In the recent past, there has been much talk about the Hijaab/Niqaab for women. The publicizing of this topic came as a result of the Shaikh of Al Azhar’s statement which he used for a girl (student) who had covered her face with the Niqaab that, “this is not Islamic, this is a culture”.
Based on what the Shaikh said, some Muslims openly accepted the statement without any form of investigation, and thereafter viewed the Niqaab (covering the face) as cultural. Others held on to the view that it was essential, and were not affected by the Shaikh’s statement, and some showed signs of happiness to the statement, thinking that the next statement to come from another Scholar is that ‘the Hijaab (also) is not Islamic, it is cultural’. (May Allah forbid).
Before dealing with the issue itself, our Muslim sisters should bear in mind that this is an age which is filled with a great amount of (Fitna) mischief and confusion. Besides the world wide uneasiness that is felt through the globe, there has been a tremendous amount of civil unrest, violence and turmoil that have come across to many lands. Along with this, a great amount of attacks have been launched against Islam and the Muslims, and the religion of Islam has become the centre of criticism and condemnation.
For Muslims who presently live in this era, one should know that this behavior towards Islam is not new. In fact, it started with Islam and continued through the entire mission of the beloved Prophet of Allah (SA). Even though Islam reached far and wide in the countries of the world, the attacks and charges levied against Islam did not stop. It continues until today, and will go on until the end of the world.
Our concern as Muslims, should not be about how to stop the critics, instead, it should be about living our lives in a way that is pleasing to Allah. We have been ordered by Allah to hold on to the truth and be steadfast as believers. We should not allow our hearts to waver. We should not allow our faith to become weak, and we should never become doubtful regarding that which is evident as our teachings, beliefs and practices. Allah is He Who has sent His religion as a guidance to Mankind, and has taken the responsibility to protect it until the Day of Qiyamah. We, who are Muslims, must fulfill our commitment to Allah, by giving our full obedience and submission to Him. At the same time, we are required to reach out the message of truth to others to the best of our ability. While doing this, we should not be bothered with the misguided statements made by others, whether they are Muslims or non Muslims. The truth of our Religion has already been made clear and it is only a matter of acceptance or rejection.
With respect to the issue of ‘Covering for women’, Islam has given a tremendous amount of guidelines and teachings.
In Surah Al Ahzab verse 59, Allah has given a clear law to Muslim women with respect to the manner of covering themselves. In this verse, He says: ‘O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (outer garments) all over their bodies. That will be better, that they should be known, so as not to be annoyed. And Allah is Ever Off-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Surah Al Ahzab v. 59)
In another verse, Allah says, ‘And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and protect their private parts, and not to show their adornment except only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms’. (Surah An Nur verse 31).
Both these verses make it abundantly clear that Allah has given clear-cut guidelines to Muslim women with respect to the manner of covering their bodies.
Although there is a difference of opinion among the scholars with respect to the ruling regarding covering the face, none of them (from among the Pious Predecessors and those after) have considered ‘covering the face’ (Niqaab) to be ‘cultural’.
Instead, they have unanimously declared the ‘Niqaab’ to be a religious teaching which has been given in the religion of Islam.
These scholars from among the Sahabahs, Tabieen and Tabut Tabieen have proven from the Quranic Verses and Ahadith that covering the face (for a woman) is part of the teachings of Islam and not merely a culture. Hafiz Ibn Katheer has recorded the narration of Abdullah bin Abbas (RA) in his commentary Tafseer Ibn Katheer, which gives ample evidence to this. Imam Al Qurtubi has also narrated the accepted commentary of the great Mufasireen regarding this issue in his famous commentary – Tafseer Al Qurtubi. Ibn Jareer At Tabari has recorded these opinions in his commentary – Tafseer Ibn Jareer. Many other great commentators like Suyuti, Abu Bakr Jasas, Abu Hatim, Al Baghwi, Ar Razi, Ibn Al Arabi, An Nuhas, Al Alusi, As Saawi and others have also made it very clear in their commentaries (Tafaseer ) of the Holy Quran, that ‘Covering the face is a teaching of Islam’ and not a culture. Along with this, it is also the established fatawa (religious verdict) of the leading scholars of the four schools of Islamic Jurisprudence.
It should be noted that the Sheikh of Al Azhar does not represent the ‘Sunni Muslims’ of the world, nor does he represent the position held by ‘Scholars in Egypt’. Scholars greater than the Shaikh from the Middle East and other territories have strongly criticized the Shaikh for his incorrect view.
Great Scholars from Egypt including the conservative Egyptian cleric Yousuff Al Badri have disagreed with the Shaikh .The Grand Mufti of Dubai also holds a similar view. The Saudi Arabian Shaikh Muhammad Al Nojaemi has contradicted Shaikh Tantawis’ claim that the face veil has nothing to do with Islam, and said, ’The Niqaab is mentioned in Ahadith (reports/traditions) of the Prophet (SA)’. Many others have strongly criticized and condemned the Shaikh for his view.
It is interesting to note that while showing such outrageous conduct at the ‘Niqab’, the Shaikh himself spoke in favor of it in his 7,000 pages exegesis of the Holy Quran known as At Tafseer Al Waseet. In this Tafseer, while giving the commentary of verse 59 of Surah Al Ahzab, the Shaikh wrote, ‘And Al Jalabeeb is the plural of Jilbaab, and it is a sheet that covers the entire body which a woman wears over her clothing. The meaning of the verse therefore is, ‘O Prophet! Say to your wives who are under your protection, and say to your daughters from your progeny, and say to all the believing women, ‘When they come out (of their homes) to fulfil their needs, then it is upon them to cover themselves with the Jalabeeb (outer sheet) to the extent that they cover their entire bodies completely, from the head to the feet’. Having given this explanation, the Shaikh went on to say, ‘This is a from of greater/enhanced concealment and privacy for the woman, and it is a way of safeguarding her. It also keeps her away from suspicions and doubts. The Shaikh went further to give a narration from Um Salma (RA), the wife of the Prophet (SA), to show the action of the women believers after this verse was revealed. He said, ‘Um Salma said, ‘When this verse was revealed, the Ansari women came out, as if crows were on their heads, due to the calmness with which they walked, and they were covered with black cloaks’. (Tafseer Al Waseet by Shaikh Tantawi vol.11 pg. 245- as given by Madrasah In’aamiyyah).
From the above given explanation, it is clear that the Shaikh himself understood that ‘covering the face’ was mentioned in the Holy Quran and so, it is rather strange that he could dismiss it as ‘Cultural’.
In conclusion, our Muslims must know that the Sacred teachings of Islam is preserved in its pristine purity until today, and would continue in this manner until the Day of Judgment. Opinions that are opposed to the true teaching would always be condemned by the great Scholars until the truth becomes established. In this regard, the Prophet (SA) said, ‘Reliable people from each succeeding generation will carry this knowledge. They will refute the distortions of those who exaggerate, and will refute the erroneous explanations of the ignorant’ (Baihaqi)