What is the Final Rule on Hijab?
Some hadiths about women with unveiled faces
Fiqh of hijab
The strongest dalil for those who argue that niqab is fard is their presentation of commentary from the tafsirs that say that the jilbab must cover the face. Since the jilbab is commanded in Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59, it would seem that covering the face must also be commanded. So why is it that many scholars say that niqab is not fard?
First, I have argued in my examination of the niqab dalils that there are several reports that show that the jilbab commanded by Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 does not necessarily have to cover the face.
Briefly, these are:
1) In Sunan Abu Dawud Book 32 #4090, Umm Salama (rAa) reports that the women looked like "they had crows on their heads" when they wore jilbabs in obedience to Surah al-Azhab ayah 59. This description seems to indicate a head-covering but not a face covering.
2) The tafsir of Tabari contains a report from ibn Abbas (rAa) that "draw their jilbabs close around themselves" means "she should draw the jilbab close to her face without covering it" and Shaykh Albani has graded this report as SAHIH.
3) Tabari himself reports that there is a difference of opinion on how to wear the jilbab. He writes in his summary, "The interpreters have differed in the determination of the style of the wearing of the jalabib which women have been directed to do. Some believe that the correct style would be to hang it in such a way that it covers their faces, and nothing of a woman’s body remains visible except one of her eyes. Others believe that women have been directed to secure their jalabib firmly on their foreheads".
These reports are not presented by those who argue that niqab is fard, since this would (obviously) weaken their case.
Nonetheless, because of the reports that they cite, there is a fairly strong case to be made that Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 does indicate the covering of the face. Doesn't this mean that niqab is fard after all?
I have written this essay to respond to this question.
Those who argue that niqab is fard sometimes give the impression that Surah an-Nur ayah 31 definitely commands niqab and that this was the opinion of all the scholars. This is just not true. In fact (as shown in A Study of Surah an-Nur ayah 31), the majority opinion of the scholars on Surah an-Nur ayah 31 is that it allows the display of the face and hands.
Basically the situation facing us is that according to the tafsirs, Surah an-Nur ayah 31 allows the display of the face and hands (those who argue that niqab is fard may even admit this when you push them on it) while Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 (according to the information presented by those who argue that niqab is fard) seems to indicate that the jilbab must cover the face.
Obviously, since these two interpretations do not agree, one or the other of the two ayat must have been superceded or abrogated.
Again, the reason that there has always been a difference of opinion on the question of face-and-hands versus niqab is precisely that of the two ayat addressed to ordinary Muslim women, one (33:59) seems to command niqab, while the other (24:31) is generally agreed to allow the display of the face and hands. Each scholar must consider various types of evidence to determine which of these two ayat is the final rule and has superceded the other.
There are several ways to determine which ayah is the final rule.
1) The ayah that is abrogated and no longer in force must have been the first of the two revealed, while the ayah that has superceded it and represents the final rule must have been the second of the two revealed. Therefore, we can study chronology to determine when Surah an-Nur ayah 31 and Surah al-Azhab ayah 59 are held to have been revealed. Whichever was revealed first has been superceded, and whichever was revealed later is the final rule.
2) We know that the Prophet (sAas) would have corrected anyone whose dress did not conform to the Shari'a, and told them the right way to dress. If he did not make any corrections to the dress of people, then we can assume that their attire was correct. Specifically, if women came in front of the Prophet (sAas) with their faces unveiled, and he did not tell them to wear niqab, then this action is halal. And if any of these incidents took place after the revelation of both Surah an-Nur ayah 31 and Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59, and the display of the face and hands was still halal, then necessarily Surah an-Nur ayah 31 must be the final rule.
3) The rules of fiqh that have been laid out for people to follow will naturally reflect the final rule. Thus we can look to see what some fuqaha have said about the rules of hijab. Again, if displaying the face and hands is considered to be halal even after the revelation of both Surah an-Nur ayah 31 and Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59, then Surah an-Nur ayah 31 must necessarily be the final rule, because it is the ayah that permits this.
