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Covering in Front of Non-Muslim Close Relatives

Answered as per Shafi'i Fiqh by Qibla.com

Answered by Shaykh Hamza Karamali, SunniPath Academy Teacher

Does a woman have to cover in front of a non-Muslim father or father-in-law?

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate

Shaykh Nuh Keller (Allah preserve him) asked al-‘Allamah Habib Zain b. Ibrahim al-Sumayt (Allah preserve him), one of the leading Shafi‘i fuqaha of our times, an almost identical Question.  In 1996, he sent him an istifta (fatwa – request), asking whether or not it is permissible for a woman to uncover her head in front of her father-in-law and mother-in-law if they are non-Muslims.  Habib Zain (Allah preserve him) gave the following reply:

In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate. 

O Allah! I ask you to give me success (tawfiq) in replying and guidance to what is correct.

It is well-known that the father of a woman’s husband is one of her close relatives (mahram) through marriage (musaharah).  The scholars of fiqh (fuqaha) have explicitly stated that a woman’s nakedness (‘awrah) in front of her close relatives (mahram) is what lies between her navel and knee, regardless of whether they are (h: close relatives) by virtue of lineage, suckling, or marriage.  It makes no difference whether the close relative is Muslim or non-Muslim.  If this is the case with a male close relative, such as the husband’s father, then a fortiori with a female close relative, such as the husband’s mother.

The answer to your Question can be known from this, i.e., that it is permissible for the mentioned wife to uncover her head and everything else except for what is between her navel and knee in front of her husband’s non-Muslim parents.

The great scholar (‘allamah) Ibn Hajar said in the Tuhfa, commenting on the text of the Minhaj,

“It is not permissible to look at what lies between the navel and knee of one’s close relative (mahram); (h: to look at) everything else is permissible (Ibn Hajar: provided there is no desire (shahwah), and even if he is a non-Muslim, because the close relation (mahramiyyah) makes marriage unlawful so it is as if they were two males or two females).”

One can, however, infer from what they have said that this permissibility depends on two conditions: (1) that there be no desire (shahwah) or fear of fitna, and (2) that the non-Muslim close relative not be from among those who believe that it is permissible to marry close relatives; if he is from a people who believe this, such as the Mageans (majus), it is not allowed for him to look or be alone (khalwah) (h: with her) because of what has been mentioned in the Ibn Qasim’s supercommentary (h: on the Tuhfa).

And Allah knows best.

This was written by the servant of the noble knowledge, Zain b. Ibrahim al-Sumayt.

I have translated the above from a photocopy of Habib Zain’s (Allah preserve him) handwritten answer that I have in my possession.


This answer was indexed from Qibla.com, which used to have a repository of Islamic Q&A answered by various scholars. The website is no longer in existence. It has now been transformed into a learning portal with paid Islamic course offering under the brand of Kiflayn.

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