Rulings regarding wearing Hijab and Niqab

We would like to highlight that hijab is the Muslim woman's proper dress, which Allah Almighty has ordered her to wear when he said what means: *{And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands' fathers, or their sons or their husbands' sons, or their brothers or their brothers' sons or sisters' sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigour, or children who know naught 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 together, O believers, in order that ye may succeed.}* (An-Nur 24:31)

This verse shows clearly that Allah has obliged women to wear hijab. But what is exactly meant by hijab?

Hijab is the proper Islamic dress code, which is primarily intended to safeguard the modesty, dignity and honor of men and women. By wearing Hijab, women protect themselves from any lustful gaze or act that may expose them to temptation or harassment of any kind. On the other hand, it protects men from indulgence in vices and unlawful acts.

Hijab does not only refer to head cover, but to the whole dressing of a woman. This means that there are certain requirements for a woman's dress to be Islamic: It must cover the whole body.

It must not be tight or transparent.

It must not delineate the parts of the body, especially those parts that are sexually attractive.

It must not be a dress that is usually worn by men. Hence, a Muslim woman is permitted to wear whatever she likes as long as her dress has all the legal requirements of a woman's Islamic dress code, and it covers the `awrah (sensitive parts of the body that a woman must cover in front of non-mahrams). This is agreed upon by all scholars and jurists.

However, scholars differ concerning the limits of a woman's `awrah, depending on different interpretations of the verse that is mentioned above, and this entails a disagreement among scholars concerning the ruling of niqab (covering the face and hands); whether it is obligatory or not. The majority of Muslim scholars, including the four schools of fiqh, maintain that niqab is not obligatory. They base their view on many evidence that are discussed below in details. Only some of the Hanbali scholars see that niqab is obligatory.

Here, I'd like to cite for you the different opinions as explained by Sheikh Ahmad Kutty, a senior lecturer and an Islamic scholar at the Islamic Institute of Toronto, Ontario, Canada, who states:

“Allah Almighty says what means:

*{And say to the believing women to lower their gazes and guard their chastity, and let them not display of their charm - except what is apparent.}* (An-Nur 24:31)

Commenting on the phrase: *{what is apparent}* Ibn `Abbas, the famous Companion and the Qur’an exegete, said: “It means face and hands.” In other words, according to Ibn `Abbas, a woman must cover all her body except her face and hands while in the presence of men who are not related to her directly. The list of those in whose presence she needs not cover is clearly outlined in Surat An-Nur 24: 31.

The majority of imams - including those of the four schools, as well as others - share the above interpretation of Ibn `Abbas, and thus hold the opinion that a woman is not obliged to cover her face and hands.

However, a group of scholars, the majority of whom belong to the Hanbalite Juristic School, teach that a woman must cover her face and hands as well. In support of their position they invoke a tradition attributed to the Prophet, peace and blessings be on him, stating: “Woman is all `awrah”, and hence as such, needs to completely be covered up. They also reason by saying that the most attractive parts of a woman’s body capable of enticing men are her face and hands.

The aforementioned position of the majority on this issue seems to be more consistent with the general understanding and evidences of the Qur’an and Sunnah than of those who advocate covering the face and hands as well. There are several proofs which point to this conclusion:

Firstly, the verse quoted above from the Qur’an seems to presume that the women it addresses are not wholly covered, i.e. face and hands. Otherwise, there is no sense in ordering both genders to lower their gazes.

Secondly, it is a general consensus among scholars that a woman is not required to cover her face and hands while performing salah (ritual prayers). If these were deemed to be `awrah, it would certainly have been necessary to cover them.

Thirdly, a woman is required to bare her face while she is in a state of ihram (consecration during Hajj and `Umrah). This again confirms what we said earlier.

Moreover, the evidences in the sources – the Qur’an and the Sunnah - are overwhelming in showing that the hijab, as prescribed by Islam, was not meant to segregate women or shut them out of the social involvement and participation in the affairs of the Muslim community. This is since the participation of Muslim women - at all levels of Islamic life - is fully documented beyond a shadow of doubt in the sources of Shari`ah. Such active participation as described in the sources is conceivable only if we assume that women were not wholly covered from head to toe.

In light of the above, we conclude: a Muslim woman is required to cover all her body except her face and hands, according to the majority of scholars belonging to all schools. Covering the head, however, is not at all a disputed issue among them - they all agree that this is a necessary part of hijab.”

From Sheikh Kutty'swords, we derive that there is no controversy regarding covering the whole body except for the face and hands. The controversy occurs in respect of covering the face and hands. The majority of scholars say it is not obligatory, while few others maintain it is obligatory. This, in turn, requires that a woman must abide by the agreed ruling which stipulates that a woman must cover her whole body except the face and hands.

As for the controversial part of the issue, we should think of it as a sign of Allah's mercy that He left some things open, so that there will be no hardship for people, and that they can make use of such things according to their own benefit. For example, if a woman is so beautiful to the extent that she attracts men's attention and her beauty tempts them, she would cover her face, as an aspect of preventing harm, even if it is agreed that niqab is not obligatory. On the other hand, some women may have some breathing or skin problems that they do not tolerate wearing face cover. Here, we realize that the difference of opinion in relation to niqab is really an aspect of Allah's mercy.

Finally, I'd like to stress that differences among scholars are only in minor and secondary things, and never in the fundamentals of faith. This is in fact an aspect of God’s mercy, as the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him said:

“Allah has prescribed certain obligations for you, so do not neglect them; He has defined certain limits, so do not transgress them; He has prohibited certain things, so do not do them; and He has kept silent concerning other things, out of mercy for you and not because of forgetfulness, so do not ask questions concerning them.” (Reported by ad-Darqutni.)


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