In this essay I will argue that:
1) The soundest chronological information shows that Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 was revealed first, and Surah an-Nur ayah 31 after that. This would mean that Surah an-Nur ayah 31 is the final rule. And Surah an-Nur ayah 31 is held by the majority of scholars to allow the display of the face and hands.
2) There are four sahih hadiths all dated after the revelation of both Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 and Surah an-Nur ayah 31 that clearly show women in front of the Prophet (sAas) with unveiled faces and he allowed it. This must necessarily mean that Surah an-Nur ayah 31 is the final rule, since it is the ayah that allows display of the face and hands.
3) The job of fuqaha is to tell people what the final rule is and how to act on it, and many fuqaha have stated that women may display their faces and hands.
Each of these three arguments by itself may or may not be decisive and convincing, but together they provide a great weight of evidence that it is halal to display the face and hands.
Unfortunately, there is no complete, sound guide to the exact chronological order of the entire Quran. So chronology is always a matter of finding the best and most sound opinion, and can never be entirely cut-and-dried.
Keeping this in mind, we can look a little at the question of Surah an-Nur ayah 31 and Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59.
One piece of evidence that is suggestive is the following hadith. First, a little explanation. The hadith uses the word "murut" which is the plural of "mirt". The mirt is a sheet of fabric that a woman wraps around herself when she goes out. The word "mirt" (or its plural, murut) is used in several hadiths. One of them is Sahih Bukhari Book 8 #368, which reports that the believing women, wrapped in their veiling sheets (mutalaffi'at bi murut hinna) went out to salat al-fajr. Those who argue that niqab is fard have themselves cited this as a dalil for niqab(see the hadiths presented at Examining the Dalils for Niqab) on the grounds that the mirt is a type of jilbab.
If this is true, and the mirt was worn by the sahabiyat (rAa) as a jilbab, then they must have been wearing the mirt in obedience to Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59. Inshallah, I hope that everyone follows my argument. Just as we have today abayas, chadors, burqas, and many other types of garments that are used as "jilbabs" so the sahabiyat (rAa) had the mirt.
With this in mind, we can look at the hadith:
Sunan Abu Dawud Book 32 #4091. Narrated Aisha: May Allah have mercy on the early emigrant women. When the verse "That they should extend their headcoverings (khumur) to cover their bosoms" was revealed, they tore their murut and used this as khimar (ikhtamarna bi ha).
According to this hadith, when Surah an-Nur ayah 31 was revealed (that is where the quote cited in the hadith comes from), the sahabiyat (rAa) tore pieces from their murut to make khimars.
I have argued above that the mirt is a type of jilbab and is worn in obedience to Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59. If the women were already wearing murut when Surah an-Nur ayah 31 was revealed, then Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 must already have been in force when Surah an-Nur ayah 31 was revealed.
This would mean that Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 was the earlier verse to be revealed, while Surah an-Nur ayah 31 was the later verse.
So this is an indication, from the hadiths, that Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 was revealed first, and then Surah an-Nur ayah 31 was revealed after that.
Beyond this, we can look at the historical circumstances relating to Surah an-Nur and Surah al-Ahzab. The bulk of Surah al-Ahzab relates to the Battle of Khandaq, which took place in Shawwal of 5 A.H. As well, ayah 53 of this surah (which commands niqab for Ummahat al-Muminin rAa) is reported by Anas ibn Malik to have been revealed during the walima for the marriage of the Prophet (sAas) to Zaynab bint Jahsh (rAa). This marriage took place in Dhu'l-Qidah of 5 A.H. This ayah (Surah al-Ahzab ayah 53) is generally agreed by the scholars to mark the commencement of the revelation of ayat related to hijab and veiling.
