The niqab between worship and customs
Wearing the niqab (full face veil) is becoming a growing tradition in many places. However, many people quote Al-Azhar which declares it to be a purely Arab custom and not a religious obligation. Kindly explain.
According to the majority of scholars and the position we adopt, the niqab is a custom and not part of religion or adornment. This is based on the fact that a woman's face is not part of her 'awrah (those parts of the body that must not be exposed before non-mahrams). This is the established opinion of the Hanafi, Maliki and Shafi'i schools of jurisprudence, the sound opinion of Imam Ahmed and the opinion maintained by his students, and the opinion of al-Awza'i and Abu Thawr.
Previous proponents of this opinion include 'Umar, Ibn 'Abbas (may God be pleased with them both), 'Ata`, 'Ikrima, Sa'id Ibn Jubair, Abu al-Sha'tha`, al-Dahhaq, Ibrahim al-Nakh'i and many others. They based their opinion on the following:
• The hadith of 'A`isha, the mother of Believers (may God be pleased with her) who narrated that when Asmaa` Bint Abu Bakr entered upon the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) wearing transparent clothes, he turned his face and said, "O Asmaa`! When a woman reaches menarche, nothing of her should be seen except this and this" (and he pointed to his face and hands).
• The words of God Almighty Who says, “They should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (ordinarily) appear thereof” (Quran 24: 31).
• Other evidences mentioned in this regard.
Though a custom, there is nothing to prevent women who so wish from wearing the niqab. However, one should not go against the traditions of those countries where the niqab is not a custom. Maliki scholars considered this a kind of transgression, especially if the niqab is attributed to religion and made contingent upon the principle of al-wala' walbara' (allegiance to what God likes and severance of what He hates). In such a case, niqab is not part of religion but the reason behind the division of Muslims.
And God Almighty knows best.