Hijab, The Dress of Modesty in Islam

Hijab, The Dress of Modesty in Islam

My friend, late Haji Yusuf Husayn Sheriff of Arusha (Tanzania) had asked me to deliver a lecture on the subject of Hijab (Purdah) at the 8th annual seminar of the Golden Crescent Group, which was to be held at Lushoto on the 22nd and 23rd October 1977. At that time I was busy making arrangements for our hajj journey and wanted to be excused. But on his insistence I had to agree. The result is the Part One of this booklet, which contains the lecture and the questions and answers which followed. Just 3 months later, Haji Yusuf suddenly expired at Mombasa (Kenya). We belong to Allah and to Him is our return.
This part's Swahili translation (by Shaykh Dhikiri O. M. Kondo, Editor, Sauti Ya Bilal) was published by the Bilal Muslim mission of Tanzania long ago. But the original remained pending because I wanted to make it more comprehensive. Once postponed, it remained forgotten until recently when the situation in the society in Africa and elsewhere demanded its publication.

Now I have added the Part Two, which contains further details. And as they say in Arabic, everything is pledged to its time, the booklet is now published - after 14 years. I dedicate the thawab of writing this booklet to late Haji Yusuf H. Sheriff. May Allah give him a high place near the 14 Ma'sumin (as).

It is being published on the initiative of Haji Kurbanali Khaki, of Dar es Salaam, who has also borne the expenses of its printing. May Allah subhanahu wa Ta'ala give him its reward and bestow on him prosperity and success in both worlds. Amen.


The essence of Islam is “Submission to the Will of Allah”, to make one's opinions, inclinations and actions subservient to the commands of Allah.

”And it is not for a believer man or believer woman to have any choice in their affair when Allah and Hiss Messenger decided a matter; and whoever disobeys Allah and His Messenger, indeed he has strayed a manifest straying.”1

Therefore, if one asks why Hijab or Purdah is necessary, the only proper reply would be, 'because Allah and His Messenger have so decided'. And that should be the end of all arguments, so far as the believing men and believing women are concerned.

But in this age, Hijab has been equated with backwardness of society and is regarded as a symbol of servitude of women. Many preachers think it is safer to avoid this subject in their lectures. But the Holy Prophet has said:

”When Bid'ats appear and an 'Alim does not say what he knows (against that Bid'at) then he is cursed by Allah, the angels and the men.” 2

Islam is a compact religion in which all rules and regulations are well-synchronized, and if one wants to tamper with a certain part, the whole system would disintegrate. You have to accept the whole machinery as it is; you cannot choose from it.

Islam believes in keeping men and women apart. It has entrusted males and females with completely separate responsibilities, according to their natural ability. Man is obliged to earn livelihood for himself and his family. Woman has been entrusted with responsibility of managing domestic affairs, and upbringing the children in Islamic background.

The proponents of the “liberty” of women sneer at this division of labour, implying that proper upbringing of children is an inferior duty which degrades women. They do not realize that their new social order, which deprives the children of parental care and control, is a major factor in increasing juvenile delinquency, which in its turn is tearing the society apart.3

Hijab as we know it was not in Arabia before Islam. It was introduced in Madina by specific injunctions of the Qur'an, long before non-Arabs came into the fold of Islam.

Ummu'l-muminin 'Ayeshah is reported to praise the women of al-Ansar in these words:

”I did not see any women better than those of Al-Ansar, in their confirmation of Allah's Book and the faith in the revelation. As soon as the chapter of an-Nur was revealed, containing the words, and they draw their head covers over their neck slits, {and they were informed of it by their men} everyone of them without exception took her robe (shawl) and wound it around her head, in conformity with, and faith in, what Allah had revealed in His Book.
They came next morning behind the Messenger (s.a.w) with those wound robes on heads as if a crow was sitting on their heads.” 4

Therefore, the attempts of some self-appointed non-Muslim experts of Islam, to show that Hijab came to Islam when the Arabs conquered neighbouring countries, have no leg to stand. Modesty is one of the fundamentals of Islamic Shari'ah. Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s) said:”Modesty is a part of Iman.” 5

Verses of Hijab

First let us read the verses of the Qur'an on this subject:-
There are three verses in Sura An-Nur:-

”Say unto the believer men that they cast down their gaze and guard their private parts; that is purer for them. Verily, Allah is well Aware of all that you do.

”And say unto the believing women that they cast down their gaze and guard their private parts, and they display not their “Zinat” (adornment) except what becomes apparent of it; and they draw their “Khumur” (head covers) over their “Juyub” (neck-slits); and they display not their “Zinat” except to their husbands, or their fathers, or the father of their husbands, or their brothers, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brother's sons, or their sister's sons, or their women or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants void of sexual desires, or the children who have not yet attained the knowledge of women's secrets (or nakedness), and they should not strike their feet so that what they hide of their “Zinat” becomes known; and turn you all unto Allah, O you believers, so that you may be successful.” 6

Explanation of Important Words

Zinat: What a human being uses to adorn himself/herself like ornaments, clothes and similar things.