Syed Abu'l-Aala Maududi in his introduction to Surah al-Ahzab has provided a detailed historical background for the surah. First, here is his commentary on the introduction of hijab or veiling:
Preliminary Commandments of Purdah: The fact that the tales invented by the enemies also became topics of conversation among the Muslims was a clear sign that the element of sensuality in society had crossed all limits. If this malady had not been there, it was not possible that minds would have paid any attention whatever to such absurd and disgusting stories about a righteous and pure person like the Holy Prophet. This was precisely the occasion when the reformative Commandments pertaining to the law of Hijab or Purdah were first enforced in the Islamic society. These reforms were introduced in this Surah and complemented a year later in Surah An-Nur, when a slander was made on the honor of Hadrat Aishah
Second, here are his notes on which verses he consideres to be part of the "law of hijab":
The discourse contained in vv. 28-35 consists of two parts...In the second part, initial steps were taken towards the social reforms whose need was being felt by the minds moulded in the Islamic pattern themselves. In this regard, reform was started from the house of the Holy Prophet himself and his wives were commanded to avoid behaving and conducting themselves in the ways of the pre Islamic days of ignorance, to remain in their houses with dignity, and to exercise great caution in their conversation with the other men. This was the beginning of the Commandments of Purdah...
In verses 53-55 the second step was taken towards social reform. It consists of the following injunctions: Restriction on the other men to visit the houses of the Holy Prophet's wives; Islamic etiquette concerning visits and invitations; the law that only the near relatives could visit the holy wives in their houses; as for the other men, they could speak to or ask them a thing from behind a curtain; the injunction that the Holy Prophet's wives were forbidden for the Muslims like their mothers; and none could marry any of them after him...
In verse 59 the third step for social reform was taken. All the Muslim women were commanded that they should come out well covered with the outer garments and covering their faces whenever they came out of their houses for a genuine need.
As you can see, Maududi clearly lists ayah 59 regarding the jilbab to have been revealed some time in or after Dhu'l-Qida 5 A.H. along with the other passages.
You can also see that Maududi holds that the jilbab covers the face, as those who argue that niqab is fard have mentioned.
Now, let's look at Surah an-Nur. The bulk of this surah deals with the slander of Aisha Umm al-Muminin (rAa), which took place after the expedition against the Bani Mustaliq (this has been narrated by her in hadiths found in both Bukhari and Muslim). The strongest opinion is that this expedition took place in Shaban of 6 A.H.
Maududi again provides detailed information on the historical background of this surah:
The consensus of opinion is that it was sent down after the Campaign against Bani al-Mustaliq and this is confirmed by vv. 11-20 that deal with the incident of the "Slander", which occurred during that Campaign...Muhammad bin Ishaq says that the Battle of the Trench took place in Shawwal 5 A. H. and the Campaign against Bani al-Mustaliq in Sha'ban 6 A. H. This opinion is supported by many authentic traditions from Hadrat Ayesha and others. According to these traditions, (1) the Commandments about purdah had been sent down in Surah Al-Ahzab before the incident of the "Slander", (2) the Holy Prophet had married Hadrat Zainab in Zil-Qa'dah 5 A. H. after the Battle of the Trench, (3) Hamnah, sister of Hadrat Zainab, had taken a leading part in spreading the "Slander", just because Hadrat Ayesha was a rival of her sister. All this evidence supports the view of Muhammad bin Ishaq...That is why Ibn Hazm, Ibn Qayyim and some other eminent scholars have held the opinion of Muhammad bin Ishaq as correct, and we also hold it to be so. Thus, we conclude that Surah Al Ahzab was sent down earlier than Surah An-Nur, which was revealed in the latter half of 6 A. H. several months after Surah Al Ahzab...
Maududi again asserts that much of Surah al-Ahzab including ayah 59 was revealed prior to Surah an-Nur:
This Surah and vv. 28-73 of Surah Al-Ahzab(of which this is the sequel) were sent down to strengthen the moral front, which at that time was the main target of the attack, vv. 28-73 of Al-Ahzab were sent down concerning the Holy Prophet's marriage with Hadrat Zainab, and on the occasion of the second attack (the "Slander" about Hadrat Aishah), Surah An-Nur was sent down to repair the cracks that had appeared in the unity of the Muslim Community. If we keep this in view during the study of the two Surahs, we shall understand the wisdom that underlies the Commandments about purdah. Allah sent the following instructions to strengthen and safeguard the moral front, and to counteract the storm of propaganda that was raised on the occasion of the marriage of Hazrat Zainab:
- The wives of the Holy Prophet were enjoined to remain within their private quarters, to avoid display of adornments and to be cautious in their talk with other persons (vv. 32, 33).
