahara Minha”: except what becomes apparent of it. It will be explained later.
The third verse in the same Sura exempts a very old woman from putting on veil:- ”Such elderly women as are past the prospect of marriage, there is no blame on them if they lay aside their outer garments, provided they make not a display of their adornment; but it is good for them if they restrain themselves; and Allah is All-hearing All-knowing.”. [7]

Explanation of Words:
Al-Qawa'id: Those women who have passed the age of menses and child-bearing and are not desirous of marriage because of their old age.
Yada'na: It denotes laying aside an outer garment like shawl or chadar, and not removing a dress like shirt or frock from body.
This exception presupposes a general rule. That the elderly women may lay aside their veil, shows that other cannot lay at aside. And even elderly women have been encouraged not to lay aside their veil, because it is good for them (and perhaps to set a good example to the younger generation

.
Then there are 4 verses in Surah Al-Ahzab:- ”O Women of the Prophet! You are not like any other woman, if you fear (Allah); so be not soft in your speech, lest lusts after you he in whose heart is disease; and speak a good speech; ”And stay in your houses and display not yourselves like the display of the Ignorance of Yore…” [8]

Explanation
Women of the Prophet”: This verse is addressed to the women of the Prophet but all Muslim women are included in it; as so many verses addressed to the Holy Prophet are meant for the whole Ummah. For Example, there is a verse: ”O Prophet! When you divorce (your) women, divorce them at their prescribed period.”[9]
It is an accepted principle that the rules of the Qur'an are for the whole Ummah, except where there is a clear indication that it is not meant for others.
You are not like any other women”: Muslim women are not like non-Muslim women. So, they should maintain their distinction and dignity.
Like the display of the Ignorance of Yore”: To “stay in your houses” is the dignity of Islam; and to display oneself is the trade-mark of the pre-Islamic Ignorance and Kufr.
There is a hadith in Tafsir of Al-Qummi (with his chain of narrators) from Imam Ja'afar as-Sadiq (a.s) from his father (a.s) that he said about the clause, like the display of the Ignorance of Yore: “It implies that there surely will come another era of Ignorance.”
Allamah At-Tabatabai's comments: “It is a fine inference.”[10]
A Question: Has that predicted era of the latter days, ignorance already arrived?
“And if you ask from them any goods, ask you of them from behind the curtain; purer it is for your heats and for their hearts.” [11]
Explanation: This verse is about the wives of the Holy Prophet. It shows the ideal of Purdah or Hijab for a Muslim woman, that she should remain inside her house; and Ghair-Mahram men should talk to her, if necessary, from behind a curtain.
When the above verse was revealed, the companions asked the Prophet whether they should remain hidden from their daughters, mothers and sisters also. Then the following verse was revealed:- ”There is no blame on them (women) about their fathers, nor their sons, nor their brothers, nor their brothers' sons, nor their sisters' sons, nor their own women, nor whom their right hands possess, and fear you (O women) Allah: Verily Allah is Witness on everything.” [12]
”O Prophet! Say unto your wives, and your daughters and the women of the believers that they let down upon them their 'Jilbab' (robe which covers head, face and shoulders); so that they may be distinguished, so that they will not be troubled; Allah is Oft-Forgiving the most Merciful.” [13]

Explanation:
Jalabib: it is a plural of Jilbab is a robe bigger than headcover and shorter than shawl. The woman puts it on her head and it covers up to her breast. Jilbab means blanket and all things which cover the body like shawl etc. And the meaning is that they should let down their robes upon them so that it covers their faces, and shoulders.
Jilbab should not be confused with Khimar (head cover) mentioned above, because Jilbab is the outer robe worn over Khimar.[14] In fact it is what is variously called chador, abayah or purdah.
The above verses guide the women as follows:
a) They should stay in their houses.
b) They should not talk is soft words with Ghair-Mahram men.
c) There should be a curtain on the door.
d) They should not show their Zinat except to their Mahram.
e) If they have to come out of their house (for any valid reason) they should cover their bodies with veil.
Also it appears from the above verses that there are two stages of Hijab:
1. Hijab of Eyes
2. Hijab of Dress