Khumur: With their khumur i.e. with their head covers; plural of khimar.
Juyub: Plural of jayb, i.e. neck-slit. Before the revelation of this verse, Arab women did not cover their necks and neck lines were usually low (they anticipated the 20th century fashion). So, they were ordered to cover their necks with their head covers.

Mahram: The relatives before whom a woman is allowed to display her Zinat are listed in this verse. They are called Mahram. Mahram means those relatives (by birth, fostership or marriage) with whom marriage is perpetually forbidden. Thus, father-in-law is Mahram; but sister of wife is not mahram, because one may marry her after death of the wife or after divorcing her. The phrase, “their fathers” includes paternal and maternal uncles.
“Illa ma Zahara Minha”: except what becomes apparent of it. It will be explained later.

The third verse in the same Sura exempts a very old woman from putting on veil:-

”Such elderly women as are past the prospect of marriage, there is no blame on them if they lay aside their outer garments, provided they make not a display of their adornment; but it is good for them if they restrain themselves; and Allah is All-hearing All-knowing.”.7

Explanation of Words:

Al-Qawa'id: Those women who have passed the age of menses and child-bearing and are not desirous of marriage because of their old age.

Yada'na: It denotes laying aside an outer garment like shawl or chadar, and not removing a dress like shirt or frock from body.

This exception presupposes a general rule. That the elderly women may lay aside their veil, shows that other cannot lay at aside. And even elderly women have been encouraged not to lay aside their veil, because it is good for them (and perhaps to set a good example to the younger generation!).

Then there are 4 verses in Surah Al-Ahzab:-

”O Women of the Prophet! You are not like any other woman, if you fear (Allah); so be not soft in your speech, lest lusts after you he in whose heart is disease; and speak a good speech;
”And stay in your houses and display not yourselves like the display of the Ignorance of Yore…” 8

“Women of the Prophet”: This verse is addressed to the women of the Prophet but all Muslim women are included in it; as so many verses addressed to the Holy Prophet are meant for the whole Ummah. For Example, there is a verse:

”O Prophet! When you divorce (your) women, divorce them at their prescribed period.” 9

It is an accepted principle that the rules of the Qur'an are for the whole Ummah, except where there is a clear indication that it is not meant for others.
“You are not like any other women”: Muslim women are not like non-Muslim women. So, they should maintain their distinction and dignity.

“Like the display of the Ignorance of Yore”: To “stay in your houses” is the dignity of Islam; and to display oneself is the trade-mark of the pre-Islamic Ignorance and Kufr.
There is a hadith in Tafsir of Al-Qummi (with his chain of narrators) from Imam Ja'afar as-Sadiq (a.s) from his father (a.s) that he said about the clause, like the display of the Ignorance of Yore: “It implies that there surely will come another era of Ignorance.”
Allamah At-Tabatabai's comments: “It is a fine inference.” 10

A Question: Has that predicted era of the latter days, ignorance already arrived?
“And if you ask from them any goods, ask you of them from behind the curtain; purer it is for your heats and for their hearts.” 11

Explanation: This verse is about the wives of the Holy Prophet. It shows the ideal of Purdah or Hijab for a Muslim woman, that she should remain inside her house; and Ghair-Mahram men should talk to her, if necessary, from behind a curtain.
When the above verse was revealed, the companions asked the Prophet whether they should remain hidden from their daughters, mothers and sisters also. Then the following verse was revealed:-

”There is no blame on them (women) about their fathers, nor their sons, nor their brothers, nor their brothers' sons, nor their sisters' sons, nor their own women, nor whom their right hands possess, and fear you (O women) Allah: Verily Allah is Witness on everything.” 12

”O Prophet! Say unto your wives, and your daughters and the women of the believers that they let down upon them their 'Jilbab' (robe which covers head, face and shoulders); so that they may be distinguished, so that they will not be troubled; Allah is Oft-Forgiving the most Merciful.” 13


Jalabib: it is a plural of Jilbab is a robe bigger than headcover and shorter than shawl. The woman puts it on her head and it covers up to her breast. Jilbab means blanket and all things which cover the body like shawl etc. And the meaning is that they should let down their robes upon them so that it covers their faces, and shoulders.

Jilbab should not be confused with Khimar (head cover) mentioned above, because Jilbab is the outer robe worn over Khimar. 14 In fact it is what is variously called chador, abayah or purdah.

The above verses guide the women as follows:

a) They should stay in their houses.
b) They should not talk is soft words with Ghair-Mahram men.
c) There should be a curtain on the door.
d) They should not show their Zinat except to their Mahram.
e) If they have to come out of their house (for any valid reason) they should cover their bodies with veil.

Also it appears from the above verses that there are two stages of Hijab:

1. Hijab of Eyes
2. Hijab of Dress

Hijab of Eyes

The believer men must cast down their gaze and believer women must cast down their gaze. None is allowed to look at the opposite sex, unless he or she is within the prohibited degree (mahram).

