Introduction: This essay will attempt to briefly yet concisely enumerate the basic requirements regarding Muslim women's dress (Hijab) as stipulated by the Shari'ah (Divine Law) of Islam. The term Hijab, includes not only dress and covering the body, but methods of behavior before members of the same and/or opposite sex, promoting privacy for females and prohibiting loose intermingling between males and females, and thereby encouraging modesty, decency, chastity and above all, respect and worship of Allah. Minor differences exist among the scholars regarding the actual number of the requirements because of varying methods used by them in codifying. The ones mentioned here represent the ones agreed upon by the overwhelming majority of scholars and are all solidly backed by firm evidence taken from the Qur'an, the Sunnah and the practice of the Sahabah (the Companions).
The First Requirement: The Extent of Covering The dress worn in public must cover the entire body except what has been specifically excluded, based upon the following proofs: Allah Ta'ala says: "And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts from sin and not show of their adornment except only that which is apparent, and draw their headcovers over their necks and bosoms and not reveal their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women (i.e., their sisters in Islam), or their female slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants free of physical desires, or small children who have no sense of women's nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah altogether, O you Believers, in order that you may attain success.[An-Nur, 24:31] The word zeenah in the aayah above, literally means "adornment", and includes both (a) that which Allah has adorned, i.e., the woman's natural and/or physical beauty, and (b) that with which they adorn themselves, i.e., jewelry, eye shadow, attractive clothing, hand dye, etc. Soorat An-Nur spells out specifically the commands concerning the fact that a woman's natural beauty and her adornments are to be concealed from strangers except by (1) What may show due to accidental or uncontrollable factors such as the blowing of the wind, etc., and (2) What has been exempted (see explanation at end of this section). Allah also says: O Prophet, Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their outer garments about themselves (when they go out). That is better so that they may be recognised and not molested. And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. [Al-Ahzaab, 33:59] Abu Dawood narrates that `Aishah (RAA) said: "Asmaa' the daughter of Abu Bakr (RAA) came to see the Messenger of Allah (SAAWS) wearing a thin dress; so Allah's Messenger (SAAWS) turned away from her and said: O Asmaa', once a woman reaches the age of menstruation, no part of her body should be seen but this-and he pointed to his face and hands. The word khumur (pl. of khimar) refers to a cloth which covers the head (including the ears), hair, neck and bosom. The esteemed mufaasir (Quranic interpreter) Al-Qurtubi explains: "Women in the past used to cover their heads with the khimar, throwing its ends over their backs. This left the neck and the upper part of the chest bare, in the manner of the Christians. Then Allah commanded them to cover those parts with the khimar." Allah states further in this aayah: ...And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornments The women in the time of the Prophet (SAAWS) wore anklets which could be employed to attract attention by stamping their feet, thereby making the anklets tinkle. This practice is not only forbidden by Allah, but moreover, shows that the legs and ankles are to be covered as well. Some of the modern day Hanafi scholars are of the mistaken view that a woman can display her feet, a portion of her forearms and her ears; yet there is NO authentic proof from the practice of the Prophet (SAAWS) or his Sahabah to uphold such a view. Amongst the authentic hadeeths which clarify this point is the following: Ibn `Umar (RAA) reported that the Messenger of Allah (SAAWS) said: On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will not look at the man who trails his garment along out of pride. Umm Salamah then asked: What should women do with (the hems of) their garments? He replied: Let them lower them a handspan. She said: Their feet would be exposed! He then said: Let them lower them a forearm's length but no more. [Reported by At-Tabarani-Sahih] The aayah of Soorat An-Nur also lists in detail those with whom a woman is permitted to be more at ease. Furthermore, the ayah from Soorat Al-Ahzab orders Muslim women to draw their outer garments about themselves when they go out. Abu Dawood related that `Aishah (RAA) said: "After this Aayah was revealed the women of the Ansar appeared like crows." (because of the color and shape of the cloaks they wore). Hence, an outer garment or cloak must be worn by a Muslim woman whenever she goes out in public or if she is in the presence of strangers within her own home or the home of a close relative. Slight differences have arisen amongst the scholars concerning the precise meaning of ...except only that which is apparent... from Soorah An-Nur which according to Ibn `Abaas (RAA), includes "the face, the two hands, and rings. This view is shared by Ibn `Umar, `Ata'a, and others from the Tabi'een." [Tafseer Ibn Kathir] Also, Imam Ash-Showkani states concerning this same ayaat, that it includes: "The dress, the face, and the two hands"; Ibn `Abaas and Qatadah have stated: "The adornments include eye shadow (i.e., Kuhul), bracelets, hand dye, and rings, and it is permissable for women to (uncover) them." [Fateh Al-Qadeer] The major point of difference among the scholars concerns the hadeeth of Asmaa' (RAA) i.e., that the face and hands need not be covered; a number of the scholars have maintained that the face and hands must also be covered, because it was the practice of the wives of the Prophet (SAAWS) and the wives of the Sahabah to cover themselves completely according to authentic hadeeths. The above point has been a topic of debate amongst the scholars both past and present and will be dealt with, Insha' Allah at the end of this essay.
