Re-Opening a Wound: The First Revelations on Female Dress Part 2

Figure 1A: An example of how Arab women in the Age of Ignorance dressed before the first revelations on Hijab.

Figure 1A: An example of how Arab women in the Age of Ignorance dressed before the first revelations on Hijab.

A LITTLE BIT OF BACKGROUND

What was the time period like in which hijab was revealed. To understand the importance of the issue at hand, we must look at the historical circumstances. Only then will we be able to know what hijab actually is in its’ fullness. The era of the hijab began in the first century of the Muslim calendar, specifically after the year 4 AH (AD 625),

when the Muslims migrated from Makkah to Madinah. Prior to this time, there had been no revelation about dress as most of the 86 surahs revealed in Makkah focused on creed, the afterlife, the dangers of idolatry, salvation and other areas.

But it was in Madinah that Allah, Glorified and Exalted be He, began to command the believers.

THE ARAB WOMAN’S DRESS

The revelation of hijab had far reaching consequences for the Muslims there and what would happen throughout history. In order to compare hijab to what is not hijab, we need to know historically how the women dressed. Fortunately there is a great deal of information on the Arab woman’s dress in museums and books of history.

Muqatil ibn Hayyan explains, “The reason for the revelation of this ayah is that Asma’ bint Marthad was in the house of her people from the tribe of Banu Harithah when some women came in to visit her. They came in without any izar, revealing their legs, up to their anklets. They were also showing their cleavage and their locks of hair. Asma’ bint Marthad then said, ‘What could be worse than this action?’ Then Allah revealed the ayah.”[1]

And say to the believing women that they lower their sight and that they preserve their private parts and that they do not reveal their beauty except what is apparent thereof from it and that they bring their khimars over themselves and that they do not reveal their beauty and ornaments.[2]

Imam Ibn `Atiyyah[3] further states: “The women in that time before the revelation of the ayah used to cover their heads, but leave exposed their heads with the khimar, but sling their khimars over their backs, leaving their cleavage, neck and two ears exposed. But when this ayah was revealed, they were told to bring their khimars over their foreheads and cover all of that.”[4]

COMMENTARY

And they do not reveal their beauty, except what is apparent thereof from it…

The Companion Ibn Abbas,[5] may Allah be pleased with him, said: “They should not expose their bracelets, bangles or their ornamented belts over their shoulders, but they should only reveal  that which  is apparent of their clothes.” [6]

Imam Muhy ud-Din al-Baghawi,[7] the great Shafi`ii scholar said: “They should not reveal their finery to a non mahram. Now there are two types of finery, internal and external. The internal or concealed includes things such as anklets, henna on the feet, bracelets on the upper arm, earrings, necklaces, these it is not permissible to reveal nor for a stranger to view.

Now ‘that which appears thereof’ is referring to the external finery. Some of the people of knowledge differ about the permission given by Allah in this passage.

Sa`id ibn Jubair, Dahhak and al-Awza`ii state that part of the external finery is the face and hands while Ibn Mas`ud stated it is the clothes. Al-Hasan al-Basri mentioned the clothes and the hands, while Ibn Abbas mentioned the eye liner, the rings, the henna on the hands.

Now whatever is outward finery is permissible for a strange man to look at, when there is no fear of tribulation. But if he should fear tribulation, he would have to lower his gaze. This dispensation has only been given for the woman to reveal these things from her body as they are not `awrah, thus she is ordered to reveal them in the prayer, while the rest of her body is `awrah that must be covered.” [8]

Imams al-Mawardi[9] and al-`Izz ibn `Abdus-Salam,[10] both Shafi`ii scholars, advised: “The finery referred to is that which is on her body, used for beautifying and adding extra beauty to, like eye liner, jewellery and certain types of clothing, henna.

