This essay will attempt to briefly yet concisely enumerate the basic requirements regarding Muslim women's dress (Hijaab) as stipulated by the Sharee'ah of Islam. The term Hijaab, itself includes not only dress and covering the body, but methods of behavior before members of the same and/or opposite sex, promoting privacy for females and prohibiting loose intermingling between males and females, and thereby encouraging modesty, decency, and chastity.
Minor differences exist among the scholars regarding the actual number of the requirements because of varying methods used by them in codifying such. The ones mentioned here represent the ones agreed upon by the overwhelming majority of scholars and are all solidly backed by firm evidence taken from the Qur'aan, the Sunnah and the practice of the Sahaabah.
The First Requirement: The Extent of Covering
The dress worn in public must cover the entire body except what has been specifically excluded, based upon the following proofs:
Allah Ta'ala says:
And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts from sin and not show off their adornment (Zeenah) except only that which is apparent, and draw their head covers (Khumur) over their necks and bosoms and not reveal their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women (i.e., their sisters in Islam), or their female slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants free of physical desires, or small children who have no sense of women's nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah all together, 0 you Believers, in order that you may attain success.[An-Noor: 31]
The word Zeenah in the Aayah above, literally means "adornment", and includes both (a) that which Allah has adorned, i.e., the woman's natural and/or physical beauty, and (b) that with which they adorn themselves, i.e., jewelry, eye shadow, attractive clothing, hand dye, etc. Soorah An-Noor spells out specifically the commands concerning the fact that a woman's natural beauty and her adornments are to be concealed from strangers except by: (1) What may show due to accidental or uncontrollable factors such as the blowing of the wind, etc., and (2) What has been exempted (see explanation at end of this section).
Allah also says:
O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters the women of the believers to draw their outer garments (jalaabeeb) about themselves (when they go out). This is better so that they may be recognized and not molested. And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful [Al-Ahzaab:59)
Abu Dawood narrates that 'A'ishah (radiallahu 'anhaa) said Asmaa' the daughter of Abu Bakr (radiallahu 'anhumaa) came to see the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) wearing a thin dress; Rasoolullah (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) turned away from her and said: 0 Asmaa', once a woman reaches the age of menstruation, no part of her body should be seen but this - and he pointed to his face and hands.
The word Khumur (p1. of Khimaar) refers to a cloth which covers the head (including the ears), hair, neck and bosom. The esteemed Mufassir (Qur'aanic interpreter) Al-Qurtubee explained: Women in the past used to cover their heads with Khimaar, throwing its ends over their backs. This left the neck and the upper part of the chest bare, in the manner of the Christians. Then Allah commanded them to cover those parts with the Khimaar. Allah states further in this Aayah:
...And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment...
The women in the time of the Prophet (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) wore anklets which could employed to attract attention by stamping their feet thereby making the anklets tinkle. This practice is not only forbidden by Allah, but moreover, shows that the legs and ankles are to be covered as well.
Some modern day Hanafee scholars are of the mistaken view that a woman can display her feet, a portion of her forearms and her ears; yet there is no authentic proof from the practice of the Prophet (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) or Sahaabah to uphold such a view. Amongst the authentic Ahadeeth which clarify this point is the following:
lbn 'Umar (radiallahu 'anhu) reported that Rasoolullah (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) said: On the Day of Resurrection Allah will not look at the man who trails his garment along out of pride. Umm Salamah then asked: What should women do with (the hems of) their garments? He replied: Let them lower them a hand span. She said: Their feet would be exposed! He then said: Let them lower them a forearm's length but no more.[Reported by At~Tabaraanee-Saheeh).
The Aayah of Soorah An-Noor also lists in detail those with whom a woman is permitted to be more at ease. Furthermore, the ayah from Soorah Al-Ahzaab orders Muslim women to draw their outer garments about themselves when they go out.
Abu Dawood related that 'A'ishah (radiallahu 'anhaa) said: After this Aayah was revealed the women of the Ansaar appeared like crows. (becauseof the color and shape of the cloaks they wore). Hence, anouter garment or cloak must be worn by a Muslim woman whenever she goes out in public or if she is in the presence of strangers within her own home or the home of a close relative. Slight differences have arisen among the scholars concerning the precise meaning of ...except that which is apparent...from Soorah An-Noor which according to Ibn 'Abbaas (radiallahu 'anhu), includes "the face and the two hands, and rings." This view is shared by Ibn'Umar, 'Ataa, and others from the taabi'een." [Tafseer Ibn Katheer] Also, Imaam Ash-Shawkaani states concerning this same aayah, that it includes: "The dress, the face, and the two hands"; Ibn 'Abbaas and Qataadah have stated "The adornments include eye shadow (Kohl), bracelets, hand dye, and rings, and it is not permissible for women to (uncover) them." [Fath Al-Qadeer]
The major point of difference among the scholars concerns the hadeeth of Asmaa (radiallahu 'anhaa) i.e., that the face and hands need not be covered; a number of the scholars have maintained that the face and hands must also be covered, because it was the practice of the wives of the Prophet (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) and the wives of the Sahaabah to cover themselves completely according to authentic Ahadeeth. The above point has been a topic of debate amongst the scholars both past and present and will be dealt with, inshaa' Allah at the end of this essay.
