"NIQAB" IS NOT MANDATORY
While identifying the parts of a womans body which should be covered, the Quran also gives us evidence to refute the claim of those who associate "Niqab" (Veils, face covers) as an ingredient of a womens dress code ordained by Allah.
THE EXAMPLE OF MARY
Mary the mother of Jesus (p) is mentioned in the Qur'an as the woman chosen and purified above all the women of all the worlds.
"And when the angels said: O Mary! surely Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of all the worlds." (3:42)
She has been called as an example for the believers and her conduct is called to exemplify:
"And Allah sets forth an example to those who believe . . . Mary, the daughter of Imran, who guarded her chastity, so We breathed into her of Our inspiration and she accepted the truth of the words of her Sustainer and His books, and she was of, the obedient ones. (66:11-12)
In observing her behavior mentioned in the Qur'an, we see that as she appears from seclusion with young Jesus, her people recognised her. Now had she been wearing a "Niqab" to cover her face, her people would not have identified her immediately as she had appeared from seclusion. This informs us that she was not covering her face i.e. not wearing a "Niqab", as mentioned in the following verses:
"And she came to her people with him, carrying him (with her). They (having recognized her) said: O Mary! surely you have done a strange thing. O sister of Haroon! your father was not a bad man, nor, was your mother an unchaste woman. But she pointed to him. They said: How should we speak to one who was a child in the cradle? He (Jesus) said: Surely I am a servant of Allah; He has given me the Book and made me a prophet." (19:27-30)
Mary's recognition by her people indicates that she was not wearing a "Niqab" to protect her face from being seen.
In the Qur'an there is further evidence which negates the practice of wearing "Niqab". After Allah informs Nabi (SAW) about marriage with certain relations He further reminds:
"It is not allowed to you to take women afterwards, nor that you should change them for other wives, though their beauty be pleasing to you, except what your right hand possesses and Allah is Watchful over all things." (33:52)
In the above verse it is clearly mentioned that Nabi (SAW) was also in a position to see the "Husn" i.e. Beauty of women and this clearly establishes that women not related to the Prophet did not wear "Niqab" or veils to cover their faces when they used to appear in front of him. We must realize that attributing anything to Allah which He has not ordained is a very serious action on our part. Allah has informed us through His messenger that attributing anything to Allah which He did not made as an obligation is "haraam" i.e Forbidden, as the following verse states:
"Say: Surely my Sustainer has prohibited (made haraam) indecencies, those of them that are apparent as well as those that are concealed, and sin and rebellion without justice, and that you associate with Allah that for which He has not sent down any authority, and that you say against Allah what you do not know." (7:33)
"Niqab" has not been made mandatory by any verse of the Quran, it is a cultural practice of pagan tribes and unbelievers. The Quran also identifies unbelievers who used to cover them selves up with their garments. Allah informs us through Noah:
"And whenever I have called them that Thou mayest forgive them, they put their fingers in their ears, cover themselves with their garments, and persist and are puffed up with pride." (71:7)
We should strive to in-form and re-form our selves through Quranic guidance.
CAN WOMEN TALK TO MEN TO WHOM THEY ARE NOT RELATED (NOT MARRIED) ? UNDER WHAT CIRCUMSTANCES ?
In the Qur'an we have the example of Moses (p) as he is shown to hold a conversation with two women who are not married to him yet. This conversation clearly indicates that women can talk to men who are not related to them, provided it is for important tasks only and not complacent speech, as complacency in speech is not allowed by verse 33:32. The following verses identify the conversation of Moses with the two women who are not related to him.
"And when he came to the water of Madyan, he found on it a group of men watering, and he found besides them two women keeping back (their flocks). He said: What is the matter with you? They said: We cannot water until the shepherds take away (their sheep) from the water, and our father is a very old man. So he watered (their sheep) for them, then went back to the shade and said: My Sustainer! surely I stand in need of whatever good Thou mayest send down to me. Then one of the two women came to him walking bashfully. She said: My father invites you that he may give you the reward of your having watered for us. So when he came to him and gave to him the account, he said: Fear not, you are secure from the unjust people." (28:23-25)
The above example which depicts the conversation of a messenger of Allah with two un-married girls is a clear indicator that women can talk with men who are unrelated to them provided it is for important tasks and is done within the limits ordained by Allah.
In talking with un related men or strangers the believing women are informed about the type of behaviour they should maintain. Allah informs us through the Nabi:
"O Women of the Nabi! You are not like any other of the women; If you will be on your guard, then be not soft in (your) speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease yearn; and speak a recognised utterence." (33:32)
With unrelated men, a woman may engage in a conversation but it should be within the limits ordained by the divine code and should not be directed as complacent speech.
