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Islamic Ideology (27 Jun 2012 NewAgeIslam.Com)

Unveiling the Truth about Hijab


By Dr M. Ghitreef Shahbaz Nadwi, New Age Islam

A group of Arab Muslim women was denied entry at a French airport two weeks ago. This may seem as an obvious example of Islamophobia, but that was hardly the case. The women refused to uncover their faces. As the authorities had no way of matching their identities with their travel documents, they had little choice but to ask the women to return to their country.

Although bizarre, such incidents are no longer rare. Many Muslim women are willing to compromise on everything from vacations in Europe to education and occupation rather than give up the face veil, or hijab. No doubt they consider wearing the hijab a religious duty, and a supreme one at that.

The significance accorded to the hijab fits into the larger context of a woman’s position in conservative Muslim society today. It is argued that as the word for woman, عورة, means a thing worthy of being hidden, she must cover herself from head to toe at all times. Further, she is not supposed to travel outside her home except in the company of her husband or another very close relative, such as a father or a brother. This pretty much means s woman can’t go to college to study, can’t go to office to work, can’t run a business and, effectively, can’t play any meaningful role in society other than being a housewife.

While touted as “Islamic” by our modern-day ulema and the followers of so-called scholars such as Jamaat-e-Islami’s founder Maulana Abul Ala Maududi, such an attitude is a far cry from the times of the Prophet. That was a time when women were equal partners to men in the political, economic, religious and intellectual life of their society. And that is precisely the role of women envisaged in various sources of the Shariah, including the Quran, Hadith and Fiqh, as well as in the writings of a number of modern-day Islamic scholars.

Hijab in the Quran

The Quran has two kinds of verses vis-à-vis hijab: those explicitly addressing the wives of the Prophet امهات المومنين (which start with the words يانساء النبي), and those which address common Muslim women. There is no verse explicitly prescribing common women to wear the face veil or cover their body from head to toe, while there is a prescription to this effect exclusively for the wives of the Prophet, revered as the mothers of all Muslims (أمهات المومنين).

The wives of the Prophet are held to a stricter code of conduct نوتهااجرهامرتين while also being promised greater reward. Allah says: “Wives of the Prophet, you are not like any other women. If you fear God, do not be too soft spoken in case the ill-intentioned should feel tempted. Speak in an appropriate manner.” (Chapter 33, Verse 32)

Another verse, this time addressed to common women, goes like this: “Say to believing women that they should lower their gaze and remain chaste and not to reveal their adornments ―save what is normally apparent thereof, and they should fold their shawl over their bosoms.” (Chapter 24, Verse 31)

In another instance, Allah says: “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and wives of the believers that they should draw over themselves some of their outer garments (when in public) so as to be recognized and not harmed. God is most forgiving and most merciful.” (Chapter 33, Verse 59)

A Muslim woman does have to observe some more restrictions than a man. Inside her home, she should use a khimar, which is like a small muffler, to cover her bosom and her head. When outside, she should cover herself with a jilbab, a loose garment. But the verses clearly show that the Quran’s stress is not on a particular dress code, but rather on moral values such as chastity, decency of behaviour, modesty, simplicity of lifestyle and propriety in all dealings. This is the essence of Quran’s teachings for common Muslim women, and it is very much in keeping with generally accepted standards of behaviour in all religions.

Also, there are no clear-cut directions on when she can go out of her house, where she may work and so forth in the Quran or Sunnah, clearly leaving these issues at her own discretion.

Hijab in the Hadith

If women in the time of the Prophet wore the hijab and led the sort of lives they are asked to today, there won’t be so many records of women occupying prominent positions in society, complete with descriptions of their facial features and body language.

Hafiz ibn Hajar reported in his book Al-Tahzib that a companion, Imran bin Hussain, said: “I was sitting with the Prophet, when Fatima, his beloved daughter, came in. We saw that her face was pale, then the Prophet blessed her and her face was live and spirited.”

A woman who criticized Umer Farooq while he was delivering a Friday sermon on the issue of dowry was reported to have a flat nose. It is also reported by Tabri that Qais bin Hazim had seen Asma, daughter of Amis with Abu Bakar, and she was a white complexioned woman with both her hands tattooed. Ibn Saad reported that the daughter of Abuzar Ghifari came to meet her father while he was meeting some men, and she was wearing woolen cloths and her cheeks were sunken.

