Al-Qaraḍāwī: Niqāb is Neither an Obligation Nor an Innovation
In his fatwa about the niqāb, between the claim of its obligation or innovation, the esteemed scholar Dr. Yūsuf al-Qaraḍāwī states: “I know that the argumentation surrounding these controversial issues will not end with a composed article, research work, or authored book. For, as long as the causes for ikhtilāf (disagreement) remain, the ikhtilāf among people will not disappear – even if they are religious, sincere Muslims.”
We have read what you have written in defence of the niqāb, in response to the attacks of those who say that the niqāb is an innovation (bidʿa) that was introduced to Muslim society, and has nothing to do with Islām; and you demonstrated that the view that obligates women to wear theniqāb is one that has in fact existed within Islamic fiqh. You have thereby given a fair treatment of the niqāb, and those who choose to wear it, despite the well-known fact that your opinion on the issue is that it is not an obligation to wear the niqāb.
Now we ask that—just as you have been fair in your treatment of the niqāb, against those who would do away with the headscarf altogether—that you give a fair hearing to those of us who wear only the headscarf, against those sisters and brothers who call to the niqāb, and ceaselessly attack us for not covering our faces, despite its being the focal point of temptation (fitna) and center of beauty (majmaʿ al-maḥāsin), and that we act contrary to the Qurʾān and the sunna, and the way of the [pious] predecessors by uncovering our faces. You yourself may have been attacked, on occasion, due to your championing the headscarf rather than the niqāb, as well as the late Shaykh Muḥammad al-Ghazālī who some of the scholars from the Gulf tried to refute.
We hope that you will not refer us to what you have already written in your book al-Ḥalāl wa-l-Ḥarām (The Lawful and the Prohibited), and in your book, Fatāwā Muʿāṣira (Contemporary Fatwās), even if there is sufficiency in them, for we would like more explanation, as a proof for [our viewpoint], showing the path, and banishing misgivings with certainty, so that we can end the perpetual controversy surrounding this issue. May God place the truth upon your tongue and in your pen.
Asked by: A group of young ḥijābīs
It seems that my dear daughters and sisters have not left me any excuse to remain silent, and suffice with what I have already written.
I know that the controversy concerning this differed-upon issue will not end with an erudite essay or book. For as long as the causes for difference remain, those differences will not disappear among the people, even if they are sincere and religious Muslims. In fact, religiosity is often the cause for the vehement disagreement, as each side feels strongly that their view is the Truth, and that it is the real religious practice on the basis of which people will be rewarded or punished.
The controversy will remain as long as the texts themselves—from which rulings are derived—are amenable to disagreement with respect to their authenticity and meaning. [They will remain] as long as the minds of men are of varying strength in deriving rulings [from the texts], and [differ as to] the extent to which texts are to be taken literally, or in their general tenor, or whether one should adopt a more stringent position or a more lenient one, or a precautious position or an easier one.
The controversy will remain as long as there are those who adopt the rigorous stances of Ibn ʿUmar, and those who adopt the dispensations of Ibn ʿAbbās; as long as there are those among them who will pray ʿAṣr on the way, and those who will not pray anywhere but in [the vicinity of] Banū Qurayẓa.
It is of the mercy of God that these kinds of differences are not forbidden and entail no sin. The [scholars] who hold the incorrect opinion are excused. In fact they earn a single reward, and there are even those who say that no one is wrong in these juristic judgments; in fact they are all correct.
Indeed, even the Prophet’s Companions, and the righteous generations following them differed in their juristic judgments, and this did not harm them in anyway. They agreed to disagree, and continued to pray behind one another without disapproval.
And despite my belief that this disagreement shall remain, I have no choice but to respond to the question of my daughters and sisters, repeating myself on this topic, to provide further clarification; so that perhaps God may grant me the ability to present a balanced word on the matter, that will do away with the disputation, or at least temper its stridency, and reduce its intensity, so that the consciences of those who wear the hijāb may rest, and the callers to the niqāb may be assuaged.
Showing that most scholars are in favor of not covering the face and hands
I wish to begin by emphasising a fact that does not really need emphasis as it is eminently and undeniably well-known among the people of knowledge. It is that the view that wearing the niqāb is not an obligation, and that it is permissible for a Muslim woman to uncover her face in front of unrelated men, is the view of the majority of the legal scholars (jumhūr al-fuqahāʾ), since the time of the Companions (Ṣaḥāba).