As the man is required to struggle for earning the livelihood, he is not told to hide his body (except to a certain extent). Still he is obliged to cast down his gaze; and not to look at Ghair-Mahram women.

Woman can easily keep herself covered and hidden because her sphere of activity is her home; therefore, she was told to cover her entire body, as well as cast down her gaze and not to look at Ghair Mahram men.

There are many ahadith which say that:

“Glance is a poisoned arrow from the arrows of Shaitan.” 15

“Beware of glancing, because it sows lust in the heart of the glances, and enough is it for a mischief.” 16

Another hadith says that the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a) said:

“Whoever fills his eyes looking at women unlawfully, Allah will raise him on the day of resurrection with nails of fire driven in (his eyes), until judgment is given concerning the whole mankind; then he will be ordered to be driven into the Fire.” 17

Numerous ahadith declare that the glance after the 1st glance is an arrow of Shaitan; and is Haram. Our boys and girls should ponder on these verses and traditions, in order to realize that wearing hijab or scarf is not a license to look freely at the opposite sex.

Hijab of Dress

We may discuss this subject under the following headings:-

Extent of Covering

The dress must cover the woman's whole body, except what has been specifically exempted. According to authentic Ahadith of both Shi'a and Sunni books, “the whole body of woman is 'awrah.”

”The woman is 'awrah.” 18

And what is the meaning of 'awrah? The genitals are called 'awrah, because it is a shame to look at them; and everything which a man hides (because of pride or shame) is called 'awrah; and the women are 'awrah.”

According to Al-Urwatu 'l-wuthqa (by Sayyid Kazim Yazdi on which are footnotes of all great Mujtahids of recent times) covering is of two kinds:

1. First: The covering which is Wajib in itself at all times and it means:

a. Hiding of 'awratain (private parts, front and behind) from all people, male and female, Mahram and Ghair-Mahram, Baligh and Ghair-Baligh.
Exception: Husband and wife may look at each other. Also a very small child is exempted from this restriction.

b. As it is haram to uncover those parts before any person, so it is haram to look at them.
c. It is wajib for a woman to cover her whole body (except face and hands up to wrists, which will be explained later) from all persons except her husband and Mahram.
d. Face and Hands:

i. If there is possibility that someone will look at her with lust, then it is Wajib to cover the hands as well.
ii. If there is no such possibility, then it is Ahwat to cover them, according to Fatwa of Sayyid Kazim Yazdi, Sayyid Muhsin Hakim Tabataba'i, Sayyid Mahmud Husaini Shahrudi, Sayyid Abul-Qasim Khui, Sayyid Muhammad Kazim Shari'atmadari, Sayyid Muhammad Rida Gulpayegani and Sayyid Hadi Milani.
iii. It is haram to look with lust at the body, face or hands of a man or woman, be he or she a Mahram or Ghair Mahram.
(Exception: Wife and Husband).

2. The second kind of covering concern the Salat.
a. Man must cover his awratain even if there is no one there to look at him. And it Ahwat to cover between navel and knees.

b. Woman must cover her whole body including hair and ears except face (from forehead upto the chin in length, and between the thumb and middle finger in width), hand (from wrist downwards) and feet up to ankles. It is Wajib to cover a portion of these excepted parts “Min Babil Muqaddamah”.

c. It is not necessary for her to cover in prayer her ornaments or make up on face.

d. If there is someone who is looking or may look with lust at her face, hands or feet during Salat, then it is Wajib for her to cover these parts also, not because of Salat, but because of the general rule mentioned earlier.19

Face and Hands

In the first verse it is said that the women display not their Zinat (adornment) except what becomes apparent of it. There is a difference of opinion about the meaning of this exception.

There is a group (both in the Sunni and the Shi'a sects) which says that 'Ma Zahar Minha' means the face and hands, which according to them a woman is allowed to keep open. Another group says that it refers to only that incidence when any part of her body adornment becomes uncovered because of uncontrollable factors such as blowing of wind, or out of necessity such as the outer clothes themselves.

Leaving aside the Sunni traditions, there are four ahadith in Shi'a books which directly or indirectly support the first interpretation.

First hadith is from Mardak bin 'Ubayd from 'a man' from Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s.) that this exception covers face, hands and feet (below ankles).

Second is from Qasim bin 'Urwah from Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s.) that it means antimony and ring (implying eyes and hands).

Third is from Sa'dan bin Muslim from Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s.) that the exception is of ring and bracelet (implying hands only).

Now 'a man' in the first hadith, Qasim bin 'Urwah in the second and Sa'dan bin Muslim in the third are “un-known” persons. Nobody knows how much reliance can be put on their words.