Hijab of Eyes
The believer men must cast down their gaze and believer women must cast down their gaze. None is allowed to look at the opposite sex, unless he or she is within the prohibited degree (mahram).
As the man is required to struggle for earning the livelihood, he is not told to hide his body (except to a certain extent). Still he is obliged to cast down his gaze; and not to look at Ghair-Mahram women.
Woman can easily keep herself covered and hidden because her sphere of activity is her home; therefore, she was told to cover her entire body, as well as cast down her gaze and not to look at Ghair Mahram men.
There are many ahadith which say that: “Glance is a poisoned arrow from the arrows of Shaitan.”[15]
“Beware of glancing, because it sows lust in the heart of the glances, and enough is it for a mischief.”[16]
Another hadith says that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a) said: “Whoever fills his eyes looking at women unlawfully, Allah will raise him on the day of resurrection with nails of fire driven in (his eyes), until judgment is given concerning the whole mankind; then he will be ordered to be driven into the Fire.” [17]
Numerous ahadith declare that the glance after the 1st glance is an arrow of Shaitan; and is Haram. Our boys and girls should ponder on these verses and traditions, in order to realize that wearing hijab or scarf is not a license to look freely at the opposite sex.

Hijab of Dress
We may discuss this subject under the following headings:-

Extent of Covering
The dress must cover the woman's whole body, except what has been specifically exempted. According to authentic Ahadith of both Shi'a and Sunni books, “the whole body of woman is 'awrah.”
”The woman is 'awrah.” [18]
And what is the meaning of 'awrah? The genitals are called 'awrah, because it is a shame to look at them; and everything which a man hides (because of pride or shame) is called 'awrah; and the women are 'awrah.”
According to Al-Urwatu 'l-wuthqa (by Sayyid Kazim Yazdi on which are footnotes of all great Mujtahids of recent times) covering is of two kinds:
1. First: The covering which is Wajib in itself at all times and it means:
a. Hiding of 'awratain (private parts, front and behind) from all people, male and female, Mahram and Ghair-Mahram, Baligh and Ghair-Baligh.
Exception: Husband and wife may look at each other. Also a very small child is exempted from this restriction.
b. As it is haram to uncover those parts before any person, so it is haram to look at them.
c. It is wajib for a woman to cover her whole body (except face and hands up to wrists, which will be explained later) from all persons except her husband and Mahram.
d. Face and Hands:
i. If there is possibility that someone will look at her with lust, then it is Wajib to cover the hands as well.
ii. If there is no such possibility, then it is Ahwat to cover them, according to Fatwa of Sayyid Kazim Yazdi, Sayyid Muhsin Hakim Tabataba'i, Sayyid Mahmud Husaini Shahrudi, Sayyid Abul-Qasim Khui, Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Shari'atmadari, Sayyid Muhammad Rida Gulpayegani and Sayyid Hadi Milani.
iii. It is haram to look with lust at the body, face or hands of a man or woman, be he or she a Mahram or Ghair Mahram. (Exception: Wife and Husband).
2. The second kind of covering concern the Salat.
a. Man must cover his awratain even if there is no one there to look at him. And it Ahwat to cover between navel and knees.
b. Woman must cover her whole body including hair and ears except face (from forehead upto the chin in length, and between the thumb and middle finger in width), hand (from wrist downwards) and feet upto ankles. It is Wajib to cover a portion of these excepted parts “Min Babil Muqaddamah”.
c. It is not necessary for her to cover in prayer her ornaments or make up on face.
d. If there is someone who is looking or may look with lust at her face, hands or feet during Salat, then it is Wajib for her to cover these parts also, not because of Salat, but because of the general rule mentioned earlier.[19]

