The Woman is NOT Obligated to Cover Her Face


The Saying of Allah (An-Nur 30, 31):

<( قُلْ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ يَغُضُّوا مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِمْ وَيَحْفَظُوا فُرُوجَهُمْ ذَلِكَ أَزْكَى لَهُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا يَصْنَعُونَ (30) وَقُلْ لِلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا)>

<O Muhammad, say to the male believers that they should lower their gazes and preserve their private parts. That is purer for them. Allah is knowledgeable of what they commit. And say to the believing women to lower their gazes and to preserve their private parts, and they are not to expose their decoration, except what appears from it.>

From the Commentary of I^anah At-Talibin, Shaykh Al-Bakriyy Ad-Dimyatiyy said:

(ولا يبدين زينتهن إلا ما ظهر منها) * قال ابن عباس وعائشة: هو الوجه والكفان. ولأنهما لو كانا عورة في العبادات لما وجب كشفهما في الإحرام، ولأن الحاجة تدعو إلى إبرازهما.

The verse (that apparently translates as): ‘They [the women] are not to expose their decoration except what appears from it,’ Ibn Abbas and ^A’ishah said that the exception in the verse is “the face and the hands”.  And had those two been nakedness within the worship, it would not have been obligatory to expose them in the Ihram. Furthermore, need [i.e. life issues] calls for those organs to be exposable.

The Imam and Mujathid, Ibn Jarir At-Tabariyy, in his book of interpretation said about this verse:

وأولى الأقوال في ذلك بالصواب: قول من قال: عنى بذلك: الوجه والكفان، يدخل في ذلك إذا كان كذلك: الكحل، والخاتم، والسوار، والخضاب. وإنما قلنا ذلك أولى الأقوال في ذلك بالتأويل؛ لإجماع الجميع على أن على كلّ مصل أن يستر عورته في صلاته، وأن للمرأة أن تكشف وجهها وكفيها في صلاتها، وأن عليها أن تستر ما عدا ذلك من بدنها، إلا ما روي عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم أنه أباح لها أن تبديه من ذراعها إلى قدر النصف. فإذا كان ذلك من جميعهم إجماعا، كان معلوما بذلك أن لها أن تبدي من بدنها ما لم يكن عورة، كذلك للرجال; لأن ما لم يكن عورة فغير حرام إظهاره؛ وإذا كان لها إظهار ذلك، كان معلوما أنه مما استثناه الله تعالى ذكره، بقوله: (إِلا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا) لأن كل ذلك ظاهر منها.

The most deserving of sayings about the correct explanation of this verse is the saying of whoever said: “He meant by that exclusion: the face and the hands.” And if this is the meaning, then what is included is the kuhl (eye liner), the ring, the bracelet, and the dye (e.g., the hinna’). We say that this is the best of explanations for this verse because of their agreement that the person who is praying has to cover his nakedness in the prayer, and that the woman can expose her face and hands in her prayer, and that she has to cover everything other than that- except what was narrated from the Prophet that he permitted her to show half of her forearm. Since this is unanimous from all of them, it is known by this [i.e., by using this standard- by referring to what can be exposed in the prayer] that she is allowed to show her body as long it is not nakedness (^awrah). The same standard is used for the men; whatever is not nakedness, exposing it is not forbidden. If it is permissible for her to expose that, then it is known that this is what Allah has exempted  when He said (what apparently translates as): “Except what shows up”; that (i.e., the face and hands) is what shows up.

Some people stubbornly claim that At-Tabariyy is only addressing the woman’s nakedness inside the prayer, so that they can stick to their opinion that outside of the prayer she must cover her face, and no one would say that this is what At-Tabariyy means by his talk except the one who does not understand- or does not truly accept- At-Tabariyy’s point. Is his purpose here to explain the difference between the nakedness inside the prayer as opposed to outside of the prayer, or is his purpose here to explain the aforementioned verse of the Qur’an which is unrelated to the prayer? For sure, his purpose is to explain this verse of the Qur’an- this verse which is not addressing the prayer; it is addressing the general nakedness of the woman in the presence of marriageable men. Again, this verse of the Qur’an is NOT clarifying the nakedness of the prayer as opposed to the nakedness outside of the prayer, it is addressing what a woman can expose in general. Therefore, At-Tabariyy is only using the prayer as a STANDARD by which the nakedness can be known, and he is not saying that exposing the face and hands is the nakedness of the woman only in the prayer, but not outside of the prayer. According to those people’s attempt to twist At-Tabariyy’s purpose, he did not explain the verse, because according to them, he is talking about the nakedness in the prayer, while this verse is not discussing the nakedness of the prayer, as can be clearly seen by merely reading the verse.