The Second Requirement: Thickness
The garment should be thick and opaque so as not to display the skin color and form of the body beneath it. Delicate or transparent clothing does not constitute a proper covering. Al-Qurtubee reports a narration from 'A'ishah (radiallahu 'anhaa) that some women from Banu Tameem came to see her wearing transparent clothing. 'A'ishah said to them: If you are believing women, these are not the clothes of believing women." He also reports that a bride came to see her, wearing a sheer, transparent Khimaar whereupon 'A'ishah (radiallahu 'anhaa) said: "A woman who wears such clothing does not believe in Soorah An-Noor. Moreover, the following hadeeth makes this point graphically clear. Rasool-Allah (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) said: There will be in the last of my Ummah, scantily dressed women, the hair on the top of their heads like a camel's hump. Curse them, for verily they are cursed.
In another version he (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) said: …scantily dressed women, who go astray and make others go astray; they will not enter Paradise nor smell its fragrance, although it can be smelled from afar.[At-Tabaranee and Saheeh Muslim]
"Scantily dressed women" are those who wear clothing which reveals more than it conceals, thereby increasing her attractiveness while opening the path to a host of evils.
The Third Requirement: Looseness
The clothing mushang loosely enough and not be so tight-fitting as to show the shape and size of the woman's body. This obviously includes such things as skin-tight body suits, etc. The following hadeeth proves this point clearly. Usaama ibn Zayd (radiallahu 'anhumaa) said: Rasool-Allah (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) gave me a gift of thick Coptic cloth he had received as a gift from Dahiah Al-Kalbee, and so I gave it to my wife. Thereafter the Prophet (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) asked me: Why didn't you wear the Coptic cloth? I replied: I gave it to my wife. the Prophet (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) then said: Tell her to wear a thick gown under it (the Coptic garment) for I fear that it may describe the size of her limbs.[Narrated by Ahmad, Al-Bayhaqee, and Al-Haakim]
The Fourth Requirement: Color, Appearance and Demeanor
Allah Ta'ala says:
0 wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women; if you fear (Allah), then do not be too pleasant of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should feel desire (for you). [Al-Ahzaab: 32]
The reason for the revelation of this verse is not the fear of distrust nor misbehavior on the part of the women, but rather to prevent them from speaking invitingly, walking seductively, or dressing revealingly so as to arouse sexual desire in the heart of lecherous and evil men. Seductive dressing and enticing speech are the characteristics of ill-intentioned women, not Muslims. Al-Qurtubee mentions that Mujaahid (radiallahu 'anhu) said: Women (before the advent of Islam) used to walk about among men. Qataadah (radiallahu 'anhu) said: They used to walk in a sensuous and seductive manner. Maqaatil (radiallahu 'anhu) said: The women used to wear an untied cloth on their heads, while provocatively toying with their necklaces, earrings and other ornamental jewelry.
Furthermore, Allah has commanded women not to display their beauty, meaning both natural and acquired beauty.
Allah commands the believing women thus:
...And do not make a display of yourselves (tabarruj) like the displaying of the ignorance of long ago... [Al-Ahzaab: 33]
A garment which is intended to conceal a woman and her beauty from public view cannot be a thing which enhances her beauty. Therefore, the garment cannot contain bright colors, bold designs or shiny and reflective material that draw men's attention to the wearer. The word above, At-Tabarruj, means not only "to display oneself" but also "to spruce up one's charms for the purpose of exciting desire"!
Imaam Adh-Dhahabee says in his book Kitaab AI-Kabaa'ir (The Book of Major Sins):
Amongst the deeds which a woman is cursed for are displaying the adornments she wears, wearing perfume when she goes out, and wearing colorful clothes... Hence, the Muslim woman is encouraged to wear muted, somber colors and to avoid bright designs, patterns and colors. This point should serve also as a reminder to Muslim men who are in positions of responsibility for their women, that Rasool-Allah (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) has warned in an authentic hadeeth narrated by 'Abdullah ibn 'Amr ibn Al-'Aas that amongst the three individuals who would not enter Jannah (Paradise) would be: …Ad-Dayooth, who is contented with obscenity within his family. i.e., a cuckold - a man who permits the women he is responsible for, such as his wife, daughter, etc. to engage in illicit sexual relations or to display their beauty to men, thereby stimulating sexual desire!
