We have received request no. 2341 for the year 2004, which includes the following:
What is the ruling for niqab? Some maintain that it is obligatory; they base their opinion on the hadith narrated by 'Aisha in which she says that she used to cover her face from passersby during Hajj.
What is niqab?
Niqab is a veil that covers the entire face except for the eyes.
The hijab, the legal attire required of a Muslim woman consists of:
• Any garment which does not cling to the body,
• that is not transparent,
• and that conceals the entire body except the face and hands.
There is no harm in wearing colored clothes provided they are not vibrant, eye catching, or incite desire.
Opinion of scholars and the Muslim community
• The majority of scholars maintain that it is not obligatory for a woman to cover her face or wear gloves. The permissibility of exposing her face and hands is based on the Quranic verse: "And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof" (Quran 24:31).
• The majority of scholars from among the companions and those who came after them interpreted 'adornments' in the above verse to mean the face and hands. They based their opinion on reports from ibn Abbas, Anas, and 'Aisha, may God be pleased with them, and on the words of God the Almighty:
… “Wrap [a portion of] their headcovers (khimar) over their chests” (Quran 24: 31).
• The khimar referred to in the above verse is a headcover and al-jayb refers to the front opening of shirt. In this verse, God commands Muslim women to cover their chests with their headcovers. If it were obligatory for a Muslim woman to cover her face, then the Quranic verse would have indicated this explicitly.
A Prophetic tradition
'Aisha, may God be pleased with her, narrated that Asmaa` bint abu Bakr [her sister], entered upon the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) wearing transparent clothes. He turned away from her and said, "O Asmaa`! If a woman reaches puberty nothing of her should be seen, except this and this," and he pointed to his face and hands” (Abu Dawud).
Countering the opinion of the advocates of Niqab
Some scholars maintain that a woman must cover her face due to 'Aisha's narration which states: "Riders used to pass by us when we were with the Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) wearing ihram. When they came near, each one of us would lower [part] of her garment from her head over her face. When they passed by, we would uncover our faces" (Ahmed, abu Dawud, ibn Majah).
• This hadith does not include evidence on the obligation of wearing niqab because the actions of the companions are not proof that something is an obligation. Moreover, the niqab may have been specific to the Mothers of Believers (the Prophet's wives) like the ruling that forbade them to marry after the Prophet's death.
• It is determined in Ilm al-Usul (Principles of Jurisprudence) that anything that has multiple interpretations cannot be used as evidence.
• The Messenger of God (peace and blessings be upon him) said, "A woman in ihram is not to cover her face nor wear gloves" (Bukhari). Based on this statement there is a scholarly consensus that a woman must not cover her face nor wear gloves during prayer. It follows from this that a woman's face and hands are not 'awra (those parts of the body that must be covered).
• It is not conceivable that the Shari'ah would legislate that a Muslim woman expose her 'awrah during prayer or while in ihram.
It is not obligatory for a Muslim woman to cover her face and hands. Niqab falls under 'permissible acts'; a woman is rewarded for wearing it but not punished for abstaining from it. A woman fulfills her religious duty concerning her attire by wearing the hijab.
God Almighty knows best.