The First Requirement: The Extent of Covering
The dress worn in public must cover the entire body except what has been specifically excluded, based upon the following proofs:
Allah Ta'ala says: "And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts from sin and not show of their adornment except only that which is apparent, and draw their headcovers over their necks and bosoms and not reveal their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women (i.e., their sisters in Islam), or their female slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants free of physical desires, or small children who have no sense of women's nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah altogether, O you Believers, in order that you may attain success.[An-Nur, 24:31]
The word zeenah in the aayah above, literally means "adornment", and includes both (a) that which Allah has adorned, i.e., the woman's natural and/or physical beauty, and (b) that with which they adorn themselves, i.e., jewelry, eye shadow, attractive clothing, hand dye, etc. Soorat An-Nur spells out specifically the commands concerning the fact that a woman's natural beauty and her adornments are to be concealed from strangers except by (1) What may show due to accidental or uncontrollable factors such as the blowing of the wind, etc., and (2) What has been exempted (see explanation at end of this section). Allah
O Prophet , Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their outer garments about themselves (when they go out). That is better so that they may be recognised and not molested. And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. [Al-Ahzaab, 33:59]
Abu Dawood Radi Allahu Ta'alaa Anhu narrates that `Aishah Radi Allahu Ta'alaa Anha said: "Asmaa' Radi Allahu Ta'alaa Anha the daughter of Abu Bakr Radi Allahu Ta'alaa Anhu came to see the Messenger of Allah wearing a thin dress; so Allah's Messenger turned away from her and said: O Asmaa', once a woman reaches the age of menstruation, no part of her body should be seen but this-and he pointed to his face and hands.
The word khumur (pl. of khimar) refers to a cloth which covers the head (including the ears), hair, neck and bosom. The esteemed mufaasir (Quranic interpreter) Al-Qurtubi explains: "Women in the past used to cover their heads with the khimar, throwing its ends over their backs. This left the neck and the upper part of the chest bare, in the manner of the Christians. Then Allah commanded them to cover those parts with the khimar."
Allah states further in this aayah:
...And let them not stamp their feet so as to reveal what they hide of their adornments The women in the time of the Prophet wore anklets which could be employed to attract attention by stamping their feet, thereby making the anklets tinkle. This practice is not only forbidden by Allah , but moreover, shows that the legs and ankles are to be covered as well. Some of the modern day Hanafi scholars are of the mistaken view that a woman can display her feet, a portion of her forearms and her ears; yet there is NO authentic proof from the practice of the Prophet or his Sahabah to uphold such a view.
Amongst the authentic hadeeths which clarify this point is the following: Ibn `Umar Radi Allahu Ta'alaa Anhu reported that the Messenger of Allah said: On the Day of Resurrection, Allah will not look at the man who trails his garment along out of pride. Umm Salamah Radi Allahu Ta'alaa Anha then asked: What should women do with (the hems of) their garments? He replied: Let them lower them a handspan. She said: Their feet would be exposed! He then said: Let them lower them a forearm's length but no more. [Reported by At-Tabarani-Sahih]
The aayah of Soorat An-Nur also lists in detail those with whom a woman is permitted to be more at ease. Furthermore, the ayah from Soorat Al-Ahzab orders Muslim women to draw their outer garments about themselves when they go out. Abu Dawood related that `Aishah Radi Allahu Ta'alaa Anha Radi Allahu Ta'alaa Anha said: "After this Aayah was revealed the women of the Ansar appeared like crows." (because of the color and shape of the cloaks they wore).
Hence, an outer garment or cloak must be worn by a Muslim woman whenever she goes out in public or if she is in the presence of strangers within her own home or the home of a close relative. Slight differences have arisen amongst the scholars concerning the precise meaning of ...except only that which is apparent... from Soorah An-Nur which according to Ibn `Abaas Radi Allahu Ta'alaa Anhu, includes "the face, the two hands, and rings. This view is shared by Ibn `Umar, `Ata'a Radi Allahu Ta'alaa Anhu, and others from the Tabi'een." [Tafseer Ibn Kathir]
Also, Imam Ash-Showkani states concerning this same ayaat, that it includes: "The dress, the face, and the two hands"; Ibn `Abaas and Qatadah Radi Allahu Ta'alaa Anhu have stated: "The adornments include eye shadow (i.e., Kuhul), bracelets, hand dye, and rings, and it is permissable for women to (uncover) them." [Fateh Al-Qadeer]
The major point of difference among the scholars concerns the hadeeth of Asmaa' Radi Allahu Ta'alaa Anha i.e., that the face and hands need not be covered; a number of the scholars have maintained that the face and hands must also be covered, because it was the practice of the wives of the Prophet and the wives of the Sahabah to cover themselves completely according to authentic hadeeths. The above point has been a topic of debate amongst the scholars both past and present and will be dealt with, Insha' Allah at the end of this essay.
The Second Requirement: Thickness
The garment should be thick and opaque so as not to display the skin color and form of the body beneath it. Delicate or transparent clothing does not constitute a proper covering. The Sahabah were very stern on this and regarded scanty clothing in public as an indicator of a woman's lack of belief. Al-Qurtubi reports a narration from `Aishah Radi Allahu Ta'alaa Anha that some women from Banu Tamim came to see her wearing transparent clothing. `Aishah Radi Allahu Ta'alaa Anha said to them: "If you are are believing women, these are not the clothes of believing women." He also reports that a bride came to see her wearing a sheer, transparent khimaar, whereupon `Aishah Radi Allahu Ta'alaa Anha said: "A woman who wears such clothing does not believe in Soorat An-Nur."
Moreover, the following hadeeth makes this point graphically clear. Allah's Messenger said: There will be in the last of my Ummah (nation of believers), scantily dressed women, the hair on the top of their heads like a camel's hump. Curse them, for verily they are cursed. In another version he said: ...scantily dressed women, who go astray and make others go astray; they will not enter Paradise nor smell its fragrance, although it can be smelled from afar. [At-Tabarani and Sahih Muslim] "Scantily dressed women" are those who wear clothing which reveals more than it conceals, thereby increasing her attractiveness while opening the path to a host of evils.
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