Covering the face of a woman.

Q. Reading your fatwaa concerning the veil I was a bit confused on the ‘wujoob’ of niqaab. Reading other ulamaa’s fatawaa I got quite another impression.

A. As I mentioned before, there is a difference of opinion among the scholars with respect to the ruling of covering the face by a woman. This difference basically stems from the interpretation of the law which is given in Sura An Nur verse 31. The verse states:

“And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts, etc.) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husband’s sons, their brothers or their brother’s sons, or their sister’s sons, or their (Muslim) women (i.e. their sisters in Islam), or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And all of you beg Allâh to forgive you all, O believers, that you may be successful.” (24:31)

In this verse, the following has been mentioned (along with other teachings): ‘And women must not show their adornment except only that which appears thereof.’

The above verse tells women that they must cover their entire bodies. However, they are allowed to expose the parts ‘that appears thereof’ (on its own).

Here, in this part of the verse, an exemption is given to believing women that they are allowed to expose of their bodies ‘that which appears thereof’ or ‘that which is apparent’. In other words, the law established from the Holy Quran is that a Muslim woman is ordered to cover her entire body from the head to the feet. However, an exemption has been given the verse which tells them that they are allowed to expose those areas which are apparent and ‘appears thereof’. As to what these areas are, there is a difference of opinion among the scholars regarding them.

On this issue, the great Companion Abdullah bin Masood (R.A) has explained that what has been exempted in the verse, is the outer covering, such as the veil or the sheet used for Hijab. These outer garments are used to cover the normal garments worn by women. Hence, according to him, the meaning of the verse is that it is not permitted to expose any part of the garments, except the outer clothing like the veil, whose concealing is not possible when going out for some work.

In contrast to this opinion, the other great Companions and expert scholars of the Holy Quran Abdullah bin Abbas (R.A), Qatada and Miswar bin Makhrama (R.A) have indicated from their explanations that what have been exempted in the verse is the face and the palms, because when a woman is forced to go out because of necessity, it is difficult to conceal the face and palms while engaged in work. The great Commentators like Saeed bin Jubair, Ata and Awzaa’i (A.R) have also stated that what have been exempted from being covered are the face, palms and clothing’. (Tafseer Al Qurtubi vol.12 pg.207)

Ibn Juraij has narrated from Aishah (R.A) that she said, ‘My niece visited me and then the Prophet (S.A) came to my room. When he entered he turned his face. Upon this, Aishah (R.A) said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, she is my niece and only a girl’. The Prophet (S.A) said, ‘When a girl reaches the age of puberty, it is not permissible for her that she exposes (herself) except her face and this, and then he pointed to the hands until a little beneath the wrists’. (Tafseer Ibn Jareer vol.18 pg.142)

The great Commentator Dhahak (A.R) has also stated that the exemption given in the verse refers to the face and the palms’. (Tafseer Ibn Jareer vol.18 pg.143)

The great authority on Tafseer, Ibn Jareer At Tabari, has quoted all the different opinions of the Companions and the great scholars of Tafseer in his book, and at the end of the discussion he writes, ‘The best of all these opinions which is correct is the statement of those who say that the exemption referred to in the verse is that of the face and the palms’. He further writes, ‘We have stated that this is the best statement based on the interpretation that all scholars have unanimously agreed that it is essential upon one performing Salaah to conceal the awrah and that a woman can expose her face and palms in Salaah, while covering all the other parts of her body. Except where an allowance has been given to her, on account of necessity, for half of the area between the wrist and elbow to be uncovered.

When this is a unanimously agreed issue, then it means that it is allowed for her to expose that which is not the awrah since the exposing of these non awrah parts is not haram (unlawful). (If these parts like the face and palms were awrah, then it would have been compulsory for a woman to cover them in Salaah and also on Hajj. However, this is not so, as agreed by all the scholars.). It therefore follows that since she is allowed to expose these parts, then this would be the areas which Allah has given an exemption about in the Holy Quran’. (Tafseer Ibn Jareer At Tabari vol.18 pg.143-144)

While on the topic of Hijaab, it is important for one to know that the very first verses regarding  the subject of hijaab for women were revealed in Sura Ahzaab in the third year of Hijrah or in the fifth year of Hijrah, as some scholars have stated. As for the above mentioned verses of Sura Nur, these were revealed at the time of the incident of slander which took place in the 6th year of Hijrah. Hence, it is clear from this explanation that Sura Nur’s verses on hijaab were revealed later, and Sura Ahzaab’s verses on hijaab were revealed earlier. This makes it clear that the verses of Sura Nur were not abrogated by any other verses, but instead, it was one of the firm and established teachings that have been given regarding hijaab.

The verse (i.e. 31 of Sura Nur) goes on to say, ‘And that they (the believing women) must wrap (cover) their bosoms with their shawls (sheets-khimar)’. Here, the believing women are commanded to cover their bosoms (chests) with the sheet/shawl that they would normally use for proper covering. The word ‘khumur’ (Arabic) used in the verse, is the plural of ‘khimar’, which is a piece of cloth which women use to cover their head, and it also covers up the neck and bosom.

According to many Commentators, the reason for this verse was that women at that time used to place the khimar (sheet/shawl) on their heads and let its two sides hang on their back. The result of this was that their neck, chest and ears remained uncovered.

In opposition to this custom, Allah ordered the believing women ‘to draw their veils (sheets) over their bosoms’. Based on this law, a Muslim woman was therefore required to cover with the khimar (sheet/shawl) in a manner that when it is placed on the head, the two sides should not be dropped on the back. Instead, it should be used to cover the ears, the neck and the chest so that the bosom would be entirely covered. (Tafseer Al Qurtubi vol.12 pg.207).

In conclusion, I reproduce the statement of Mufti Shafie, the late grand Mufti of Pakistan. He writes, ‘Thus, there is a difference of opinion among the scholars on the issue whether it is permissible to uncover the face and palms in front of non-Mahrams or not. However, all agree that if there is danger of fitnah (mischief – stimulation of illicit desires) by looking at the feminine face and palms, then its uncovering is not allowed, and women are not permitted to uncover their faces and palms in that situation. (Ma’ariful Quran – Tafseer of Sura An Nur).

And Allah knows best.

Mufti Waseem Khan