The Second Requirement: Thickness The garment should be thick and opaque so as not to display the skin color and form of the body beneath it. Delicate or transparent clothing does not constitute a proper covering. The Sahabah were very stern on this and regarded scanty clothing in public as an indicator of a woman's lack of belief. Al-Qurtubi reports a narration from `Aishah (RAA) that some women from Banu Tamim came to see her wearing transparent clothing. `Aishah said to them: "If you are are believing women, these are not the clothes of believing women." He also reports that a bride came to see her wearing a sheer, transparent khimaar, whereupon `Aishah (RAA) said: "A woman who wears such clothing does not believe in Soorat An-Nur." Moreover, the following hadeeth makes this point graphically clear. Allah's Messenger (SAAWS) said: There will be in the last of my Ummah (nation of believers), scantily dressed women, the hair on the top of their heads like a camel's hump. Curse them, for verily they are cursed. In another version he said: ...scantily dressed women, who go astray and make others go astray; they will not enter Paradise nor smell its fragrance, although it can be smelled from afar. [At-Tabarani and Sahih Muslim] "Scantily dressed women" are those who wear clothing which reveals more than it conceals, thereby increasing her attractiveness while opening the path to a host of evils.
The Third Requirement: Looseness The clothing must hang loosely enough and not be so tight-fitting as to show the shape and size of the woman's body. The reason for wearing a garment which is wide and loose fitting is that the function of Muslim women's clothing is to eliminate the lure and beauty of her body from the eye of the beholder. Skin-tight body suits, etc. may conceal the skin color, yet they display the size and shape of the limbs and body. The following hadeeth proves this point clearly: Usamah ibn Zaid said: Allah's Messenger (SAAWS) gave me a gift of thick Coptic cloth he had recieved as a gift from Dahiah Al-Kalbi, and so I gave it to my wife. Thereafter the Prophet (SAAWS) asked me: Why didn't you wear the Coptic cloth? I replied: I gave it to my wife. the Prophet (SAAWS) then said: Tell her to wear a thick gown under it (the Coptic garment) for I fear that it may describe the size of her limbs. [Narrated by Ahmad, Al-Bayhaqi, and Al-Haakim]
The Fourth Requirement: Color, Appearance and Demeanor Allah ta'ala says: "O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other women; if you fear (Allah), then do not be too pleasent of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should feel desire (for you)." [Al-Ahzab, 33:32] The reason for the revelation of this verse is not the fear of distrust nor misbehavior on the part of the women, but rather to prevent them from speaking invitingly, walking seductively, or dressing revealingly so as to arouse sexual desire in the heart of lecherous and evil men. Seductive dressing and enticing speech are the characteristics of ill-intentioned women, not Muslims. Al-Qurtubi mentions that Mujahid (RAA) said: "Women (before the advent of Islam) used to walk about (alluringly) among men." Qatadah (RAA) said: "They used to walk in a sensuous and seductive manner." Maqatil (RAA) said: "The women used to wear an untied cloth on their heads, while provocatively toying with their necklaces, earrings and other ornamental jewelry." Furthermore, Allah has commanded women not to display their beauty, meaning both natural and acquired beauty. Allah commands the believing women thus: ...And do not make a display of yourselves like the displaying of the ignorance of long ago... [Al-Ahzaab, 33:33] A garment which is intended to conceal a woman and her beauty from public view cannot be a thing which enhances her beauty. Therefore, the garment cannot contain bright colors, bold designs or shiny and reflective material that draw men's attention to the wearer. The Arabic word above, At-Tabarruj, means not only "to display oneself" but also "to spruce up one's charms for the purpose of exciting desire". Imam Adh-Dhahabi says in his book Kitab Al-Kaba'ir (The Book of Major Sins): "Amongst the deeds which a woman is cursed for are displaying the adornments she wears, wearing perfume when she goes out, and wearing colorful clothes..." Hence, the Muslim woman is encouraged to wear muted, somber colors and to avoid bright designs, patterns and colors. This point should serve also as a reminder to Muslim men who are in positions of responsibility for their women, that Allah's Messenger (SAAWS) has warned in an authentic hadeeth narrated by `Abdullah ibn `Amr ibn Al-`Aas that amongst the three individuals who would not enter Jennah (Paradise) would be: Ad-Dayooth, who is contented with obscenity within his family. i.e., a cuckold-a man who permits the women for whom he is responsible, such as his wife, daughter, etc., to engage in illicit sexual relations or to display their beauty to men, thereby stimulating sexual desire.