ARE MEN A DEGREE ABOVE WOMEN?
People having a narrow look at the guidance of Allahs Book, are often seen intimating that men are superiour to women. They back up this statement just by a portion of verse 2:228 of Sura Al-Baqara, and do not present the whole context, but rather reach this short sighted conclusion and imply that Islam maintains the superiority of men against women. It is an irony that the very verse which equates rights and obligations of gender is usually quoted to say that men are superior to women. What they fail to realize is that in matters of biological construction men and women are different and have certain rights related to that aspect (i.e. maternity leaves are for women, not men) but apart from biological disposition, both men and women are equal according to Quran and both are equally capable and responsible for developing those qualities in themselves which the Quran has said are essential for believers. The Quran says:
"..And they (women) shall have rights similar to the rights against them in a just manner.." (2:228)
In other words, for every responsibility given to them, they acquire a right. This is the equality they have been granted. Thus men and women have same rights as each other. The above verse continues to say:
"..and they have rights similar to the rights against them in a just manner, and the men are a degree above them.." (2:228)
It would be contradictory to conclude from the statement: "li Rijaale alayhenaa darja" "men are a degree above them" that men are superior to women, as at one hand the verse says that women and men have rights similar to each other, and the implication that men are superior, will contradict this impression.. One gender cannot be superior to another if their rights and obligations are equal. The word used by the Quran is "Daraja" meaning "degree". This "degree" can be understood easily by reviewing the whole verse. The context of this verse informs us that it deals with the conditions attached to remarriage after divorce. The verse is:
"And the divorced women should keep themselves in waiting for three courses; and it is not lawful for them that they should conceal what Allah has created in their wombs, if they believe in Allah and the last day; and their husbands have a better right to take them back in the meanwhile if they wish for reconciliation; and they have rights similar to those against them in a just manner, and the men are a degree above them, and Allah is Mighty, Wise." (2:228)
The context of the verse makes it clear that Divorcees should refrain (from remarriage) for three menstrual cycles, so that whatever has been created by Allah becomes pronounced etc, then it goes on to say that men have one advantage. This advantage given to men is that they can remarry right away and women have to wait almost three months, or more if found to be pregnant, before they can re-marry). Obviously, an advantage in a peculiar situation does not mean one is superior than the other. It is only for this reason only that men have one degree above women, because of their biological construction they do not have to wait for a stated period ("Iddat") for the purpose of getting married again upon divorce or if their spouse dies. Only in the matter of "Iddat", that men have a degree higher than women, but apart from this both have equal rights.
RIGHT TO ACQUIRE EDUCATION
The Quran has stated that the acquisition of education is compulsory for all the believers. About the messenger it is stated that he taught the Book of Allah to his audience, which included men as well as women:
"He it is Who raised among the inhabitants of Mecca a messenger from among themselves, who recites to them His verses and provides development to their personalities, and teaches them the Book and the Wisdom, although they were before certainly in clear error." (62:2)
For imparting knowledge, no fee was charged:
"Say: I do not ask you any reward except that any who wills, may take the way to his Sustainer." (25:57)
In the acquisition of knowledge, women are also included, as the wives of the Nabi (S.A.W) were commanded:
"And keep to mind what is recited in your houses of the communications of Allah and the wisdom; surely Allah is Knower of subtleties, Aware." (33:34)
Thus the Quran has stipulated that women should also be educated and trained to know the realities of life.
RIGHT OF EXPRESSION
The Quran informs us that women in a Quranic society not only have the right to express themselves freely but she is in such a position that she may even argue and hold discussions with the head of the community. The messenger of Allah (p) who was not only the divine emissary to his people but also the first head of the Islamic state, gave so much freedom in society that the people, including women were in a position to argue with him. The Quran records this in the Sura titled "Al-Mujadilah" (the title of the Sura itself means "the woman who argues"). We are informed:
"Allah indeed knows the plea of her who argues with you (O messenger) about her husband and complains to Allah, and Allah knows the contentions of both of you; surely Allah is Hearing, Seeing." (58:1)
Women are also to take an active part in public life. In Sura Al-Mumtahina we are informed of their public allegiance to the Prophet (See 60:12). Along with men, women were also included in these public discussions with the office bearers of the Islamic state: (See 60:10).
