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The Jurists’ Views on Hijab

by: Allamah Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi

The part one was written in October 1977. Fifteen months later, came the Islamic revolution of Iran, and Islamic rule was established there on 11/1979. It was a world-shaking phenomenon which changed the direction of history throughout the world. Not only did it create religious awakening in every Muslim community, but also gave courage to down-trodden and oppressed masses everywhere and up against the exploiters and oppressors.

The part one was written in October 1977. Fifteen months later, came the Islamic revolution of Iran, and Islamic rule was established there on 11/1979. It was a world-shaking phenomenon which changed the direction of history throughout the world. Not only did it create religious awakening in every Muslim community, but also gave courage to down-trodden and oppressed masses everywhere and up against the exploiters and oppressors.

One the visible effect of the Islamic Revolution was to turn the direction of the youths from western culture to Islamic norms. Young Muslims boys now feel proud to keep beard and young girls have rediscovered the dignity of Islamic Hijab. And it is happening not only in the eastern countries but even in the West.

So far so good, we, of the older generation, are really happy to see this pleasant change. At the same time, it is necessary, rather essential, to guide the youths to the proper Islamic path, charting for them the full course of their spiritual journey. It will enable them to see how much they have progressed and how far they have to go yet.

Before going ahead, I should mention an important principle of Islamic ideology, and that is the inter-relation of Islamic Laws and Islamic Ethics. Islamic Laws teach the minimum a person is required to do, and transgression of which entails sins and is sometimes considered a crime. Islamic Ethics take a man from that starting point to the highest peak of spiritual perfection.

If a man is sick and weak, he first needs treatment to cure his disease; after that he needs special regimen of diet, exercise and tonics to restore his body, to bring him to the peak of his health and strength. The same principle applies in the spiritual field. Islamic laws keep man free from ills of sin and crime, wile Islamic Ethics show him the way to noble spiritual perfection and strength.

From Islam’s point of view, it is not enough to merely ordain some basic laws to protect the believers from sins, and leave them at that. A weak patient, even when cured of a disease, is an easy target of further attacks unless his strength is restored. Nor has Islam merely exhorted its followers to strive to reach high moral standards, without prescribing some rules to prevent them from negative influences.

Of what use will be tonics if body is riddled with debilitating diseases. Thus Islamic Laws and Islamic Ethics are inter-linked; they are different stages of the same spiritual journey. Islam knows that spiritual level of all people is not the same. Therefore, it has chosen for us the highest ethical and spiritual ideas, at the same time it has laid down minimum requirements which one cannot transgress without exposing himself to spiritual peril.

Let us, look, for example, at the concept of charity. A Muslim is responsible for providing sustenance to his immediate family (parents, self, wife and children). It is only after meeting those obligatory expenses, that he is exhorted to spend on charity. Allah says in the Quran: ”And they ask you as to what they should spend. Say: What you can spare.” [22]

This is the starting point of charity. But suppose you have some food just sufficient to satisfy the hunger of your own family, and your brother’s or neighbor’s family has nothing to eat. Islamic Ethics exhorts you to share that little food with them. Of course, your family will remain half-hungry; but it not better that ten people should share in that little food, rather than five eating their fill while the other five remain starving? Allah says: “…and they prefer (other) over themselves though poverty may afflict them.” [23]

This stage of charity is high commendable and is a hallmark of Islam. Yet, it is not the ultimate destination, the final goal. If we want to see the ideal charity, we will have to study the lives of the Holy Prophet and his family members (peace and mercy of Allah be on them all). Look at the verses of the Chapter 76 ad-Dahr, and you will see ‘Ali, Fatimah, al-Hasan, al-Hussain and the maid Fiddah, fasting three days consecutively without taking any food and every night giving their breads to a poor man, an-orphan and a captive. Three nights they fed hungry persons and stayed for more than 72 hours without a single morsel. Allah praises them in these words:

”They fulfill vows and fear a day the evil of which shall be spreading far and wide. And they give food out of love for Him to the poor and the orphan and the captive. We only feed you for Allah’s sake; we desire from you neither reward nor thanks.” [24]

Many orientalists, who are generally oblivious or ignorant of this inter-relation of the Islamic Laws and the Islamic Ethics, take it upon themselves to pronounce judgment on Islam, unfavourably comparing it Laws (i.e. the minimum requirements) with “the highest ethical stand points” of Christianity, and then pontificating that Islamic “moral teachings” have “shortcomings”.

