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IslamQA: The niqab is neither obligatory nor sunna

In answer to questions about whether the niqab is obligatory for Muslim women:

The respected Egyptian scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi has done a detailed study of the evidence regarding the niqab, published as al-Niqāb Bayna Farḍīyatih wa Bidʿīyatih1, and his conclusion is that the niqab is neither a duty, nor is it a bidʿa (false innovation) to be condemned, it is rather a tool, an item of clothing, that a woman chooses to wear if and when she wants. If a woman sees that it is beneficial for her to wear it in her particular time and place, then she can do it. And if other women elsewhere decide not to wear it, like the majority of Muslim women have decided, then that’s their choice. There is nothing wrong with a woman veiling her face at a certain occasion, the way Victorian women used to, if she decides that she is more comfortable that way and expects benefits from it.

Dr. Ali Gomaa, Grand Mufti of Egypt from 2003 to 2013, has the same opinion.2 Egypt’s present Grand Mufti Dr. Shawki Allam says the same.3 This is also the opinion of Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University.4 He says the the niqab is not a sunna and that there is no special virtue in wearing it.

The Syrian scholar Dr. ʿAli al-Shaʿʿāl says it is not obligatory.5

Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, also has the opinion that the niqab is not obligatory.6

The above are just some examples of the opinions of mainstream Islamic scholars. They represent the opinions of the majority of Muslims. There is also no strong evidence that the niqab is a sunna either, something that Muslim women should supposedly hope to one day wear. Neither the Quran nor any hadith recommend that women should wear it. The niqab, like sandals and water containers made of goat skin, is something that was present in medieval Arabia, it was part of their culture and had a useful function at the time, which was to help women avoid the attention of uncouth men who would make them uncomfortable through ogling. As someone who has traveled a bit, I have met such men in some Middle Eastern countries. If even a slightly attractive woman comes into their field of view, they will stare at her, and stare, and stare, as if watching a TV program. That objectifying gaze is extremely uncomfortable and demeaning for a woman, so if she lives in a society where she is unlucky enough to face such men often, then it would be beneficial for her to have a niqab handy.

But in a civilized, middle class society where the men do not act like that, there is little point to the niqab. Whether one should wear niqab or not should be judged according to its potential benefits and harms and one’s own present time and culture. Just because we have reports of the people of that time doing some thing does not automatically mean it is recommended for us to do it. Thinking the niqab is recommended just because some women in medieval Arabia wore it is probably similar to thinking that hanging water containers made of goatskin in the living room, as the Prophet did, is somehow virtuous. A sunna, or virtuous act taught by the Prophet , can only be established when we have clear and multiply-verified evidence that the Prophet recommended that act. But we have no such evidence. As al-Qaradawi mentions, we have numerous authentic hadiths in which Muslim women are mentioned as showing their faces in public, and we have no convincing evidence that that Prophet would have liked them to hide their faces, even as a voluntary act of piety.

A woman who wishes to hide her face as a personal act of piety can certainly be rewarded for it, but it would be wrong if she said it is a sunna. Not every good deed is a sunna. For example if you choose to donate 5% of your income to charity, we have no evidence that the Prophet did the same or recommend that we do this, but you can do it with a good intention and get rewarded for it.

Those who say the niqab is obligatory are often converts or people who know little about Islam and who are now trying to be good Muslims. They sometimes come under the influence of Saudi-funded websites like IslamQA.info and due to their lack of knowledge end up thinking that these websites represent some true or authentic version of Islam. And due to the way that these websites teach their followers to think of themselves as the only true Muslims, they end up looking down on everyone else and try to force their opinions on them. Usually after a few years of crusading against mainstream Muslims they either abandon Islam (since they can no longer live with themselves) or they become moderate as their knowledge increases.

For more about Saudi-funded sites see my article about IslamQA.info.

Footnotes

  1. Link to a PDF version of this study (Arabic).
  2. Archived link to his fatwa.
  3. Archived link to an article that mentions his opinion.
  4. Archived link to an  article mentioning his opinion.
  5. Archived link to his fatwa.
  6. Archived link to his fatwa.
And God knows best.
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Anonymous
Anonymous
2 years ago

I think the reason these Arab men are so lecherous in the first place is because of the niqab itself as well as excessive gender segregation. In a society where women’s identity is hidden and where men and women don’t learn to interact in a respectful manner the only possible outcome is female objectification. It’s hardly better than the western societies in which female modesty has become rare, if not worse. There has to be a balance between modesty and humanization. Both genders should be modest with their dress and in their actions but not to the point that every non mahram becomes a sex object. Mixed classrooms with dress codes seem like the best way to achieve mutual respect of the opposite gender.

