Bismillahi ar-Rahman ar-Rahim

Examining the Dalils for Niqab


The dalils for niqab are presented here (they are taken from Niqaab in Light of Quran and Sahih Hadith), displayed in red. My comments have been interleaved and appear in black. Some additional points are made at the end of the niqab dalils.

The Niqaab in light of the Holy Quran and Sahih Hadith

Examining the Quran

The text presented here as the Quran does not represent a very literal translation of the Quran. Instead, the translator has inserted his commentary in parenthetical notes. This is very unfortunate, as it gives a misleading idea of what the Arabic text of the Quran revealed by Allah SWT actually says. Moreover, this could not be done in the Arabic text - can you imagine inserting your own words in the Quran?!

From the Quran.....(This tafseer is Agreed upon by Ibn Kathir, Al-Qurtabi and At-Tabari)

The Noble Qur'an ........

A) Surah Al-Ahzaab, Verse #59

‘O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks ("Jalabib") veils all over their bodies (screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way Tafseer Al-Qurtabi) that is most convenient that they should be known (as such) and not molested: and Allah is Oft-Forgiving Most Merciful."

The Arabic text of this ayah is, "Ya ayyuha an-Nabi, qul li azwajika wa banatika wa nisa al-muminin yudnina alayhinna min jalabib hinna; dhalika adna an yu'rafna fa laa yu'dhayn. Wa kana Allahu Ghafur ar-Rahim", which literally translates as, "O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (jalabib) close around themselves; that is better that they are recognized and not annoyed. And God is Most Forgiving, Merciful". There are actually a number of opinions given in the tafsir about what "draw their jalabib close around themselves" means. Among these are, "she should bring the jilbab close to her face without covering it" (reported by ibn Abbas in the tafsir of Tabari, and graded as sahih by Shaykh Albani), and, "Others believe that the women have been directed to secure their jalabib firmly on their foreheads" (commentary of Tabari in his tafsir of this ayah). Thus we can see that it is a valid opinion that the jilbab does not have to cover the face.

Note: Because there is a very strong case to be made that the jilbab at the time of revelation of this ayah did cover the face, I have also written an essay called What is the Final Rule on Hijab? which accepts that Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 does command covering the face but argues that niqab is still not fard.

B) Surah An-Nur, Verses #30 and #31

‘And Say to the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent (like both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer palms of hands or one eye or dress like veil, gloves, head cover, apron), and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms)

The "translation" of this ayah is particularly poor. The Arabic text is, "Wa qul li al-muminat yaghdudna min absarihinna wa yahfazna furujahunna wa laa yubdina zenatahunna illa maa zahara min haa wal-yadribna bi khumurihinna alaa juyub hinna". This is properly translated as, "And say to the faithful women to lower their gazes, and to guard their private parts, and not to display their adornment except what is apparent of it, and to extend their khumur to cover their juyub". First, the word "juyub". This is the plural of the word "jayb", which means "bosom". The word is used in Arabic to refer to the breastpocket of a shirt, and to a certain type of mathematical curve. As well, Surah al-Qasas ayah 32 describes Moses as putting his hand in his "jayb", and this means his breast, not his "body, face, neck and bosom"!!! Whoever has translated "juyub" as "bodies, faces, necks, and bosoms" does not understand the Arabic language very well! To read about the mathematics, see The Origin of the Word Sine. To see an image of this curve, click here. Let's just say that, for most people, the image should remove any doubt over what part of a woman's body a "jayb" is! So I'm sorry whoever wrote this, "juyub" means "bosoms". There is no way to get the meaning of "bodies" or "faces" out of it, period. There is also the question of the meaning of "except what is apparent of it". The interpretation inserted here basically is that it refers to the outer surface of the garments that a woman customarily wears. This is the opinion of the Sahabi, ibn Masud (rAa). But it is hardly the only opinion! Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi has provided an excellent survey of the opinions on this subject, which can be found in his book The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam. A summary is that of the Sahaba, Aisha Umm al-Muminin (rAa), ibn Abbas (rAa), Anas ibn Malik (rAa), and Miswar ibn Makhrama (rAa), and of the Tabi'un, Sa'id ibn Jubair (rAa), Ata (rAa), Qatada (rAa), al-Dahhak (rAa), Mujahid (rAa), and al-Hasan (rAa) all said that the meaning of "what is apparent of it" is "the face and hands". This is in fact the majority position on the meaning of this verse. The commentators on the Quran Tabari, Razi, Zamakhshari, and Qurtubi have all taken this position. Clearly then, this ayah of the Quran has not been taken by most scholars to command niqab.