Face and Hands
In the first verse it is said that the women display not their Zinat (adornment) except what becomes apparent of it. There is a difference of opinion about the meaning of this exception.
There is a group (both in the Sunni and the Shi'a sects) which says that 'Ma Zahar Minha' means the face and hands, which according to them a woman is allowed to keep open. Another group says that it refers to only that incidence when any part of her body adornment becomes uncovered because of uncontrollable factors such as blowing of wind, or out of necessity such as the outer clothes themselves.
Leaving aside the Sunni traditions, there are four ahadith in Shi'a books which directly or indirectly support the first interpretation.
First hadith is from Mardak bin 'Ubayd from 'a man' from Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s.) that this exception covers face, hands and feet (below ankles).
Second is from Qasim bin 'Urwah from Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s.) that it means antimony and ring (implying eyes and hands).
Third is from Sa'dan bin Muslim from Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s.) that the exception is of ring and bracelet (implying hands only).
Now 'a man' in the first hadith, Qasim bin 'Urwah in the second and Sa'dan bin Muslim in the third are “un-known” persons. Nobody knows how much reliance can be put on their words.
The fourth hadith is from 'Amr bin Shimr from Jabir al-Ansari, that Jabir said that he went with the Prophet to the house of Fatima (a.s.) and saw that she had become pale. This 'Amr bin Shimr was an ardent liar and Sunni and Shi'a 'Ulama unanimously say that he used to forge ahadith and attribute them to Jabir Ju'fi and others. Moreover, this hadith goes against the authentic ahadith which prove that Fatima (a.s.) covered herself before allowing a blind companion of the Prophet to enter her house, and that she did not want her dead body to be put on an open plank (as was the custom at that time) because people would know her height.
Anyhow, it is only an academic difference, coming to practical side, all 'Ulama (without any exception) say that if there is a danger that people will look at her face with lusty intention, then it is wajib for her to cover her face. And if there is no danger then according to one group it is wajib to cover the face, and according to the other it is Ahwat.
Now, it is for a woman to decide between Allah and herself whether such a danger exists in this enlightened society or not.

Thickness
The dress must be thick enough so as not to show the colour of skin or the shape of the body.
It is necessary to remind our women folk that the purpose of hijab is not putting on any cloth but to hide the body. Transparent or thin clothes which reveal the colour of skin or shape of body are absolutely forbidden.
The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said, inter alia, in a hadith: “….Their women will be dressed, yet naked; on their heads will be like the humps of lean camels; do curse them, for they are truly cursed.” [20]
The Holy Prophet on seeing a bride in a thin dress said: ”A woman who dressed like this, is not the one who believes in the Surah an-Nur.”

Looseness
The dress must not be tight to describe the curves and shape of a woman's body.

Overall Appearance
1. The purpose of the dress is to conceal 'Zinat'. It naturally follows that this cover itself should not be of a kind to attract onlookers to the woman inside. 'Zinat cannot be hidden by a dress which makes people turn their eyes towards the wearer. It is this type of dress which is forbidden in this ayat of the Qur'an: ”Bedizen not yourselves with the bedizenment of the Ignorance of Yore.”
2. Woman should not wear a dress which is generally known to be a male costume, nor vice versa. The Holy Prophet has cursed the men who act like women and the women who act like men.[21]
3. It should not be a dress of fame, pride and vanity. Wearing excessively dirty or rugged cloth to demonstrate denial of 'Self' or one's rejection of the norms of society is not allowed. The showiness and pride are improper in the eyes of Islam and are rejected by Islamic ethics. The Prophet said: ”Whoever wears a dress of fame in this world, Allah will cloth him with a dress of humiliation on the Day of Resurrection, then set it on fire.”