The Fifth Requirement: Difference from Men's Clothing The clothing of a Muslim woman must not resemble the clothing of men. The following two hadeeth help to explain this. Abu Hurayrah (RAA) said: Allah's Messenger (SAAWS) cursed the man who wears women's clothes and the woman who wears men's clothes. [Abu Dawood and Ibn Majah-Saheeh] `Abdullah ibn `Umar (RAA) said he heard Allah's Messenger (SAAWS) say: The man who resembles a woman and the woman who resembles a man is not of us (i.e., not of the believers). [Ahmad and At-Tabarani-Saheeh] Additionally, Abu Dawood relates a narration from Umm Salamah (RAA) which shows that the Prophet (SAAWS) forbade women to bundle their Khumoor on their heads in such a way as to resemble the turban of a man. Western Muslim sisters should pay specific attention to this point since regretfully this has become a widespread practice amongst them.
The Sixth Requirement: Difference from the Clothing of Unbelievers Her clothing must not resemble the clothing of unbelievers. This is a general ruling of the Shari'ah which encompasses not only dress but also such things as manners, customs, religious practices and festivities, transactions, etc. Indeed, dissimilarity with unbelievers is a precedent that was established by the first generation of Islam. The following two hadeeth and statement of `Umar (RAA) will help to clarify this position: `Abdullah ibn `Amr ibn Al-`Aas said: Allah's Messenger (SAAWS) saw me wearing two saffron-colored garments, so he said: Indeed, these are the clothes of kuffar (unbelievers), so do not wear them. [Sahih Muslim] `Abdullah ibn `Umar (RAA) said: Allah's Messenger (SAAWS) stated: Whoever resembles a people is one of them. [Abu Dawood] Abu Musa Al-Ash'ari (RAA) related that `Umar (RAA) told him: "...I shall not honor those whom Allah has dishonored, nor esteem those He has humbled, nor bring close those whom He has kept afar." [Ahmad]
The Seventh Requirement: No Vain or Ostentatious Dressing The woman's dress must not be an expression of ostentation, vanity or as a status symbol by being excessively showy or expensive, nor must it be excessively tattered so as to gain admiration and fame for being humble. Ibn `Umar (RAA) reported that Allah's Messenger (SAAWS) said: Whoever dresses for ostentation in this world, Allah will dress that person in a dress of humiliation on the Day of Resurrection, and then set it on fire. [Abu Dawood] The Niqab (Face Veil): Between Mustahab (Recommendable) and Wajib (Mandatory) The esteemed Quranic commentators At-Tabari, Al-Qurtubi, Ash-Shanqeeti and others have elaborated on the form of Hijab or Jilbab i.e., "outer garments" as viewed by the Companions of the Prophet (SAAWS), as well as the circumstances surrounding the revelation of Soorah Al-Ahzab, 33:59 quoted at the beginning of this essay. They state that when the believing women used to go out at night (wearing ordinary clothes) to answer the call of nature, some hypocrites tried to annoy them, thinking the women were slavegirls. The women thereby would scream out loudly causing these hypocrites to flee. Thereupon Allah (AWJ) revealed this Ayaat. Al-Qurtubi states that the Jilbab is "a cloth which covers the entire body...Ibn `Abaas and `Ubaidah As-Salmani have said that it is to be fully wrapped around the women's body, so that nothing appears but one eye with which she can see." The Tabi'ee, Qatadah (RAA), stated that the Jilbab should be wrapped and fixed from above the forehead and made to cover the nose, (although the eyes are to show) and the chest and most of the face are to be covered. Furthermore, it has been authentically related in Sahih Al-Bukhari, the Muwatta of Imam Malik and the Sunan of Abu Dawood that the Prophet (SAAWS) forbade women from covering their faces and hands during their perfomance of Salat, or while in a state of Ihram. This indicates clearly that wearing the face veil (Niqab or Burqa'a) was a common practice during the time of the Messenger of Allah (SAAWS), and not as some people claim, a cultural practice that appeared years later. Among the proofs used by the scholars regarding the face veil are the following: `Aishah (RAA) said: "May Allah bestow His Mercy on the first Muhajirat (emigrants). When Allah revealed:...and draw their headcovers over their necks and bosoms... they tore their (material) and covered themselves with it." [Al-Bukhari] Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalani, known as "Amir Al-Mu'mineen in Hadeeth" has explained that "covered themselves" means: "covered their faces." [Fateh Al-Bari]. Additionally, after the battle of Khaybar, the Prophet (SAAWS) married Safiyah bint Huyai. The Muslims said amongst themselves, "Will she (Safiyah) be one of the Mothers of the Believers (i.e., wives of the