Can you please clarify the meaning and ruling of Ḥijāb for women? Is it just a cultural practice or is it an Islamic practice?Answer
بسم الله الرحمن الرحیم
To observe the Hijāb is necessary as Allāh Almighty clearly instructs in the Qurʾān (33: 59): “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (Jilbāb) all over them”. Allah Almighty also says (22: 52): “And when you ask them [the wives of the Prophet ﷺ] for any goods, ask them from behind a veil.” With regards to the meaning of Ḥijāb or Jilbāb, there is much speculation. According to the majority of scholars, the correct meaning is to cover and conceal the whole body including the face in such a way that the figure and shape of the body is not apparent. The interpretation of Jilbāb has been transmitted from the expert on Qurʾānic exegesis ʿAbd Allah ibn ʿAbbās (d. 68/687-8) (may Allah be pleased with him) who says, “Allah ordered the women of the believers when they leave their houses because of a need to cover their faces from above their heads with a cloak and to leave one eye open” (Tafsīr al-Ṭabarī, 19: 181).
A common misunderstanding between many people is the differentiation between Niqāb (as covering the face) and Ḥijāb (as the headscarf or the full ʿAbāyah/cloak excluding the face). This is incorrect as the ḥadīths regarding the verse of Ḥijāb clearly indicate that in early Islam, Ḥijāb (covering the face) was not necessary. Then the verse of Ḥijāb was revealed instructing women to cover their faces from men other than their husbands and the Maḥrams (unmarriageable kin). The famous companion Anas ibn Mālik (d. 93/711-2) (may Allah be pleased with him) who is the most learned about the verse of Ḥijāb says, “Then he ﷺ returned until he entered the house, and he drew a veil between me and him [as he was with his wife] and the verse of Ḥijāb was revealed” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 4794).
This is further evident from the ḥadīth of ʿĀʾishah (d. 58/678) (may Allah be pleased with her) when she was wrongly accused, she says about the companion, Ṣafwān ibn Muʿaṭṭal (d. p. 19/640) (may Allah be pleased with him), that he recognised her when he saw her, as he had seen her before the revelation of the verse of Ḥijāb. She further mentions, “So I covered my face with my Jilbāb” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 4750) clearly affirming the aforementioned interpretation of Jilbāb. In another ḥadīth, ʿĀʾishah (d. 58/678) (may Allah be pleased with her) is reported to have said, “Riders would pass us whilst we would be in the state of iḥrām with the Prophet ﷺ. So, when they would come in front of us, one of us would let down her Jilbāb from her head over her face, and when they had passed us, we would uncover it” (Sunan Abī Dāwūd, 1833; al-Sunan al-Kubrā, 9051). Fāṭimah bint al-Mundhir (n.d.) says, as reported in a ṣaḥīḥ (sound) narration, “We would cover our faces [when men would pass by] whilst in the state of iḥrām and we would be with Asmāʾ bint Abī Bakr al-Ṣiddīq [d. 73/692]” (Muwaṭṭāʾ Mālik, 1176; Musnad Isḥāq ibn Rāhūyah, 2255). On one occasion, the Prophet ﷺ said to ʿĀʾishah (d. 58/678) (may Allah be pleased with her), “Indeed, he is your uncle so he can enter upon you.” ʿĀʾishah said, “And this was after Ḥijāb was ordained upon us” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, 5239). There also many other ḥadīths that indicate that Ḥijāb includes covering the face.
The aforementioned Qurʾānic verses and ḥadīths clearly indicate that the veil and covering the face is a religious concept and not merely a cultural concept. In fact, the veil was not prevalent in the Arabian culture prior to the revelation of the verse of Ḥijāb as demonstrated by the practice of the Muslim women prior to the revelation of the verse. Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyah (d. 728/1328) has explicitly affirmed in Majmūʿ al-Fatāwā (22: 10) that prior to the revelation of the verse, Muslim women would leave their homes with their faces uncovered.