The fourth hadith is from 'Amr bin Shimr from Jabir al-Ansari, that Jabir said that he went with the Prophet to the house of Fatima (a.s.) and saw that she had become pale. This 'Amr bin Shimr was an ardent liar and Sunni and Shi'a 'Ulama unanimously say that he used to forge ahadith and attribute them to Jabir Ju'fi and others. Moreover, this hadith goes against the authentic ahadith which prove that Fatima (a.s.) covered herself before allowing a blind companion of the Prophet to enter her house, and that she did not want her dead body to be put on an open plank (as was the custom at that time) because people would know her height.

Anyhow, it is only an academic difference, coming to practical side, all 'Ulama (without any exception) say that if there is a danger that people will look at her face with lusty intention, then it is wajib for her to cover her face. And if there is no danger then according to one group it is wajib to cover the face, and according to the other it is Ahwat.

Now, it is for a woman to decide between Allah and herself whether such a danger exists in this enlightened society or not.


The dress must be thick enough so as not to show the colour of skin or the shape of the body.

It is necessary to remind our women folk that the purpose of hijab is not putting on any cloth but to hide the body. Transparent or thin clothes which reveal the colour of skin or shape of body are absolutely forbidden.

The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said, inter alia, in a hadith:

“….Their women will be dressed, yet naked; on their heads will be like the humps of lean camels; do curse them, for they are truly cursed.” 20

The Holy Prophet on seeing a bride in a thin dress said:

”A woman who dressed like this, is not the one who believes in the Surah an-Nur.”


The dress must not be tight to describe the curves and shape of a woman's body.

Overall Appearance

1. The purpose of the dress is to conceal 'Zinat'. It naturally follows that this cover itself should not be of a kind to attract onlookers to the woman inside. 'Zinat cannot be hidden by a dress which makes people turn their eyes towards the wearer. It is this type of dress which is forbidden in this ayat of the Qur'an: ”Bedizen not yourselves with the bedizenment of the Ignorance of Yore.”

2. Woman should not wear a dress which is generally known to be a male costume, nor vice versa. The Holy Prophet has cursed the men who act like women and the women who act like men. 21

3. It should not be a dress of fame, pride and vanity. Wearing excessively dirty or rugged cloth to demonstrate denial of 'Self' or one's rejection of the norms of society is not allowed. The showiness and pride are improper in the eyes of Islam and are rejected by Islamic ethics. The Prophet said: ”Whoever wears a dress of fame in this world, Allah will cloth him with a dress of humiliation on the Day of Resurrection, then set it on fire.”

Importance of Hijab

To see how much importance is give to Hijab in Shariat, it is enough to see how other rules and regulations are modified and changed to preserve the principle of Hijab:

1. Praying in the mosque is better than in house, and its reward goes on increasing as the gathering increases. But for the woman, the opposite is correct. There is more reward in house than in the veranda of the house.

2. Jamaat prayer: One of the basic conditions of Jamaat prayer is that there should be no barrier between Imam and Ma'mum, and between one Ma'mum and the other. But his order is not for the women. If they want to pray with Jamaat, they should pray behind a barrier.

3. Adhan and Iqamah before the daily five prayers are very much emphasized. But women are exempted from it. If they opt to say Adhan and Iqamah, they can do so, when there is no Ghair Mahram to hear their voice. Otherwise, it is not allowed. (Though they may say it in whisper).

4. It is wajib for men to recite first two rak'ahs in Fajr, Maghrib and 'Isha prayers loudly. Women are required to pray in whisper only.

5. Friday prayer is Wajib 'Aini in the presence of the Imam (a.s) or his appointed deputy and wajib takhyiri according to many 'Ulama during the Ghaibat. But women are exempted for this wajib.

6. Ghusl-e-Mayyit: it is necessary that the person giving funeral bath be a Muslim; but if a Muslim woman dies and there are male ghayr mahram Muslims and female Christians, then the Christians woman should be asked to take a bath and then give Ghusl to the Muslim woman.
Another 'Alim, Muhaqiq Hilli, does not agree with it. He says the Ghusl-e-Mayit is an 'Ibadah', and it needs intention of Qurbatan ilallah which from a Kafir in not correct; so instead of allowing Mulsim men should give her Ghusl, he says that the dead body should be buried without Ghusl.

7. There is great reward in carrying the bier of a Muslim and walking in his funeral procession. Women are exempted from it.

8. In Ihram, the woman is not allowed to cover her face, but, as Muhaqiq Thanik Karaki has written, this rule does not mean that seeing or being seen by Ghayr mahram is allowed. Ayatullah Abul Qasim Khui writes that when the woman wants to hide herself from Ghair Mahram in Ihram, she may pull down a corner of her Ihram on her face and chin; but it is ahwat that she put her hand or some other thing to keep the cloth away from her face.

9. Jihad (fighting in the way of Allah) is the most liked 'Ibadah (act of worship) but women are exempted from fighting.

So, we find that whenever any general rule comes in conflict with the rule of Hijab, it is not the Hijab which gives way. It is always the conflicting rule which is sacrificed for the principle of Hijab.