- The other Muslims were forbidden to enter the private rooms of the Holy Prophet and instructed to ask whatever they wanted from behind the curtain.(v. 53).
- A line of demarcation was drawn between the mahram and the non-mahram relatives. Only the former were allowed to enter the private rooms of those wives of the Holy Prophet with whom they were so closely related as to prohibit marriage with them.(v. 55).
- The Muslims were told that the wives of the Prophet were prohibited for them just like their own real mothers; therefore every Muslim should regard them with the purest of intentions.(vv. 53, 54).
- The Muslims were warned that they would invite the curse and scourge of Allah if they offended the Holy Prophet. Likewise it was a heinous sin to attack the honor of or slander any Muslim man or woman.(vv. 57, 58).
- All the Muslim women were enjoined to cover their faces with their sheets if and when they had to go out of their houses.(v. 59).
Finally, Maududi discusses various of the passages in Surah an-Nur that were revealed after the affair of the Slander. In his list he includes the following. These commands are taken from Surah an-Nur ayah 31:
Both men and women were instructed to lower their gaze and forbidden to cast glances or make eyes at each other. Women were enjoined to cover their heads and breasts even inside their houses. Women were forbidden to appear with make-up before other men except their servants or such relatives with whom their marriage is prohibited. They were enjoined to hide their make-ups when they went out of their houses, and even forbidden to put on jingling ornaments, while they moved out of their houses.
It might be objected at this point that Maududi held that niqab is fard, so what am I doing quoting him at such length? Especially since I am arguing that if Surah an-Nur ayah 31 was revealed later, niqab is not fard. The answer is that Maududi followed the opinion of Abdullah ibn Masud (rAa) on Surah an-Nur ayah 31 and held the minority position that this ayah commands the covering of the face and entire body. Since he held this opinion, it would make no difference which of the two ayat was revealed first, or last. This difference of opinion does not mean that the historical information is not valid, since it is actually taken from ibn Ishaq and other sources (and speaking of using valid information from those we disagree with, those who argue that niqab is fard themselves cite Shaykh Albani concerning the soundness of their hadiths, even though they know that Albani said that niqab is not fard).
I have talked about this at quite some length to make it clear exactly what Maududi says on the issue of chronology. The point is that the historical information provided by ibn Ishaq and others indicates that Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 was revealed around Dhu'l-Qidah of 5 A.H. while Surah an-Nur ayah 31 was revealed around Shaban of 6 A.H. As well, I have cited a hadith that suggests that Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 had already been revealed and was in force when Surah an-Nur ayah 31 was revealed.
If this information is correct, then Surah an-Nur ayah 31 must represent the final rule, because it was the last ayah to be revealed about hijab.
And this means that everything would depend on what Surah an-Nur ayah 31 means. This ayah mandates that around non-mahram men, everything must be covered except "what is apparent of it". There are two opinions about what this means.
1) It refers only to the outer surface of the woman's garments. This opinion goes back to Abdullah ibn Masud (rAa), and is also the opinion held by Maududi.
2) It refers to the face and the hands. The opinion has been cited on the authority of Aisha Umm al-Muminin (rAa), ibn Abbas (rAa), Anas ibn Malik (rAa), and Miswar ibn Makhrama (rAa), among the Sahaba. This is also the opinion of Imam Tabari, Imam Zamakhshari, Imam Razi, and Imam Qurtubi.
The point is, if you follow the opinion of ibn Masud (rAa), as Maududi does, then niqab is still fard. But if you follow the majority opinion then niqab is no longer fard, and the final rule is that a woman may display her face and hands.
Some hadiths about women with unveiled faces
Above I have presented some information on chronology that I believe shows that Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 was revealed before Surah an-Nur ayah 31 and that Surah an-Nur ayah 31 supercedes Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59.
It may be that this information is not considered decisive. In that case, we can look at a second kind of information. This is hadiths about women with unveiled faces.