The Fifth Requirement: Difference from Men's Clothing
The clothing of a Muslim woman must not resemble the clothing of men. The following two hadeeth help to explain this.
Abu Hurairah (radiallahu 'anhu) said: Rasool-Allah (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) cursed the man who wears women's clothes and the woman who wears men's clothes. [Abu Dawood and lbn Maajah - Saheeh]
'Abdullah ibn 'Umar (radiallahu 'anhumaa) said he heard Rasool-Allah (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) say: The man who resembles a woman and the woman who resembles a man is not of us (i.e., not of the believers). [Ahmad and At-Tabaranee - Saheeh)
Additionally, Abu Dawood relates a narration from Umm Salamah (radiallahu 'anhaa) which shows that the Prophet (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) forbade women to bundle their khumur on their heads in such a way as to resemble the turban of a man. Western Muslim sisters should pay specific attention to this point since regretfully this has become a widespread practice amongst many of them!
The Sixth Requirement: Difference from the Clothing of Unbelievers
Her clothing must not resemble the clothing of unbelievers. This is a general ruling of the Sharee'ah which encompasses not only dress but also such things as manners, customs, religious practices and festivities, transactions, etc. Indeed, dissimilarity with unbelievers is a precedent that was established by the first generation of Islam. The following two hadeeth and statement of 'Umar (radiallahu 'anhu) will help to clarify this position.
'Abdullah ibn 'Amr ibn Al-'Aas said: Rasool-Allah (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) saw me wearing two saffron colored garments, so he said: Indeed, these are the clothes of kuffaar (unbelievers), so do not wear them.[Saheeh Muslim]
'Abdullah ibn 'Umar (radiallahu 'anhumaa) said: Rasool-Allah (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) stated: Whoever resembles a people is one of them.[Abu Daawood]
Abu Musa Al-Ash'aree (radiallahu 'anhu) related that 'Umar (radiallahu 'anhu) told him: ...I shall not honor those whom Allah has dishonored, nor esteem those He has humbled, nor bring close those whom He has kept afar. [Ahmad]
The Seventh Requirement: No Vain or Ostentatious Dressing
The woman's dress must not be an _expression of ostentation, vanity or as a status symbol by being excessively showy or expensive, nor must it be excessively tattered so as to gain admiration and fame for being extremely humble. Ibn 'Umar (radiallahu 'anhumaa) reported that Rasool-Allah (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) said: Whoever dresses for ostentation in this world, Allah will dress that person in a dress of humiliation on the Day of Resurrection, and then set it on fire.[Abu Dawood]
The Niqaab (Face Veil): Between Mustahabb (Recommendable) and Waajib (Mandatory)
The esteemed Qur'aanic commentators At-Tabaree and Al-Qurtubee have elaborated on the form of Hijaab or Jilbaab i.e., "outer garments" as viewed by the Companions of the Prophet (radiallahu 'anhum), as well as the circumstances surrounding the revelation of Soorah Al-Ahzaab: 59, that was quoted at the beginning of this essay. They state that when the believing women used to go out at night (wearing ordinary clothes) to answer the call of nature, some hypocrites tried to annoy them, thinking the women were slave girls. The women thereby would scream out loudly causing these hypocrites to flee. Thereupon Allah revealed this Aayah.
Al-Qurtubee states that the Jilbaab is "a cloth which covers the entire body". Ibn 'Abbaas and 'Ubaidah As-Salmaanee have said that it is to be fully wrapped around the women's body, so that nothing appears but "one eye with which she can see." The Tabi'ee, Qataadah (radiallahu 'anhum), stated that the Jilbaab should be wrapped and fixed from above the forehead and made to cover the nose, (although the eyes are to show) and the chest and most of the face are to be covered.
Furthermore, it has been authentically related in the Muwatta of Imaam Maalik and the Sunan of Abu Dawood that the Prophet (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) forbade women from covering their faces and hands during their performance of Salaat, Hajj or Umrah. This clearly indicates that wearing the face veil (Niqaab or Burqa'a) was a common practice during the time of Rasool-Allah (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam), and not as some people claim, a cultural practice that appeared years later!