Hijab for Men

It is good to draw the attention of the audience to the requirements of dress of man also. These basic requirements have been mentioned above, and they may be enumerated as follows:-

1. Man must cover his 'Awratain at all times, from all persons except his wife or a very small child.

2. He must cover his 'Awratain in the prayer.

3. His cloth should not be tight so as to describe what it is supposed to hide.

4. It should not be thin so as to show the colour of the skin of the parts which should be covered

5. The dress should not be like a costume generally considered a female costume.

6. They should not be clothes of fame, pride of vanity.

7. They should not be made of pure silk.

8. Man is not allowed to wear even impure gold.

Questions & Answers

1. Is it allowed for a veiled girl to attend co-education Schools?

Answer: If she observes all the rules of hijab and is sure that no one would look at her with lust, then it is allowed.

2. If yes, then she would not be able to answer the questions put forward to her by the teacher, she would have to whisper?

Answer: Talking to Ghair Mahram becomes haram (forbidden) when there is a danger that the said Ghair Mahram may get lustful ideas by hearing the voices of the women.

3. Can a woman participate fully in social and economic life remaining in purdah?

Answer: Yes, provided she does not exceed the limits laid down by the Shari'ah of Islam. Remember that Islam does not allow free mingling of males and females.

4. In many societies both men and women have no work. For example, in an agricultural society, as in Tanzania, both men and women have to work in fields without which the family would starve. What would you suggest under this condition?

Answer: If you want to follow Islam you must change. In fact the notion that in an agricultural society a woman must work in the fields is based on short-sightedness. We see women working in Tanzania and then generalize it as a principle of sociology. We forgot that the countries which are feeding the world, like U.S.A., Canada, Australia etc. are agricultural countries, but their agriculture does not depend on their women working in the fields.

So, it is not agriculture, per se, which demands women's back breaking labour; it is backwardness which compels Tanzania women to work in the fields, and not its agricultural society. And we may say that Islam does not like this backwardness; it wants these ladies to return to their proper place that is home. In other words Tanzanians society will have to change by following Islamic principles if it wants to march forward.

5. Alims have been told to oppose Bid'at. At what stage should they do it? At early stage or later stages?

Answer: At every stage.

6. Muslim Women in different countries put on different types of veil. Which type of veil is in keeping with the principle of Islam?

Answer: Any type that would suit them provided the main purpose of hijab, i.e., hiding of their bodies, is served.

7. Is it not necessary for our women to go and obtain knowledge in medicine or pharmacy etc.? A woman patient would prefer to be examined by a female doctor rather than a male one. She should also express herself more freely to a female doctor. There are only two women's colleges in the world in medicine; and due to the shortage of women doctors, it is necessary for our women to go and join other colleges and therefore they have to come out of Purdah.

Answer: She should try to go to a women's college only.

8. Some ladies, without veil have kept their dignity. So why all this?

Answer: Purdah of eyes and Purdah of dress, both are compulsory for all Muslim women. The dignity of a Muslim woman in the eyes of Allah depends on Purdah; for example, see the Ayat which says, ”You are not like any other women”.

It is the distinction and dignity of Muslim woman to “stay in your houses”. If we try to separate their dignity form Purdah, then our out-look is not in conformity with God's preference.

By observing only the Purdah of Eyes, the ladies mentioned in the question are obeying only part of the divine law.

9. I believe in Islam that man and women will be treated equally tomorrow on the Day of Judgment. Now if that is the case, in view of the present inflation, why cannot a woman work and help the man in running a home?

Answer: Do not be extravagant and try to remain within the limits of the income earned by the husband. However a woman can help increasing the income by such means which do not require her to discard hijab. Equal treatment on the Day of Judgment does not mean equal burden in this life.

10. Should parents abstain from recommending Purdah to their daughters lest she is forced after marriage by her in-laws to take it down?

Answer: As far as she is with you, you are to perform your duties and responsibilities. What happens at a later stage when she is with her husband is not your responsibility. If you are afraid that after one week you will not get any food, would you start starving from today?

11. Is it respectable for a girl to have her veil removed by her in-laws?

Answer: No. It is haram. She has to refuse.

12. Purdah is wajib for a girl, but if the husband forbids her to do wajib things, what can she do then? Is it wajib to listen to her husband?

Answer: No. She is not to listen to him if he tells her to commit a sin. And the husband gets twice the sin for forcing her to remove Purdah or do any haraam thing.

13. Accepting that woman's place is at home, should a wife in western countries be allowed to work in order to help her husband whose income alone is not adequate?

Answer: I think one thing must be clarified here before answering this question. Al-Tauba baed al-hijra is one of the seven great sins. If someone is living in a place where he is free to practice his religion, and he willingly migrates to a place where he will not be free to observe religious commands, it is called Al-Tauba Baed Al-Hijra (literal meanings: To become a nomad after hijrat).

Many of our brethren had to go to western countries because of the circumstances beyond their control. They should not be blamed. But there are others who have opted for such countries just for worldly gains. They bear the great responsibility, not only of their own Akherat, but of their children and future generation also.

