Sunday, October 2, 2022 - 6 Rabi' al-Awwal 1444

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What is the Islamic ruling for women covering their faces (niqab)?

What is the Islamic ruling for women covering their faces (niqab)?

Answer


There are two distinctions that need to be made before answering the question. The head covering (hijab) is what Muslim women wear to cover their hair and is a general cover. The veil, or the face covering (niqab), is a specific covering worn by some.

The vast majority of jurists have ruled that a women’s entire body is considered nakedness for all non-related men except the hands and the face. The exception of the face and the hands is due to the necessity of women interacting with men, buying, selling, and the like. It has also been narrated that Abu Hanifa ruled that even a women’s feet can be exposed as God has prohibited exposing women’s adornment except that which naturally is manifest and Abu Hanifa included the feet in this definition, i.e. that which is naturally manifest.

While Imam Ahmad argued that the entire body of a women is to be covered even her nails, as it is all considered nakedness. He is reported to have said whomever has the wife of his host present [at a meal] it is not permissible to share this meal with them since while eating the women’s hands become exposed.

The Qadi of the Hanbali School said that it is impermissible for a man to gaze at a non-related woman except her face and hands.

The majority of jurists have used as their text proof the verse, “and to [not] display of their adornment only that which is apparent” meaning from that which is apparent so kohl is the adornment of the eye and the ring is the adornment of the hands. Ibn Kathir quoted al-‘Amash as saying regarding this verse, “on the authority of Sa‘id ibn Jabir, on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbas who said, “and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent” means her hands including rings and her face. This has been narrated by Ibn ‘Umar, ‘Ata, ‘Ikrimma, Sa ‘id ibn Jabeer, Abi Shasha’, Dahak, Ibrahim al-Nakh‘I, and others.’”

As for the sunnah there is the hadith narrated by Aisha that “Asma bint Abi Bakr entered upon the Prophet and she had on a light garment so the Prophet turned away from her and said ‘Asma’ when a women comes of age (has reached puberty) it is not proper of her to display except this and this’, and he pointed to his face and hands.”

Another source of evidence is the hadith where the Prophet reminded women to give charity out of fear of Hell fire and in the text of the hadith it says, “a women amongst the most pious of them who had dark brown cheeks asked ‘why O Messenger of God?’” The narrator of this hadith, Jabir, alludes to the fact that this woman had her face exposed and he saw this.
As for the statement that the hijab has been abrogated by niqab from the verse, “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them. That will be better, so that they may be recognized and not annoyed. God is ever Forgiving, Merciful” there is no clear indication that this is a reference for covering the face.

Al-Marghani from the Hanafi School has stated, “the nakedness of a free women is her entire body except her face and hands as is inferred from the statement of the Prophet ‘the women is a hidden nakedness’ and he excluded the face and the hands due to the extreme hardship in covering them. This statement includes the feet as nakedness, but there is another opinion in the Hanafi School that says the feet are not nakedness and this is the sounder opinion.”

Ibn Khalaf al-Baji from the Maliki School has stated, “the entire body of a woman is nakedness except her feet and hands.” He has also stated elsewhere that, “a women eats with her husband and [male] guests or with her brother. This means that a man’s glance at a women’s face or hands is permissible as these manifest themselves during eating.” Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (of the Shafi School) has quoted Qadi ‘Iyad as saying that a woman does not have to cover her face as in accordance with scholarly agreement. “Qadi Iyad states that a women walking in the streets is not obliged to cover her face as it is a recommended act (not obligatory), and men passing by are to lower their gaze in accordance with the Quranic verse.”

Clothes and manners of dress are deeply related to customs and traditions of peoples. In a country like Egypt were a woman covering her face is not that common and were it causes familial problems, it is more appropriate to follow the majority opinion. As for other countries where the Hanbali opinion is more in line with local custom it is permissible for a women to follow this opinion, i.e. of covering the face etc, as it is not a sign of a women’s religiosity, but rather in line with custom and tradition.

In accordance with the above we side with the majority opinion which is the permissibility of a woman exposing her face and hands and the covering of everything else. We also are of the opinion that if the niqab becomes a sign for the fracturing of the Muslim community, or a sign for religiosity then its ruling changes from one of a recommended act (mandub) and a permissible act (mubah) to one of reprehensible innovation (bid‘a) especially if it is used for things which God has not ordained on us and God is most high and all knowledgeable.