The Veil in Islam

Shaykh Gibril Fouad Haddad

The Arabic word for “veiling” is hijab. Lexically it means cover, and in Islam it means two things:

– Woman’s clothing such as the head-to-toe garment specifically called jilbab and khimar.

– Separation of the places where men and women respectively congregate.

Among the proofs for the veil in the Qur’an are the verses: “O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (jalabib) close round them (when they go abroad)…” (33:59).

Ibn Rushd in Bidaya al-Mujtahid (1:83) said that this verse has been adduced as proof that all of woman’s body constitutes nakedness.

Al-Qurtubi in his commentary on the verse said that the jilbab is the cloak that conceals of the body including the head.

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…” (24:31), “only that which is apparent” meaning: their face and hands. “…

And when you ask of them (the wives of the Prophet) anything, ask it of them from behind a veil. . .” (33:53)

Al-Qurtubi said in commentary of this verse: “The Consensus of Muslims is that the genitals and backside constitute nakedness for men and women, as well as all of woman except her face and hands, but some disagreed about the latter two” meaning they included them into the definition of her nakedness due to verse 33:59 and the hadith cited below.

Among the proofs for the veil in the Sunna are the following authentic hadiths of the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him: – “Woman is nakedness” (al-mar’atu `awra). See for the documentation of this hadith Shaykh Shu`ayb Arna’ut’s remarks in his edition of Sahih Ibn Hibban (12:412-413).

Ibn Qudama in al-Mughni (1:349) explained that showing the face and hands are a specific dispensation within the general meaning of this hadith.

– The Prophet’s specification to Umm Salama that women should also cover their feet in prayer, narrated in the Sunan. This included the feet into the definition of her legal nakedness.

– “Women who are clothed but (at the same time) naked , turning their heads sideways this way and that like the humps of the camel, shall never enter Paradise nor even smell its fragrance.” Narrated by Muslim in his Sahih and others.

The jurists have divided woman’s nakedness into two categories:

– Lesser nakedness (`awra mukhaffafa): the face, hands, head, neck, forearms, feet, torso and back.

– Greater nakedness (`awra mughallaza): all of her body except the above parts.

Concerning the claim made on the basis of the following hadith:

Allah (swt) did not address His words about the hijab except to the believing women, Al-Mo’minat. In many cases in the Qur’an Allah refers to the “the believing women”. Aisha (RA), the wife of the prophet (pbuh), addressed some women from the tribe of Banu Tameem who came to visit her and had light clothes on them, they were improperly dressed: “If indeed you are believing women, then truly this is not the dress of the believing women, and if you are not believing women, then enjoy it.”

This is not a hadith, but a saying of `A’isha. I could not find it other than in Qurtubi’s Tafsir for verse 33:59, without chain of transmission. The last words in Arabic carry great emphasis: “Enjoy it very much indeed!” (fatamatta`iyannah).

it implies women are free to cover/uncover as they like.

Only as sarcasm, as when we say: “if you are that kind of person, then go ahead and do it while you can.” Such words can be didactic mostly in a society imbued with honor and ethics. So `A’isha’s free choice is entirely rhetorical, especially when we know her strictness on the question: “When a woman reaches puberty she must cover whatever her mother and grandmother must cover” (al-Bayhaqi, Sunan 6:57 and Musannaf Ibn Abi Shayba 2:229). A woman’s covering (al-khimar) is defined by `A’isha as “nothing short of what covers both the hair and skin.” (innama al-khimaru ma wara al-sha`r wa al-bashar). Narrated by `Abd al-Razzaq in his Musannaf (3:133), without transparency (Malik’s Muwatta‘, book of clothing).

If the Banu Tamim story is authentic then `A’isha is saying: “Dress properly unless Banu Tamim women enjoy being called ignorant and shameless,” where calling a woman of Banu Tamim shameless is like defaming the entire tribe. They would not dream of considering it a valid alternative. Nor would they dream that any free and reasonable woman would …. But Allah knows best.

Additional remarks: The khimar (pl. khumur) actually refers to the headcover, so that a better translation of 24:31 would be: “and to draw their headcovers (khumurihinna) over their bosoms...” (24:31) This is essential to understand the two interpretations of the command to “draw their headcovers over” among the women of the Companions and the generation that immediately succeeded them, on which are based the two views of the Four Schools, namely, cover everything or leave out the face and hands: Some women drew from the top down, some from the sides and over. The result for the first category was to cover the face, while the second category left the face uncovered according to one’s own discretion.

Two hadiths illustrating the use of the khimar and the application of women Companions for the verse quoted above.

1. Abu Hurayra gave the following account of his mother’s conversion: I came to the Prophet – Allah bless and greet him — weeping one day and said: “O Messenger of Allah, I have been inviting my mother to Islam and she has been refusing. Today I asked her again, and she said something about you which I hated to hear. Ask Allah to guide Abu Hurayra’s mother!” Whereupon the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him — said: “O Allah! Guide Abu Hurayra’s mother.” Then I returned home cheered up by the Prophet’s — Allah bless and greet him — supplication. When I arrived at the door of the house I found it closed. Hearing my footsteps, my mother said: “Abu Hurayra, do not come in yet.” I could hear the sound of water. She washed herself and wore her robe (dir‘) and headcover (khimâr) then she opened the door and said: “Abu Hurayra! I bear witness that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s servant and messenger!” I returned at once to the Prophet — Allah bless and greet him –, weeping for joy, and said to him: “O Messenger of Allah, good news! Allah has answered your request and guided my mother!” He glorified and praised Allah, thanking Him and saying good things. I said: “O Messenger of Allah! Ask Allah that He make me and my mother beloved to his believing servants and that He make them beloved to us.” The Prophet — Allah bless and greet him — said: “O Allah! Make Your little servant here – meaning Abu Hurayra – and his mother beloved to Your believing servants, and make the believers beloved to the two of them.” Not one believer is brought into existence who hears about me without seeing me except he loves me. Narrated by Muslim and Ahmad. Also Ibn Hajar in al-Isaba (7:435, 7:512) and others.

2. `A’isha said: “By Allah, I never saw any women better than the women of the Ansar (i.e. the women of Madina) or stronger in their confirmation of Allah’s Book! When Surat al-Nur was revealed — “and to draw their ‘khumur’ over their bosoms” (24:31) — their men went back to them reciting to them what Allah had revealed to them in that [sura or verse], each man reciting it to his wife, daughter, sister, and relative. Not one woman among them remained except she got up on the spot, tore up her waist-wrap and covered herself from head-to-toe (i`jtajarat) with it. They prayed the very next dawn prayer covered from head to toe (mu`tajirat).” Narrated by Ibn Abi Hatim in his Tafsir as mentioned by Ibn Kathir in his Tafsir (Dar al-Fikr 1981 ed. 3:285) and Ibn Hajar in Fath al-Bari (1959 ed. 8:490). The latter notes that `A’isha said something similar about the women of the Muhajirin (i.e. the women of Mecca) but that the two reports are reconciled by the fact that the women of Madina were the first to apply the verse.

Allah knows best.