Here is Ar-Raziyy’s commentary on the same verse, and his documentation of the Consensus, copying that from Al-Qaffal:

فَقَالَ الْقَفَّالُ مَعْنَى الْآيَةِ إِلَّا مَا يُظْهِرُهُ الْإِنْسَانُ فِي الْعَادَةِ الْجَارِيَةِ، وَذَلِكَ فِي النِّسَاءِ الوجه وَالْكَفَّانِ، وَفِي الرَّجُلِ الْأَطْرَافُ مِنَ الوجه وَالْيَدَيْنِ وَالرِّجْلَيْنِ، فَأُمِرُوا بِسَتْرِ مَا لَا تُؤَدِّي الضَّرُورَةُ إِلَى كَشْفِهِ وَرُخِّصَ لَهُمْ فِي كَشْفِ مَا اعْتِيدَ كَشْفُهُ وَأَدَّتِ الضَّرُورَةُ إِلَى إِظْهَارِهِ إِذْ كَانَتْ شَرَائِعُ الْإِسْلَامِ حَنِيفِيَّةً سَهْلَةً سَمْحَةً، وَلَمَّا كَانَ ظُهُورُ الوجه وَالْكَفَّيْنِ كَالضَّرُورِيِّ لَا جَرَمَ اتَّفَقُوا عَلَى أَنَّهُمَا لَيْسَا بِعَوْرَةٍ

Al-Qaffal said that the meaning of the verse is “except what the person exposes ordinarily”, and for the women, that is the face and the hands, and for the men, the edges of his limbs; the face, hands and legs. They were commanded to cover what necessity does not dictate exposing, and facility was given to them to expose what is normally exposed, and what necessity dictates would be exposed. This is because the religious laws are easy and tolerant. Since exposing the face and hands is like a necessity, then for sure they have AGREED that they are not nakedness.

This explanation of the verse was also transmitted from Sa^id Ibn Jubayr, ^Ata’ and others. This saying, that the woman is not obligated to cover her face, is what is correct, and what is supported by the evidence, like the hadith of the lady from the tribe of Khath^am, as narrated by Al-Bukhariyy, Muslim, Malik, AbuDawud, An-Nasa’iyy, and Ahmad:

عن عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ عَبَّاسٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمَا، قَالَ: أَرْدَفَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ الفَضْلَ بْنَ عَبَّاسٍ يَوْمَ النَّحْرِ خَلْفَهُ عَلَى عَجُزِ رَاحِلَتِهِ، وَكَانَ الفَضْلُ رَجُلًا وَضِيئًا، فَوَقَفَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ لِلنَّاسِ يُفْتِيهِمْ، وَأَقْبَلَتِ امْرَأَةٌ مِنْ خَثْعَمَ وَضِيئَةٌ تَسْتَفْتِي رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، فَطَفِقَ الفَضْلُ يَنْظُرُ إِلَيْهَا، وَأَعْجَبَهُ حُسْنُهَا، فَالْتَفَتَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ وَالفَضْلُ يَنْظُرُ إِلَيْهَا، فَأَخْلَفَ بِيَدِهِ فَأَخَذَ بِذَقَنِ الفَضْلِ، فَعَدَلَ وَجْهَهُ عَنِ النَّظَرِ إِلَيْهَا،

From the route of Ibn Abbas: Al-Fadl Ibn ^Abbas rode behind the Messenger of Allah on the Day of An-Nahr, and Al-Fadl was a handsome man. The Messenger of Allah stopped to give religious answers to the people. A beautiful woman from the tribe of Khath^am came to seek a religious answer from the Messenger of Allah, and Al-Fadl started looking at her; her beauty impressed him. The Messenger of Allah turned and Al-Fadl was still looking at her, so the Messenger of Allah took him by the chin with his hand and turned his face from looking at her.

Ibn Hajar said:

قَالَ بن بَطَّالٍ فِي الْحَدِيثِ الْأَمْرُ بِغَضِّ الْبَصَرِ خَشْيَةَ الْفِتْنَةِ وَمُقْتَضَاهُ أَنَّهُ إِذَا أُمِنَتِ الْفِتْنَةُ لَمْ يَمْتَنِعْ قَالَ وَيُؤَيِّدُهُ أَنَّهُ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ لَمْ يُحَوِّلْ وَجْهَ الْفَضْلِ حَتَّى أَدْمَنَ النَّظَرَ إِلَيْهَا لِإِعْجَابِهِ بِهَا فَخَشِيَ الْفِتْنَةَ عَلَيْهِ قَالَ وَفِيهِ مُغَالَبَةُ طِبَاعِ الْبَشَرِ لِابْنِ آدَمَ وَضَعْفُهُ عَمَّا رُكِّبَ فِيهِ مِنَ الْمَيْلِ إِلَى النِّسَاءِ وَالْإِعْجَابِ بِهِنَّ وَفِيهِ دَلِيلٌ عَلَى أَنَّ نِسَاءَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ لَيْسَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِنَ الْحِجَابِ مَا يَلْزَمُ أَزْوَاجَ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ إِذْ لَوْ لَزِمَ ذَلِكَ جَمِيعَ النِّسَاءِ لَأَمَرَ النَّبِيُّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ الْخَثْعَمِيَّةَ بِالِاسْتِتَارِ وَلَمَا صَرَفَ وَجْهَ الْفَضْلِ قَالَ وَفِيهِ دَلِيلٌ عَلَى أَنَّ سَتْرَ الْمَرْأَةِ وَجْهَهَا لَيْسَ فَرْضًا لِإِجْمَاعِهِمْ عَلَى أَنَّ لِلْمَرْأَةِ أَنْ تُبْدِيَ وَجْهَهَا فِي الصَّلَاةِ وَلَوْ رَآهُ الْغُرَبَاءُ

Ibn Battal said, “In this hadith, there is the command of lowering the gaze out of fear of tribulation (fitnah; i.e., sin), and that dictates that if it is not feared, then looking is not forbidden…’ He (Ibn Battal) said, ‘What supports this is that he- sallallahu ^alayhi wa sallam- did not turn Al-Fadl’s face until he persistently looked at her because of being impressed by her, so the Prophet feared sin for him…’ He (Ibn Battal) said, ‘In the hadith, there is also how the human’s nature overcomes him and his weakness against his inclination towards women, and in it there is evidence that what is obligatory on the wives of the Prophet in reference to covering is not obligatory on the (other) believing women, because had that been obligatory, he would have commanded that woman of Khath^am to cover, and he would not have turned Al-Fadl’s face…’ he (Ibn Battal) said ‘And in it is evidence that covering the face IS NOT OBLIGATORY, which is why they have a CONSENSUS that a woman can expose her face in the Prayer, even if strangers saw her.’

If someone says that this hadith is not evidence that the women can expose their faces outside of the prayer, because this woman was in the state of ihram for Hajj, and it is forbidden for a woman to cover her face in that state- and that is how Ibn Hajar criticized the quote of Ibn Battal- there are two responses:

  1. There is no explicit evidence in the hadith that she was in the state of ihram. In fact, other narrations of the story prove that this incident occurred at the place for throwing pebbles, and it is very likely that a person would have exited the state of ihram by that point of the Hajj.
  2. Had the woman been obligated to cover her face like the wives of the Prophet, there would have been a way for her to merge between the obligation of covering her face and the prohibition of wearing a veil while in ihram, which is by attaching some protruding rods or the like from which a veil can drape down and hide the face without touching the face. This is what the wives of the Prophet used to do. Abu Dawud narrated that ^A’ishah said:

كَانَ الرُّكْبَانُ يَمُرُّونَ بِنَا وَنَحْنُ مَعَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ مُحْرِمَاتٌ، فَإِذَا حَاذَوْا بِنَا سَدَلَتْ إِحْدَانَا جِلْبَابَهَا مِنْ رَأْسِهَا عَلَى وَجْهِهَا فَإِذَا جَاوَزُونَا كَشَفْنَاهُ

“The riders would pass by us while we were with the Messenger of Allah in the state of ihram. When they would become parallel to us one of us would drape the jilbab from her head over her face, and when they would move on we would expose it (i.e., the face).”

Had this woman from Khath^am had the same obligation as they did, the Prophet would have commanded her to do like his wives. Since he did not, then we knew that she was allowed to expose her face. This is why we did not take Ibn Hajar’s criticism about Ibn Battal’s point: “His (Ibn Battal’s) reference to the story of the lady from Khath^am  is disputable because she was in a state of ihram.” There is no explicit reference to her being in that state, and had she been, she could have done as the wives of the Prophet did. The Prophet’s silence about her face being seen is evidence that the woman can come out into the street and the likes with her face exposed, especially since the incident happened at the place of throwing the stones, where often there is such crowding that the people’s bodies inadvertently press together. One person tried to deny the evidence in this hadith by producing a quote of Al-Bajiyy, the explainer of Al-Muwatta’, that he said that it was possible that her face was already covered. However,  this quote does not support his opinion, because Al-Bajiyy clearly said in the quote:

إلَّا أَنَّهُ كَانَ يَبْدُو مِنْ وَجْهِهَا مَا يَنْظُرُ إلَيْهِ الْفَضْلُ

“Except that some of her face that Al-Fadl could look at appeared.”