Importance of Hijab
To see how much importance is give to Hijab in Shariat, it is enough to see how other rules and regulations are modified and changed to preserve the principle of Hijab:
1. Praying in the mosque is better than in house, and its reward goes on increasing as the gathering increases. But for the woman, the opposite is correct. There is more reward in house than in the verandah of the house.
2. Jamaat prayer: One of the basic conditions of Jamaat prayer is that there should be no barrier between Imam and Ma'mum, and between one Ma'mum and the other. But his order is not for the women. If they want to pray with Jamaat, they should pray behind a barrier.
3. Adhan and Iqamah before the daily five prayers are very much emphasized. But women are exempted from it. If they opt to say Adhan and Iqamah, they can do so, when there is no Ghair Mahram to hear their voice. Otherwise, it is not allowed. (Though they may say it in whisper).
4. It is wajib for men to recite first two rak'ahs in Fajr, Maghrib and 'Isha prayers loudly. Women are required to pray in whisper only.
5. Friday prayer is Wajib 'Aini in the presence of the Imam (a.s) or his appointed deputy and wajib takhyiri according to many 'Ulama during the Ghaibat. But women are exempted for this wajib.
6. Ghusl-e-Mayyit: it is necessary that the person giving funeral bath be a Muslim; but if a Muslim woman dies and there are male ghayr mahram Muslims and female Christians, then the Christians woman should be asked to take a bath and then give Ghusl to the Muslim woman.
Another 'Alim, Muhaqiq Hilli, does not agree with it. He says the Ghusl-e-Mayit is an 'Ibadah', and it needs intention of Qurbatan ilallah which from a Kafir in not correct; so instead of allowing Mulsim men should give her Ghusl, he says that the dead body should be buried without Ghusl.
7. There is great reward in carrying the bier of a Muslim and walking in his funeral procession. Women are exempted from it.
8. In Ihram, the woman is not allowed to cover her face, but, as Muhaqiq Thanik Karaki has written, this rule does not mean that seeing or being seen by Ghayr mahram is allowed. Ayatullah Abul Qasim Khui writes that when the woman wants to hide herself from Ghair Mahram in Ihram, she may pull down a corner of her Ihram on her face and chin; but it is ahwat that she put her hand or some other thing to keep the cloth away from her face.
9. Jihad (fighting in the way of Allah) is the most liked 'Ibadah (act of worship) but women are exempted from fighting.
So, we find that whenever any general rule comes in conflict with the rule of Hijab, it is not the Hijab which gives way. It is always the conflicting rule which is sacrificed for the principle of Hijab.

Hijab for Men
It is good to draw the attention of the audience to the requirements of dress of man also. These basic requirements have been mentioned above, and they may be enumerated as follows:-
1. Man must cover his 'Awratain at all times, from all persons except his wife or a very small child.
2. He must cover his 'Awratain in the prayer.
3. His cloth should not be tight so as to describe what it is supposed to hide.
4. It should not be thin so as to show the colour of the skin of the parts which should be covered
5. The dress should not be like a costume generally considered a female costume.
6. They should not be clothes of fame, pride of vanity.
7. They should not be made of pure silk.
8. Man is not allowed to wear even impure gold.