Now, coming to the question, the first advice to such people is not to go to such countries where they cannot meet their expenses without wife's earning. If they are there, and it is unavoidable, then the answer to question No. 9 is applicable here.

The Islamic Society

The part one was written in October 1977. Fifteen months later, came the Islamic revolution of Iran, and Islamic rule was established there on 11/1979. It was a world-shaking phenomenon which changed the direction of history throughout the world. Not only did it create religious awakening in every Muslim community, but also gave courage to down-trodden and oppressed masses everywhere and up against the exploiters and oppressors.

One the visible effect of the Islamic Revolution was to turn the direction of the youths from western culture to Islamic norms. Young Muslims boys now feel proud to keep beard and young girls have rediscovered the dignity of Islamic Hijab. And it is happening not only in the eastern countries but even in the West.

So far so good, we, of the older generation, are really happy to see this pleasant change. At the same time, it is necessary, rather essential, to guide the youths to the proper Islamic path, charting for them the full course of their spiritual journey. It will enable them to see how much they have progressed and how far they have to go yet.
Before going ahead, I should mention an important principle of Islamic ideology, and that is the inter-relation of Islamic Laws and Islamic Ethics. Islamic Laws teach the minimum a person is required to do, and transgression of which entails sins and is sometimes considered a crime. Islamic Ethics take a man from that starting point to the highest peak of spiritual perfection.
If a man is sick and weak, he first needs treatment to cure his disease; after that he needs special regimen of diet, exercise and tonics to restore his body, to bring him to the peak of his health and strength. The same principle applies in the spiritual field. Islamic laws keep man free from ills of sin and crime, wile Islamic Ethics show him the way to noble spiritual perfection and strength.

From Islam's point of view, it is not enough to merely ordain some basic laws to protect the believers from sins, and leave them at that. A weak patient, even when cured of a disease, is an easy target of further attacks unless his strength is restored. Nor has Islam merely exhorted its followers to strive to reach high moral standards, without prescribing some rules to prevent them from negative influences.

Of what use will be tonics if body is riddled with debilitating diseases. Thus Islamic Laws and Islamic Ethics are inter-linked; they are different stages of the same spiritual journey. Islam knows that spiritual level of all people is not the same. Therefore, it has chosen for us the highest ethical and spiritual ideas, at the same time it has laid down minimum requirements which one cannot transgress without exposing himself to spiritual peril.

Let us, look, for example, at the concept of charity. A Muslim is responsible for providing sustenance to his immediate family (parents, self, wife and children). It is only after meeting those obligatory expenses, that he is exhorted to spend on charity. Allah says in the Quran:

”And they ask you as to what they should spend. Say: What you can spare.”22

This is the starting point of charity. But suppose you have some food just sufficient to satisfy the hunger of your own family, and your brother's or neighbour’s family has nothing to eat. Islamic Ethics exhorts you to share that little food with them. Of course, your family will remain half-hungry; but it not better that ten people should share in that little food, rather than five eating their fill while the other five remain starving? Allah says:

“…and they prefer (other) over themselves though poverty may afflict them.” 23

This stage of charity is high commendable and is a hallmark of Islam. Yet, it is not the ultimate destination, the final goal. If we want to see the ideal charity, we will have to study the lives of the Holy Prophet and his family members (peace and mercy of Allah be on them all). Look at the verses of the Chapter 76 ad-Dahr, and you will see 'Ali, Fatimah, al-Hasan, al-Husayn and the maid Fiddah, fasting three days consecutively without taking any food and every night giving their breads to a poor man, an-orphan and a captive. Three nights they fed hungry persons and stayed for more than 72 hours without a single morsel. Allah praises them in these words:

”They fulfill vows and fear a day the evil of which shall be spreading far and wide. And they give food out of love for Him to the poor and the orphan and the captive. We only feed you for Allah's sake; we desire from you neither reward nor thanks.”24

Many orientalists, who are generally oblivious or ignorant of this inter-relation of the Islamic Laws and the Islamic Ethics, take it upon themselves to pronounce judgment on Islam, unfavourably comparing it Laws (i.e. the minimum requirements) with “the highest ethical stand points” of Christianity, and then pontificating that Islamic “moral teachings” have “shortcomings”.

And unfortunately the same disoriented outlook is inculcated in most of those students who study Islam directly or indirectly under these non-Muslim orientalists. They look at Islam not as a single living entity, but as a lifeless collection of disjointed limbs. Not surprisingly, when such people look at Fiqh (jurisprudence), they do not see it as an essential part of the whole Islam, but consider it the Alpha and Omega of Islam, the total Islam.

The Jurists' Views on Hijab

Be as it may. Now let us come back to our original topic, Hijab or Purdah. Like all the Islamic tenets, its starting point is given in the fiqh (jurisprudence), which has been described in Part One. To refresh the memory, I give here some relevant rulings of three of our great mujtahideen.