The following is a list of some scholars from different schools of thought who have affirmed that Ḥijāb includes the covering of the face and that it is prescribed for Muslim women:
- Imam Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal (d. 241/855) said, “The fingernail of a woman is ʿAwrah (to be concealed). Thus, when she leaves [the house], she should not make any of it visible, and neither her sock, because the sock describes [and provides an outline] of the foot, and I prefer that she fastens her sleeve with a button by her hand so that nothing is visible from it” (al-Furūʿ, 8: 186; also see al-Inṣāf, 1: 452).
- ʿAllāmah Abū Bakr al-Jaṣṣāṣ al-Ḥanafī (d. 370/981) writes in Aḥkām al-Qurʾān (3: 486), “In this verse, there is direction that the young woman is instructed to conceal her face from strangers.”
- ʿAllāmah Abū al-ʿAbbās al-Nāṭifī al-Ḥanafī (d. 446/1054-5) writes, “A woman in the state of iḥrām will lower over her face a piece of cloth but keep it separate from her face [such that it does not touch], and this issue indicates that a woman is prohibited from showing her face to [non-maḥram] men without need” (al-Muḥīṭ al-Burhānī, 2:494).
- ʿAllāmah Abū al-Walīd al-Bājī al-Mālikī (d. 474/1081) (al-Muntaqā, 1: 9).
- Imam al-Ḥaramayn Abū al-Maʿālī al-Jawīnī al-Shāfiʿī (d. 478/1085) writes in Nihāyat al-Maṭālib (12: 31), “And looking at the face and palms is prohibited by consensus if there is fear of temptation”. He further writes that there is consensus of Muslims on the prohibition of women from leaving their homes with the faces uncovered (also refer to Rawḍat al-Ṭālibīn, 7: 21; Tuḥfat al-Muḥtāj, 7: 193; Mugnī al-Muḥtāj, 4: 209; Nihāyat al-Muḥtāj, 6: 187).
- Imam Abū Ḥāmid al-Gazālī al-Shāfiʿī (d. 505/1111) writes, “Men have always uncovered their faces and women would always leave [the houses] with their faces covered” (Iḥyāʾ ʿUlūm al-Dīn, 2: 47; Fatḥ al-Bārī, 9: 337). This clearly affirms the practice that continued from the Prophetic era to his era.
- Imam Abū Bakr ibn al-ʿArabī al-Mālikī (d. 543/1148) writes in ʿĀriḍat al-Aḥwadhī (4: 56), “And this is because covering her face with the burka is farḍ (obligatory) except in Ḥajj” (also refer to his Aḥkām al-Qurʾān, 3: 616).
- Imam Qāḍīkhān al-Ḥanafī (d. 592/1196) mentions similar to what has been mentioned above by ʿAllāmah Abū al-ʿAbbās al-Nāṭifī (Fatāwā Qāḍīkhān, 1: 253).
- ʿAllāmah Marghīnānī (d. 593/1197) mentions similar to what has been mentioned above by ʿAllāmah Abū al-ʿAbbās al-Nāṭifī (al-Tajnīs, 2: 479).
- Imam Ibn Māzah al-Ḥanafī (d. 616/1219) (al-Muḥīṭ al-Burhānī, 2:494).
- Imam Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Qurṭubī al-Mālikī (d. 671/1273) writes in his Tafsīr (14: 243), “And the correct view is that it [Jilbāb] is the cloth that conceals the entire body” (also refer to 14: 227).
- Imam Nawawī al-Shāfiʿī (d. 676/1277) has cited in Rawḍat al-Ṭalībīn (7: 21) the consensus mentioned by Imam al-Ḥaramayn Abū al-Maʿālī al-Jawīnī.
- Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyah al-Ḥanbalī (d. 728/1328) writes in Majmūʿ al-Fatāwā (15: 372), “And the Ḥijāb was ordained on women so that their faces and hands are not visible, and the [instruction of] Ḥijāb is unique to free women, not slaves, as was the practice of believers in the time of the Prophet ﷺ and his caliphs that a free woman would do Ḥijāb.”