Among the proofs used by the scholars regarding the face veil are the following: 'A'ishah (radiallahu 'anhaa) said: "May Allah bestow His Mercy on the first Muhaajiraat (emigrants). When Allah revealed: ...and draw their head covers over their necks and bosoms... they tore their (material) and covered themselves with it." [Al-Bukhaaree]
Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalanee, known as "Ameer Al-Mu'mineen in Had" has explained that "covered themselves" means: "covered their faces." [Fath Al-Baree] Additionally, after the battle of Khaybar, the Prophet (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) married Safiyyah bint Huyai. The Muslims said amongst themselves, Will she (Safiyyah) be one of the Mothers of the Believers (i.e., wives of the Prophet) or just what his right hand possesses (i.e., slave girl). Some of them said: If he (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam) makes her observe Hijaab, then she will be one of the Mothers of the Believers, and if he does not make her observe Hijaab, then she will be what his right hand possesses. So when he departed (for Medina), he made a place for her behind him (on his camel) and made her observe Hijaab. [Al-Bukhaaree]
Looking At The Opinions
The issue of the Niqaab has continued to arouse extended controversy and debate between 'Ulamaa (scholars) and Fuqahaa (jurists) both past and present concerning whether it is Waajib (mandatory) or Mustahabb (favored by Allah ta'aala) for the woman. And whether she subsequently falls into sin by exposing her face or not. Each of the two sides clings to their own opinion that they in turn support with evidences from the Qur'aanic aayaat, the Prophetic Ahadeeth and the practice of the Sahaabah and their views.
One of the views on this is that the Niqaab is legally binding on the woman and she who abandons it is a sinner. It says that the woman's face - which she is ordered not to reveal to non-relatives - is definitely part of the Auwrah (private areas that are never to be exposed). The other view says that the Niqaab is simply recommended and encourages the woman to cover her face; however, it does not place it on the level of being mandatory. Consequently, this opinion does not consider the woman falling into sin when she exposes and unveils her face as long as in doing so, she has not applied facial makeup.
The dispute continues between the two viewpoints and on certain occasions takes on bitter aspects. The advocates for making the face veil mandatory accuses the other group of following their own desires. The other group accuses their opponents with being obstinate fanatics. The matter is much broader than this and does not require accusations of obstinance nor of following the desires but rather requires making Ijtihaad (judgement based on the Sharee'ah) and following Daleel (proof from the Sharee'ah) to the best of one's ability.
To give the benefit of the doubt in such a situation is better and most befitting for the Muslim, limiting the points of difference and narrowing the gap of disagreement are two factors which are sought after. I do not want in this rush to take a side with one group over the other: nor to validate the proofs of which I see the truth in this issue. Rather the aim is, as I said, to narrow the controversy and to highlight the points agreed upon. Thereby, we may adopt them and work on spreading them. As for the point of disagreement - it will remain under the category of Ijtihaad whose scholarly advocate will be rewarded whether he attains truth or was mistaken.
Please Consider The Following
First: The two views agree upon the legitimacy of the Niqaab, that it is a consummate perfection for a woman and more virtuous for her, as well as closer to the aims of the Sharee'ah-which is to prevent Fitnah - and is an obstruction to excuses as well as severing the path of those who follow their lusts. It is therefore more appropriate that the efforts should be directed to encourage wearing the Niqaab, and to motivate people towards it, and to show and explain its virtues and merits. This implies that covering the face with the Niqaab should be the general rule and uncovering the face the exception.
Second: In spite of the fact that there are differing views on the Islamic ruling regarding whether the Niqaab is obligatory or recommended, it is undoubtedly one's duty to unify the call for it and cooperate as much as possible in urging young women about its necessity and to limit their desire to expose their faces as much as possible. Indeed, it is merely gracious to both parties, unlike what is happening now between opposing sides - which is to leave the matter loose and dangling through the claim that the Niqaab is only Mustahabb, and being aloof from spreading the call for it. This is indeed an inversion of the truth and poor judgement in the matter.
Hence, my brother Muslims, when you are asked: 'What is the form of the Hijaab according to the Sharee'ah, especially from a woman who loves the Deen?' you should urge and encourage her to wear the Niqaab even if you are of the opinion that it is only Mustahabb.
Lastly: We truly hope from Allah subhaanahu wa ta'aala for the day when all believing women rush to cover their faces with full contentment of their souls and desire for their Deen is the strongest of desires. This is a hope which, without any doubt, is shared with me by those who are of the opinion of it being Mustahabb and those who are of the opinion of it being Waajib.
I pray that Allah guide us along the Straight Path, and protect us from deviation after having followed guidance. And may Allah bless the Leader of His Messengers, Muhammad (sallallahu 'alaihi wa sallam), his family and his companions, and all who follow in their footsteps until the Final Hour, Ameen.
This article was originally published by Hijrah Magazine