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Women Covering in Front of Corrupt Women

Answered by Sidi Mostafa Azzam

  I read in Fathul-Mu’een, on page 304 in the chapter of marriage,  the following: “watahtajibu-wujuban muslimah`an kafirah- waka dha`afeefah`an fasiqah- ay, bi sihaaq, aw zinaa, aw qiyada……etc. Could you explain what this means? Does it mean that the religious woman may not uncover in front of an irreligious woman? And, why do they mention sihaaq (is that lesbianism?) and fornication? Is that the means by which she is defined as a fasiqah, or are there other means? IF my understanding is correct, that one cannot uncover in front of irreligious women-WUJUBAN, and I hope I’m wrong, this is has HUGE social implications. IN my text, the issue is within the the first nine pages of the chapter.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

The above passage means the following, “It is obligatory for a Muslim woman to cover in front of a non-Muslim woman, likewise a chaste woman in front of a corrupt woman—i.e., through lesbianism, zina (fornication, etc.), or pimping.”  This is correct and is also in the Minhaj

The Question is, what exactly does it mean?  First of all, regarding the “corrupt woman,” what Fath al-Mu`in implies is not just any corrupt woman, but a particular kind of corrupt woman.  The wording is similar in the Tuhfah.  Allah knows best. 

Maybe someone learned can confirm this for us.  Regarding it being obligatory to “cover,” what exactly is it obligatory to cover?  Fath al-Mu`in seems to imply that she has to cover everything, as does the Minhaj.  But if you check the Tuhfah(7:200, (copy of) Dar Al-Halabi) on the Minhaj and I`anatat-Talibin (3:262, Dar al-Fikr) on Fath al-Mu`in, you will see that that position does exist within the school but the relied upon position is that what is forbidden to uncover in front of a non-Muslim woman or a corrupt woman guilty of zina, lesbianism, pimping, and the like, is what is not exposed when doing chores (ma la yabdu`inda al-mihnah). 

So a woman can uncover in front of such women that which gets exposed when doing chores, which is the head and neck, the arms up to the upper arm, and the legs up to the knee (Tuhfah, 7:194). 

The upshot is that she can expose in front of a non-Muslim or corrupt woman the following:

a)       her head and neck,

b)        her lower arm, and

c)        her lower leg. 

Note that in this is no real hardship; on a practical level, all it generally implies is that she cannot breastfeed in front of a corrupt woman, even though she can in front of a chaste woman.

Why should it have HUGE social implications?  Even if this were the position of the school, it would simply mean that Shafi`i women would follow a different school.  This is not a huge deal, considering that very few Shafi`i women follow the Shafi`i school in relation to covering, anyway.  Most Shafi`iw omen follow the Maliki school, uncovering their faces and hands in front of corrupt or non-Muslim men, which would be more serious in the Shafi`i school than uncovering in front of corrupt or non-Muslim women.

-Mostafa Azzam
Amman, Jordan.

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