Qabais ibn Jabir reported: “We three people, one of us was an old lady from Bani Asad (a clan), went to see ibn Masud, the famous companion. On the forehead of the lady there were some marks, whom Ibn Masud disliked. Ahmad Ibn Hanbal and also Ibn Saad reported that Abu Asma Al-raji went to Abuzar Ghifari, where he saw that one of Ghifari’s wives was a black woman. Ibn Saad reported Urwah son of Abdullah saying that one day he called on to Fatima, daughter of Ali, son of Abu Talib, and had seen a ring in her hand.”

There a number of such examples which clearly show that there was no fashion of hiding faces and palms among women from the early period of Islam. This is supported by Ibn Abbas, Ibn Umar and Ikrima among the Sahaba (companions of the Prophet) and by Said son of Jubair, Zahhak, Ibrahim Nakhai and Imam Abu Hanifah among the Tabieen (followers of companions)(see Ibn Kathir,Tabri and Ibn Ashor). Ibn Hazm also agreed with this viewpoint and gave incontrovertible arguments to support it (see Almuhalla (ألمحلى ) Ibn Hazm volume 3 page 218).

To be sure, one can find a number of Hadith to the contrary, which forbid women from uncovering their heads and faces. Interestingly, all of them happen to be weak Hadith in one way or another. M. Nasiruddin Albani, a great Hadith scholar of our times, has shown that the Hadith about women covering their faces using a veil or a long strip of cloth are weak in terms of chain of narrators, while those Hadith that permit uncovered faces are stronger in their chain of narrators.

In his detailed technical study of both kinds of Hadith, Albani concluded that covering the face is not an obligation, rather it amounts to a mustahab, or a desirable act that is commendable but not mandatory (see M. Nasiruddin Albani Hijabul Maratil Muslimah: volume 1p.53-55).

Additionally, books such as Professor Yasin Mazhar Siddiqi’s Women in Prophetic Period: A Social Study (Islamic Book Foundation, New Delhi, 2008) show that it is lawful for women to uncover their faces in front of men, interact with them, learn from them and teach them. The book cites a number of historical instances from the Prophetic period and examples from among the right-guided Caliphs and a number of Sahaba and Tabieen.

Several Hadith categorically forbid men from preventing women from going to mosques, and yet mosques have effectively been closed for women in Muslim society. While a Christian woman can freely visit churches, a Jewess can pray at her synagogue and a Hindu woman can go to a temple, Muslim women have been denied this right.

Hijab in Fiqh and modern Islamist thought

All schools of Islamic jurisprudence agree that face is not among the body parts required to cover and conceal. The Hanafi School says it is permitted for a woman to uncover her face and hands. Malikites are divided on the matter: one group makes it compulsory to hide the face as well as hands while others allows them to be uncovered. For most Shafietes, covering the face is not mandatory, although they consider it better to do. Interestingly, the Hanbali school differentiates between a plain face and one decorated with make up, as well as between an ordinary looking and a beautiful woman.

As far as those are concerned who stress much on face covering and do not allow , in any case to uncover it also to uncover the palms of the hands, indeed they are giving much and unproportional importance to their own inclinations and personal opinions regarding Hijab, to that of actual Quranic demands and prerequisites. Yet in doing so they forget that Allah Almighty and His prophet are knowing more about the precautions and considerations than they are.

In contemporary Islamic thought as well, there are a great many scholars such as Hasan Turabi, Mohammad Al-Ghazali, Mohammad Asad, Dr Yosuf Al-Qarzawi, Mohammad Najatullah Siddiqi, Taha Jabir Ulwani and Abdul Halim abu Shuqqa who are of the same opinion.

Al-Ghazali writes: “Muslims now are very far away form Islam’s moderate way in relation to women issues. For a lot of false and weak and fabricated narrations are prevalent, that hurt a woman’s status deeply. According to these false traditions going of a woman to mosque is sinful as is her teaching and educating. It is regarded better for her not to think about a social and political issue. Mocking women, oppressing and hurting their material and spiritual rights has gained currency in Muslim society.” (see Abdul Halim abu Shuqqa تحرير المرأة في عصر الرسالة preface )


There is consensus among Muslims that a woman, while performing her prayers, must uncover her face, even though she may be seen by someone unfamiliar to her. The same is the case when she is clad in Ihram for the Hajj pilgrimage. It is therefore common sense to understand that hijab is not mandatory in Shariah and those who claim that it is are defying both the letter and the spirit of Islamic religious literature.