- Imam Abū Ḥayyān al-Andalūsī al-Shāfiʿī (d. 745/1344) writes in al-Baḥr al-Muḥīṭ (7: 240), “And similarly the custom of the towns of Spain is that only one eye of the women is visible.” This affirms the continuation of the practice from the Prophetic era to the 8th
- Ḥāfiẓ Ibn al-Qayyim al-Ḥanbalī (d. 751/1350) writes in Iʿlām al-Muwaqqiʿīn (2: 47), “And the legislator has legislated for the free women to conceal their faces from the strangers.” He further writes in relation to the exemption of the face and palms, “And this is in relation to Ṣalāh and not in relation to looking, because ʿAwrah is of two types; ʿAwrah in relation to looking and ʿAwrah in relation to Ṣalāh. Thus, a free woman can perform Ṣalāh with the face and palms uncovered, and it is not [permissible] for her to visit the markets and gatherings of people like this [with the face and palms uncovered].”
- Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Kathīr al-Shāfiʿī (d. 774/1373) (Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr, 6: 45).
- ʿAllāmah Kamāl al-Dīn al-Damīrī al-Shāfiʿī (d. 808/1405) writes in al-Najm al-Wahhāj (7: 19), “And Muslims are unanimous on preventing them from leaving [their homes] with the faces uncovered.”
- ʿAllāmah Ibn Nūr al-Dīn al-Yamanī al-Mawziʿī al-Shāfiʿī (d. 825/1422) writes in Taysīr al-Bayān li Aḥkām al-Qurʾān (4: 77), “The practice of the people has remained on this historically and currently in all towns and regions; they tolerate the elderly woman for uncovering her face and do not tolerate [it] for the young woman, and they regard it as ʿAwrah and an evil [action].” He also wrote, “And the predecessors like Mālik, Shāfiʿī and Abū Ḥanīfah, their statements were regarding the ʿAwrah for Ṣalāh. So, Shāfiʿī and Mālik said: [The full body] except the face and the palms, and Abū Ḥanīfah also added the feet. And I do not think that any one of them permitted a young woman to disclose her face without a need.”
- ʿAllāmah Ibn Raslān al-Shāfiʿī (d. 844/1441) writes in his commentary of Sunan Abī Dāwūd (16: 366), “And the proof of making the uncovering of the face conditional on need is the consensus of Muslims on preventing women from leaving [their homes] with their faces uncovered, particularly when perversion is on the increase and is prevalent.”
- Ḥāfiẓ Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī al-Shāfiʿī (d. 852/1449) writes in Fatḥ al-Bārī (9: 337), “The practice has continued on the permissibility of women leaving [the homes] for the Masjids, market places, and travel with their faces covered so the men do not see them, and men have never been ordered to cover their faces so that women do not see them.” He writes in another place in Fatḥ al-Bārī (9: 324), “And the practice of women past and present has continued to cover their faces from strangers.” This affirms the continuation of the practice from the Prophetic era to the ninth century. In addition, he has also refuted in Fatḥ al-Bārī (8: 530; 9: 324) the suggestion of Qādī ʿIyāḍ al-Mālikī (d. 544/1149) in Ikmāl al-Muʿlim (4: 440; 7: 37, 57) that the obligation of Ḥijāb was only applicable to the wives of the Prophet ﷺ.
- ʿAllāmah Ibn al-Humām al-Ḥanafī (d. 861/1457) affirms in Fatḥ al-Qadīr (2: 514) what has been mentioned by ʿAllāmah Abū al-ʿAbbās al-Nāṭifī and others. He writes, “The issue has indicated that a woman is prohibited from showing her face to strangers without a need, and the ḥadīth also indicates upon this.”
- ʿAllāmah Ḥaṭṭāb al-Mālikī (d. 954/1547) writes in Mawāhib al-Jalīl (3: 405), “Rather they will leave with their faces covered.” He writes in another place (1: 499), “If there is a fear of temptation arising from the woman [being uncovered], it will be necessary for her to cover the face and the palms.”
- ʿAllāmah Ibn Nujaym al-Ḥanafī (d. 970/1563) writes in al-Baḥr al-Rāʾiq (5: 53; 7: 310) that a husband can punish her husband for uncovering her face in front of a non-Maḥram. He writes in one place (1: 284), “Our scholars have said, the young woman will be prevented from uncovering her face among men in our era due to temptation.” He has also affirmed in one place (2: 381) what has been mentioned by ʿAllāmah Abū al-ʿAbbās al-Nāṭifī and Imam Qāḍīkhān al-Ḥanafī above.