Note: I have written an essay on this ayah, which is at A Study of Surah an-Nur ayah 31.

Examining the hadiths

Here are some hadiths that have been presented claiming that they prove niqab is fard. Each of the hadiths is analyzed in turn.

From the Hadith.....

A) Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Hadith # 282

Narrated Safiya bint Shaiba (Radhiallaahu anha) "Aisha (Radhiallaahu anha) used to say: "When (the Verse): "They should draw their veils over their necks and bosoms," was revealed, (the ladies) cut their waist sheets at the edges and covered their faces with the cut pieces.

The Arabic text that the translator has rendered "covered their faces with the cut pieces" is "ikhtamarna bi ha" or "made khimars from it". The hadith therefore means that the women tore their sheets and made khimars from the cut pieces. The word "faces" does not even appear in the Arabic. So far all we know is that when Surah an-Nur ayah 31 commanded women to wear the khimar, they did so. This hadith does not indicate by itself what that khimar is.

B) Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume 1, Book 8, Hadith # 368

Narrated 'Aisha (Radhiallaahu anha) Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) used to offer the Fajr prayer and some believing women covered with their veiling sheets used to attend the Fajr prayer with him and then they would return to their homes unrecognized . Shaikh Ibn Uthaimin in tafseer of this hadith explains "This hadith makes it clear that the Islamic dress is concealing of the entire body as explained in this hadith. Only with the complete cover including the face and hands can a woman not be recognized. This was the understanding and practice of the Sahaba and they were the best of group, the noblest in the sight of Allah (swt) with the most complete Imaan and noblest of characters. so if the practice of the women of the sahaba was to wear the complete veil then how can we deviate from their path? (Ibn Uthaimin in the book "Hijaab" page #12 and 13)

The same story of the women going out to salat al-fajr is told in several other hadiths in Bukhari and Muslim. In these, the Arabic text says clearly that they were "unrecognized due to the darkness". It does not say that they were unrecognized due to their veiling. In fact we can't tell just from this hadith whether or not the veiling sheets (murut) cover the faces. To see the Arabic text of the hadith with the indicated phrase underlined, click here. Also, as noted above, there are some opinions that the jilbab does not have to cover the face.

C) Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume 1, Book 4, Hadith # 148

Narrated 'Aisha (Radhiallaahu anha): The wives of Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) used to go to Al-Manasi, a vast open place (near Baqia at Medina) to answer the call of nature at night. 'Umar used to say to the Prophet "Let your wives be veiled," but Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) did not do so. One night Sauda bint Zam'a the wife of the Prophet went out at 'Isha' time and she was a tall lady. 'Umar addressed her and said, "I have recognized you, O Sauda." He said so, as he desired eagerly that the verses of Al-Hijab (the observing of veils by the Muslim women) may be revealed. So Allah revealed the verses of "Al-Hijab" (A complete body cover excluding the eyes).

The "verse of al-hijab" mentioned in this hadith is Surah al-Ahzab ayah 53, which is addressed to Ummahat al-Muminin (rAa). The command does not apply to ordinary Muslim women. The claim that this ayah commands "the observing of veils by Muslim women" has been inserted by the translator and does not appear in the Arabic text.

D) Tirmidhi with a SAHIH chain reports...

"Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) said “All of a woman is ‘awrah.” (Shaikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid quotes this hadith narrated by Tirmidhi with a sahih isnaad and says this is a direct hadith from Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam ) and has made it clear that a woman must cover everything including the face and hands!)