For the subject of marriage, the Quran has provided detailed guidance. We are told that marriage is the name of a contract between consenting adults who are believers in the divine values. It is clarified that women cannot be forced to get married and thus they have the right to express their will. The following verse tells us:
"O you who believe! You are FORBIDDEN to inherit women AGAINST THEIR WILL. Nor should you treat them with harshness that you may take away part of the dower you have given them -except where they have been guilty of open lewdness; on the contrary live with them on a footing of kindness and equity. If you take a dislike to them it may be that you dislike a thing and Allah brings about through it a great deal of good." (4:19)
In Sura An-Nisa, the believing man is also given the permission to marry women of his choice,thus he too can excersize his free will.As reminded;
"If you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly with the orphans,so Marry women of YOUR CHOICE two or three or four; but if you fear that you shall not be able to deal justly (with them) then only one." (4:3)
Thus both believing women as well as men have been given the right to have a say in their marriage,ie women cannot be married forcefully and men also have been given the right to marry women of their choice, as the expression in Arabic reads, "fankihu maa ta'aba lakum" (4:3)
Then again in (4:21), regarding marriage it is stated that women have taken a 'meesaq' (contract) from men;
"And how could you take it when you have gone in unto each other and they (Your wives) have Taken from you a solemn covenant? <.meesaq'an ghaliza>"(4:21)
A contract or covenant ( "meesaq" in Arabic) requires the free consent of both parties in agreeing to that contract.
An agreement in which a person is forced to do something against his/her will does not constitute a "meesaq". If the woman has been forced into getting married or the will of the man has been manipulated by coercion then such an agreement does not become a contract or "meesaq". Thus for a contract of marriage to come about, both parties, i.e. the man as well as the woman have to use their free will in coming to terms and agreeing to live the rest of their lives with each other. If out of these two any one is forced or does not have their free will involved then such would not constitute a "meesaq".
The main purpose of maintaining relations as a married couple is that love, compassion, and tranquility should develop between man and woman. In this way they live a life of harmony and become a source of solace to each other. The Quran says:
"And one of His signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find rest in them, and He put between you love and compassion; most surely there are signs in this for a people who reflect." (30:21)
The Quran has used the Arabic word "Zawj" for the husband-wife pair. This is an Arabic word which means such a pair which is complimentary to each other, and with the absence of one of its halves the other gets incomplete. Therefore the husband and wife should be as such that they provide fulfillment to each others personality and become a source of nourishment for each other. Thus the husband-wife relationship is not that of a boss and his servant, but one of mutual companionship and comradeship. To bring about such compatibility, it is essential that man and woman have a unified outlook of life and maintain a coordinated stance for various matters. Such a life, in which the life-partners are in harmony with each other will definitely be a life of exhilaration, and situations where people of conflicting tastes, views and ideologies are bound together, may result in kindling the fires of discontentment. That is why the Quran has stated that believers should be paired with like minded persons only, as otherwise if they selected spouses from the opposing camps, then that would cause discord. Thus we are reminded:
"And do not marry 'Mushrik' Women until they believe, and certainly a believing maid is better than an 'Mushrik' woman, even though she should please you; and do not give (believing women) in marriage to 'Mushrik' men until they believe, and certainly a believing servant is better than a 'Mushrik' man, even though he should please you; these invite to the fire, and Allah invites to the garden and to forgiveness by His will, and makes clear His revelations to mankind, that they may be mindful." (2:221)
The Quran has likened the husband and wife pair as "Garments" to each other, signifying the type of relations a Believing couple maintains:
"..They (your wives) are your garments and ye are their garments.." (2:187)
Thus as nothing comes between us and our garments, then such should be the outlook that believers are to maintain towards their spouses. A garment also protects us from the variation of climate and guards our shame, similarly a couple which considers the divine values as guidance for life, should protect each other from the harmful effects of society and guard each others weaknesses. The Believers are instructed that they should treat their spouses with mercy and compassion and should not be harsh on them, even though something about their wives may seem displeasing to them:
"O you who believe! It is not lawful for you that you should inherit women forcefully. Nor should you treat them with harshness that you may take away part of the dower you have given them , unless they are guilty of manifest indecency, and treat them kindly; then if you dislike them, it may be that you dislike a thing while Allah has placed abundant good in it." (4:19)
One of the objections raised against Islam is that it informs us of some beautiful maidens known as "Hoor" which will be reserved for the men of paradise as objects of luxury. Quite often, the Clergy, under the influence of the literature which was compiled and authenticated in those days when true Quranic government of Muslims was overtaken by that of the despotic rule of Monarchs and Theocracy, characterizes some verses of the Quran where the word "Hoor" occurs, to be as such.
However, it should be understood that the Arabic word "Hoor" which occurs four times in the Quran is plural of "Ahwar" which is for the masculine gender and "Hawrau" which is for the feminine gender.
Thus the word "Hoor" is not restricted to the female gender only, but represents both men as well as women. Its basic meaning is the whiteness of the eye, and also signifies a clean and pure intellect of a person, free from vile intentions. (cf.: Lane, Qamus. Asad-"The Message of the Quran").