A. Gr.
A. Gr.
20 days ago

As-Salam Aleykum dear Brother, I stumbled upon your website when researching UBI and Islam and was impressed by your beautiful article thereon, in addition to further articles I skimmed through. May Allah bless you and reward you with good, and keep us all on the straight path.

I was surprised then to read this article on the legal ruling of the Niqaab. Specifically, I was surprised to read about the one-sidedness of your article, which shows some views of (great) scholars who deem it to be not obligatory (only a few opinions seem to claim it is neither a Sunnah nor obligatory). Your reasoning when it comes to describing when we can say something is or is not a Sunnah is beautiful and correct according to Islamic law. Acts of worship are (based upon) tawqeef(i); ie, it is not permissible to worship Allah, may He be exalted, through any act of worship unless this act of worship is proven in the shar‘i texts (Qur’aan and Sunnah). Now you quoted merely the opinions of six scholars, many of whom believe that Niqaab is not obligatory, which is a fair opinion, of course, for it is indeed an issue of dispute amongst scholars. However, there are a vast number of scholars who hold that the Niqaab is obligatory and, of course, base this judgement upon the pure evidences from Qur’an and Sunnah – with the correct understanding of the three favoured generations, as per the well-known hadith. These scholars include great scholars that you yourself (according to some posts on your website) admire as I do, like Ibn al Qayyim, as well as his teacher and scholar, Shaykh-ul-Islam Ibn Taymiah.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: 
“… It seems that the view of Ahmad is that every part of her is ‘awrah, even her nails, and this is also the view of Maalik.” 
(Majmoo’ al-Fataawa, 22/110). 
He (may Allaah have mercy on him) further said: 
“Allaah commands women to let the jilbaab come down (over their faces) so that they will be known (as respectable women) and not be annoyed or disturbed. This evidence supports the first opinion. ‘Ubaydah al-Salmaani and others stated that the women used to wear the jilbaab coming down from the top of their heads in such a manner that nothing could be seen except their eyes, so that they could see where they were going. It was proven in al-Saheeh that the woman in ihraam is forbidden to wear the niqaab and gloves. This is what proves that the niqaab and gloves were known among women who were not in ihraam. This implies that they covered their faces and hands.” 
(Majmoo’ al-Fataawa, 15/371-372) 

And it is also true that a great scholar of the level of Shaykh Al-Albany held the opinion that Niqab is not obligatory, but a Sunnah “only”, in recognition of the great deal of evidence from the Qur’an and Sunnah available. Only misrecognition of that would lead to the assertion that wearing the Niqaab is neither obilgatory nor a Sunnah, which is to say it has no legal basis in Islam.
What do you do with these and further clear evidences?
What do you do with the hadeeth that narrated that ‘Aa’ishah said: “The riders used to pass by us when we were with the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) in ihraam. When they came near, each of us would lower her jilbaab from her head over her face, and when they passed by we would uncover (our faces).” 
(Narrated by Abu Dawood, 1833; Ahmad, 24067 
Shaykh al-Albaani said in Jilbaab al-Mar’ah al-Muslimah (107): its isnaad is hasan because of the existence of corroborating reports.)

What do you do with the evidence in the second most authentic book after the Qur’an, Sahih Al Bukhary? :
It was narrated that ‘Aa’ishah (may Allaah be pleased with her) said: “May Allaah have mercy on the women of the Muhaajireen. When Allaah revealed the words (interpretation of the meaning)
 ‘and to draw their veils all over Juyoobihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms)…”
[al-Noor 24:31], they tore their aprons and covered their faces with them.” 
(Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 4480);

What will you do with the authentic hadith narrated from ‘Abd-Allaah wherein the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) is to have said: “The woman is ‘awrah and when she goes out the Shaytaan gets his hopes up.” (Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 1173). Al-Albaani said in Saheeh al-Tirmidhi (936): It is saheeh. 

And I could go on with evidences, but I’m sure you may have read these and further elaborations from great scholars (that you recognised in your of your posts too), such as Shaykh Ibn Uthaymeen, Ibn Baaz etc, may Allah have mercy on them. You know, may Allah bless you, that these scholars were not “Saudi scholars” rather there were scholars of the whole Ummah whose words have reached the whole world – me living in Germany and many others across the globe. That is because they were pious, Allah fearing and most knowledgable. And Allah, may He be exalted, says (interpretation of the meaning): “Allah has promised those among you who believe, and do righteous good deeds, that He will certainly grant them succession to (the present rulers) in the earth, as He granted it to those before them, and that He will grant them the authority to practise their religion, that which He has chosen for them (i.e. Islam). [an-Noor 24:55].