The issue of the awra is in fact quite complicated. A woman has two kinds of awra. The first, which is sometimes called the "hard awra", is from the upper chest to the knee or below. This cannot be seen by anybody but her husband. The second kind of awra is sometimes called the "soft awra", and it is everything that cannot be seen by non-mahram men. Obviously, the Tirmidhi hadith cannot be talking about the hard awra, or it would mean that a woman would have to wear niqab even around her brothers and father because they cannot see her hard awra. Instead, the hadith must be taken to mean that the woman is "soft awra". It is interesting to see what some notable scholars have said about the extent of the soft awra. Imam ibn Qudama, who wrote the definitive book of Hanbali fiqh, the Mughni, said that, "the face and hands constitute a specific exemption to the general meaning of this hadith". Imam Tabari, who wrote a great tafsir of the Quran, said, "The strongest and most accurate view is that which says the exemption [in 24:31 for "what is apparent thereof"] refers to the face and the hands up to the wrist. Also included are kohl, rings, bracelets, and makeup. We say that this is the strongest and most accurate opinion because all scholars are unanimous that everyone who needs to pray must cover the awra in his or her prayer. A woman may reveal the face and the hands in her prayer, while she must cover the rest of her body. What is not awra is not haram to be revealed". Fakhr ad-Din Razi, who also wrote a great tafsir of the Quran, said, "Since the showing of the face and hands is necessary, the jurists had no choice but to agree that they are not awra". Here we have three great scholars saying that the face and the hands are not awra and that they consitute "a specific exemption to the general meaning of this hadith".

E) Abu Dawood Book 14, Hadith # 2482

Narrated Thabit ibn Qays (Radhiallaahu anhu): A woman called Umm Khallad came to the Prophet (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) while she was veiled. She was searching for her son who had been killed (in the battle) Some of the Companions of the Prophet (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) said to her: You have come here asking for your son while veiling your face? She said: If I am afflicted with the loss of my son, I shall not suffer the loss of my modesty. Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) said: You will get the reward of two martyrs for your son. She asked: Why is that so, oh Prophet of Allah? He replied: Because the people of the Book have killed him.

This hadith does indeed show Umm Khallad (rAa) wearing niqab, but it is interesting that the Sahaba (rAa) marveled at her doing so. Would they have been marveling if she just did what was commanded for her? More generally, we can say that this hadith proves that women did wear niqab, but they may have been doing so because it is mustahabb, so there needs to be some other evidence to make it fard.

F) Abu Dawood Book 32, Hadith # 4090

Narrated Umm Salamah, Ummul Mu'minin (Radhiallaahu anha): When the verse "That they should cast their outer garments over their persons" was revealed, the women of Ansar came out as if they had crows over their heads by wearing outer garments.

In this hadith the women came out in their new jilbabs. The description "like they had crows on their heads" does not necessarily mean that their faces were covered. All it sounds like is that their heads were covered. This is another opinion (in addition to the ones listed under Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 above) that the jilbab does not necessarily have to cover the face.

G) Abu Dawood Book 32, Hadith # 4091

Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin (Radhiallaahu anha) "May Allah have mercy on the early immigrant women. When the verse "That they should draw their veils over their bosoms" was revealed, they tore their thick outer garments and made veils from them. Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalanee, who is known as Ameer Al-Mu'mineen in the field of Hadith, said that the phrase, "covered themselves", in the above Hadith means that they "covered their faces". [Fath Al-Bari].

This is the same as the hadith in part A above, except that the translator has rendered the Arabic more accurately as "made veils". As stated above, the text of this hadith does not mention anything about covering the face. Ibn Hajar had to read this in to make it say that.

H) Imaam Malik's MUWATTA Book 20 Hadith # 20.5.16

Yahya related to me from Malik from Hisham ibn Urwa that Fatima bint al-Mundhir (Radhiallaahu anha) said, "We used to veil our faces when we were in Ihram in the company of Asma bint Abi Bakr As-Siddiq (Radhiallaahu anha). "This again proves that not only the wives of Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) wore the Niqaab and that even though in Ihram women are not supposed to wear Niqaab but if men are there they still have to cover the face.