- ʿAllāmah Tumurtāshī al-Ḥanafī (d. 1004/1596) writes, “And [the young woman] will be prevented from uncovering the face in front of men” (al-Durr al-Mukhtār, 1: 406).
- Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī al-Ḥanafī (d. 1014/1605) (Mirqāt al-Mafātīḥ, 5: 1852, 2078; Manāsik, p. 162).
- Shaykh ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Shaykhīzādah al-Ḥanafī (d. 1078/1667-8) writes in Majmaʿ al-Anhur (1: 81), “And it is [mentioned] in al-Muntaqā: The young woman will be prevented from uncovering her face so that it does not lead to temptation. And in our era, preventing is wājib (necessary), rather farḍ (compulsory) due to the dominance of perversion.”
- ʿAllāmah Ḥaṣkafī al-Ḥanafī (d. 1088/1677) affirms in al-Durr al-Mukhtār (1: 406; 4: 77) what has been cited above from ʿAllāmah Tumurtāshī (d. 1004/1596) and ʿAllāmah Ibn Nujaym (d. 970/1563) respectively.
- ʿAllāmah Shihāb al-Dīn al-Nafrāwī al-Mālikī (d. 1126/1714) writes in al-Fawākiḥ al-Dawānī (2: 313), “Unless if she is beautiful or if perversion is prevalent, then it will be necessary for her to cover even the face and the palms.”
- Imam Muḥammad ibn Ismāʿīl al-Ṣanʿānī (d. 1182/1768) writes in Subul al-Salām (1: 198), “And it is permissible for her face to be uncovered, so long as there is no evidence to cover it. And the meaning of uncovering it during her Ṣalāh is when a stranger does not see her, so this is her ʿAwrah (concealment) for Ṣalāh. As regards her ʿAwrah in relation to the gaze of a stranger, then it is all ʿAwrah”.
- Qādī Shawkānī (d. 1250/1834) cites the aforementioned quote of ʿAllāmah Ibn Raslān (d. 844/1441) in Nayl al-Awṭār (6: 137).
- Shaykh Sharaf al-Ḥaq ʿAẓīmābādī (d. 1329/1911) cites the aforementioned quote of ʿAllāmah Ibn Raslān (d. 844/1441) in ʿAwn al-Maʿbūd (11: 109).
- Mawlānā Khalil Aḥmad Sahāranpūrī al-Ḥanafī (d. 1346/1927) writes in Badhl al-Majhūd (12: 132), “And the proof of making the uncovering of the face conditional on need is the consensus of Muslims on preventing women from leaving [their homes] with their faces uncovered, particularly when perversion is on the increase and is prevalent.” This is the same as the aforementioned quote of ʿAllāmah Ibn Raslān (d. 844/1441).
- Mufti Muḥammad Shafīʿ ʿUthmānī al-Ḥanafī (d. 1396/1976) writes in Aḥkām al-Qurʾān (3: 471), “The views of the jurists and the majority of the Ummah is unanimous that it is not permissible for young women to uncover the faces and palms in front of strangers, and the elderly are exempt.”
- Mufti Maḥmūd Ḥasan Gangohī (d. 1417/1996) affirms in Fatāwā Maḥmūdiyyah (28: 73) that Ḥijāb (including the covering of the face) is compulsory.
- Mufti Rashīd Aḥmad Ludyānwī (d. 1422/2002) also affirms in Aḥsan al-Fatāwā (8: 36) that covering the face is compulsory.
Allah knows best
Yusuf Shabbir, Blackburn, UK
5 Shawwāl 1427 / 27 October 2006
Updated: 9 Rabīʿ al-Awwal 1438 / 8 December 2016
 There are differing views regarding the school of thought he ascribed to, as outlined in my book: Aqwāl al-Jahābidhah fī Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymiyah.
 This also appears to be the view of Mawlānā Ẓafar Aḥmad ʿUthmānī (d. 1394/1974) in Iʿlāʾ al-Sunan (17: 373) who suggests that the Prophet ﷺ did not instruct the general Muslim women to cover their faces. However, he adds that covering the face is wājib (necessary) due to the risk of temptation. Also see al-Ādāb al-Sharʿiyyah (p. 280).