So there is no justification for this contrived clamour, this artificial storm, that some sincere people, who are not scholars, and some zealous students of knowledge, have created against what the illustrious dāʿiya, Shaykh Muḥammad al-Ghazālī has said in some of his books and articles. They give the impression that he has invented new and unprecedented opinions, while they are in fact no more than the statements of respected imams and jurists, as we shall demonstrate. We will show that this is the position that is best supported by the evidence and traditions (āthār). It is backed up by [scholarly] reflection and contemplation, and is corroborated by the reality on the ground in the best times [i.e. the times of the best generations].
The Ḥanafī school’s viewpoint:
In the Ikhtiyār, a [relied upon] text from the Ḥanafī corpus, the author notes that,
One is not permitted to look at an unrelated free woman, except at the face and the hands, if one does not fear [sexual] desire. Abū Ḥanīfa added to this, the feet, as it is necessitated by the give and take [of social interaction], and so that a woman’s face can be recognised when she interacts with those not related to her, in order to take care of her everyday needs, as she [often] has no one who can take care of [those] needs.
The basis for this position is the verse, “…and let them not display their beauty (zīna) except what [usually] appears of it” (24:31). Most of the Companions of the Prophet state that this refers to koḥl, and rings, i.e. their places on the body. We have already noted that looking at koḥl, rings, jewellery, and other types of beauty (zīna) are permitted (ḥalāl) for both relatives and unrelated people, and by this is intended the place of that beauty [...].
As for the feet, it has been narrated that it is not part of the ʿawra, as they appear when walking, and because [sexual] desire is greater in the face and hands [than in the feet], so it is permissible to look at them a fortiori.
In [another] narration, the feet are considered part of the ʿawra, in terms of looking at them, except when [a woman is] praying.
The Mālikī school’s viewpoint:
In the concise commentary (al-Sharḥ al-Ṣaghīr) of al-Dardīr entitled, Awḍaḥ al-Masālik ilā Madhhab Mālik, the [author notes that] “the ʿawra of a free woman in relation to an unrelated man [...] is her entire body, except the face and hands. As for these two, they are not a part of theʿawra.”
Ṣāwī adds in his marginal gloss,
Thus it is permissible to look at those two [parts of the body], and there is no difference whether one sees the palms or the backs [of the hands], as long as there is no seeking or feeling [sexual] pleasure in so doing. If there is, then it is impermissible [to look at either the hands or the face].
As to whether [a man’s feeling sexual pleasure] obligates [a woman] to cover her hands and face, that is the position of Ibn Marzūq who states that it is the best known opinion (mashhūr) of the madhhab. [The contrary opinion that a woman] is not obliged to do so, but rather that the man must lower his gaze, is the corollary of what Mawwāq narrates from [Qāḍī] ʿIyyāḍ. Zarrūq notes in theWaghlīsiyya in the case of an attractive woman, that she is obligated to cover her face, but for others it is merely recommended.
The Shafiʿī school’s viewpoint:
Shīrāzī, the Shāfiʿī author of the Muhadhdhab states that,
As for a free women, all her body is her ʿawra, apart from her face and hands — Nawawī states, up to the wrists — because of the verse, “…and let them not display their beauty (zīna) except what [usually] appears of it” (24:31). Ibn ʿAbbās states that [what is excepted] refers to her face and her hands, because the Prophet prohibited women in the state of iḥrām from wearing a niqāb and gloves. If the face and hands were part of the ʿawra, it would not have been impermissible (ḥarām) to cover them, and [in addition, everyday] needs require showing one’s face in buying and selling, and showing one’s hands in giving and taking, so they have not been made part of the ʿawra.
Nawawī adds in his Majmūʿ, a commentary on the Muhadhdhab,
“That some of the Shāfiʿīs narrate a position of the Imām, or an opinion from one of the later jurists that states that the soles of the feet are not part of the ʿawra, and Muzanī states that [the feet] are not part of the ʿawra, but the school’s stance is the former.”
The Ḥanbalī school’s viewpoint:
In the Ḥanbalī school, we find Ibn Qudāma stating in the Mughnī that,
There is no disagreement within the school that it is permissible for a woman to show her face in prayer, and that she should not show any more than her face and hands; and concerning the hands there are two narrations. The people of knowledge have differed [on these issues], but most of them agree that a woman may pray baring her face, and most of the people of knowledge agree that a free woman should cover her head when she prays, and that if she has prayed with all of her head uncovered, that she should repeat her prayers.