The issue of niqab and ihram is in fact one of the big controversies, and a problem for those who say that niqab is fard. It is very clear that the Prophet (sAas) said that a woman in ihram must not wear either a niqab or gloves. Nobody has ever given a convincing explanation of why in the world the Prophet (sAas) said this in the first place if it were fard to cover the face. This is especially true because the obligatory duties of the hajj must be done in public, and in general there are very large crowds around. If a woman is supposed to cover her face anyway around non-mahram men, she really has to cover it at all times on the hajj and that is just the same as wearing niqab. Instead, the Prophet (sAas) has clearly commanded that a woman should have an uncovered face in public while in ihram; that's the only thing that makes sense. As for Asma (rAa), it appears that she followed the course of Ummahat al-Muminin (rAa), which is discussed in the next hadith. That she did so does not prove that doing so is fard, merely that it is halal.

I) Abu Dawood Book 10, Hadith # 1829

Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin: (Radhiallaahu anha) who said, "The riders would pass us while we were with the Messenger of Allah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam). When they got close to us, we would draw our outer cloak from our heads over our faces. When they passed by, we would uncover our faces.

Recorded by Ahmad, Abu Dawood and Ibn Majah, Narrated 'Aisha. [In his work Jilbab al-Marah al-Muslimah, al-Albani states (p. 108) that it is hasan due to corroborating evidence. Also, in a narration from Asma {who was not the wife of Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam)}, Asma also covered her face at all times in front of men.] Shaikh Ibn Uthaimin in his tafseer of this hadith explains "This hadith indicates the compulsion of the concealing of the faces as an order of Shariah, because during the Ihram it is "wajib" (compulsory) NOT to wear the Niqaab. So if it was only mustahab (recommended) to cover the face then Aisha and Asma (Radhiallaahu anha) would have taken the wajib over the mustahab. It is well known by the Ullima that a wajib can only be left because of something that is also wajib or fardh. So Aisha and Asma (Radhiallaahu anha) covering the face even in Ihram in the presence of strange (ghairMahraam) men shows that they understood this to be an act that was wajib or fardh or they would not have covered the face in Ihraam.

Here is the description of Aisha Umm al-Muminin (rAa) in ihram. When it comes to Ummahat al-Muminin (rAa) it is fard for them to wear niqab (from Surah al-Ahzab ayah 53). Thus when presented with the Prophet's (sAas) command for bare faces, they found the best compromise solution they could, which was to cover their faces only when non-mahram men were around, and then to uncover them again when the men went away. It is one thing for the Prophet (sAas) to ask nine women (i.e., his wives) to do this, another thing for him to demand that all women at all times through history must do so. Why not just keep silent and let the women wear their niqabs? Also note that the author claims that the women disobeyed the command of the Prophet (sAas) in order to obey the Quran - since when would the Prophet (sAas) be giving a command that contradicts the Quran?????? It is strange how this glaring contradiction escapes those who want to argue that niqab is fard. If the Prophet (sAas) told women to unveil their faces in public, clearly this is a halal action, period.

J) Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume 7, Book 72, Hadith # 715

Narrated 'Ikrima (Radhiallaahu anhu) narrates "Rifa'a divorced his wife whereupon 'AbdurRahman bin Az-Zubair Al-Qurazi married her. 'Aisha said that the lady (came), wearing a green veil." It is a very long hadith but the point is the women of Sahaba wore the full veil.

The wife of Rifa'a was wearing a green khimar. This is the same point that has been made above - this hadith merely shows a woman obeying the command in Surah an-Nur ayah 31 to wear a khimar, it does not say anything in itself to indicate that the khimar must cover the face. It is interesting to look at the full text of this hadith, which can be found here. After having described the wife of Rifa'a as wearing a green khimar, Aisha (rAa) says to the Prophet (sAas) "Look! Her skin is as green as her clothes". If the woman were wearing "the full veil" how could any of her skin be visible for the Prophet (sAas) to look at? In any case, at most her face or her hands could be showing. It seems most likely that it was her face that was green. If this is true, then the khimar definitely does not cover the face.

K) Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume 1, Book 8, Hadith # 347

Narrated Um 'Atiya (Radhiallaahu anha) We were ordered (by Rasulullah '(Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) to bring out our menstruating women and veiled women in the religious gatherings and invocation of Muslims on the two 'Eid festivals. These menstruating women were to keep away from their Musalla. A woman asked, "O Allah's Apostle ' What about one who does not have a veil (the veil is the complete cover with only one eye or two eyes showing)?" He said, "Let her share the veil of her companion." Shaikh Ibn Uthaimin in tafseer of this hadith explained "This hadith proves that the general norm amongst the women of the Sahaba (Radhiallaahu anhuma) was that no woman would go out of her home without a cloak, fully concealed and if she did not posses a veil, then it was not possible for her to go out. it was for this reason that when Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) ordered them to go to the Place for Eid Salah, they mentioned this hindrance. As a result Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) said that someone should lend her a veil, but did not say they could go out without it. If Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) did not allow women to go to a place like the Eid Salah, which has been ordered by Shariah for women and men alike, then how can people let women to out to market places and shopping centers without where there is open intermingling of the sexes, without a veil. (by Shaikh Ibn Uthaimin in the book "Hijaab" page # 11)

This hadith concerns the wearing of the jilbab. The author of the article has stated correctly that the hadith proves that wearing the jilbab is indeed fard (which for some reason many sisters deny; see Evidences for Jilbab for more proof it is fard) but it does not in fact describe anywhere in it whether or not the jilbab is to cover the face. This is the same point made previously about the khimar and I have already said that there are some opinions that the jilbab does not necessarily have to cover the face.

L) Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume 8, Book 76, Hadith # 572

In the end of this very long hadith it quotes Anas (Radhiallaahu anho) rates from Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) "and if one of the women of Paradise looked at the earth, she would fill the whole space between them (the earth and the heaven) with light, and would fill whatever is in between them, with perfume, and the veil of her face is better than the whole world and whatever is in it." This show that even the women of Junnah have veils and the word veil is what covers the face (niqaab).

Here the women of Jannah (i.e., the houris) are wearing niqabs. I really have no idea why this is included as a dalil. That the houris wear niqab does not say anything about whether it is fard for human women to do so, although it does indicate that niqab is mustahabb and characteristic of the best of women. Note that one does not usually imagine the houris as niqabis!!!

M) Abu Dawood Book 33, Hadith # 4154, Agreed upon by Nasai

Aisha(Radhiallaahu anha) narrates that on one occasion a female Muslim wanted to give a letter to the Holy Prophet (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam), the letter was delivered to the Holy Prophet (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) from behind a curtain.

Note: Quoted in the famous book Mishkaat. Here the Mufasereen of hadith have explained that the hadith where women came up to Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) face to face were before the ayah "And when you ask (his wives) for anything you want, ask them from behind a screen, that is purer for your hearts and for their hearts." (Surah AlaAhzab ayah # 53) And this hadith proves this order is for the whole Ummah not just for the wives of Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam)!

It is very interesting to look up the complete text of this hadith, which can be found here. In the last part of it, the Prophet (sAas) commands the woman to wear henna on her hands in order to distinguish them from men's hands. I wonder why this part of the hadith has not been quoted! It seems to be clear proof that women can display their hands in public. In any case, the hadith merely shows that it is halal for all women to use the screen, not that it is fard.

N) Abu Dawood Book 2, Hadith # 0641

Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu'minin (Radhiallaahu anha) "Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) said "Allah does not accept the prayer of a woman who has reached puberty unless she wears a veil."

Here women are commanded to wear a khimar for salat, even when alone. Now it gets interesting. The scholars are unanimous that a woman in private salat may uncover her face and her hands (this has been stated above by Imam Tabari). The khimar must in fact be a headscarf and not a niqab. Because if the khimar was a niqab, and the Prophet (sAas) has commanded women to wear khimars in salat, then they would of necessity be covering their faces in salat, but they do not do so. And if the khimar is only a headscarf, then we can go back to the hadith mentioned above (A and G) and say that when Surah an-Nur ayah 31 was revealed the women tore their sheets and made headscarves not niqabs out of the cut pieces. The wife of Rifa'a was wearing a green headscarf, not "the full veil", which makes it clear why her face was visible (see hadith J above).

O) Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume 9, Book 89, Hadith # 293

Narrated 'Aisha (Radhiallaahu anha) Utba bin Abi Waqqas said to his brother Sa'd bin Abi Waqqas, "The son of the slave girl of Zam'a is from me, so take him into your custody." So in the year of Conquest of Mecca, Sa'd took him and said. (This is) my brother's son whom my brother has asked me to take into my custody." 'Abd bin Zam'a got up before him and said, (He is) my brother and the son of the slave girl of my father, and was born on my father's bed." So they both submitted their case before Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam). Sa'd said, "O Allah's Apostle! This boy is the son of my brother and he entrusted him to me." 'Abd bin Zam'a said, "This boy is my brother and the son of the slave girl of my father, and was born on the bed of my father." Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) said, "The boy is for you, O 'Abd bin Zam'a!" Then Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) further said, "The child is for the owner of the bed, and the stone is for the adulterer," Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) then said to Sauda bint Zam'a, "Veil (screen) yourself before him," when he saw the child's resemblance to 'Utba. The boy did not see her again till he met Allah. note: This hadith proves Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) did infact order the veil to be observed.

Sawda bint Zam'a (rAa) is one of the wives of the Prophet (sAas)!!! That the Prophet (sAas) commanded her to use the screen only confirms that Ummahat al-Muminin (rAa) did so in obedience to Surah al-Ahzab ayah 53. This hadith does not say anything about ordinary Muslim women.

P) Sahih Al-Bukhari Volume 7, Book 65, Hadith # 375

Narrated Anas (Radhiallaahu anhu) I know (about) the Hijab (the order of veiling of women) more than anybody else. Ubai bin Ka'b used to ask me about it. Allah's Apostle became the bridegroom of Zainab bint Jahsh whom he married at Medina. After the sun had risen high in the sky, the Prophet invited the people to a meal. Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) remained sitting and some people remained sitting with him after the other guests had left. Then Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) got up and went away, and I too, followed him till he reached the door of 'Aisha's room. Then he thought that the people must have left the place by then, so he returned and I also returned with him. Behold, the people were still sitting at their places. So he went back again for the second time, and I went along with him too. When we reached the door of 'Aisha's room, he returned and I also returned with him to see that the people had left. Thereupon Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) hung a curtain between me and him and the Verse regarding the order for (veiling of women) Hijab was revealed.

This is also about Surah al-Ahzab ayah 53. The story is also told in Bukhari Book 60 #315, in which the specific ayah of the Quran Surah al-Ahzab ayah 53 is quoted in the text of the hadith. This ayah applies only to Ummahat al-Muminin (rAa). The phrase "veiling order for women" does not appear in the Arabic text.

Q) Abu Dawood Book 32, hadith # 4100

Narrated Umm Salamah, Ummul Mu'minin (Radhiallaahu anha): I was with Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) while Maymunah was with him. Then Ibn Umm Maktum came. This happened when we were ordered to observe veil. Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) said: Observe veil from him. We asked: oh Rasulullah! is he not blind? He can neither see us nor recognize us. Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) said: Are both of you blind? Do you not see him?

This hadith is even more interesting when you look at the full text of it, which can be found here. In this part, the hadith collector Abu Dawud comments that there is also a hadith that Fatima bint Qays (rAa) spent her iddat with ibn Umm Maktum (rAa). Abu Dawud concludes that Ummahat al-Muminin (rAa) must have a different rule than ordinary Muslim women like Fatima (rAa). This is certainly true. It is Surah al-Ahzab ayah 53 that is the special rule for Ummahat al-Muminin (rAa). I wonder why Abu Dawud's commentary on this hadith has not been quoted!



To summarize, 17 hadiths have been presented as dalils. Of these 4 (mentioned in points A, G, J, and N) refer to the khimar and it has been proved that the khimar is not a niqab. Therefore, these 4 hadiths are not even about niqab at all.

Note: I have made a page giving a more detailed explanation of why the khimar is not a niqab. See What is the Khimar?. This essay contains some of the same information found in my essay A Study of Surah an-Nur ayah 31 but focuses on the single issue of the khimar.

