How should a woman’s outside covering be? To what extent can hands and feet be uncovered? How should the head be covered?
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, 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.
All parts of the bodies of women except their faces and hands are awrah (parts of the body that are not supposed to be exposed to others). Their faces and hands are not awrah during the prayer and outside prayer unless there is a fear of mischief. It is disputable whether their feet are awrah or not. According to the sound opinion, their feet are not awrah. According to another opinion, women’s feet are not considered awrah during prayers but they are considered awrah outside prayer. It is better for them to cover their feet in order to be free from dispute. According to the sound opinion, the arms, ears and the hair that was left loose are also awrah.
The meaning of the hadiths that serve as a basis for the issue are 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." (Abu Dawud, Libas 31)
In Sahih Muslim, Abu Hurayra tells 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. (Muslim, Libas,125)
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.” (Muwatta', Libas:4)
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. (Bayhaqi, Sunan, 2/235)
Referring to that hadith, Imam Sarahsi, explains that even if the clothes a woman wears is very thin, they have the same state. 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." (al-Mabsut, 10/155)
The criterion for a cloth to be regarded as transparent depends on whether it indicates 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 Halab-i 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 permitted because tasattur is not fulfilled but performing prayers with that kind of clothing is permissible. (Halab-i Saghir, p.141)
Other mazhabs (schools) regard the issue similarly. The Malikhi School says: If a dress is transparent and shows the skin color, then tasattur is not fulfilled by means of 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 impersonality and is contrary to what the predecessor Islamic scholars decreed. (Mananu'l-jalu, 1/156)
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, then, performing prayers wearing it is not permissible because Islamic tasattur is not fulfilled. However, if it covers the body but shadows the body shape, then performing prayers wearing it is permissible. Body shapes cannot be hidden completely even if the dress is heavy. (Ibn Qudama. al-Mughni, 1/337)
The Shafi’i School says 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 similar for a cloth that is heavy but surrounds the body and thus exhibits some lines of the body. Performing prayers are permissible while wearing such a dress which shows the shapes of femurs and kneecaps which indicate the body shape because Islamic tasattur is fulfilled. Additionally, using a cloth which does not let any parts of the body be seen is recommended. (al-Majmu, 3/170-172)
We could come to 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, then 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 socks.
Accordingly, there are some conditions for tasattur to be acceptable by religion; they should be paid attention to:
- The clothing must not be so thin as to show the body,
- It must not be so ornamented and colorful as to attract attention,
- It must not be so tight as to show the outlines of the body.
Although prayer is permissible 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 treatises (Raddu'l-Mukhtar, 5/238)
On the other hand, women have to cover themselves as it is necessary and they should avoid looks, talking and style of walking that will attract the attention of men:
"And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! Turn ye all together towards Allah that ye may attain Bliss." (an-Noor, 31)
It is very important for free women not to show their ornaments to the people other than those mentioned in the verse in terms of preserving their chastity and getting on well with their husbands; it is also very important for them not to show their ornaments so as not to affect non-mahram men, not to cause them to commit sins and to indicate their good manners and chastity. The following is stated especially to make them think about it, to remind them the power and content of the command of tasattur and to correct their style of walking: they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments, that is, after being covered from head to foot, they should walk decently and solemnly. They should not move and strike their feet, walk coquettishly in order to draw attention to their artificial and natural ornaments because by doing so they may excite men and cause suspicion. However, it should not be forgotten that before the women’s success regarding the issue, men should be careful about their chastity and duty and should work hard and pay attention; they can do it with the help of Allah. Therefore, the Messenger of Allah, addresses all Muslims, men and women, regarding the issue and states the following:
O believers! Repent to Allah all together so that you will reach salvation. It shows that there is no hope of salvation in a society that is corrupt; the corruption of a society is due to the faults and mistakes of men more than women. Therefore, all of the believing men and women, primarily men, should repent to Allah and give up their faults and mistakes that are the traces of ignorance and that are contrary to belief; they should also take shelter in Allah’s help and give importance to His commands so that they will reach salvation all together. Therefore, the administrators and authorities should pay attention to those orders for the salvation of everybody. (Elmalılı, Tafsir)
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