Abū Ḥanīfa states that the feet are not part of the ʿawra, because they are exposed a lot of the time, and so they are like the face. Mālik, Awzāʿī, and Shafiʿī state that all of a woman is [her] ʿawra except her face and her hands. As for the rest [of her body], she must cover it when she prays, as Ibn ʿAbbās states, concerning the verse, “…and let them not display their beauty (zīna) except what [usually] appears of it” (24:31) [that it refers to] the face and hands, because the Prophet prohibited women in a state of iḥrām from wearing gloves and the niqāb. If they were part of the ʿawra, it would not have been impermissible (ḥarām) to cover them, and [in addition, everyday] needs require showing one’s face in buying and selling, and one’s hands in giving and taking.
Some of our scholars have stated that all of a woman’s [body] is her ʿawra as it has been narrated in a ḥadīth from the Prophet narrated by Tirmidhī that “all of a woman’s [body] is her ʿawra,” and Tirmidhī states that the ḥadīth is authentic (ḥasan ṣaḥīḥ) but she was given a dispensation that allowed her to expose her face and hands as covering them would cause great difficulty (mashaqqa); and looking at her face is permitted when asking for her hand in marriage, because it is the centre of beauty. This is the view of Ḥārith b. Hishām who states that, “All of a woman’s body is her ʿawra, even her nails.”
Imām Nawawī mentions in his Majmūʿ, in presenting the various scholarly opinions concerning the ʿawra that,
The ʿawra of a free woman is all of her body except her face and hands, and is the position of Shāfiʿī, Mālik, Abū Ḥanīfa, Awzāʿī, Abū Thawr, and several others, and is one of the [positions] narrated from Aḥmad. Abū Ḥanīfa, Thawrī, and Muzanī also say that the feet are not part of the ʿawra. Aḥmad says [elsewhere, that her ʿawra is] her entire body except her face.
This is also the position of Dāwūd [al-Ẓāhirī] as stated in Nayl al-Awṭār. As for Ibn Ḥazm, he excludes both the face and the hands, as stated in the Muḥallā, and we shall cite some of what he quotes to argue his position in the relevant sections [below]. This is also the position of a large number of the Companions and Successors (Tābiʿūn), as is clear from their interpretation of the meaning of “what [usually] appears of it” in Sūra al-Nūr (24:31).
The Evidence of Those Who Permit Showing the Face and Hands
We can now mention the most important legal proofs relied upon by those who say that wearing the niqāb is not obligatory, and that one may show ones face and hands — and they are the majority[...]. God willing there is sufficiency in this.
1. The Companions’ interpretation of “except what [usually] appears of it”:
The majority of the scholars among the Companions, and the generations that followed them interpreted the verse in Sūra al-Nūr, “except what [usually] appears of it” to mean the face and hands, or koḥl, and rings, or other similar ornamentation. Suyūṭī cites in his Qurʾān commentary, al-Durr al-Manthūr fī-l-Tafsīr bi-l-Maʾthūr, a very large number of their statements to that effect. So, for instance, he states that,
Ibn al-Mundhir narrates from Anas [b. Mālik] that the verse, “…and let them not display their beauty (zīna) except what [usually] appears of it” refers to koḥl and rings. Saʿīd b. Manṣūr, Ibn Jarīr, ʿAbd b. Ḥumayd, Ibn al-Mundhir, and Bayḥaqī narrate from Ibn ʿAbbās that the verse, “…and let them not display their beauty (zīna) except what [usually] appears of it” refers to koḥl, rings, earrings, and necklaces. ʿAbd al-Razzāq and ʿAbd b. Ḥumayd narrate from Ibn ʿAbbās that the verse, “except what [usually] appears of it” refers to henna, the hands, and rings. Ibn Abī Shayba, ʿAbd b. Ḥumayd, and Ibn Abī Ḥātim narrate from Ibn ʿAbbās that the verse, “except what [usually] appears of it” refers to her face, hands, and rings. Ibn Abī Shayba, ʿAbd b. Ḥumayd, and Ibn Abī Ḥātim [also] narrate from Ibn ʿAbbās that the verse, “except what [usually] appears of it” refers to area of the face and the palms.