Ayatullah al-Uzma as-Sayyid Abu 'l-Qasim al-Khou'i writes:

Mas'alah 1233: It is wajib for a woman to hide her whole body (except face and the two palms) from all men (except her husband and mahrams); rather it is wajib for her to hide her face and the palms too even from mahrams (except the husband) if the mahram may look at her with sensual pleasure; rather it is wajib for her to hide her even face and palms from ghair mahram at all times and in all conditions - as a matter of ihtiyat wajib. And it is not wajib at all on a man to keep himself in purdah.

Mas'alah 1232: It is haram for a woman to look at a man (except at his face, head, neck and the feet); apparently she may look at these parts provided it is not done with sensual pleasure nor is there any danger of falling into haram, although it is ahwat not to look at these too even without sensual pleasure. 25

These rulings tell us three things:

1. About the whole body (except face and palms): It is definitely wajib to cover.
2. About face and palms (when there is a possibility of someone looking at her with sensuous desires): It is definitely wajib to cover them.
3. About face and palms (when there is no such danger): It is Ihtiyat wajib to cover.

Thus according to Ayatullah al-Uzma al-Khou'i, it is ihtiyat wajib for a woman to cover her face and hands from ghair mahram men in all conditions. Now a muqalid has the option of either following this ihtiyat or referring to the next a'lim mujtahid and then to the next, if he has given fatwa on that matter. Ayatullah al-Uzma al-Komeini is said to allow the woman not to cover their faces and hands if there was no danger of any man looking at her with lustful intention or of falling into haram. Thus many of our girls acted on that fatwa.

However, the same al-Komeini says that men are totally forbidden to look at a ghair mahram woman's face and hands. He writes:

Mas'alah 18: There is no doubt that a man is not allowed to look at the hair and body of a ghair mahram woman (except her face and palms), be it with or without sensual pleasure or danger of falling into haram. Likewise it is haram to look at her face and palms too if it is with sensual pleasure or the said danger. As for looking at her face and palms without sensual pleasure or danger of falling into haram, there are two, rather three, opinions:

1. That is allowed unconditionally.
2. That is haram unconditionally.
3. That the first glance is allowed but the second one is haram.
And the middle opinion (i.e. it is haram unconditionally) is ahwat (wajib). 26

Unfortunately, those who reported the fatwa about the women's responsibility did not think it necessary to even mention that it is obligatory for men not to look at her face and hands at all. A serious question may be asked loudly: Even if an organizer of a mixed gathering is sure of himself, how can he be sure of the others?

As for Ayatullah al-Uzma Sayed Muhammad Rida Gulpaegani, his fatwa is as follows:

Mas'alah 2442: It is haram for a man to look at the body or hair of a ghair mahram woman, whether it is with intention of sensuous enjoyment or not; likewise it is haram to look at the body or hair of a girl below nine years of age if such a glance may usually incite lusty feelings. And it is haram to look at their faces and hands with intentions of sensuous enjoyment rather the prohibition of looking at their face and hands, even without intention of sensuous enjoyment, is not without strong proof.

“Likewise, it is haram for a woman to look at the body of a ghair mahram man.” 27

This is the minimum hijab and it is the starting point. Now that our girls in East Africa and Western countries have started wearing scarf and covering their bodies, they have taken the first step on the path of Islamic Hijab. But they should realize that it is only the first step. They should follow and implement the second part of the ruling by covering their faces and hands every time there is a danger of someone looking at them with sensuous intention.

Remember, it is the definite ruling, not a matter of Ihtiyat. They should try their utmost to proceed on this path keeping the ultimate goal in their view. It is very regrettable that many preachers and speakers never present the ideology of hijab in its true perspective; and do not explain even this minimum requirement fully and completely. As a result the ladies do not realize that they at present are at the starting line of this spiritual journey and that they should strive to proceed further ahead.

Ideal Hijab

The ultimate or ideal hijab may be understood from the following traditions:

Once when the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was in his house and the mothers of the believers, Ummu Salimah and Maymunah, were with him, a blind Companion, 'Abdullah Ibn Maktum, sought permission to come to the Prophet (s.a.w.a.). The Prophet (s.a.w.a.) told the above-mentioned Mothers of the believers to hide themselves. They said: “But he is blind” The Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said: Are you too blind? Would not you see him?” 28

'Ali (a.s.) said: “Once a blind man (in company of the Holy Prophet s.a.w.a) asked permission of Fatimah (a.s.) to enter her house. She stopped him (until she covered herself). The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) said: “Why did you stop him? He cannot see you.” She said: “Although he cannot see me, but I can see him; and moreover, (if I do not hide) he might feel my scent.” The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said: “I bear witness that you are a part of me.” 29

Once the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) asked her: “What is the best for a woman?” She replied: “That she does not see a man and no man sees her.” The Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said: “Offspring, one from the other.” 30

'Ali (a.s.) said: “Once the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) asked his companions about woman what she was. They said: “She is awrah (a thing to hide).” He said: “At what time does she come nearest to her Lord?” They did not know. When Fatimah (a.s) heard (the question), she said: “She becomes nearest to her Lord when she adheres to the innermost part of her house.” The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) said: “I bear witness that you are a part of me.” 31

Also we know that she had asked 'Ali (a.s.) to put her dead-body in a covered coffin, as she did not like the idea of strangers looking at her dead body and knowing her height.

