This chapter is based on an authoritative Arabic book titled Hijab al-Mar’ah al-Muslimah fil Kitab was-Sunnah, by Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani, a famous scholar and traditionist. It was translated by this writer and initially published in condensed form in the quarterly, Islam and the Modern Age.
The third edition of the original work with some additions is before me. The question of hijab (veil), the author tells us, has been discussed in the light of the Qur’an and Hadith.
From the author’s point of view, a woman’s face is not included in the parts of the body that need to be compulsorily covered. He suggests, however, that it is better to cover it. He agrees with those who, in spite of holding the view that the face is not to be covered as a rule, nevertheless advocate the covering of the face in order to discourage mischief, in view of the general moral degradation in present-day society. Here is one of the traditions referred to by him to support his argument.
‘Aishah says that Muslim women used to attend the Morning Prayer led by the Prophet wrapped in a sheet of cloth. Afterwards, when they returned home, it was so dark that they could not be recognized.
This narrative makes it clear that their faces were not covered. Had their faces been covered, the question of their being recognized would not arise. The phrase “because of the darkness they could not be recognized” makes sense only if the faces, by which individuals are recognized, were uncovered.
Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani takes a similar stand as regards the covering of a woman’s hands, quoting a famous tradition narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas. It says that once the Messenger of God addressed the women to urge them to give alms (Sadaqah). Afterwards Bilal ibn Rabah, a Companion of the Prophet, spread a sheet, on which the women began throwing their rings.
After quoting this tradition the author quotes Ibn Hazm: “Ibn ‘Abbas saw the hands of women in the presence of the Prophet. This proves that the face as well as the hands are not included in the parts of the body to be covered. Indeed all other parts except these have to be veiled?”
He further writes: My heart bleeds to see the way many women of today adorn themselves, crossing all limits of decency. But the remedy does not lie in declaring forbidden what Allah has permitted.
He goes on to say that it is clear from the Qur’an, the Hadith and the practice of the Companions and Tabi’in (companions of the Prophet’s Companions) that, whenever a woman steps out of her home, it is incumbent upon her to cover herself completely so as not to show any part of her body except the face and the hands. According to Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani’s findings the following rules of hijab are applicable:
1. The whole body, except for the exempted parts should be covered.
2. But any veil, which in itself becomes an attraction, is to be avoided.
3. Garments should not be semi-transparent.
4. Dress should not be tight fitting.
5. Garments should not be perfumed.
6. The form of dress should not in any way resemble that of men.
7. It should not resemble that of non-believers.
8. Garments should not reflect worldly honor.
The first rule of hijab has been derived from the following passages of the Qur’an: “And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and be modest, and to display of their adornment only that which is apparent, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or fathers or husbands’ fathers, or their sons or their husbands’ sons, or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or sisters’ sons, or their women, or their slaves, or male attendants who lack vigor, or children who know naught 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 together, O believers, in order that ye may succeed.” (24:31)
The second rule of hijab, according to Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani’s research, is that hijab in itself should not be a source of attraction. It should not become a display of finery referred to in the Qur’an as ‘tabarruj’: “Stay in your homes and do not display your finery as women used to do in the days of Jahiliyah (period before Islam). Attend to your prayers, give alms to the poor, and obey God and His Messenger, God only wishes to remove uncleanliness from you (members of the family), and to purify you.” ( 33:33 )
According to the author, the intention of this verse is that a woman should not display her beauty and attraction in such a way as to produce carnal desires in the hearts of men. Since the purpose of the gown (jilbab) is to hide such attractions, it is, therefore, unimaginable that the gown itself should become a source of attraction.
He states, moreover, that in Islam the displaying of feminine attractions is a habit so important to avoid that it has been bracketed in the scriptures along with such unlawful things as polytheism, adultery and theft. He has collected a number of ahadith to support his argument.
The third rule of the hijab, according to the writer, is that the garment should not be thin because a thin cloth can never provide cover. And a diaphanous garment only accentuates the attraction of a woman and becomes a potential source of mischief. The author quotes many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, one of which is as follows:
“Towards the end (in the last phase) there will be women among my followers who appear naked, or as good as naked, even when wearing clothes.”
The fourth condition set by the writer is that the garment should be loose-fitting. He again supports his argument by quoting various sayings of the Prophet. Finally he has given an instance where Fatimah (the Prophet’s daughter) expressed her disapproval of a dead woman being wrapped in such a shroud as might display her body as being a woman’s. He wrote: “See for yourself how the dearest daughter of the Prophet considered the use of such a cloth detestable as would not properly drape feminine parts of a dead woman’s body. Certainly such a garment for a living woman would be far worse!”
The fifth condition of hijab is that the garment should not be perfumed (while going out). There are many traditions forbidding women to wear perfume while going out wearing adornments and perfume is a major sin, even if it is done with the husband’s permission.”
The sixth condition of hijab is that a woman’s garments should not resemble those of men. Here is one of the traditions he has quoted to this effect: “The Prophet has condemned men who imitate women and women who imitate men.” From this tradition the writer comes to the conclusion that a garment which in most parts resembles those of men is not permissible for women, even if it covers her adequately.
The seventh rule of hijab is that it should not resemble that worn by non-believers. Muhammad Nasiruddin al-Albani says that any similarly to non-believers must be avoided, in matters of worship, festivals and dress. The Qur’an states this briefly, but the Sunnah provides the detail. One of the verses that it is: “so that they may not be like those who were given the scriptures before this…”
He quotes Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Kathir who construe this verse as meaning that imitation of non-believers is not allowed in Islam. Then he quotes the tradition in which the Prophet forbade adopting the ways of non-believers in prayers, funeral prayers, sacrifice, food, dress etiquette, etc.
The eighth rule of hijab is that a woman’s garments should not reflect worldly honor. Here is a hadith to this effect: “One who wears the mantle of fame in this world will be made to wear the robe of dishonor in the hereafter.”
His concluding remarks are: “the garment (dress) should cover the entire body of a woman except the face and hands, and should not become an attraction in itself. Neither should it be thin, not tight. It should not accentuate the body. It should not be perfumed or resemble those worn by men or non-believing women. It should not suggest fame.”