I am sure you and I are on the same side when we say that (true) Islam is perfect as it encompasses all aspects of life, and it is indeed Islam that came to honour the women at a time when there were no inheritance rights among the Idol Worshippers, no honour of women, when girls were buried alive because of preference of boys, and so more. But Share’ah reflects the Wisdom of the Most Knowledgeable, who legislated upon His servants that they should not freely mix with each other, and that there should be a safe and respectful environment wherein sexual desires are not what define the interactions between women and men, and where women (as in the West) are truly objectified – whereas in Islam they are magnified and honoured. Just look at the stories of our Mothers (the Mother of Believers) what kind of heroes and role model they were – both to all Sisters and to Brothers, including me (male). This is more relating to the comment of the “Anonymous”: if we all did but spend some time and study our religion properly as is expected by our Lord, by Allah misconceptions and confusions would be dispelled and clarity would come, which would win over these doubts that have intrused some who lean towards Western models of co-education and – that is the worst – blame Islam (implicitly) by saying gender segregation – that IS an Islamic concept – is hardly better than the western societies if not worse. Recognise, may Allah bless you, that it is not the fundament, the foundation (Islam) that is the problem, rather it is people who do not study their religion properly and possibly misuse it to achieve their own goals, by for instance disrespecting women because they are machos. This has nothing to do with Islam. Here follows some evidences of what HAS to do with Islam and how it honours women as mothers, sisters, daughters etc, which will – inshaAllah – be sufficient evidence for you to reconsider your position and acknowledge that truly there is no better system for female, male, indeed all beings in this universe than Islam:

Honoring parents in the QuranAll of that is mentioned in many texts of the Quran and Sunnah Prophetic traditions). 
For example, Allah says (interpretation of the meaning): 
“And We have enjoined on man to be dutiful and kind to his parents” [al-Ahqaf 46:15] 
“And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him. And that you be dutiful to your parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age in your life, say not to them a word of disrespect, nor shout at them but address them in terms of honor.
And lower unto them the wing of submission and humility through mercy, and say: ‘My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy as they did bring me up when I was young’” [al-Isra 17:23, 24]

Honoring parents in the SunnahIbn Majah (2781) narrated that Mu’awiyah ibn Jahimiah al-Sulami (may Allah be pleased with him) said: I came to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and said: O Messenger of Allah, I want to go for jihad (battle) with you, seeking thereby the Face of Allah and the Hereafter. He said, “Woe to you! Is your mother still alive?” I said, Yes. He said, “Go back and honor her.” Then I approached him from the other side and said: O Messenger of Allah, I want to go for jihad with you, seeking thereby the Face of Allah and the Hereafter. He said, “Woe to you! Is your mother still alive?” I said, Yes. He said, “Go back and honor her.” Then I approached him from in front and said, O Messenger of Allah, I want to go for jihad with you, seeking thereby the Face of Allah and the Hereafter. He said, “Woe to you! Is your mother still alive?” I said, Yes. He said, “Go back and honor her (lit. stay by her feet), for there is Paradise.” (Classed as sahih by al-Albani in Sahih Sunan Ibn Majah. It was also narrated by al-Nasai with the words: “Stay with her for Paradise is beneath her feet.”) 

Al-Bukhari (5971) and Muslim (2548) narrated that Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: A man came to the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) and said: “O Messenger of Alaah, who is most deserving of my good company?” He said: “Your mother.” He said: “Then who?” He said: “Your mother.” He said: “Then who?” He said: “Your mother.” He said: “Then who?” He said: “Then your father.” 

And the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “I urge you to treat women well.” (Narrated by al-Bukhari, 331; Muslim, 1468) 

And the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “The best of you is the one who is best to his wife, and I am the best of you to my wives.” (Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, 3895; Ibn Majah, 1977; classed as sahih by al-Albani in Sahih al-Tirmidhi) 

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Women are the twin halves of men.” (Narrated by Abu Dawood in his Sunan, 236, from the hadeeth of ‘Aa’ishah; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Abi Dawood, 216). 

And Allah knows best.
May Allah bless our Prophet Muhammed.