The Face Veil (Niqab) Is Not Obligatory In Islam, By Murtadha Gusau
Dear Servants of Allah! Should Muslim women be encouraged to wear the face covering also known as the niqab? This question has become the iconic struggle between those who claim to be modern secularists and those who claim to be Muslim traditionalists. I take a different approach to this topic and my view is formed based on several factors.
In The Name Of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful
All perfect praise be to Allah, The Lord of the Worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah, and that Muhammad is His Servants and Messenger.
Respected Servants of Allah! Allah says in the most Noble Quran:
“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, and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna.” [Surah An-Nur: 30 and 31]
Now we will see how the pious predecessors (The Salaf) understood this matter:
1. The Opinion Of The Sahabah (Companions of the Prophet)
Ibn Abbas (RA) was one of the most learned men of the Sahabah (Companions). Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) even prayed for him saying:
“O Allah, make him acquire a deep understanding of the religion of Islam and instruct him in the meaning and interpretation of things.”
He said with reference to the verses of Surah An-Nur quoted above:
“Except only that which is apparent.”
As Imam Ibn Kathir narrated with a Sahih (authentic) chain of narrators, said:
“It’s the hand, the ring, and the face.”
Abdullah Ibn Umar Ibn Al-Khattab (RA) said:
“The face and the two hands.”
Anas Ibn Malik (RA) said:
“The hand and the ring.”
Ibn Hazm said:
“All of this (statements) are in the highest of accuracy. And so are statements by Ali (RA), Aisha (RA), and other Tabi’in.”
Now you have to think who would understand these verses better than Aisha (RA) the MOST knowledgeable woman in the matters of Islam and the wife of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him)?
2. Scholars Among The Tabi’in Had Many Opinions On This Matter
Some said a woman should cover all of her body, except the face and the hands. This is the saying of Imam Malik, Al-Hadi, Al-Qasim (in one of his narrations), and Imam Abu Hanifa (in one of his two narrations).
Some said she should cover all her body, except the face, the hands, and the foot. This is the saying of Imam Abu Hanifah (in another narration), Al-Qasim, and Ath-Thawri. Some said she should cover all her body, except the face. This is the saying of Ibn Hanbal and Dawud.
No one said the face of a woman is loins (al-Aura), except a weak narration from Ibn Hanbal and some Shafi’i scholars!
Sa’id Ibn Jubayr, Ata and al-Awza’i have stated explicitly that the showing of the face and hands is permissible. Aishah (RA), Qatadah, and others have added bracelets to what may be shown of the adornments; this interpretation implies that a part of the arm may also be shown. Various scholars (such as Abu Yusuf) have allowed the exposure of the lower part of the arm, up to a length varying between about four inches to one-half of the arm.
Ibn Hazm, the Imam of the Zahiri schools (Literal schools), mentioned many incidents to prove that it is not required for a woman to cover her face.
3. The Opinion Of the Late Scholars
Assuredly a woman is permitted to show her face and hands because covering them would be a hardship on her, especially if she must go out on some lawful business. For example, a widow may have to work to support her children, or a woman who is not well-off may have to help her husband in his work; had covering the face and hands been made obligatory, it would have occasioned such women hardship and distress. Imam Al-Qurtabi says:
“It seems probable that, since the face and hands are customarily uncovered, and it is, moreover, required that they be uncovered during acts of worship such as Salah and Hajj, the exemption (referred to in the verses of Surah al-Nur) pertains to them.”
In addition to this, we may infer from Allah’s words:
“Tell the believing men that they should lower their gazes.”
That the faces of the women of the Prophet’s time were not veiled. Had the entire body including the face been covered, it would have made no sense to command them to lower their gaze, since there would have been nothing to be seen.
Narrated Aisha, Ummul Mu’minin:
“Asma, daughter of Abu Bakr, entered upon the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) wearing thin clothes. The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) turned his attention from her. He said: O Asma, when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except this and this, and he pointed to her face and hands.” [Narrated by Abu Dawud]
This Hadith has three authentic narrations and was correct by all Major Hadith scholars such as al-Albani.
Narrated Abdullah bin Abbas:
“Al-Fadl (his brother) was riding behind Allah’s Messenger and a woman from the tribe of Khath’am came and Al-Fadl started looking at her and she started looking at him. The Prophet turned Al-Fadl’s face to the other side. The woman said: “O Allah’s Messenger! The obligation of Hajj enjoined by Allah on His devotees has become due on my father and he is old and weak, and he cannot sit firm on the Mount; may I perform Hajj on his behalf?” The Prophet replied: “Yes, you may.” That happened during the Hajj-al-Wada (of the Prophet).” [Narrated by Bukhari, Muslim and others]
This Hadith is very authentic, as it was narrated by Bukhari and Muslim. If she was covering her face then Ibn Abbas would not know that she was beautiful! Also Prophet (Peace be upon him) did not order the girl to cover her face. This Hadith was not abrogated since it happened during Hajj-al-Wada (Farewell pilgrimage in 10th AH), while the Ayah (verse) of Hijab was revealed in the 5th year after the Hijrah.
