Q. At the college it is taught to the students that it is permissable for a woman’s feet to be exposed, not including the ankles. I was informed recently by an alima that there is an authentic hadith in which the prophet ordered the muslims to wear their clothing above the ankles, and that Aisha quickly informed him that in the case of women their awrah would become exposed, to which the Prophet’s reply was to let them (the women) wear their clothing a hand span under their ankles. Now a hand span under the ankle would more than cover the feet making the feet part of a woman’s awrah and impermissable to be exposed. I anxiously await your reply.
A. In Sahih Al Bukhari, Imam Bukhari has quoted a chapter under the heading, ‘The Chapter- How much clothing should a woman perform Salaah in’.
In this chapter, Imam Bukhari quoted the narration of Ikramah which states, ‘If a woman covers her body with one piece of cloth, then it is permissible’. Imam Bukhari went further to quote the narration of Aisha (RA) in which she states, ‘The Prophet (SA) used to perform Salaah Al Fajr and the believing women used to be present themselves, covered in their veils. Then they will return home and no one used to recognize them’. (Sahih Al Bukhari).
This narration is also, narrated in Sahih Muslim and it is mentioned that, ‘no one recognised the women because of the darkness of the early morning (when they came out for Fajr Salaah). This tradition shows that it is permissible for a woman to perform Salaah in one piece of cloth, when her awrah is covered.
With respect to covering the feet, this is based on whether the feet are awrah or not. Some scholars are of the opinion that the feet are awrah, and must therefore be covered in Salaah. This is the opinion of Imam Shafi, Imam Malik and others. Other Imams such as Imam Abu Hanifa, Sufyan Thawri and others, have stated that the feet are not awrah, and hence, not essential to be covered in Salaah. This is based on the fact that while explaining what are exempted from the awrah in the verse ‘except what appears thereof’, Aisha (RA) is reported to have said that it means ‘the bracelet and the ring of the toe’- it means ‘the places where these ornaments are worn’. this will refer to the hand up to the wrist, and the feet (according to this narration). (Bazlul Majhood vol. 1 pg. 354) Many great jurists of the early centuries (based on their understanding of the traditions and verse of the Quran ) have stated that the feet is not awrah, and therefore, would not be compulsory to be covered in Salaah. (Al Hidaya; Ad Durrul Mukhtar).
While writing on this issue, the great scholar, Hafiz Ibn Taimiyah writes, ‘Ordering women to cover their hands in Salaah is farfetched. When a woman kneels down in prostration, she kneels down with her face and hands as well. In the days of the Prophet (SA), women used to wear garments and their hands would be exposed when grinding seeds, kneading bread and baking it. Had covering the hands been a must in Salaah, the Prophet (SA) would have stated so. The same thing applies to the feet. (Fatawas of Muslim Women by Hafiz Ibn Taimiyah pg. 38).
With respect to the tradition you referred to, Hafiz Ibn Taimiya has given an explaination on that, and wrote,
‘As for the garment that the woman used to let down, she asked the Prophet, peace and blessings he upon him, about it and he said, “A hand span.” They asked, “What if it leaves their legs uncovered?” He said, “Then the length of a forearm and let them not increase it.”
The Prophet was also asked about the woman who drags her garment behind her over dirty places, he said, “What follows purifies it.” Yet, a woman does not wear such dragging shifts at home. Likewise, women later began to wear slippers to cover their legs when they went out, yet they never wore them at home. That’s why they asked, “What if it leaves their legs uncovered?” Hence, the purpose was to cover the leg, because if the garments were ankle-high, the leg could be seen while walking.
It has also been narrated that the Prophet said that if the woman had no appropriate garment to wear, she is to stay home. Muslim women used to pray at home, yet the Prophet, (SA), said, “Do not stop Allah’s women slaves from going to Allah’s mosques yet it is better for them to pray at home.” However, the woman was not ordered to cover her feet with slippers or with socks. Nor was she ordered to cover her hands with gloves or anything of the sort. This, in turn, proves that neither her feet nor her hands are to he covered in prayer unless there are strange men around. (Fatawas of Muslim Women- Hafiz Ibn Taimiyah pg. 39)
From this explaination, it is understood that the purpose of having long garments beneath the ankles was to ensure that while walking, the legs do not become exposed.
And Allah knows best.
Mufti Waseem Khan