From this word also comes the word "Al-Hawariyun" which has been used in the Quran for the disciples of Jesus Christ (p), as they were persons having purified souls.
In the Quran, where it is mentioned for the believers in a state of heaven:
"..and We shall pair them with companions of pure eyes.." (52:20)
Then it does not imply a relationship as a husband and wife, but simply means that in "Jannah" the believers will have companions of pure intellect, which will include, men as well as women.
INGREDIENTS OF WOMENS DRESS IN PUBLIC
The areas of body which are to be covered by women in public, are mentioned in 24:31. Allah informs us through His messenger:
"And say to the Believing Women, to lower their gaze and guard their private parts. And they should not display their adornment
save what is apparent therefrom. And they should place their covers over their bossoms. And they should not display their adornment except to their husbands or their fathers or the fathers of their husbands or their sons or the sons of their husbands or their brothers or their brother's sons or sister's sons` or their women or those whom their right hands posses or those under their authority other than skillfull men or small children who are not aware of women's nakedness. And they should not strike their feet so as to make known what they hide of their adornment. O Believers turn you all together to Allah so that you may be successful."(24:31)
From the above verse the following points are derived:
1. Women have two types of "zeenah" i.e. beauty and adornment.
(a) "ma zahara minha" What is already apparent from their adornment and beauty.
(b) "ma yukhfaina min zinata hunne" That which is hidden from their adornment.
2. She is to cover her whole self publicly except those areas which are apparent from her adornment.
These areas are the exposed areas which if covered will restrict daily work and have to be uncovered for performing ablution. (see 5:6). The other type of or adornment of a woman identified in the above verse is that which has been called as "ma yukhfaina min zinata hunne" That which is hidden from their adornment. This type of adornment is the one which becomes apparent when a woman strikes her feet or walks. Allah has ordered that this type of adornment be covered at all times. Thus the dress should be loose enough so as not to reveal the shape and features of the body which get obvious when the woman strikes her feet or walks.
3. They are to place their covers or shrouds over their bosoms.
In Sura 33:59 they are also ordered to bring over them their over garments while going in public:
"O Nabi! Say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers that they bring their over-garments nearer to themselves (while in public); this will be more proper, that they may be recognised, and thus they will not be given trouble; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful." (33:59)
In public she is to take "Jilbaab" or over garment over herself according to above verse.
4. With her bosoms covered well, and dress loose enough so as not to reveal her hidden adornment, she is to maintain this type of dress in public in front of all relations. The only exceptions are:
(1) Husband (2) Fathers (Includes Grandparents as well). (3) The Fathers of their husbands. (4) Their sons. (5) The sons of their husbands. (6) Their brothers. (7) Their brother's sons. (8) Their sister's sons`. (9) Their women. (10) Those whom their right hands posses. (i.e. those who were freed from some tyrannical rule and are now under the care and guardianship of believing men and women) (11) Those under their authority other than skillfull men. (12) Small children who are not aware of women's nakedness.
Contrary to the claim of traditionalists, who maintain that a woman should be confined within the boundaries of her house, the Quran states that the confinement of women within the four walls of the house is a punishment for lewdness and obscenity. In other words, they might not have fornicated, but outwardly acted in a way or enticed men which might lead to illegal sexual acts. This is said in the following verse:
"And as for those who are guilty of an indecency from among your women, call to witnesses against them four (witnesses) from among you; then if they bear witness confine them to the houses until death takes them away or Allah opens some way for them." (4:15)
Quite often the reason for confinement is justified by misinterpreting a verse in Surat Al-Ahzaab. However this verse which is misinterpreted to justify the confinement of women within the boundaries of their homes, contains the Arabic word "qarna", which simply means to be joined or linked, or connected with something or someone (F Steingass Arabic - Eng. Dictionary pp 332, A Dictionary and Glossary of the Koran- J. Penrice pp 117), and plainly refers to the injunction for women in general and the wives of the Nabi in particular, to maintain a link and connection with their homes and familes, such that they do not become neglectful of their domestic responsibilities and does not justify the practice of confinement.
"And be linked with your houses and do not display your finery like the displaying of the ignorance of yore; and establish Salat, and give Zakat, and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah only desires to keep away the uncleanness from you, O people of the House! and to purify you a (thorough) purifying." (33:33)
Thus according to the Holy Quran, confinement is not the norm for women, but a punishment for certain offences. A woman may engage in activities outside of the house, but she has to maintain a link with her home and family and should not be neglectful of the responsibilities laid down for her by the divine code.