So even according to this quote, her face was visible and the Prophet did not order her to cover it.

What makes it even more obvious that the Muslim women do not have the same obligation as the wives of the Prophet in reference to covering is the Prophet’s commanding his wives to cover their faces before the blind man, Ibn Umm Maktum:

احْتَجِبَا مِنْهُ

“Cover up from him,”

but allowing Fatimah Bint Qays to uncover in front of him:

اعْتَدِّي عِنْدَ ابْنِ أُمِّ مَكْتُومٍ، فَإِنَّهُ رَجُلٌ أَعْمَى تَضَعِينَ ثِيَابَكِ عِنْدَهُ

“Spend your ^iddah at Ibn Umm Maktum’s place. He is a blind man, you can undress before him.”

Abu Dawud said:

هَذَا لِأَزْوَاجِ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ خَاصَّةً، أَلَا تَرَى إِلَى اعْتِدَادِ فَاطِمَةَ بِنْتِ قَيْسٍ عِنْدَ ابْنِ أُمِّ مَكْتُومٍ

“That was specifically for the wives of the Prophet. Don’t you see Fatimah Bint Qays’ ^iddah?”

For this evidence, the scholars who confirmed the Consensus about the woman being allowed to expose her face did not give consideration to whatever opposes this evidence; they did not consider that the Consensus is hindered because they did not give any weight to what opposes the evidence. A saying of a scholar is considered when it has a valid proof. It is not merely that a scholar says something that it should be considered. Unfortunately, among the people these days are those who consider the word of the scholar religious evidence equal the Qur’an and the hadith, so that they would adjust the meaning of or even weaken a hadith to make room for the quote of a scholar (which complies with their idea).  They ignore the words of the scholars of the schools who talked in compliance with the evidence we have brought forward, besides those previously mentioned, such as Imam Al-Haramayn, because they want to impose the veil on their wives. Ibn Hajar Al-Haytamiyy has two books in which he conveys the Consensus that a woman is not obligated to cover her face when she leaves the house, Al-Fatawa Al-Kubra and the Commentary on the Explanation of Al-Idah by An-Nawawiyy. In the first book, he said:

وَحَاصِلُ مَذْهَبِنَا أَنَّ إمَامَ الْحَرَمَيْنِ نَقَلَ الْإِجْمَاعَ عَلَى جَوَازِ خُرُوجِ الْمَرْأَةِ سَافِرَةَ الْوَجْهِ وَعَلَى الرِّجَالِ غَضُّ الْبَصَرِ

“The synopsis of our school is that Imam Al-Haramayn copied the Consensus about the permissibility of the woman going out with her face uncovered, and that is obligatory on the men to the lower their gazes.

This quote is not about the prayer. If someone brings a quote from Al-Haytamiyy that contradicts this one, that he said if the woman fears being peeped at she must cover her face, then either Al-Haytamiyy has been lied on, or he has conflicting statements. If he does have conflicting statements, then nothing should be taken except what complies with the evidence.

What is their evidence to say that the woman has to cover her face? They said that it is the fear of sinning. However, there is no evidence there. In fact, the evidence shows that the fear of sin still does not make it obligatory on the woman to cover her face, for when the Prophet was asked why he turned his cousin’s face away from the beautiful woman, the Prophet said:

رَأَيْتُ غُلَامًا حَدَثًا وَجَارِيَةً حَدَثَةً فَخَشِيتُ أَنْ يَدْخُلَ بَيْنَهُمَا الشَّيْطَانُ

“I saw a young man and a young woman, and I feared that the devil would get between them.”

This hadith is against what some later Shafi^iyys said, like Shaykh Zakariya and Ar-Ramliyy, and if something is against the evidence it is not taken. Among the imams who took by the proper evidence was As-Sarakhsiyy the Hanafiyy in Al-Mabsut:

ثُمَّ لَا شَكَّ أَنَّهُ يُبَاحُ النَّظَرُ إلَى ثِيَابِهَا وَلَا يُعْتَبَرُ خَوْفُ الْفِتْنَةِ فِي ذَلِكَ فَكَذَلِكَ إلَى وَجْهِهَا وَكَفِّهَا

“Furthermore, there is no doubt that it is permissible to look at a woman’s clothing, and fear of tribulation is not given consideration, and likewise her face and her hands.”