And unfortunately the same disoriented outlook is inculcated in most of those students who study Islam directly or indirectly under these non-Muslim orientalists. They look at Islam not as a single living entity, but as a lifeless collection of disjointed limbs. Not surprisingly, when such people look at Fiqh (jurisprudence), they do not see it as an essential part of the whole Islam, but consider it the Alpha and Omega of Islam, the total Islam.

The Jurists’ Views on Hijab

Be as it may. Now let us come back to our original topic, Hijab or Purdah. Like all the Islamic tenets, its starting point is given in the fiqh (jurisprudence), which has been described in Part One. To refresh the memory, I give here some relevant rulings of three of our great mujtahideen.

Ayatullah al-Uzma as-Sayyid Abu ‘l-Qasim al-Khou’i writes:

Mas’alah 1233: It is wajib for a woman to hide her whole body (except face and the two palms) from all men (except her husband and mahrams); rather it is wajib for her to hide her face and the palms too even from mahrams (except the husband) if the mahram may look at her with sensual pleasure; rather it is wajib for her to hide her even face and palms from ghair mahram at all times and in all conditions – as a matter of ihtiyat wajib. And it is not wajib at all on a man to keep himself in purdah.

Mas’alah 1232: It is haram for a woman to look at a man (except at his face, head, neck and the feet); apparently she may look at these parts provided it is not done with sensual pleasure nor is there any danger of falling into haram, although it is ahwat not to look at these too even without sensual pleasure. [25]

These rulings tell us three things:

1. About the whole body (except face and palms): It is definitely wajib to cover.

2. About face and palms (when there is a possibility of someone looking at her with sensuous desires): It is definitely wajib to cover them.

3. About face and palms (when there is no such danger): It is Ihtiyat wajib to cover.

Thus according to Ayatullah al-Uzma al-Khou’i, it is ihtiyat wajib for a woman to cover her face and hands from ghair mahram men in all conditions. Now a muqalid has the option of either following this ihtiyat or referring to the next a’lim mujtahid and then to the next, if he has given fatwa on that matter. Ayatullah al-Uzma al-Komeini is said to allow the woman not to cover their faces and hands if there was no danger of any man looking at her with lustful intention or of falling into haram. Thus many of our girls acted on that fatwa.

However, the same al-Komeini says that men are totally forbidden to look at a ghair mahram woman’s face and hands. He writes:

Mas’alah 18: There is no doubt that a man is not allowed to look at the hair and body of a ghair mahram woman (except her face and palms), be it with or without sensual pleasure or danger of falling into haram. Likewise it is haram to look at her face and palms too if it is with sensual pleasure or the said danger. As for looking at her face and palms without sensual pleasure or danger of falling into haram, there are two, rather three, opinions:

1. That is allowed unconditionally.

2. That is haram unconditionally.

3. That the first glance is allowed but the second one is haram.

And the middle opinion (i.e. it is haram unconditionally) is ahwat (wajib). [26]
Unfortunately, those who reported the fatwa about the women’s responsibility did not think it necessary to even mention that it is obligatory for men not to look at her face and hands at all. A serious question may be asked loudly: Even if an organizer of a mixed gathering is sure of himself, how can he be sure of the others?

As for Ayatullah al-Uzma Sayed Muhammad Rida Gulpaegani, his fatwa is as follows:

Mas’alah 2442: It is haram for a man to look at the body or hair of a ghair mahram woman, whether it is with intention of sensuous enjoyment or not; likewise it is haram to look at the body or hair of a girl below nine years of age if such a glance may usually incite lusty feelings. And it is haram to look at their faces and hands with intentions of sensuous enjoyment rather the prohibition of looking at their face and hands, even without intention of sensuous enjoyment, is not without strong proof.

“Likewise, it is haram for a woman to look at the body of a ghair mahram man.” [27]

This is the minimum hijab and it is the starting point. Now that our girls in East Africa and Western countries have started wearing scarf and covering their bodies, they have taken the first step on the path of Islamic Hijab. But they should realize that it is only the first step. They should follow and implement the second part of the ruling by covering their faces and hands every time there is a danger of someone looking at them with sensuous intention.

Remember, it is the definite ruling, not a matter of Ihtiyat. They should try their utmost to proceed on this path keeping the ultimate goal in their view. It is very regrettable that many preachers and speakers never present the ideology of hijab in its true perspective; and do not explain even this minimum requirement fully and completely. As a result the ladies do not realize that they at present are at the starting line of this spiritual journey and that they should strive to proceed further ahead.