After the tragedy of Karbala, the family members of Imam Husayn (a.s.) were taken captive, and paraded in the markets of Kufa and Damascus without veil. When the Lady Zaynab (a.s.), sister of Imam Husayn (a.s.), was made to stand - together with other ladies and children before Yazid in a court attended by 700 “dignitaries” and hundreds of onlookers. Zaynab (a.s.) at one point got her chance to deliver her famous Khutbah (speech) stingingly attacking Yazid exposing his barbarism, perfidity and debauchery. One of the indictments was contained in these words:

“Is it justice, O son of the freed slaves! That you have kept your woman and slave girls in seclusion, and have paraded the daughters of the Messengers of Allah (Mercy of Allah be on him and his Progeny), their veil torn away and their faces visible to all; their faces are peered at by all, be he far or near, lowly or noble.” 32

Some people have taken it upon themselves to preach to the ladies that if they cover their bodies, keeping the faces and hands open, then they are free to mingle with gents in religious gatherings and elsewhere. But as a matter of fact, Islam does not approve mingling of ghair mhram men and women at all. After all, hijab of dress does not exempt one from hijab of eyes.

Also it has been described above that it is unanimously wajib for a woman to cover her face if there is any possibility that someone would look at her with lusty enjoyment, or if there is any danger of falling in haram. Even if an office-bearer of a Jamat, union or association is sure of himself that he would not look at any lady with lusty intentions or sensuous enjoyment, how can he be sure about other men in the gathering, especially the young folk?

There is an interesting point to ponder upon. We know that a man is obliged to cover from his navel to the knees only. Then why don't we exhort the gents to come to the community gathering (if not in the markets and streets) wearing half pants only? Why is that they are not preached against wearing shirts, full trousers, coats, ties and socks?

If the men are not told to stick to the minimum covering, why the women are exhorted to stick to the minimum or even less than minimum? Why are not they explained the complete fatwa in its true perspective? Religiously speaking, is such preaching progressive or retrogressive?

The Muslim ladies and gents must observe the hijab of the eyes as well as hijab of the dress. It would be travesty of hijab for a girl to mix freely with ghair mahram boys, while wearing a scarf or head cover.

May Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala give all of us tawfiq to observe and obey His commandments with sincerity and devotion.
• 1. Holy Quran, 33:36
• 2. Safinatu'l Bihar, vol.1,p. 63
• 3. For detailed description of this topic, please, see my book, The Islamic Family life, Revised edition published by W.O.F.I.S., Tehran, Iran. [DILP] Available on line at: http://www.al-islam.org/islamic-family-life-rizvi
• 4. Ad-Durru 'l-manthur, vol. 5 p. 42; al-Kashshaf: vol.. 3, p. 62
• 5. Safinatu 'l-Bihar, vol. 1, p. 360
• 6. Holy Quran, 24: 30-31
• 7. Holy Quran, 24: 60
• 8. Holy Quran, 33: 32-33
• 9. Holy Quran, 65: 1, See al-Kashshaf, vol. 4, p. 117
• 10. Al-Mizan, vol. 16, p. 316
• 11. Holy Quran, 33:53
• 12. Holy Quran, 33:55
• 13. Holy Quran, 33:59
• 14. Ad-Durru 'l-manthur, vol. 5, p. 42
• 15. Safinatu 'l-Bihar, vol. 2, p. 596 , Ad-Durru 'l-manthur, vol. 5, p. 42
• 16. Safinatu 'l-Bihar, vol. 2, p. 596
• 17. Ibid, p. 171
• 18. Kanzu 'l-'ummal, vol. 16, ch. 6, p. 411, hadith no. 45158
• 19. Al-'Urwatu 'l-wuthqa
• 20. Kanzu 'l-'ummal, vol. 16, ch. 6, p.401, hadith no. 45106; see also hadith no. 45013 on p. 383.
• 21. Ibid, p. 385, hadith no. 45020
• 22. Holy Quran, 2:219
• 23. Holy Quran, 59:9
• 24. Holy Quran, 76:7-8
• 25. Minhaju 's-salihin, vol. 2, p. 260
• 26. Tahriru 'l-wasilah, vol. 2, p. 243
• 27. Tawzihu 'l-masa'il, 61st ed., Muharram 1410, Qum, pp. 412-413
• 28. Ad-Durru 'l-manthur, vol. 5, p. 42
• 29. Biharu 'l-anwar, vol. 43, p. 91
• 30. Ibid, p. 84
• 31. Ibid, p. 85
• 32. al-Ihtijaj, vol. 2, p. 308