Dear Servants of Allah! Should Muslim women be encouraged to wear the face covering also known as the niqab? This question has become the iconic struggle between those who claim to be modern secularists and those who claim to be Muslim traditionalists. I take a different approach to this topic and my view is formed based on several factors. But I will refer to my views later.
I would like to share with you two diametrically opposite positions in today’s modern secular West. For example, years back (2012) in dealing with a sexual abuse case, the Canadian Supreme Court has demonstrated a brilliant legal discourse, unlike the French secular fundamentalist narrative. While the latter has confirmed its bigoted, racist and hate filled disdain of Islam and its French Muslim citizens, the former has paved the way for a more inclusive, respectful and mutually beneficial dialogue. France has banned niqab completely and imposed fines on people caught wearing it in public. Canada has ruled that women have the right to chose and may be asked to remove the niqab in certain circumstances but a blanket ban would be violating human rights, counterproductive and push women to social exclusion.
I welcome the Canadian position and salute their courage for standing by the universal principles of freedom and liberty. I have always condemned France for its absurd and illogical position. I would like to state my own position on the banning of Niqab at the outset. I would stand with and support any woman who makes the choice freely and I would fight anyone who bans this practice or takes that personal right away. A women should have the right to determine what she wishes to wear and what she doesn’t, whether to cover her face or not (although wearing it is not obligatory in Islam).
However, the question of niqab is not going to disappear from our discussions and debates. Especially as some Muslims form their more longer term roots in the West. The Muslim community and its leadership, including the Imams and theologians, must take a clearer and more principled stance on this topic. I would like to call for a no niqab position. Muslim women, especially in the West or for security reasons, should be encouraged not to wear the niqab, in my view. My reasons are as follows:
1. Niqab is a pre-Islamic social and cultural tradition of the Arab people and the desert Bedouins. Islam did not challenge this tradition, however, it only demanded that the existing practice of the veil that covered the women’s head and the face is also used to cover the breasts. Some women of Arabia would walk around bare breasted or showing extensive areas of their breasts or the cleavage. This, according to Islam was not acceptable. Those who became Muslim happily subscribed to the divine injunction that says:
“Tell the believing women to draw their veils over their breasts.”
2. Islam does not require a woman to cover her face, in fact contrary statements are clearly found in the Hadiths of the blessed Prophet. He said to his Companions that women should cover their entire body apart from their face and hands. This was a clear and emphatic statement. If face covering was important or obligatory, surely, he would have encouraged his Companions to do it in his lifetime. We also find him asking women not to wear face covering in the state of Ihram (state of purity and prohibition) when performing Hajj or Umrah.
3. One does not have to embrace Arab culture to be a good Muslim or to be chaste, in fact one should retains one’s own culture as much as possible. If a culture contradicts a clear moral, ethical or monotheistic principle of Islam, then it should be altered or left behind. Our individual cultural identities and ethnicities are all part of and celebrated within the universal Islamic fraternity based one unifying testimony of faith. Your style of dress or fashion is not determined by Islam, it only lays down broad parameters and places modesty at its foundation. Niqab is not a sign of extra devotion but a personal choice. No one should be made to feel less if they do not wear a niqab.
4. Islam promotes hijab. Hijab is a wall of modesty as opposed to a social barrier. It creates safety net for men and women so that they do not mix without boundaries. It cloaks men and women with unpretentiousness and decorum. It reduced the sexual tension and enables interaction between men and women without the focus on the body shape and size. It is the meeting of minds that Islam encourages, anything else has a private and sacred space and must be realised within those boundaries. Any flirtation or actions that led to illicit sexual relationship is strictly prohibited in Islam. Hijab is the best tool that helps keep the social harmony between the sexes.
5. Niqab creates a social barrier. The blessed Prophet is reported to have said:
“The religion is social interaction.”
When we meet a person we recognise the person from their face, when we communicate with a person, we understand half of what they are saying by reading their facial expressions and body language. We smile and frown using our face, if this is hidden, hardly any meaningful conversations can ever take place. In my view, niqab prevents people from effectively communicating and expressing themselves. Niqab is seen as a statement that clearly says:
“I am not available for you to talk to me, I have covered my face, stay away from me, I am not available for you to interact with me.”