Even if we can't agree on the order in which the two ayat were revealed, we can look at what the women dressed like after both ayat were revealed. Once both ayat had been revealed, the final rule (whatever it was) was clear and the sahabiyat (rAa) dressed accordingly. Since Surah an-Nur ayah 31 is the only ayah that allows the display of the face and hands, if women did display their faces and hands, then obviously, Surah an-Nur ayah 31 must be the final rule. If not, the women would have had to cover their faces.
Dating hadiths is sometimes almost as difficult as dating the Quran and again it is a matter of finding the best and most sound opinion and will never be entirely cut-and-dried. Keeping this in mind, here they are:
Let's start with one hadith whose date we do know. This situation took place in Dhu'l-Hijja of 10 A.H., on the Farewell Hajj:
Sahih Bukhari Book 74 #247. Narrated Abdullah bin Abbas: Al-Fadl bin Abbas rode behind the Prophet as his companion rider on the back portion of his she-camel on the Day of Nahr (on the Farewell Hajj), and Al-Fadl was a handsome man. The Prophet stopped to give people verdicts. In the meantime, a beautiful woman from the tribe of Khath'am came, asking the verdict of Allah's Apostle. Al-Fadl started looking at her as her beauty attracted him. The Prophet looked back while Al-Fadl was looking at her; so the Prophet held out his hand backwards and caught the chin of Al-Fadl and turned his face to the other side in order that he should not gaze at her. She said, "O Allah's Apostle! The obligation of performing hajj enjoined by Allah on His worshipers has become due (compulsory) on my father, who is an old man and who cannot sit firmly on the riding animal. Will it be sufficient that I perform hajj on his behalf?". He said, "Yes".
Once again, a little explanation is in order. It is agreed that women are not permitted to wear niqab when they are in ihram, as the Prophet (sAas) stated this (I always wonder why he would have done this if niqab were fard). According to those who say that niqab is fard, a woman must still draw fabric over her face whenever non-mahram men are nearby so that she remains veiled.
The point is, the woman of Khath'am was in front of the Prophet (sAas) and Fadl ibn Abbas (rAa), neither of whom is mahram for her, AND HER FACE WAS UNCOVERED. How else could Fadl (rAa) have known that she was "beautiful"? What else was he staring at? That she was in ihram is no excuse because if niqab is fard it would still be obligatory for her to veil her face around the Prophet (sAas) and Fadl (rAa). But she did not do so. She was standing there in front of at least two non-mahram men, and her face was plainly visible to them. And the Prophet (sAas) did not tell her to veil her face. He didn't say to her anything like "don't you know that you're supposed to draw your jilbab over your face around men?". All he did was turn Fadl's head away to stop him from staring.
I really can only see one way to interpret this hadith: if the Prophet (sAas) allowed the woman to have an unveiled face, then it is halal, period. Fadl's (rAa) head had to be turned away, because men have been commanded to lower their gazes (Surah an-Nur ayah 30) and he was not doing so. But there is no way that the woman of Khath'am could have gotten away with an unveiled face in front of the Prophet (sAas) unless this is halal.
And this incident took place at the end of 10 A.H., which is long after both Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 and Surah an-Nur ayah 31 had been revealed. To me, this is clear proof that the final rule is that showing the face and the hands is halal.
Besides the hadith above, there are several other hadiths that clearly describe women with unveiled faces.