But when we discuss the ornaments, there are two types, external and internal. External ornaments are the clothes, eye liner, rings, the face, the hands and it is not impermissible to look at it. But the inner beauty or ornaments are the rights, necklaces, bangles, anklets, armbands and the henna that goes on the feet.  And this is internal beauty, which it is not permissible to look at it.” [11]

Imam Abu Hafs `Umar ibn Ahmad an-Nasafi,[12] a great Hanafi scholar, stated: “So the face and the hands and the feet are revealed, but the rest is covered completely as is customarily known.” [13]

Imam Ibn al-Jawzi,[14] a Hanbali scholar, said: “They are not to reveal their finery to a non-mahram. There are two types of finery, the internal and the external. The internal includes the armbands, bracelets, earrings, ornamented belt thrown over the shoulder, necklaces and things such as that. The external finery, ad-Dahhak has mentioned that it is the face and the hands.”[15]

COMMENTARY

…and that they bring their khimars over themselves and that they do not reveal their beauty and ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers or their husbands’ fathers or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or their sisters’ sons or their women or their servants or attendant men or children who know nothing of women’s nakedness…

The Companion Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, said: “Let them bring their khimars over their chest, cleavage, necks to make sure to hold it in place so that they do not reveal their finery of bangles, bracelets or ornamental belts except to their husbands, their fathers by lineage or milk, the fathers of their husbands,

their own sons by lineage or milk, the sons of their husbands from previous marriage, their brothers by lineage or milk, the sons of their brothers by lineage or milk,

the sons of their sisters by lineage or milk, their women in faith – for it is not permissible for her to show her finery and more to Jewish, Christian or idol worshipping women – or female servants, but not male, or attendants to their husbands who have no sexual desire – men or women – due to ailment or advanced age,

or small children who are not able to consummate with women or women with them due to their being young and they do know about relations between men and women. There is no harm in showing these seeing the finery.”[16]

Imams al-Mawardi and al-`Izz ibn `Abdus-Salam advised: “They should bring their khimars down to cover their chests, cleavage, their necks and make sure that their backs are also covered and not exposed, making an opening so that it can fit over their foreheads so that their earrings and all other manner are covered.

So their inner finery or ornaments should only be exposed to their husbands or their fathers or their husbands’ fathers or their brothers or their brothers’ sons or their sisters’ sons or their women or their servants or attendant men or children who know nothing of women’s nakedness.[17]

Imam Abu Hafs an-Nasafi says further: “They are not to show their internal finery except to their husbands, who are mahram, their fathers, who are mahram, which includes all other male ancestors, their husbands’ fathers, who become mahram through marriage, their own sons, the sons of their husbands from previous marriage, their brothers, the sons of their brothers, the sons of their sisters, their women in faith, all other mahrams and also the servants, but male servants may not look at these parts of her.

It is also valid for the male attendants without desire, such as old men, those who are eunuchs, children who do not know about male and female relations and are not able to have sexual intercourse. And the women should not stamp their feet so as to draw attention to their finery that is concealed.” [18]

Imam Ibn `Atiyyah explained: “So it is not right to reveal the internal finery to anyone except those that have been mentioned in the ayah, so they do not reveal their bangles, anklets, earrings or the other things to them. He (Allah) began with mentioning the husbands, then all the mahram people.

And what someone should be shown depends upon whether they are mahram or not and what type of mahram they are in the given situation. It also depends upon what the person is like and their disposition. So the father and brother have more right to be shown leniency than the son of the spouse,

just as one would be more lenient with the father than they would with the son of the husband. It is permissible to reveal the finery to all believing women, including the servant believing women. But this passage excludes the idol worshippers and unbelievers of the People of the Book. Umar, may Allah be pleased with him,

wrote a letter to Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, may Allah be pleased with him, ‘It has come to my attention that the women of the Jews and Christians go into the bath houses with the Muslim women. This practice must be stopped, It is not right that the Jewish or Christian women should see the body of the Muslim woman or her nakedness.’ ” [19]

There was also another revelation that came down regarding decorum and behaviour connected to men and women’s relations. Let’s look at the ayah and its’ commentary for further details.

