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The Niqaab (Face Veil): Between Mustahab (Recommendable) and Waajib (Mandatory)

The esteemed Quraanic commentators At-Tabaree and Al-Qurtubee have elaborated on the form of Hijaab or Jilbaab i.e., “outer garments” as viewed by the Companions of the Prophet (radiallahu ‘anhum), as well as the circumstances surrounding the revelation of Soorah Al-Ahzaab: 59, that was quoted at the beginning of this essay. They state that when the believing women used to go out at night (wearing ordinary clothes) to answer the call of nature, some hypocrites tried to annoy them, thinking the women were slave girls. The women thereby would scream out loudly causing these hypocrites to flee. Thereupon Allah revealed this Ayaah.

Al-Qurtubee states that the jilbaab is “a cloth which covers the entire body.” Ibn ‘Abbaas and ‘Ubaidah As- Salmaanee have said that it is to be fully wrapped around the women’s body so that nothing appears but “one eye with which she can see.” The Tabi’ee, Qataadah (radiallahu ‘anhum), stated that the Jilbaab should be wrapped and fixed from above the forehead and made to cover the nose, (although the eyes are to show) and the chest and most of the face are to be covered.

Furthermore, it has been authentically related in the Muwatta of Imaam Maalik and the Sunan of Abu Dawood that the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) forbade women from covering their faces and hands during their performance of Salaat, Hajj or Umrah. This clearly indicates that wearing the face veil (Niqaab or Burqa’a) was a common practice during the time of Rasool-Allah (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam), and not as some people claim, a cultural practice that appeared years later! Among the proofs used by the scholars regarding the face veil are the following: ‘Aaishah (radiallahu ‘anhaa) said: May Allah bestow His Mercy on the first Muhaajiraat (emigrants). When Allah revealed: …and draw their headcovers over their necks and bosoms… they tore their (material) and covered themselves with it. [Al-Bukharee]

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Ibn Hajar AI-Asqalanee, known as “Ameer Al-Mu’mineen in Hadeeth” has explained that “covered themselves” means: “covered their faces.” [Fath Al-Baree] Additionally, after the battle of Khaybar, the Prophet (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) married Safiyah bint Huyai. The Muslims said amongst themselves: Will she (Safiyah) be one of the Mothers of the Believers (i.e., wives of the Prophet) or just what his right hand possesses (i.e., slave girl). Some of them said: If he (sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) makes her observe Hijaab, then she will be one of the Mothers of the Believers, and if he does not make her observe Hijaab, then she will be what his right hand possesses. So when he departed (for Medina), he made a place for her behind him (on his camel) and made her observe Hijaab. [Al-Bukharee]

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