Bukhari Book 54 #515. Narrated Sa'd bin Abu Waqqas: Once Umar asked leave to see Allah's Apostle, in whose company there were some Qurayshi women, who were talking to him and asking him for more financial support, raising their voices. When Umar asked permission to enter, the women quickly screened themselves (fa badirna al-hijab). When Allah's Apostle admitted Umar, Allah's Apostle was smiling. Umar said, "O Allah's Apostle! May Allah keep you happy always!". Allah's Apostle said, "I am astonished at these women here with me. As soon as they heard your voice, they quickly screened themselves". Umar said, "O Allah's Apostle! You have more right to be feared by them". Then he addressed (the women) saying, "O enemies of yourselves! Do you fear me and not Allah's Apostle?" They replied, "Yes, for you are a fearful and fierce man as compared to Allah's Apostle". On that Allah's Apostle said (to Umar), "By Him in Whose hands my life is, when satan sees you taking a path, he takes a path other than yours"
Here we see that the women were not wearing niqab (i.e., they were not screened) when they were in front of the Prophet (sAas), since they had to screen themselves when Umar (rAa) entered. How could niqab be fard then?? This hadith mentions "some Qurayshi women". The Quraysh of course were the tribe of Makkah, and a state of war existed between the Muslims and the Quraysh until Ramadan of 8 A.H., when the army of the Prophet (sAas) conquered Makkah. It was only at this time that the people of Makkah accepted Islam. Any member of the Quraysh who was a Muslim before this would necessarily have made hijra. Since Sa'd ibn Abu Waqqas (rAa) does not say "some emigrant women" but instead says "some Qurayshi women", it seems likely that the women only accepted Islam in Ramadan of 8 A.H. and therefore the incident narrated here takes place at or after that time.
If this information is accepted, then we can note that Ramadan of 8 A.H. is long after the revelation of both Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 and Surah an-Nur ayah 31. And yet the women had their faces unveiled in front of the Prophet (sAas).
To me, this is a second clear proof that it was halal for women to display their faces even after both Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 and Surah an-Nur ayah 31 had been revealed, and that this is the final rule for hijab.
And here is another hadith that describes a woman with an unveiled face:
Sahih Muslim Book 4 #1926. Jabir ibn Abdullah reported: I observed prayer with the Messenger of Allah on the Id day. He commenced with prayer before the sermon, without adhan or iqama. He then stood up leaning on Bilal and he commanded (them) to be on guard (against evil for the sake of) Allah and he exhorted (them) on obedience to Him, and he preached to the people and admonished them. He then walked on till he came to the women and preached to them and admonished them and encouraged them to give alms, for most of them are the fuel for Hell. A woman having a dark spot on her cheek stood up and said, "Why is it so, Messenger of Allah?". He said, "For you grumble often and show ingratitude to your spouses". And they began to give alms out of their ornaments such as their earrings and rings, which they threw in the cloak of Bilal.
How in the world could Jabir (rAa) have seen that the woman had "a dark spot on her cheek" unless her face was UNCOVERED? This incident has also been reported by ibn Abbas (rAa) (see for example Sahih Muslim Book 4 #1923). Inshallah I will get back to ibn Abbas (rAa) a little later.
And here's one more hadith:
Silsilat al-Ahadith as-Sahih #3472. Ibn Abbas said: A beautiful woman, from among the most beautiful of women, used to pray behind the Prophet. Some of the people used to go to pray in the first row to ensure they would not be able to see her. Others would pray in the last row of the men, and they would look from underneath their armpits to see her. Because of this act, in regard to her, Allah revealed, "Verily We know the eager among you to be first, and verily We know the eager among you to be behind" (Surah al-Hijr ayah 24)
this hadith is found in ibn Majah, Abu Dawud, Tayalisi, Baihaqi, Ahmad, Tirmidhi, and Nasai and it is judged SAHIH by Albani
This hadith only makes sense if the woman's face was UNCOVERED. Why did Allah SWT not reveal a command for niqab, if niqab is fard to prevent such situations? Instead, the Prophet (sAas) merely admonished the men, who are commanded to lower their gazes in Surah an-Nur ayah 30 and were not doing so.
At this point, I would like to mention some information about ibn Abbas (rAa). According to Sahih Bukhari Book 74 #313, ibn Abbas (rAa) had just reached puberty at the time that the Prophet (sAas) died. According to the biographer ibn Hajar in al-Isabah, ibn Abbas (rAa) was born in the year three before the hijra. This would make him thirteen or fourteen at the death of the Prophet (sAas) in 11 A.H., which accords with his own report. Now, ibn Abbas (rAa) is reporting above on something that happened while he was attending prayer in the masjid of the Prophet (sAas). If we assume that ibn Abbas (rAa) did not attend prayer in the masjid until he reached puberty, then this incident would have to take place in 10 A.H. or later. Even if we allow that ibn Abbas (rAa) began attending prayer in the masjid when he was only ten years old, this would still be in 7 A.H. or later. And this also applies to the hadith about the woman with a dark spot on her cheek mentioned above, since that incident took place at the Eid salat.