Believers! Do not go into the Prophet’s apartments without waiting for the proper times, unless you are given permission. But if you are invited, enter, take the meal and when you finish, then disperse. Do not linger in conversation. This would bother the Prophet and he is shy to tell you to go. But Allah is not shy of the truth. And when you ask his wives for anything, ask them from behind a curtain. That is purer for your hearts and theirs. It is neither for you to bother the Messenger of Allah, nor to marry his wives after him. That would be an enormity in the sight of Allah.

Whether you reveal anything or keep it hidden, Allah knows all. And it is no sin for them to speak freely with their fathers, their sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, sons of their sisters, their own women or their servants. Women! Keep your duty to Allah as He is Witness over everything.[20]

COMMENTARY

Believers! Do not go into the Prophet’s apartments without waiting for the proper times, unless you are given permission. But if you are invited, enter, take the meal and when you finish, then disperse. Do not linger in conversation. This would bother the Prophet and he is shy to tell you to go. But Allah is not shy of the truth…

The Companion Ibn `Abbas mentioned: “This ayah was sent regarding some people that came into the apartments of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, in the daytime and the evening. They sat and waited until the food was cooked, then they ate and began unnecessary conversing with the women of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, which bothered him but he was too shy to tell them to go or forbid them from entering.

So Allah forbid them from doing that. So they were not to come in without the permission of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, taking food and the like. You should not annoy him by coming in, but should answer when you are called and eat.

Then when you finish, you should disperse. And you should not sit, looking for ways to speak to the wives of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, or entering into their presence, sitting with them and conversing with them. This would annoy the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him.”[21]

Imam al-Hussain al-Baghawi has said, “Most of the scholars of commentary mention that this ayah was revealed at the time of the walimah of Zainab bint Jahsh when she came to live with the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him.

Anas ibn Malik said, ‘I was ten years old when I came to Madinah to live with the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him. And Umm Hani’ worked for him for ten years. At the time of his death, peace and blessings be upon him, I was twenty years old. So I know the most about the revelation of the Hijab.

This was part of the first of what was revealed. It was when he had married Zainab bint Jahsh and invited the other believers to a banquet. So they gathered at the house and remained for a long time, even after the meal. The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, went out of the room and came back with myself,

but they were still there. He left again, thinking they had gone and came back with me, but they were still there. When he returned and they were still there, he came into the presence of Zainab and the people had still not left. He then drew down a curtain between the two of them and myself and the others in the other room. Then the ayah was revealed thereafter.’

Ibn `Abbas mentioned that the people had finished eating, but wanted to see what the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, was doing, so they entered without permission. And this bothered him. And the people had stayed in long conversation, talking to one another after the food had finished and trying to see if they could hear any speech from the next room. But Allah thereafter forbade them from that. ”[22]

Imam Ibn `Atiyyah, may Allah have mercy upon him, explained: “Before the revelation of this ayah, people invited to a banquet would show up early, waiting for the food to be cooked and engage in conversation and socialising. And when they finished eating, they would sit down, socialising further after that.

But Allah forbade believers from doing that in the house of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him.

He likewise forbade the rest of the believers from engaging in much of this behaviour. They were forbidden from merely showing up, according to conduct given to them by Allah, entering into the house without permission except at the time of eating. And they were forbidden from going before hand and then sitting and waiting for the food to be cooked.”[23]

COMMENTARY

…And when you ask his wives for anything, ask them from behind a curtain. That is purer for your hearts and theirs. It is neither for you to bother the Messenger of Allah, nor to marry his wives after him. That would be an enormity in the sight of Allah…

The Companion Ibn Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, stated: “So when you speak to his wives for any reason, then speak to them from behind a veil. That is purer for your hearts and theirs so that no doubts should arise.