Of the 13 hadiths that remain after this, another 5 hadiths (mentioned in points C, I, O, P, and Q) are only about Ummahat al-Muminin (rAa) and it has been proved that the screen commanded for Ummahat al-Muminin (rAa) in Surah al-Ahzab ayah 53 is not an obligation for ordinary Muslim women. So these hadiths do not say anything about niqab for ordinary Muslim women, either. Along similar lines 1 of the hadiths (mentioned in point L) says that houris wear niqab but does not say anything about whether human women need to.

Of the 7 hadiths that remain once those have been removed from consideration, 3 hadiths (mentioned in points B, F, and K) mention the jilbab but they do not provide independent proof of whether the jilbab should cover the face. In fact, one (point F) seems to mention only the covering of the head. In other words, if it is proved that the jilbab does not need to cover the face, these hadiths are consistent with that as well. And as was shown in the Quran section, it is clear that some scholars hold that the jilbab does not need to cover the face, so that does not prove it either.

Note: In case the argument that the jilbab does not necessarily cover the face is not accepted, I have also written an essay, What is the Final Rule on Hijab? that argues for the display of the face and hands while assuming that Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 does indicate that the face should be covered.

This leaves 4 hadiths. Regarding the hadith "A woman is awra" (point D), it has been discussed above and it is clear that many scholars have interpreted the face and hands to be an exemption to the meaning of the hadith. Therefore this is an acceptable position to follow, and the hadith does not necessarily command niqab.

Of the total of 17 hadiths presented, therefore, only 3 (mentioned in points E, H, and M) clearly and unambiguously show women wearing niqab or screening themselves. And these hadiths do not contain in themselves any command made by the Prophet (sAas) for niqab, nor any mention of a Quranic ayah with a command for niqab. They show that niqab is halal, and in fact they show that it is mustahabb and sunna. But they do not by themselves show that niqab is fard.


Did the Prophet allow women to display their faces and hands?

Having looked at the hadiths that are presented to claim that niqab is fard, let us now look at some hadiths that point to the opposite conclusion:

a) 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".

COMMENT: Here we see that the women were not wearing niqab when they were in front of the Prophet (sAas), since they had to put it on when Umar (rAa) entered. How could it be fard then?? Instead, this is like Umm Khallad (rAa) or Asma (rAa), it merely shows that niqab is mustahabb and sunna. Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 was revealed in Dhu'l-Qida 5 A.H. and Surah an-Nur ayah 31 in Shawwal 6 A.H., whereas this hadith seems to be taking place after the conquest of Mecca in Ramadan 8 A.H., after which the women of Quraysh (along with the men) all accepted Islam.

b) 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".

COMMENT: According to those who hold that niqab is fard, even when a woman is in ihram (as this woman was) she must cover her face when she comes in front of non-mahram men. The woman of Khath'am had her face uncovered, so that the two men could clearly see that she was beautiful (and apparently the narrator ibn Abbas rAa could as well). Why did the Prophet (sAas) not admonish the woman and tell her to cover her face when she came in front of them? The answer is obvious: it is perfectly halal for a woman to have an uncovered face.

c) Muslim Book 4 #1926. Jabir ibn Abdullah reported: I observed prayer with the Messenger of Allah on the Eid 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.

COMMENT: How did the narrator know that the woman had a dark spot on her cheek unless her face was uncovered?

d) 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. He includes it as #3472 in his Silsilat al-Ahadith as-Sahih

COMMENT: 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.



From these four hadiths we can clearly see that even as late as Dhu'l-Hijja 10 A.H. (a few months before the death of the Prophet sAas) it was halal for women to have uncovered faces. When they came in front of the Prophet (sAas) that way, he allowed it, and he did not command them to wear niqab. If the Prophet understood the Quran to mean that women can display their faces and hands, that is the interpretation we should follow.


Postscript: Opinions of the scholars on displaying the face and hands

A majority of scholars throughout history have agreed that women may display their faces and hands. This includes scholars from all the major legal schools (madhahib). Some scholars who have held this opinion are Imams Jassas, Qurtubi, Razi, ibn Qudama, Tabari, Zamakhshari, and Nawawi. To see what these scholars have said about the question, click here.


Further Reading

Here are some further articles showing why niqab is not fard: