Is it fard for women to cover their feet?

The Details of the Question

- I read that covering the feet is not fard in Hanafi madhhab, but is fard in other madhhabs. I also read a hadith that it is fard to cover the feet. Why does Hanafi madhhab differ regarding the issue?
- Do they have a different opinion based on hadiths?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

According to the prevalent view of Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii and Hanbali madhhabs, the parts that a woman has to cover are her whole body except her hands and face. According to an opinion in Hanafi madhhab, the feet are also excluded from the places that have to be covered.

The reason for these differences of opinion is the different interpretations of the phrase “(must ordinarily) appear thereof” in the verse “they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof.” (an-Nur 24/31).

The main issue here is whether the feet are a place of ornament. If it is a place of ornament, is it included in the scope of “(must ordinarily) appear thereof”?

According to some scholars, the exception is from the places of adornment, and the foot is not from the places of adornment because the place where the anklet is worn is not the foot, but the leg; there is no conflict that the leg is an organ that has to be covered. Since no ornament is worn below the ankle bones on the foot, the feet are excluded. (Ibrahim Halabi, Halabi Kabir, p. 211)

A hadith in Abu Dawud and other sources also supports that view:

“Umm Salama, one of the wives of the Prophet, asked the Prophet (pbuh): Can a woman perform prayers with a gown and a headscarf without an izar (skirt or bottom)? He said, “If the gown is long enough to cover the top part of her feet, she can.” (Zaylai, Nasbur-Raya I, 299; Abu Dawud, Salah 83; Hakim, Mustadrak I, 250)

Hakim states in the same place that this narration complies with Bukhari’s condition and points out that it is sound. Dhahabi also supports him, but Ibn al-Jawzi and others mention their doubts about the soundness of the hadith. (Zaylai, ibid; see also al-Manbaji, al-Lubab I, 241)

However, according to Abu Hanifa and Imam Karhi, a woman’s foot is not awrah. (Akmaladdin al-Babarti, al-Inaya 1/259)

Therefore, the fact that the lower part of a woman’s ankle bones remain uncovered during prayer does not harm her prayer. Marghinani, the writer of Hidaya, states that it is the soundest (asah) view. After stating that there are two narrations regarding the issue, Mawsili, the writer of Ikhtiyar, says that what is sound is that the feet of a woman are not awrah in prayer, but awrah outside, that is, in the presence of non-mahram men. (Mawsili, al-Ikhtiyar) However, he does not mention any evidence for this distinction.

Other mujtahids cite the following hadith as evidence that a woman’s foot is also awrah:

According to a narration of Aisha, Asma bint Abu Bakr entered into the presence of the Prophet (pbuh) wearing a thin dress. The Messenger of Allah turned his face away from her and said: “O Asma! When a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it is not appropriate for her to be seen by non-mahram men except this and this.” While saying so, the Prophet (pbuh) pointed to his hands and face (Abu Dawud, “Libas”, 34)

This hadith shows that the whole body of a woman, except her hands and face, is awrah.

To sum up, according to Hanafis, having her feet uncovered while praying does not harm the woman’s prayer. That is the sound view because the foot (the parts below the ankle bones) is within the scope of “beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof”, i.e., the adornments that open by themselves, which is exempted from the command “not to display”, or there is a necessity for a woman to open her feet. (Ibrahim al-Halabi ibid)

However, it is good and appropriate for women to cover their feet both during prayer and outside.

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