Ideal Hijab

The ultimate or ideal hijab may be understood from the following traditions: Once when the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was in his house and the mothers of the believers, Ummu Salimah and Maymunah, were with him, a blind Companion, ‘Abdullah Ibn Maktum, sought permission to come to the Prophet (s.a.w.a.). The Prophet (s.a.w.a.) told the above-mentioned Mothers of the believers to hide themselves. They said: “But he is blind” The Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said: Are you too blind? Would not you see him?” [28]

‘Ali (a.s.) said: “Once a blind man (in company of the Holy Prophet s.a.w.a) asked permission of Fatimah (a.s.) to enter her house. She stopped him (until she covered herself). The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) said: “Why did you stop him? He cannot see you.” She said: “Although he cannot see me, but I can see him; and moreover, (if I do not hide) he might feel my scent.” The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said: “I bear witness that you are a part of me.” [29]

Once the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) asked her: “What is the best for a woman?” She replied: “That she does not see a man and no man sees her.” The Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said: “Offspring, one from the other.” [30]
‘Ali (a.s.) said: “Once the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) asked his companions about woman what she was. They said: “She is awrah (a thing to hide).” He said: “At what time does she come nearest to her Lord?” They did not know. When Fatimah (a.s) heard (the question), she said: “She becomes nearest to her Lord when she adheres to the innermost part of her house.” The Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.a.) said: “I bear witness that you are a part of me.” [31]

Also we know that she had asked ‘Ali (a.s.) to put her dead-body in a covered coffin, as she did not like the idea of strangers looking at her dead body and knowing her height.

After the tragedy of Karbala, the family members of Imam Hussain (a.s.) were taken captive, and paraded in the markets of Kufa and Damascus without veil. When the Lady Zaynab (a.s.), sister of Imam Hussain (a.s.), was made to stand – together with other ladies and children before Yazid in a court attended by 700 “dignitaries” and hundreds of onlookers. Zaynab (a.s.) at one point got her chance to deliver her famous Khutbah (speech) stingingly attacking Yazid exposing his barbarism, perfidity and debauchery. One of the indictments was contained in these words: “Is it justice, O son of the freed slaves! That you have kept your woman and slave girls in seclusion, and have paraded the daughters of the Messengers of Allah (Mercy of Allah be on him and his Progeny), their veil torn away and their faces visible to all; their faces are peered at by all, be he far or near, lowly or noble.” [32]

Some people have taken it upon themselves to preach to the ladies that if they cover their bodies, keeping the faces and hands open, then they are free to mingle with gents in religious gatherings and elsewhere. But as a matter of fact, Islam does not approve mingling of ghair mhram men and women at all. After all, hijab of dress does not exempt one from hijab of eyes.

Also it has been described above that it is unanimously wajib for a woman to cover her face if there is any possibility that someone would look at her with lusty enjoyment, or if there is any danger of falling in haram. Even if an office-bearer of a Jamat, union or association is sure of himself that he would not look at any lady with lusty intentions or sensuous enjoyment, how can he be sure about other men in the gathering, especially the young folk?

There is an interesting point to ponder upon. We know that a man is obliged to cover from his navel to the knees only. Then why don’t we exhort the gents to come to the community gathering (if not in the markets and streets) wearing half pants only? Why is that they are not preached against wearing shirts, full trousers, coats, ties and socks?

If the men are not told to stick to the minimum covering, why the women are exhorted to stick to the minimum or even less than minimum? Why are not they explained the complete fatwa in its true perspective? Religiously speaking, is such preaching progressive or retrogressive?

The Muslim ladies and gents must observe the hijab of the eyes as well as hijab of the dress. It would be travesty of hijab for a girl to mix freely with ghair mahram boys, while wearing a scarf or head cover.
May Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala give all of us tawfiq to observe and obey His commandments with sincerity and devotion.


[22] Holy Quran, 2:219

[23] Holy Quran, 59:9

[24] Holy Quran, 76:7-8

[25] Minhaju ‘s-salihin, vol. 2, p. 260

[26] Tahriru ‘l-wasilah, vol. 2, p. 243

[27] Tawzihu ‘l-masa’il, 61st ed., Muharram 1410, Qum, pp. 412-413

[28] Ad-Durru ‘l-manthur, vol. 5, p. 42

[29] Biharu ‘l-anwar, vol. 43, p. 91

[30] Ibid, p. 84

[31] Ibid, p. 85

[32] al-Ihtijaj, vol. 2, p. 308