And it is not for you to annoy him by entering into his apartments without permission and just speaking with his wives. Talhah ibn `Ubaidallah thought about marrying one of the wives of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, after his death, but this ayah was revealed.”[24]

Imam al-Baghawi, may Allah have mercy on him, said: “This means from behind a curtain. So after the revelation of this ayah, it was not for anyone to look at the wives of the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon them, whether they were in niqab or not.”[25]

Imam Ibn `Atiyyah ruled: “This ayah of Hijab and asking for anything is general in every possible thing that could be sought from the women in terms of goodness, neighbourly assistance or the tender goodness shown in the faith and in this life. And this veiling for them is so that nothing should occur in the hearts of men about them.”[26]

COMMENTARY

Whether you reveal anything or keep it hidden, Allah knows all. And it is no sin for them to speak freely with their fathers, their sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, sons of their sisters, their own women or their servants. Women! Keep your duty to Allah as He is Witness over everything.

Imams al-Mawardi and al-`Izz ibn `Abdus-Salam, may Allah have mercy upon them, explain: “So there is no harm in them taking off their outer garments and their internal finery being present to these. They may raise the curtain.”[27]

Imam Ibn al-Jawzi, may Allah have mercy on him, explained: “When this ayah was first revealed, some of the near relatives of the wives wondered if they too were to speak from behind the veil, so the rest of the ayah was revealed due to this thought of theirs.”[28]

Imam Ibn `Atiyyah further said: “So Allah indeed knows what you conceal from your convictions and secret thoughts that are disliked and he will reward you accordingly. Then the Blessed and Exalted mentioned the permissibility of these women seeing their near relatives, these including fathers, sons, brothers, their sons, the sons of the sisters.

This includes aunts, mothers and the rest of the near relatives through milk or lineage. And also within this are all the believing women, for it is specifically referring to the nearness of faith. ”[29]


[1] Please see Imam Isma`il ibn Kathir’s (d. 774 AH) Tafsir ul-Qur’an il-`Azim, vol. 3, pp. 598-599.

[2] Surat un-Nur (24), ayaat 30-31

[3] d. 541 AH

[4] Please see Al-Muharrar ul-Wajiz fi Tafsir il-Kitab il-`Aziz, pp. 1357-1358, Dar Ibn Hazm, Beirut (1423 AH).

[5] d. 68 AH

[6] Tanwir ul-Maqbas pp. 369-370, Dar ul-Kutub il-`Ilmiyyah, Beirut (1421 AH).

[7] d. 516 AH

[8] Ma`alam ut-Tanzil fi Lubab it-Ta’wil, pp. 903-904, Dar Ibn Hazm, Beirut (1423 AH)

[9] d. 450 AH

[10] d. 660 AH

[11] Tafsir ul-Qur’an, pp. 363-364.

[12] d. 537 AH

[13] Madarik ut-Tanzil wa Haqa’iq ut-Ta’wil, vol. 7, pp. 6-10, Dar ul-Kutub il-`Ilmiyyah, Beirut (1414 AH).

[14] d. 597 AH

[15] Zad ul-Masir fi `Ilm it-Tafsir, pp. 993-994

[16] Tanwir ul-Maqbas, pp. 370-371

[17] Tafsir ul-Qur’an, pp. 363-364

[18] Madarik ut-Tanzil wa Haqa’iq ut-Ta’wil, vol. 7, pp. 6-10

[19] Muharrar ul-Wajiz fi Tafsir il-Kitab il-Aziz, pp. 1357-1358

[20] Surat ul-Ahzab (33), ayat 53-55

[21] Tanwir ul-Maqbas, pp. 446-447

[22] Ma`alam ut-Tanzil fi Lubab it-Ta’wil, pp. 1049-1050

[23] Al-Muharrar ul-Wajiz fi Tafsir il-Kitab il-`Aziz, pp. 1520-1521.

[24] Tanwir ul-Maqbas, pp. 447-448

[25] Ma`alam ut-Tanzil fi Lubab it-Ta’wil, pp. 1049-1050.

[26] Al-Muharrar ul-Wajiz fi Tafsir il-Kitab il-`Aziz, pp. 1520-1521

[27] Tafsir ul-Qur’an, pp. 444-445

[28] Zad ul-Masir fi Ilm it-Tafsir, pp. 1136-1137

[29] Al-Muharrar ul-Wajiz fi Tafsir il-Kitab il-`Aziz, pp. 1521-1522.

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