The Islamic Modest Dress - The Religious Edicts on These Issues
To begin with, what is the opinion of religious jurisprudents as to the covering of the face and hands and secondly, what edicts have they issued in regard to looking?
As to the fact that it is not obligatory to cover the face and hands, there appears to be no difference of opinion among all of the religious jurisprudents, Shi’ite or Sunni. There was only one Sunni who disagreed. He was Abu Bakr ibn 'Abd al-Rahman ibn Hisham and it is not clear if his opinion related solely to the ritual prayer or if it included those people who were not mahram, as well.
There is no difference of opinion as to the face but some differences have appeared with regard to the hands to the wrist and the feet to the ankles as to whether or not they are included among the exceptions. Before mentioning what they have said, two points should be noted. First, the issue of covering is dealt with in two places in jurisprudence. One is in relation to the fact that it is obligatory in the ritual prayer for women to cover all of their body, whether or not a non-mahram is present. Here the question arises whether or not the face and hands must also be covered . The second place the issue is discussed is in relation to marriage and to what extent a suitor has the right to look at the woman he may decide to seek permission to marry. Here, there is most often a general discussion about covering and the permissibility or impermissibility of looking.
Thus, from the point of view of jurisprudence, we have two kinds of covering. One is the covering which is obligatory for the ritual prayer which has certain rules such as the clothes worn must be ritually pure, not usurped, etc. The other is the covering which is obligatory, other than for the ritual prayer, before men with whom a woman is not mahram and which does not have the special requirements of the covering for the ritual prayer. As we will later point out, there appears to be no difference as far as extent of covering before a mahram.
The second point to be noted is that the religious jurisprudents employ a term which refers to the body other than the face and two hands. This term is ‘aurah’, ‘exposed' or 'bare' or 'naked'. It is possible that this term appears unattractive to some people in the sense that nakedness may be considered to be unattractive. We then ask if a woman's body, other than her face and hands, be something which is considered to be ugly or unattractive from the point of view of Islamic jurisprudence?
The answer is that the word aurah in no way refers to something ugly or unattractive. In the first place, not every ugly or undesirable act is referred to as aurah and the opposite is also true. The word aurah is often used in reference to something which has nothing to do with ugliness.
In the Holy Quran, the word is used in verse 33:12, "Truly our houses are open "(exposed, vulnerable, aurah) ,by which excuse they hoped to be exempt from fighting. It is clear that no ugliness is referred to in relation to their houses. In verse 24:59, which will be referred to, three times are mentioned where even a mahram needs to seek permission to enter an area of another's privacy (except a husband or wife) and these are called the time of "three aurah".
In the Majma' al-Bayan the author, who is incomparable among the commentators in his ability to cleave apart the meanings of words in reference to the use of the word aurah in verse 33:14 says, "aurah refers to anything which can easily be harmed which one is concerned about like the borders or frontiers of a country or something related to a war. A bare or exposed or naked place or house is a house which is vulnerable and easily harmed." 9
Thus, it becomes clear that the word is not used by the religious jurisprudents to abase or weaken. The body of a woman is referred to as vulnerable because it is like a house which contains no walls and can be easily harmed and must be covered by some kind of an enclosure.
Now let us look at what the edicts say. Allamah in Tazkirat ul fuqaha' wrote, "The totality of woman's body is aurah (vulnerable) other than her face." All of the ulama in the various cities confirm this other than Abu Bakr ibn Abd al-Rahman Hisham who believes all of the body of a woman is vulnerable. His opinion is in the minority.
In the opinion of Shi'ite ulama, the two hands up to the wrist are like the face and are not considered vulnerable (aurah). Malik ibn Anis Shafe'i, Uwaz'i and Sugyan Thawri agree with the Shi'ite ulama because ibn Abbas had recorded from the Holy Prophet who said, "The face and two hands are included in the exception." But, according to the view of Ahmad Hanbal and Dawoud Zahiri, the two hands must be covered. The words recorded by ibn 'Abbas are sufficient to disregard this opinion.
Allamah refers to the two feet saying, "As can be seen, the religious jurisprudents refer to Surah Nur for the covering required for the ritual prayer yet it does not refer to the ritual prayer. That which must be covered in the ritual prayer is that which must be covered before a non-rnahram and if there is a difference of opinion, it is about whether or not more areas need to be covered for the ritual prayer. But, as to the fact that which is not obligatory to cover in the ritual prayers is the same as that which is not obligatory to cover with a non-mahram, there is no difference of opinion." 10
Ibn Rushd, the famous Andulusian religious jurisprudent, physician and philosopher wrote, "It is the opinion of the majority of ulama that the body of a woman, other than her face and two hands, is vulnerable, aurah. Ahmad Hanifah believes that the two feet are also not included. Abu Bakr Abd al-Rahman Hisham believes that the total body of woman is aurah without any exceptions.
Shaykh Jawad Mughniyah wrote in his book al-Fiqh ala Mazahib al-khamsah, "All of the Islamic ulama agree that it is obligatory for men and women to cover that part of the body for the ritual prayer which they cover outside of the ritual prayer. The difference arises as to how much needs to be covered. The question in regard to women is whether or not it is obligatory for her to cover her face and hands to the extent necessary for the ritual prayer and the question in regard to men is if it is obligatory for them to cover more than the navel to the knee." Then he says, "According to Imamiyah Shi'ite ulama, it is obligatory for women to cover that much in the ritual prayers which she covers before non-mahram other than during the ritual prayer."
What is strange is that some contemporary ulama have thought that the view of the ulama in the past was that it was obligatory to cover the face and this is wrong.
As to the permissibility of looking, Allamah wrote, "A man looking at a woman or a woman looking at a man is either necessary (like the look of a suitor) or not. If there is no necessity, it is not permissible to look at more than the face and hands and if there is fear of deviating, this much is also not permissible. If there is no fear of deviating, according to Shaykh Tusi, there is nothing to prevent it but it is disapproved. The majority of the Shafe'i believe the same but some believe that it is forbidden to look at the face and hands."
In regard to looking at the face and hands, there are basically three opinions. First, the opinion that it is absolutely forbidden according to Allamah and a few other people including the author of the Jawahir. Second, it is permissible to look once and what is forbidden is repeated looking. Muhaqiq in Sharae', Shahid Awwal in Lum'ah and Allamah in his other books hold this view. Third, it is absolutely permissible according to Shaykh Tusi, Kulayni, the author of Hada'iq, Shaykh Ansari, Naraqi in Mustamad and Shahid Thani in Masalik. Shahid Thani dismisses the reasoning of the Shafe'i which Allamah had accepted but he says at the end, "There is no doubt that caution should prevail."
The above were the views of the past jurisprudents. Most contemporary jurisprudents do not refer directly to these two issues and, most often, cover it over by means of 'caution'. But among the contemporary jurisprudents, Ayatullah Hakim in his recital Minhaj al-Salihin, 11 in the section on marriage, gives a direct edict in which he states the face and hands are an exception. "It is permissible to look at a person one intends to marry as well as dhimmah women as long as there is no lust in the glance including women whom one cannot prevent from not covering and women who areb rnahram. It is forbidden to look at any other woman, other than their face and two hands to the wrist, and that only if there is no lust involved."