Shaykh Muhammad ^Illaysh Al-Malikiyy said in the explanation of Mukhtasar Khalil [merged with the original text]:

(وَ) هِيَ مِنْ حُرَّةٍ (مَعَ) رَجُلٍ (أَجْنَبِيٍّ) مُسْلِمٍ جَمِيعُ جَسَدِهَا (غَيْرُ الْوَجْهِ وَالْكَفَّيْنِ) ظَهْرًا وَبَطْنًا فَالْوَجْهُ وَالْكَفَّانِ لَيْسَا عَوْرَةً فَيَجُوزُ لَهَا كَشْفُهُمَا لِلْأَجْنَبِيِّ وَلَهُ نَظَرُهُمَا إنْ لَمْ تُخْشَ الْفِتْنَةُ فَإِنْ خِيفَتْ الْفِتْنَةُ بِهِ فَقَالَ ابْنُ مَرْزُوقٍ مَشْهُورُ الْمَذْهَبِ وُجُوبُ سَتْرِهِمَا وَقَالَ عِيَاضٌ لَا يَجِبُ سَتْرُهُمَا وَيَجِبُ عَلَيْهِ غَضُّ بَصَرِهِ

For the free woman with respects to the marriageable Muslim man, it is all of her body other than the face and the hands, front and back. Therefore, the face and the hands are not nakedness. Hence, it is permissible for her to expose them to the marriageable man, and for him to look at them if there is no fear of tribulation. If tribulation is feared, Ibn Marzuq said that what is famous in the school is the obligation of covering them. ^Iyad said, ‘It is not obligatory to cover them, it is obligatory on him to lower his gaze’.

We already referenced Ibn Battal who said that the hadith of the Khath^am lady proves that the man must lower his gaze when fearing sin. Our Shaykh, Shaykh ^Abdullah Al-Harariyy said:

As for what is in a book by Shaykh Zakariya Al-Ansariyy, and [also said by] Shamsud-Din Ar-Ramliyy, that it is not permissible for a woman to go out if sin is feared from her or for her- even if her guardian or master or husband permits- there is no evidence that supports this, and it is not transmitted, and it has no evidence. The fear of sin existed in the first generation of Muslims, and despite that, there was no text that came [from the Prophet] about the prohibition of women going out while there is a fear of fitnah (fornication, unlawful privacy, etc). Muslim narrated in his Sahih that the Messenger of Allah said:

فَمَا بَالُ أَقْوَامٍ إِذَا غَزَوْنَا يَتَخَلَّفُ أَحَدُهُمْ عَنَّا لَهُ نَبِيبٌ كَنَبِيبِ التَّيْسِ

“What’s wrong with some people; If we went out on an excursion, they stay behind [looking for women]. They have a ‘nabib (the sound of the goat when he approaches the female to mate)’ like that of the goat.”

In this hadith, there is evidence that at that time there were people who went after women to commit atrocities, and despite that, there was never a verdict from the Messenger of Allah forbidding the women from coming outside with their faces uncovered.  What supports that is what Imam Ibn Habib, one of the elite Malikis from the second century said: “I witnessed Al-Madinah when women with exceptional beauty came out with their faces uncovered.”

He also said:

Among what testifies to the validity of what we have said  is what was narrated by Ibn Hibban as a marfu ^hadith (i.e., attributed to the Prophet) from the route of Ibn Abbas, that he said: “There used to be a beautiful woman who would pray behind the Messenger of Allah, among the most beautiful of people. Some men used to advance to the first line so that they would not see her, and others used to procrastinate to pray in the last row, so that when he would bow, he would look under his armpit [to see her]. For this, Allah revealed the verse:

<(وَلَقَدْ عَلِمْنَا الْمُسْتَقْدِمِينَ مِنْكُمْ وَلَقَدْ عَلِمْنَا الْمُسْتَأْخِرِينَ)>

<Allah knows those of you who advance forward, and those of you who delay>.

The point of evidence is that the Messenger did not say to that beautiful woman, “Put on a veil before you leave the house,” or “Come with your face covered.” Since he did not say that, we know that the religious ruling is not dependent on fear of fitnah (tribulation; sin)…

In what has been presented there is evidence that there was fear of tribulation for the men from the women, and there was also fear of tribulation for the women from the men, for ^Umar Ibnu-l-Khattab deported a man named Nasr IbnHajjaj because he feared the women for him due to his exaggerated beauty. The goodness is in follow the early imams who were generally more knowledgeable and more God-fearing, and what is acceptable is what is supported by evidence. The point is clear for he who wants to know, and whoever wishes to cling to his opinion will feel bitter about this and spread to the people what clearly is outweighed and weak. Do not be enticed by people who say they want a majority opinion and let that desire encourage them to turn a blind eye to evidence,

and Allah knows best.