Prophet) or just what his right hand possesses (i.e., slavegirl). Some of them said: If he (SAAWS) makes her observe Hijab, then she will be one of the Mothers of the Believers, and if he does not make her observe Hijab, then she will be what his right hand possesses. So when he departed (for Medina), he made a place for her behind him (on his camel) and made her observe Hijab" [Al-Bukhari] The issue of the Niqab has continued to arouse extended controversy and debate between `Ulama (scholars) and Fuqaha (jurists) both past and present concerning whether it is Wajib (mandatory) or Mustahab (favored by Allah) (SWT) for the woman. And whether she subsequently falls into sin by exposing her face or not. Each of the two sides clings to their own opinions which they support with evidences from the Quranic ayaat, the Prophetic hadeeths and the practice of the Sahabah and their views. One of the views on this is that the Niqab is legally binding on the woman-she who abandons it is a sinner. It says that the woman's face which she is ordered not to reveal to non-relatives is definitely part of the `Auwrah. The other view says that the Niqab is simply recommended and encourages the woman to cover her face; however, it does not place it on the level of mandatory. Consequently, this opinion does not consider the woman falling into sin when she exposes and unveils her face as long as in doing so, she has not applied facial makeup. The dispute continues between the two viewpoints and takes, on certain occasions, bitter aspects. The advocates for making the face veil mandatory accuses the other group of following their own desires. While the other group accuses their opponents with being obstinate fanatics. The matter is much broader than this and does not require accusations of obstinance or of following the desires but rather requires reaching Ijtihad (judgement based on the Shari'ah) and following Dalil (proof from the Shari'ah) to the best of one's ability. To give the benefit of the doubt in such a situation is better and most befitting for the Muslim, limiting the points of difference and narrowing the gap of disagreement are two factors which are sought after. I do not want in this rush to take a side with one group over the other; nor to validate the proofs of which I see the truth in this issue. Rather the aim is, as I said, to narrow the controversy and to highlight the points agreed upon. Thereby, we may adopt them and work on spreading them. As for the point of disagreement-it will remain under the category of Ijtihad whose advocate will be rewarded whether he attains truth or was mistaken. First: Since the two views agree upon the legitimacy of the Niqab, that it is a consumate perfection for a woman and more virtuous for her, as well as closer to the aims of the Shari'ah-which is to prevent Fitnah, and is an obstruction to excuses as well as severing the path of those who follow their lusts, it is therefore more appropiate, that the efforts should be directed to encourage wearing the Niqab, and to motivate people towards it. And to show and explain it's virtues and merits. This implies that covering the face with the Niqab should be the general rule and uncovering the face the exception. Second: In spite of the fact that there are differing views on the Islamic ruling regarding whether the Niqab is obligatory or recommended, it is undoubtably one's duty to unify the call for it and cooperate as much as possible in urging young women about its necessity and to limit their desire to expose their faces as much as possible. Indeed, it is merely gracious according to both parties. Not as is happening now between opposing sides which is to leave the matter loose and dangling, through the claim that the Niqab is only Mustahab, and being aloof from spreading the call for it. This is indeed an inversion of the truth and poor judgement in the matter. Hence, my fellow Muslims, when you are asked: what is the form of the Hijab according to the Shari'ah, especially from a woman who loves the Deen?, you should urge and encourage her to wear the Niqab-even if you are of the opinion that it is only Mustahab. Lastly: We truly hope from Allah (SWT) for the day when all believing women rush to cover their faces with full contentment of their souls and desire for their deen is the strongest of desires. This is a hope which, without any doubt, is shared with me by those who are of the opinion of it being Mustahab and those who are of the opinion of it being Wajib. I pray that Allah (AWJ) guide us along the Straight Path, and protect us from deviation after having guidance. And may Allah bless the Leader of His Messengers, Muhammad (SAAWS), his family and his companions, and all who follow in their footsteps until the Final Hour, Ameen.