Is it fard (obligatory) for women to cover their heads?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

During the Era of Jahiliyya, many people lacked good manners and decency. Ethics, chastity and honor were issues that were talked about but not practiced. Women used to dress immodestly like today and they used to boast by showing their private parts. The religion of Islam, which was sent as divine mercy, introduced some commands and principles in order to amend the people who had been in debauchery. One of these commands is about the covering of women by jilbabs:

"O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their outer garments (jilbabs) over their persons (when abroad)." (al-Ahzab: 33 59).

There are a few views about what jilbab is:

1- Jilbab is a long shirt or loose robe covering the whole body.
2- It is a loose dress worn over a robe.
3- It is a scarf that covers the head, neck and the shoulders.
4- It is a garment that covers the upper part of the body down to the belly.

Khalil, who is the teacher of Sibawayhi says, "Any of those meanings is permissible." (as-Siraj al-Munir Vol. 3. p. 271) A Muslim woman has to cover all of her body except her hands and face. If a person believes in it but does not practice it, she becomes a sinner. However, if a person denies it, she is regarded to have exited the religion of Islam. It is heresy to resort to interpretations that Islam does not accept and to spoil the belief of people.

There are some conditions for tasattur (hijab) to be religiously acceptable; it is necessary to act in accordance with them:

1. The garments must not be so thin or transparent as to reveal the body.
2. They should not be so ornamental and colored as to catch attention.
3. They should not be so tight as to reveal the contours of the body.

If it is customary to wear a coat (overcoat) for women in a country, it is permissible to wear it as long as it is not tight. For, the religion of Islam did not impose a certain garment for men or women. Every country has garments peculiar to them.

The burqa (jilbab) worn in this country is not similar to the one worn in Syria, Iraq and Hejaz. It is not appropriate to say this or that garment has to be worn.   

The main point in the clothing of a Muslim woman is to ensure tasattur (for a woman to cover her head and her body). She should cover all of her body except her hands and face. In order to ensure tasattur (hijab), the clothes that a woman wears should be so thick as not to show what is under and long enough to cover the necessary parts to be covered. Therefore, tasattur is not ensured with a thin and transparent piece of clothing.

The meaning of the hadiths that serve as a basis for the issue is as follows:

Hazrat Aisha narrates: One day, her sister Asma, entered the presence of the Prophet (pbuh) while she was wearing a thin cloth that showed what was under. Hazrat Prophet (pbuh) turned his head away from her and said:

“O Asma! When a woman reaches puberty, it is inconvenient for her to show her body except this and this part –he pointed at his face and hands."1

In Sahih Muslim, Abu Hurayra states that the Prophet (pbuh) stated that women who are naked even though they wear clothes, that is to say, women wearing transparent and thin clothes, will be with the people of Hell and they cannot feel even the smell of Paradise.2

Alqama bin Abi Alqama narrates that his mother said:

“Hafsa, the daughter of Abdurrahman, entered the presence of Hazrat Aisha while she was wearing a scarf so thin as to exhibit her hair. Hazrat Aisha took her scarf and gave it back after folding it in two and making it thick.”3

As for Hazrat Umar (May Allah be pleased with him), he warned believers not to let women wear clothes that show their bodylines clearly although they are not transparent.4

Referring to that hadith, Imam Sarakhsi, explains that even if the clothes a woman wears are very thin, the same decree is valid for them. He mentions the hadith “being naked even though wearing clothes” and says: “Such sort of dresses are just like a net. They do not fulfill covering. Therefore, looking at women who are wearing clothes like that is not permissible."5

The criterion for a garment to be regarded as transparent depends on whether it shows the color of the skin or not. If the skin of the body can be seen, no matter if the cloth is thin or heavy, it cannot fulfill Islamic wearing standards. The issue is explained in Halabi as-Saghir as follows: “If a dress is so transparent as to show the skin color, it does not fulfill tasattur. Moreover, if it is thick but sticks on the body and assumes the shape of the body (if body part shapes are shown), this style should not be forbidden because tasattur is ensured and performing prayers with that kind of clothing is permissible.”6

Other madhabs (schools) regard the issue similarly. The Malikhi School says:

If a dress is transparent and shows the skin color, tasattur is not fulfilled by it. Prayers performed wearing that kind of clothes must be performed again. Besides, wearing tight and thin clothes is (makrooh) abominable because they show the shape of the body parts. This wearing style also is regarded as lack of character and is contrary to what the predecessors (previous Islamic scholars) decreed.7

The opinion of the Hanbali School is as follows:

Obligatory tasattur is the style of veiling which does not show the skin color. If the dress to be worn is so transparent as to show the skin color and therefore if the whiteness and redness of the skin can be seen, performing prayers wearing it is not permissible because Islamic tasattur is not fulfilled. However, if it covers the body but shadows the body shape, performing prayers wearing it is permissible. Body shapes cannot be hidden completely even if the dress is thick.8

The Shafi’i School states the following:

It is wajib (obligatory) to wear dresses which do not show the skin color. Wearing such a dress showing the skin color on account of being thin is not permissible. Such kind of a dress does not fulfill Islamic wearing standards. That is to say, a dress is not convenient for tasattur if it exhibits the whiteness and blackness of the body because of being thin. Moreover, the decree is the same for a garment that is thick but surrounds the body tightly and thus exhibits some lines of the body. Performing prayers is permissible while wearing such a dress which shows the shapes of femurs and kneecaps which indicate the body shape because Islamic tasattur is fulfilled. However, using a garment which does not let any parts of the body be seen is mustahab.9

It is possible to reach the following conclusion from those narrations:

If a dress which a woman wears while being with non-mahram men is so thin and transparent as to exhibit the skin color, it is not permissible because tasattur is not fulfilled. This clothing item could be a dress, a shirt or skirt as well as a scarf or stockings. If stockings, headscarves and other garments are thick and do not show what is under, it is permissible to wear them. For, no matter how thick stockings and headscarves are, they will show the shape of the leg and head. Although prayer is permissible by wearing so tight trousers and shirt as to show the organs of the body, it is not permissible by religion to go out with them as they will attract attention of people and excite them. Ibn Abidin also mentions that issue in one of his books.10

1. Abu Dawud, Libas: 31.
2. Muslim, Libas, 125.
3. Muwatta', Libas:4
4. Bayhaqi, Sunan, 2:235
5. al-Mabsut, 10:155-
6. Halabi as-Saghir, p.141. Mananul-Jalil, 1:136
8. Ibn Qudama. al-Mughni, 1:337.
9. Nawawi, al-Majmu, 3:170-172.
10. Raddul-Muhtar, 5:238.

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