The importance of women's face-veil

Question:

I would like Your Eminence to answer me concerning the importance of a woman covering her face. Is it Wajib (obligatory)? If so, what is the evidence? It is propagated that women used to cover their faces in the Arabian Peninsula during the Turkish era, and this was strictly practiced ever since, to the extent that people considered it to be obligatory for women. I have read also that women, at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Rightly-Guided Caliphs, used to participate in many kinds of work and fight in war along with men. Is this true or am I mistaken? I am looking forward to your answer to know the truth.

Answer:

At the beginning of Islam, Hijab (veil) was not prescribed for women would display their faces and hands in front of men. Then Allah (Glorified be He) prescribed it and made it obligatory for women to keep and protect them from the gazes of non-Mahrams (not spouses or permanently unmarriageable relatives) and thus, blocked the way to Fitnah (temptation). This was after the revelation of the Ayah (Qur’anic verse) of Hijab in Surah Al-Ahzab: “And when you ask (his wives) for anything you want, ask them from behind a screen: that is purer for your hearts and for their hearts.” [Al-Ahzab: 53] This Ayah, despite being mentioned in respect of the wives of the Prophet (peace be upon him), addresses them and all women, based on the generality of the ‘Illah (effective cause) and the meaning.

In the same Surah, Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) says: “And stay in your houses, and do not display yourselves like that of the times of ignorance, and perform As-Salât (Iqamât-as-Salât), and give Zakât and obey Allâh and His Messenger.” [Al-Ahzab: 33] This Ayah addresses them (wives of the Prophet) and all women according to Ijma’ (consensus of scholars).

Similarly, Allah (Exalted be He) says in Surah Al-Ahzab: “O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies (i.e. screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way). That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed. And Allâh is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [Al-Ahzab: 59]

In this respect, Allah (Glorified and Exalted be He) revealed two other Ayahs in Surah Al-Nur: “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts). That is purer for them. Verily, Allâh is All-Aware of what they do. And tell 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 (like both eyes for necessity to see the way, or outer palms of hands or one eye or dress like veil, gloves, head-cover, apron, etc.), and to draw their veils all over Juyûbihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms) and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers” [Al-Nur: 30-31]

Adornment here refers to beauty and charms, the most attractive of which is the face. His Saying “except only that which is apparent,” refers to dresses, according to the more sound of the two opinions of Muslim scholars and as held by the respectable Sahaby (Companion of the Prophet), ‘Abdullah ibn Mas`ud (may Allah be pleased with him), concerning Allah’s Saying: “And as for women past child-bearing who do not expect wed-lock, it is no sin on them if they discard their (outer) clothing in such a way as not to show their adornment. But to refrain (i.e. not to discard their outer clothing) is better for them. And Allâh is All-Hearer, All-Knower.” [Al-Nur: 60]

This Ayah is evidence that women should cover their faces and bodies in the presence of non-Mahrams, as Allah (Glorified be He) states that there is no sin on women of post-menstrual age, who have no desire for marriage, if they discard their outer clothing. This is so provided that they do not show their adornment, which indicates that young women should wear Hijab, and they will be sinful if they discard it.

Thus, old women who wear adornment should wear Hijab, for they may cause Fitnah. Allah (Glorified be He) states at the end of the Ayah that it is better for old women not to discard their outer clothing, for in this way Fitnah is unlikely. It is authentically reported on the authority of ‘Aishah and her sister Asma’ (may Allah be pleased with them) that women should cover their faces in the presence of non-Mahrams, even in the state of Ihram (ritual state for Hajj and ‘Umrah). It is authentically reported in the Two Sahih (authentic) Books of Hadith (i.e. Al-Bukhari and Muslim) that `Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated what stands as evidence that women used to uncover their faces at the beginning of Islam and then this was abrogated by the Ayah of Hijab.

Accordingly, women’s Hijab goes back to the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and is ordained by Allah (Exalted be He), not by the Turks. It is true that women took part along with men in many kinds of work at the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him), such as treating the wounded and providing them with water during Jihad (fighting or striving in the Cause of Allah), but they were wearing Hijab, dressed modestly and would keep away from the causes of suspicion. It is narrated that Um Sulaym (may Allah be pleased with her) said, ‘We used to go to battles with the Prophet (peace be upon him) to provide water to the wounded, carry water, and treat the sick.’ This is what they used to do, unlike the women of today, in many so-called Islamic countries, who intermix with men in various fields of work while being Mutabarrijah (a woman who makes a public display of her charms or adornment); a matter that led to the spread of vice, the disintegration of the family, and the corruption of society.

There is neither might nor power except with Allah. May Allah guide us to His Straight Path. We ask Allah to grant us and all Muslims beneficial knowledge and help us act upon it. He is the Best One sought for help.