I know some women wearing niqab may claim to be able to interact and communicate brilliantly, but do not forget, communication and interaction is not a one way street. Consider the person who is talking to you while you are in Niqab. How is it fair that you could see their face but they cannot see yours? I know people have telephone conversations without seeing the face of the other person but a telephone conversation is not a statement that says that my face is shut from the sight of everybody apart from those who I grant the privilege. This is in clear contradiction to Islamic teachings of social and mutual interactions. Of course my interactions are always defined within the boundaries of Hijab.
6. Sharing the good teachings of our faith with fellow human beings is an obligation, according to Islam, whereas niqab is a personal choice. If this personal choice prevents others from benefiting from you and it hampers you from effectively delivering on your obligation, surely the logical position would be to sacrifice your personal choice for the greater good and the bigger picture. Our faith teaches us to be active in our society and work hard to improve the conditions of others around us. To share and care requires a person to be able to connect with people at their local level and I believe niqab is serious barrier to this important and fundamental obligation.
My Respected people! I would like you to consider the above reasons and think about the implication of your personal choice on the overall interest of the community and the faith. I would say for the above stated reasons let us support hijab but discourage niqab. And we shouldn’t forget, there must be patience, tolerance and understanding in this niqab issue.
* Shaykh al-Abani’s position of Niqab of muslim woman from his famous book: Jilbabul Mar’Atil Muslimah
“It was narrated from Aisha that Asma bint Abi Bakr entered upon the Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) wearing a thin garment. The Messenger of Allah (Peace be upon him) turned away from her and said: “O Asma, when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it is not proper for anything to be seen of her except this and this,” and he pointed to his face and hands.”
[See Sunan Abu Dawud (Darussalam Publishers, 2007), volume 4, page 422, The Book of Clothing, chapter 31: “What a woman may show of her beauty,” Hadith number 4104. Classed as Da’if by Hafiz Abu Tahir Zubair Ali Za’i. Imam Abu Dawud said: “This Hadith is Mursal. Khalid Ibn Duraik did not meet Aisha. (And Sa’id bin Bashir is not strong (in narrating))]
The Hadith is weak by itself but authentic due to supporting narrations and is used as evidence for this matter . . . It was authenticated by Sheikh Al-Albani in Sahih Sunan Abu Dawud, volume 2, page 774, number 3458.
Sheikh Al-Albani explains reasons behind this Hadith’s authenticity in great detail:
“. . . (The narration’s chain is) Bashir from Qatadah from Khalid Ibn Duraik from Aisha. Ibn Adiy added that he (Khalid) once attributed it to Umm Salamah instead of Aisha. Abu Dawud said after citing it, ‘This Hadith is Mursal. Khalid Ibn Duraik did not meet Aisha.’ Also, Sa’id Ibn Bashir is weak according to Hafiz Ibn Hajar in At-Taqrib. However, this Hadith has been reported via other ways that strengthen it: 1. A Mursal report recorded by Abu Dawud (no. 437) from Qatadah with an authentic chain that includes neither Ibn Duraik nor Ibn Bashir: ‘Indeed, once a young girl reaches menses, it is not right for her to expose except her face and hands to the wrists.’ 2. At-Tabarani (in Al-Kabir 24/143/378 and Al-Awsat 2/230/8959) and Al-Bayhaqi recorded via Ibn Lahi’ah from Iyadh from Abdullah from Ibrahim bin Rufa’ah Al-Ansari from his father from (he believed) Asma bint Umays that Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) entered Aisha’s house while she had with her sister Asma bint Abi Bakr, who was wearing wide-sleeved clothes . . . There is no doubt that a report by Ibn Lahi’ah does not go below the level of Hasan when it has supportive narrations, as is the case here . . .” [See Jilbabul Mar’atil Muslimah, page 58-59]
Therefore, we can see that the correct view is that the Niqab is recommended, and not obligatory.
Sheikh Al-Albani’s knowledge of the Shawahid (supporting narrations in Hadith) was something which was uncontested to by other scholars of his day. Sheikhs Ibn Baz and Uthaymeen even testified to this. While some Hadith scholars would only grade the single Hadith, Sheikh Al-Albani would take into account all supporting narrations of the Hadith. So some Hadiths are authentic due to other texts with the same meaning, so please take note of this. This made his methodology more correct versus other scholars of his day.
However, wearing the Niqab is better if there’s no any problem to prevent so. Sheikh al-Albani said:
“Whoever adheres to the obligation, it is good enough; and whoever does the recommendation, it is better.” [Jilbabul Mar’atil Muslimah, page 28, which is a Preface to the 2nd Edition]
All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. May the peace, blessings and salutations of Allah be upon our Noble Messenger, Muhammad, and upon his family, his Companions and his true followers.
This Jumu’ah Khutbah (Friday Sermon) was prepared for delivery today, Friday, Jumadal-Thani 21, 1439 AH (March 9, 2018), by Imam Murtadha Muhammad Gusau, the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah’s and late Alhaji Abdurrahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene, Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org or +2348038289761.