FIQ003E: Niqab - Just a Tradition? Part 2

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PART 2 - The Proofs that Face-Veiling is Non-Obligatory

1) The Noble Qur'an - An-Nur 24:31

"And (tell the believing women) not to show off their zeenah (adornment) except only that which is apparent, and draw their khumur (veils) over their juyoob (bosoms) and not reveal their adornment..."

The above verse contains clear command that a woman's natural beauty and her adornment are to be concealed from strangers, except that which might show unintentionally (ie. parts of the dress or ornaments) or which show as a matter of course because it is not prohibited that they be shown (ie. the face the hands).

It should be noted that the Arabic word khumur (plural of khimaar) which has been translated above as veils, means head covers, NOT face veils as may mistakenly be supposed. It refers to a cloth which covers all of the hair. Furthermore, the word juyoob (plural of jaib), also found above, refers not only to the bosom, as is commonly thought, but also to the neck.

Imam al-Qurtubi رحمه الله, an eminent scholar of tafseer stated:
"Women in those days used to cover their heads with the khimaar, throwing its ends on their backs. This left the neck and the upper part of the chest bare, along with the ears, in the manner of the Christians. Then Allah commanded them to cover those parts with the khimaar."

2) The Noble Qur'an - Al-Ahzaab 33:59

“O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to yudneena (draw) their jalabeeb (plural of jilbab) all over themselves. That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed. And Allaah is Ever Oft Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

a) The word al-idnaa’

The interpretation of al-idnaa’ (from the word yudneena) in the verse above to mean “covering the face” is inaccurate. This misinterpretation is contrary to the basic meaning of the word in Arabic which is “to come close”, as is mentioned in authoritative dictionaries like al-Mufradaat by the well-known scholar, ar-Raaghib al-Asbahaanee رحمه الله.

Furthermore, Ibn ‘Abbaas رضي الله عنه‎ , who explained the verse said, “She should bring the jilbaab close to her face without covering it.” There is also a similar narration from Ibn ‘Umar رضي الله عنه‎ to the same effect.

It should be noted that none of the narrations used as evidence to contradict this interpretation are authentic.

For example, the hadeeth of Ibn ‘Abbaas رضي الله عنه‎ about exposing only one eye is inauthentic.

b) The word jilbaab

The interpretation of jilbaab as "a garment which covers the face" has no basis linguistically. It is contrary to the interpretation of the leading scholars, past and present, who define the jilbaab as a garment which women drape over their head scarves (khimaar). This interpretation can be found from Ibn Mas'ud and other scholars of salaf.

Imam Al-Baghawee رحمه الله said in his Tafseer, “It is the garment which a woman covers herself with worn above the dress and the headscarf.” (vol.3, p.518)

Imam Ibn Hazm رحمه الله also said, “The jilbaab in the Arabic language, in which the Messenger of Allaah spoke to us, is what covers the whole body and not just a part of it”. (vol.3, p.217)

Imam Al-Qurtubee رحمه الله declared this correct in his Tafseer and Ibn Katheer said, “It is the cloak worn above the headscarf”. (vol.3, p.518)

3) Authenticated hadeeth from Abu Dawood

'Aishah رضي الله عنها said: "Asmaa came to see the Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم‎ . She was wearing a thin dress; the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم‎ turned away from her and said to her: "O Asmaa! Once a woman reaches the age of puberty no part of her body should be uncovered except her face and hands."

Among the leading scholars of hadeeth who strengthen this hadeeth are al-Bayhaqee, ad-Dzhahabee, al-Mundzhiree, az-Zayla'ee, al-‘Asqlaanee and ash-Shawkaanee رحمه الله. There exist two other chains of narration; one of which is from Asmaa bint ‘Umays herself رضي الله عنها and the other from Qataadah رضي الله عنه‎ in the abbreviated (mursal) format with an authentic chain of narration.

4) Authenticated hadeeth from al-Bukhari

From Ibn `Abbaas رضي الله عنه‎ : "Al-Fadl bin Abbas rode behind the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم‎ 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 صلى الله عليه وسلم‎ 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 صلى الله عليه وسلم‎ . Al-Fadl started looking at her as her beauty attracted him. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم‎ looked back while Al-Fadl was looking at her; so the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم‎ 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 worshippers 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 صلى الله عليه وسلم‎ said, "Yes".

This hadeeth is reported with slightly varying texts (matn) in Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawood, an-Nasaaee, Ibn Maajah, at-Tirmidhee, Maalik, al-Bayhaqee, Ibn Khuzaymah and others رحمه الله. The above quoted text is from Saheeh Bukhari رحمه الله.

5) Authenticated hadeeth from al-Bayhaqee

'Aishah رضي الله عنها said, regarding the female in ihraam, “She may drape the garment on her
face, if she wishes.”

This was narrated by al-Bayhaqee رحمه الله with an authentic chain of narrators. There is clear evidence in ‘Aishah’s giving the female pilgrim a choice in draping - in her opinion the face was not ‘awrah.

6) Authenticated hadeeth from Imam Muslim

Jareer ibn Abdullah al-Bujali رضي الله عنه‎ asked the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم‎ about the inadvertent glance. The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم‎ replied, "Turn your eyes away".

Imam Qaadee ‘Iyaad رحمه الله commented, “The scholars, May Allaah Most High have mercy on them, have said that there is proof in this hadeeth that it is not compulsory for a woman to cover her face in the street. Instead, it is a recommended sunnah for her to do so and it is compulsory for the man to lower his gaze from her at all times, except for a legislated purpose. Shaykh Muhyud-deen an-Nawawee رحمه الله mentioned that without further explanation.”

It has been shown above that it is not obligatory to cover the face, however if the woman is wearing make-up, she should cover her face, since the make-up is adornment beyond what is permitted. Similarly, she should cover her hands if she is wearing nail polish or some other decoration or ornament. Furthermore, although it is permissible to leave the face uncovered in the presence of strangers, it is praiseworthy to cover it, as that was the practice of the wives of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم‎ according to authentic ahaadeeth.


To summarize, the opinion that the wearing of niqab is non-obligatory and is praiseworthy (sunnah) is also famous amongst some sahabahs, tabi'iens, scholars of tafseer, scholars of hadeeth and scholars from the four madhahib رحمه الله.

To state that niqab is not from Islam is a statement of ignorance of the Islamic proofs and evidences at hand, which has resulted in a "Khilaf al-Mu'tabar" (Valid difference of opinion) among the great scholars of Islam رحمه الله.

It is certainly beneficial to repeat - May those who deny the niqab hold their tongues out of wara' (fear of Allah) and may they be granted Taufeeq and Hidayah so that they may say that which is fair and just based upon sound knowledge.

Wallahu a'lam.


1) Jilbaab al-Mar’ah al-Muslimah, Shaykh Naasiruddeen al-Albaanee
English translation - "The Muslim Women's Dress"

2) ar-Radd al-Mufhim, Shaykh Naasiruddeen al-Albaanee
English translation - "The Face Veil"





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