Introspection, however, has begun. As one aalim delineating the role of women in society avers: “A woman, if it be needed and circumstances demanded and she won the trust of Ummah, can assume any social responsibility, be it guardianship of village, chairmanship of a town area, membership of assembly or legislature. And she could be a district magistrate, a governor, or a chief minister of a state or be a judge in a court of law, even chief justice as well. Apart from these undertakings she can deliver in high echelons of power as president and prime minister of a state too.” (See Dr. M. Inayatullah Subhani Bi-Annual Uloom al-Quran, Special Number July 2007 –June 2009 Contemporary Issues and Quranic teachings, collection of papers presented in the seminar, Editor Ishtiaq Ahmad Zilli P.12 Idarah Uloom Al-Quran Shibli Bagh Dhorra Aligarh 202002 India)

If Islam is a universal faith, applicable for all times, then it stands to reason that Quranic teachings and practices of the Prophet’s age are valid today as well. Injunctions and historical evidence on the issue of hijab show that while women may choose to wear it, it is by no means mandatory. Also, rather than inhibit the intermingling of sexes and undercut a woman’s position, the hijab is only supposed to give her a feeling of protection and make it easier for her to actively participate in building her society. No Faqih can, or should be allowed to, change that.

Dr M. Ghitreef Shahbaz Nadwi is the Director of Foundation for Islamic Studies, New Delhi He writes an occasional column for New Age Islam.

URL: http://newageislam.com/islamic-ideology/dr-m.-ghitreef-shahbaz-nadwi,-new-age-islam/unveiling-the-truth-about-hijab/d/7763



  • @Sameena. Do you know that while interpreting the Qur'anic verse 23:5-6, he has justified having sexual intimacy with slave women, bond maids and those captured by the right hand and categorized them as azwaje ghair mankuha. So if someone kidnaps me (assuming i were a woman) and puts me up in a kotha, any man can treat me as an unwedded wife. So there can be no doubt, "he and his followers propagate the status for women you find so demeaning."   
    By muhammad yunus (1) - 7/11/2012 8:01:00 PM

  • @Mubashir.The answer to your question, where did full veil come from is presented in a recent exegetic publication in the following paragraph:

    "Until the advent of Islam, women were oppressed and subjected to various forms of restrictions in practically all the major civilizations. Therefore all the Christians, including the Romans and Greeks, Zoroastrians, pagans and Hindus who embraced Islam brought notions against women from their previous religions. This inevitably influenced their interpretation of Qur’anic exhortations on modesty. With time, this gave rise to imposition of varying restrictions upon women, including their full veiling and segregation when outside the house – a custom borrowed understandably from “the Greek Christians of Byzentium, who had long veiled and segregated their women in this manner.”-
    Karen Armstrong, Islam, A short history, New York 2002, p. 16. Re. Essential Message of Islam, Ch. 28.7

    By muhammad yunus (1) - 7/11/2012 7:51:24 PM

  • Face veil is known as 'Niqaab' and not 'Hijaab'. This is common knowledge and I am surprised the author does not know this and makes a blunder right at the start of the article. 
    By Sixfeetunder - 7/11/2012 5:09:35 AM

  • Respected sir........with all due respect please be clear about what you write......you write quite rightly about the covering of face not being obligatory but mustahib but then you go on to very unwisely deduct with the help of some modern scholar that intermingling of sexes should not be inhibted and the hijab was never meant for that.Will you please research on that too and study ahadeeth concerning free intermingling of sexes.....A woman can interact wit men when and where nessacary and we all know how to deal with nessacities Alhamdullilah!.......i am sorry to say that your criticism of Maulana Abu AL Mauodoodi was quite in bad taste as without any refrence you say he and his followers propogate the status for women you find so demeaning. The women of his followers interact with men whenever nessacary and have also been at some point a part of their parliment....Their niqaab has never become a hindrance in their education a lot women a re medical doctors or phd doctors in Jammat-e-islami.............and most of them drive cars or are driven to theri destination by hired drivers...........Please read the book Purdah by abu al maouddodi and then comment on his point of view and if you have read it and have written this even after that then it is a pity that you still dont understand.
    By sameen - 6/29/2012 11:44:46 PM

  • Dear dr. ghitreef. The word hijab in arabic means the overall covering of the body including the head. It does by no means mean only the face. And covering the whole body is also a pure invention of men. In ancient Christian times and thora times women use to dress in a very much similar way to Muslim women and yet they have managed to liberate themselves from the oppression imposed by men. Muslim men on the other hand enjoy reminding women that covering themselves completely guaranties them a place in heaven, and unfortunately there are so many silly women nowadays who belief this lie.