If ibn Abbas (rAa) was attending prayers in the masjid, he must have been at least ten years old, and more likely was at least thirteen years old. If he was ten years old, then the incidents must have taken place in or after 7 A.H. If he was thirteen years old, then the incidents must have taken place in or after 10 A.H.
In either case, this is definitely after the revelation of both Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 and Surah an-Nur ayah 31. In both hadiths (Eid salat and the beautiful woman) women are clearly described with UNCOVERED FACES.
To conclude, we have four hadiths that describe women with uncovered faces and that all took place in or after 7 A.H. - after the revelation of both Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 and Surah an-Nur ayah 31. If this information is accepted, then this provides further proof that Surah an-Nur ayah 31 is the final rule, because it is the only ayah that permits the display of the face and hands.
Fiqh of hijab
The tafsirs provide all kinds of useful information on what was revealed in what circumstances, but when you want to know what the final rule is and what to do, you look in a fiqh manual.
As I have said above, there are two opinions among the fuqaha on the extent of hijab. As I have argued above, the reason for this is that Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 and Surah an-Nur ayah 31 seem to give conflicting information about the extent of hijab. The former ayah is generally understood to mandate covering the face, while the latter ayah is generally agreed to allow women to display their faces and hands. Some fuqaha may hold that Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 is the final rule (this seems to be the position of Imam ibn Taimiya). Some fuqaha may hold that Surah an-Nur ayah 31 is the final rule, but follow the minority position that it does mandate niqab (this seems to be the position of Syed Maududi). And some fuqaha may hold that Surah an-Nur ayah 31 is the final rule and they also follow the majority position that it allows the display of the face and hands.
The fuqaha who hold the third position (i.e., that Surah an-Nur allows the display of the face and hands, and is the final rule) will conclude that women may display their faces and hands.
Those who argue that niqab is fard usually attempt to claim that there are only a few fuqaha who have held the face-and-hands position. I do not believe this to be true.
It is well-known that Imam Abu Hanifa held that women may display their faces and their hands. In fact, he even held that women could display their feet, which is not a position held by any of the other madhhabs, and not by all Hanafi scholars. Imam ibn Taimiya has mentioned the face-hands-and-feet opinion of Imam Abu Hanifa in his Fatawa an-Nisa (p. 36); it is also mentioned in Bidayat al-Mujtahid wa Nihayat al-Muqtasid by Imam ibn Rushd, which is a guide to the differences of opinion in fiqh; and it has been cited in the major Hanafi fiqh guide Hidayat al-Muhtadi Sharh Bidayat al-Mubtadi (commonly referred to as "al-Hidayah") by Burhan al-Din Abul-Hasan `Ali ibn `Abdul-Jalil Abu Bakr al-Marghinani al-Rushdani al-Hanafi. The face-and-hands-alone opinion has been mentioned by the Hanafi scholar Abu Bakr al-Jassas in Ahkam al-Qur'an and attributed to Imam Abu Hanifa by Ahmad ibn Naqib in his Umdat as-Salik. It is really surprising to me that anybody would claim that Imam Abu Hanifa did not hold this opinion. The opinions of some recent Hanafi scholars that niqab is fard do not change the opinion of Imam Abu Hanifa or of the Hanafi madhhab historically.
A typical presentation of the rules of dress (including hijab) based on the traditional sources of Hanafi fiqh can be found at: Regulations of Clothing. It is clear from reading this that the position of the Hanafi madhhab is that niqab is mustahabb (according to some scholars, wajib in times of fitna) but not fard.
I have not found a lot of information about the Maliki madhhab, but Imam ibn Rushd has attributed the face-and-hands position to the Malikis in Bidayat al-Mujtahid and this is generally agreed to be the position of the Maliki madhhab (as is mentioned in the essay linked above). As well, the Maliki scholar Imam Qurtubi wrote, "Since the normal case is that a woman’s face and hands are revealed by the force of habit and for worship, as this is required in salat and hajj, then it is appropriate to say that the exemption applies to these".