Questions & Answers
1. Is it allowed for a veiled girl to attend co-education Schools?
Answer: If she observes all the rules of hijab and is sure that no one would look at her with lust, then it is allowed.
2. If yes, then she would not be able to answer the questions put forward to her by the teacher, she would have to whisper?
Answer: Talking to Ghair Mahram becomes haram (forbidden) when there is a danger that the said Ghair Mahram may get lustful ideas by hearing the voices of the women.
3. Can a woman participate fully in social and economic life remaining in purdah?
Answer: Yes, provided she does not exceed the limits laid down by the Shari'ah of Islam. Remember that Islam does not allow free mingling of males and females.
4. In many societies both men and women have no work. For example, in an agricultural society, as in Tanazania, both men and women have to work in fields without which the family would starve. What would you suggest under this condition?
Answer: If you want to follow Islam you must change. In fact the notion that in an agricultural society a woman must work in the fields is based on shortsightedness. We see women working in Tanazania and then generalize it as a principle of sociology. We forgot that the countries which are feeding the world, like U.S.A., Canada, Australia etc. are agricultural countries, but their agriculture does not depend on their women working in the fields.
So, it is not agriculture, per se, which demands women's back breaking labour; it is backwardness which compels Tanazania women to work in the fields, and not its agricultural society. And we may say that Islam does not like this backwardness; it wants these ladies to return to their proper place that is home. In other words Tanazanian society will have to change by following Islamic principles if it wants to march forward.
5. Alims have been told to oppose Bid'at. At what stage should they do it? At early stage or later stages?
Answer: At every stage.
6. Muslim Women in different countries put on different types of veil. Which type of veil is in keeping with the principle of Islam?
Answer: Any type that would suit them provided the main purpose of hijab, i.e., hiding of their bodies, is served.
7. Is it not necessary for our women to go and obtain knowledge in medicine or pharmacy etc.? A woman patient would prefer to be examined by a female doctor rather than a male one. She should also express herself more freely to a female doctor. There are only two women's colleges in the world in medicine; and due to the shortage of women doctors, it is necessary for our women to go and join other colleges and therefore they have to come out of Purdah.
Answer: She should try to go to a women's college only.
8. Some ladies, without veil have kept their dignity. So why all this?
Answer: Purdah of eyes and Purdah of dress, both are compulsory for all Muslim women. The dignity of a Muslim woman in the eyes of Allah depends on Purdah; for example, see the Ayat which says, ”You are not like any other women”.
It is the distinction and dignity of Muslim woman to “stay in your houses”. If we try to separate their dignity form Purdah, then our out-look is not in conformity with God's preference.
By observing only the Purdah of Eyes, the ladies mentioned in the question are obeying only part of the divine law.
9. I believe in Islam that man and women will be treated equally tomorrow on the Day of Judgment. Now if that is the case, in view of the present inflation, why cannot a woman work and help the man in running a home?
Answer: Do not be extravagant and try to remain within the limits of the income earned by the husband. However a woman can help increasing the income by such means which do not require her to discard hijab. Equal treatment on the Day of Judgment does not mean equal burden in this life.
10. Should parents abstain from recommending Purdah to their daughters lest she is forced after marriage by her in-laws to take it down?
Answer: As far as she is with you, you are to perform your duties and responsibilities. What happens at a later stage when she is with her husband is not your responsibility. If you are afraid that after one week you will not get any food, would you start starving from today?
11. Is it respectable for a girl to have her veil removed by her in-laws?
Answer: No. It is haram. She has to refuse.
12. Purdah is wajib for a girl, but if the husband forbids her to do wajib things, what can she do then? Is it wajib to listen to her husband?
Answer: No. She is not to listen to him if he tells her to commit a sin. And the husband gets twice the sin for forcing her to remove Purdah or do any haraam thing.
13. Accepting that woman's place is at home, should a wife in western countries be allowed to work in order to help her husband whose income alone is not adequate?
Answer: I think one thing must be clarified here before answering this question. Al-Tauba baed al-hijra is one of the seven great sins. If someone is living in a place where he is free to practice his religion, and he willingly migrates to a place where he will not be free to observe religious commands, it is called Al-Tauba Baed Al-Hijra (literal meanings: To become a nomad after hijrat).
Many of our brethren had to go to western countries because of the circumstances beyond their control. They should not be blamed. But there are others who have opted for such countries just for worldly gains. They bear the great responsibility, not only of their own Akherat, but of their children and future generation also.
Now, coming to the question, the first advice to such people is not to go to such countries where they cannot meet their expenses without wife's earning. If they are there, and it is unavoidable, then the answer to question No. 9 is applicable here.
Notes:
[1] Holy Quran, 33:36
[2] Safinatu'l Bihar, vol.1,p. 63
[3] For detailed description of this topic, please, see my book, The Islamic Family life, Revised edition published by W.O.F.I.S., Tehran, Iran. [DILP] Available on line at: http://www.al-islam.org/islamic-family-life-rizvi
[4] Ad-Durru 'l-manthur, vol. 5 p. 42; al-Kashshaf: vol.. 3, p. 62
[5] Safinatu 'l-Bihar, vol. 1, p. 360
[6] Holy Quran, 24: 30-31
[7] Holy Quran, 24: 60
[8] Holy Quran, 33: 32-33
[9] Holy Quran, 65: 1, See al-Kashshaf, vol. 4, p. 117
[10] Al-Mizan, vol. 16, p. 316
[11] Holy Quran, 33:53
[12] Holy Quran, 33:55
[13] Holy Quran, 33:59
[14] Ad-Durru 'l-manthur, vol. 5, p. 42
[15] Safinatu 'l-Bihar, vol. 2, p. 596
Ad-Durru 'l-manthur, vol. 5, p. 42
[16] Safinatu 'l-Bihar, vol. 2, p. 596
[17] Ibid, p. 171
[18] Kanzu 'l-'ummal, vol. 16, ch. 6, p. 411, hadith no. 45158
[19] Al-'Urwatu 'l-wuthqa
[20] Kanzu 'l-'ummal, vol. 16, ch. 6, p.401, hadith no. 45106; see also hadith no. 45013 on p. 383.
[21] Ibid, p. 385, hadith no. 45020

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