    By sister_in_islam - 6/29/2012 8:19:45 AM

  • I will read this article in full when  Dr M. Ghitreef Shahbaz Nadwi manages to sort out the difference between Hijab and Nikab. He is confusing the two, calling Nikab (face covering),  Hijab (A scarf to cover the hair). 
    By Ahmed Esmail - 6/28/2012 8:34:18 AM

  • People start trumpetting womens rights to wear what they want. They forget a Muslim Womans right are to be established by their Criterion of Right and Wrong, the Qur'an. It nowhere mandates a niqb (full face covering) and indeed in a verse the Messenger is advised not to take any more wives even if their beauty inspired him! In the world largest mix gathering Hajj, why do the women not wear Niqab? Hijab is fine but where did Niqab come from. Niqab has the potential to be misused for terrorism or as a cover for immoral acts.
    By Mubashir - 6/28/2012 8:26:06 AM

  • Here is the skinny on Hijab by a Hadees follower (Ghamdi). Very informative discussion from both sides: Niqab/Hijab debate:
    Part one
    Part Two

    By Mubashir - 6/28/2012 8:22:09 AM

  • A British Muslim woman was asked to leave a school's parents' night in Manchester for wearing the veil. The college cited "safety" and "security" reasons. Wearing the face veil is not obligatory, and is a freedom of choice issue. We understand if teachers are forbidden from wearing it as it can sometimes interfere with communication during the lesson. Children may also have to follow a particular dress code, but for a parent to be stopped doesn’t make sense.”

     In March of this year, a Muslim woman was stopped from sitting on a UK jury in a murder trial because the judge ruled her facial expressions could not be seen.

     Britain, unlike France, has not yet introduced a nationwide ban on face veils.

     Institutional terrorism! An official could easily have taken her aside, verified her identity and then let her sit down and participate if they are so worried about security! If she had come in a bikini or a micro mini shirt they would have welcomed her, shameless hypocrats!!! If a woman wears a bikini she is considered liberated, but if she wears a burqa, then she is fit to be killed - as per you. Great, this is liberal.

     A veil ban for "safety reasons", sure... How on earth will the ability to look at someone's FACE prevent terrorist attacks? It's not like terrorists carry bomb belts strapped across their faces, or hide daggers up their nostrils. This "safety" nonsense is no more than a thinly veiled (no pun intended) excuse for blatant islamophobia.  

    People are saying bravo UK; buts it not the government who did this just some racist teachers! A lot of people hate Muslims in the UK, this is what the bbc and other media government colluding organisations want; they want people to hate Muslims as it makes it easier to invade countries like iraq, afganistan, libya, syria and iran. I'm a Muslim and I hate islamaphobia! The UK media has ceased to be an organisation presenting news. It's a propaganda machine. Preaching hate negates your own philosophies and principles of freedom and liberty. You call it "security measures", but that is also what the Nazi's used to call it.



    By Iftikhar Ahmad - 6/28/2012 6:27:33 AM

  • A woman has a right to wear burqa, (and no harm if leaders among them are asserting this right by going to extraordinary length, because this is an assertion of right),  and she can have a flap fitted on to burqa,  with  which she can cover her face whenever  she feels need to hide herself. This right to hide face and body in a cover cannot be extended to men, because the right given to women helps her in her security, whereas if such right to hide his body and face is given to a man, he will indulge in dacoity.
    I am against withdrawing privileges of women in this wretched man’s world.

    By Manzoorul Haque - 6/28/2012 5:45:23 AM

  • b for buqa b for bad and i nthe last article, b for bandook. hahah! burqa is wrong as it crates segregation both physically as well as mentally. by physically i dont mean sex, i mean seeing and talking, by having buqa all this becomes incomfortable.
    By harsh chaturvedi - 6/28/2012 2:25:48 AM

  • As the author says, veiling is not a religious requirement. Justification of veiling on non-religious grounds is even less tenable.
    By Ghulam Mohiyuddin - 6/27/2012 3:05:15 PM

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