There is some confusion about the position of the Shafi'i madhhab. Imam al-Shafi` himself in his book Al-Umm wrote, "All
There is also confusion about the position of the Hanbali madhhab. Two opinions are recorded from Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. According to one opinion, a woman may display her face (there is a dispute about the hands), while according to the other opinion niqab is fard. There are in fact Hanbali scholars who have supported the face-and-hands opinion, such as Imam ibn Qudama, who wrote in his fiqh guide al-Mughni, "[I prefer this opinion] because necessity demands that the face should be uncovered for buying and selling, and the hands should be uncovered for giving and taking".
From this we can see that the position of the majority of Hanafi and Maliki scholars is that the face and hands may be displayed, and that even among the Shafi'i and Hanbali scholars, there are some who have held this opinion as well.
Finally, we should consider two statements that have been made about the class of fuqaha as a whole.
First is Imam ibn Rushd in Bidayat al-Mujtahid, "As for the third issue - that is, the extent to which a woman should cover herself - is concerned, most of the scholars are of the opinion that her whole body, except her face and hands, should be covered".
Second is Imam Qurtubi in his tafsir of Surah al-Ahzab ayah 53, "The consensus of the Muslims is that all of a woman (is awra) except her face and hands, but some disagree about these two".
According to both Imam ibn Rushd and Imam Qurtubi the majority position in their time (1100s C.E. for Imam ibn Rushd and 1200s C.E. for Imam Qurtubi) was that the face and the hands may be displayed.
I am satisfied that Imam ibn Rushd and Imam Qurtubi are telling the truth, and that when you consider that it means nearly all Hanafis and Malikis, the early Shafi'is, and some Hanbalis there has indeed been a majority of fuqaha who allow the display of the face and hands. I am also satisfied that a large number of very distinguished scholars have indeed allowed the display of the face and hands and that this is a valid position.
And again, the fuqaha are in the business of stating the final rule that is to be followed, so if they say that the face and hands may be displayed, then this in their judgment is the final rule.
In this essay I have argued that:
1) The soundest opinion on chronology is that Surah an-Nur ayah 31 was the last hijab ayah to be revealed and as such represents the final rule.
2) There are a number of sahih hadiths dated after the revelation of both Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 and Surah an-Nur ayah 31 that show women coming before the Prophet (sAas) with unveiled faces, and he allowed it. Surely, what the Prophet (sAas) has allowed is the final rule of what is halal for Muslims.
3) There are many fuqaha over the centuries who have looked at all of the evidence and concluded that the final rule on hijab is that the face and hands may be displayed and this is a valid opinion for a Muslim sister to follow.
When I consider all three sets of information, I feel that the face-and-hands opinion is not only valid but is in fact the stronger opinion, because the Prophet (sAas) has allowed it and because (according to Imam ibn Rushd and Imam Qurtubi) a majority of scholars historically have held this opinion.
In my essay Evidences for Jilbab I have discussed what the Shari'a and the scholars say about the jilbab. Broadly speaking, the four criteria for a proper jilbab are:
1) It is an outergarment, an extra layer, something worn over the ordinary clothes.
2) It is made of thick, opaque fabric so that no one can see what is beneath it.
3) It is loose in cut so that it does not reveal the contours of the figure.
4) It covers everything that must be covered around non-mahram men.
What I have been discussing in this particular essay is: what is the final rule on what "everything that must be covered around non-mahram men" means? According to the tafsirs, at the time that Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 was revealed, the meaning of "everything that must be covered around non-mahram men" may have been everything except the eyes to see the way. I have argued that the final rule on "everything that must be covered around non-mahram men" is everything except the face and hands.
The point is, it is not that Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 has been abrogated and sisters no longer have to wear the jilbab, but rather that the understanding of the nature of the jilbab has been superceded. The jilbab is still fard, but it no longer needs to cover the face. The essay Evidences for Jilbab contains many dalils and opinions of scholars to show that the jilbab is still fard but no longer needs to cover the face.