Q. What is the ruling on the wearing of the Niqaab/veil?
A. In Sura Al Ahzaab (33) Verse 59, Allah states: ‘O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and women of the believers that they should draw down their sheets over them. That will make it more likely that they are recognized. So that they shall not be harmed. And Allah is most Forgiving, Most Merciful’.
Here, in this verse, a commandment has been issued to the believing women that they should place their sheets (veil) over them. While explaining this injunction, the great scholar from among the Sahabah (Companions) Abdullah bin Abbass (RA), said Allah commanded women of the believers that, when they go out of their homes to take care of some needs, they should cover their faces from their head, leaving an eye uncovered.’ (Tafseer Ibn Katheer). All other Scholars have also given the explanation that it is established from this verse that when free, believing women leave their homes to go out for some need (which requires them to pass in front of non-blood relatives), they should place their sheets (garments) over them so as to cover themselves completely from the head to the toe. In this way, they would not be seen.
The reason (cause) surrounding the revelation of the above verse shows that when the believing women came out of their home, they used to be teased and troubled by the hypocrites and disbelievers. This caused much pain to the general Muslims and also to the Prophet (SAW). In order to curb this problem, Allah revealed the above mentioned law which indicated to the believing women that this will help them in a manner that they would not be teased.
After this injunction, another law regarding Hijab was revealed in Sura An Nur which gave an allowance in the covering which was highlighted in Sura Al Ahzab Verse 59. The verse in question is verse 31 of Sura An Nur, which states: ‘And say to the believing women that they must lower their gazes and guard their private part, and must not expose their adornment, except that which appears thereof…’
Here, the Scholars have mentioned that it is established from this verse that a woman is not allowed to expose any part of her body (and ornaments) to non blood relatives except those parts that ordinarily appears (exposed) on its own. As for which parts of the body are indicated in the verse, Abdullah bin Abbas (RA) has stated that it refers to the face and the palms. The reason for this is that when a woman goes out of her home for some need, it is difficult for her to cover the face and palms while engaged in work.
While this has been the explanation of the great companion Abdullah bin Abbas (RA), there is also another explanation which has been given by another great companion, Abdullah bin Masood (RA). He states that in the verse ‘that which appears thereof’ refers to the outer covering such as the veil or the sheet used for the Niqaab. These outer garments are used to cover-up the normal clothing of a woman. Hence, according to Abdullah bin Masood (RA), the meaning of the verse is that it is not permitted to show anything from the clothing, except the outer garments like a veil, whose concealment is not possible when going out for some work. In this opinion, he indicates that it is not permitted for women to uncover their faces and palms at all in front of non blood relative men.
Abdullah bin Abbas (RA) on the other hand, who is known to be the greatest scholar of the Holy Quran among the Sahabah (companions of the Prophet SAW), has explained the verse differently and has indicated to the allowance for a woman to expose the face and palm in front of non-blood relatives. This, he says, is based upon the allowance which Allah himself has given in the Holy Quran in Sura An Nur Verse 31.
Based on these different explanations (from the great Companions of the Prophet) we see that there is a difference of opinion among the scholars of Islam (from the past and the present) with respect to the essentiality of a woman covering her face. Some have stated that it is essential for her to cover her entire body including the face and the palms, while in front of non-blood relatives, and others have stated that it is not compulsory upon her to cover the face and palms. Instead, an allowance has been given for the Muslim woman to expose the face and palms.
It is in relation to this allowance, we find that the Prophet (SAW) said, ‘It is not lawful for any woman who believes in Allah and the last day that she should uncover her hands more than this, and he then placed his hands on his wrist joint.’ (Mishkat)
In another tradition, he (the Prophet SAW) said, When a woman reaches puberty, no part of her body should remain uncovered except her face and hands up to the wrist joint. (Mishkat)
It is also reported that Asma, the sister of Aisha (R.A) came before the Prophet (SAW) in a thin dress which revealed her body. The Prophet (SAW) turned his eyes away and said, ‘O Asma! When a woman reaches puberty it is not lawful that any part of her body be seen except this and this, and then pointed to his face and the palms of his hands’. (Mishkat)
And Allah knows best.
Mufti Waseem Khan