Ibn Abī Shayba, ʿAbd b. Ḥumayd, Ibn al-Mundhir, and Bayḥaqī in his Sunan narrate from ʿĀʾisha that she was asked about the (beauty) that ([usually] appears) and she replied, “The bracelet and the rings (fatakh),” and she held the end of her sleeve. Ibn AbīShayba narrates from ʿIkrima, that the verse, “except what [usually] appears of it” refers to her face and the front of the neck. Ibn Jarīr narrates from Saʿīd b. Jubayr that the verse, “except what [usually] appears of it” refers to face and hands. ʿAbd al-Razzāq and Ibn Jarīr narrate from Qatāda that the verse, “…and let them not display their beauty (zīna) except what [usually] appears of it” refers to bracelets, rings, and koḥl. Qatāda [also] says, “it has come to my [knowledge] that the Prophet said, “it is not permissible for a woman who believes in God and the Last Day [to show] other than up to here,” and he held the middle of his forearm.” ʿAbd al-Razzāq and Ibn Jarīr also narrate from Miswar b. Makhrama that the verse, “except what [usually] appears of it” refers to bracelets, rings, and koḥl.
Saʿīd, Ibn Jarīr and Ibn Jurayj narrate from Ibn ʿAbbās that the verse, “…and let them not display their beauty (zīna) except what [usually] appears of it” refers to bracelets and rings. Ibn Jurayj also narrates from ʿĀʾisha [that they refer to] bracelets and anklets. [Elsewhere,] she relates that, “the daughter of my half-brother, ʿAbd-Allāh b. al-Ṭufayl, visited me once when she was ornamented, and the Prophet entered, but turned away from her. [I said,] “she is my niece, and a young girl,” to which the Prophet replied, “If a girl starts having her period, it is not permissible for her to show other than her face, and what is beyond this,” and he held [the middle of] his arm.”
Ibn Masʿūd differs here with Ibn ʿAbbās, ʿĀʾisha, and Anas, saying that “what [usually] appears of it” is the clothes, and the outer garment (jilbāb). My own view is that the interpretation of Ibn ʿAbbās and those who agree with him is preferable, because the exception in the verse “except what [usually] appears of it” after the prohibition against displaying one’s beauty indicates a kind of dispensation and easing, while allowing the appearance of a cloak, outer garment (jilbāb), or a similar piece of clothing does not represent any kind of dispensation, easing, or removal of hardship, as these things appear inevitably and unavoidably. This is why [Ibn ʿAbbās’s opinion] is preferred by Ṭabarī, Qurṭubī, Rāzī, Bayḍāwī, and others, and it is the opinion of a majority of the scholars. Qurṭubī prefers it because the face and hands appear in everyday activities and in worship, such as in prayer and in pilgrimage, it is suitable for the exception to refer to them.
One may also draw upon the ḥadīth narrated by Abū Dāwūd that Asmāʾ b. Abī Bakr entered upon [the house of] the Prophet wearing a thin dress, and the Prophet turned away from her saying, “O Asmāʾ, when a woman reaches puberty, only these two should be visible,” and he pointed at his hands and face. But the ḥadīth cannot stand alone as a proof, as it lacks a complete chain of narrators, and [also] has a weak narrator in the chain, as is well known. It finds support, however, in the ḥadīth of Asmāʾ b. ʿUmays, which strengthens it, as well as in the customary practice of women, [both] at the time of the Prophet, and among his Companions, which is why the ḥadīth scholar Albānī considers it sound (ḥasan) in his books, Jilbāb al-Marʾa al-Muslima, Irwāʾ al-Ghalīl, Ṣaḥīḥ al-Jāmiʿ al-Ṣaghīr, and Takhrīj al-Ḥalāl wa-l-Ḥarām.
2. The command to place their headscarves (khimār) upon their chest (jayb) rather than over their faces.
God says concerning the believing women, “Let them place their headscarves (khumur-i-hinn) upon their chests (juyūb-i-hinn)” (24:31). Khumur is the plural of khimār, which means headscarf; juyūb is the plural of jayb, which means the part of the garment that exposes the cleavage area. Thus women have been commanded to drape their head scarves in such a way as to cover their necks and chests, and not to leave them uncovered in the way of the women of pre-Islamic times.
If covering the face were an obligation, the verse would have stated so explicitly and commanded [them] to place their headscarves over their faces, in the same way that it explicitly mentions placing it over the cleavage area, and this is why Ibn Ḥazm states, after mentioning this holy verse, that,
God has thus commanded them to place their headscarves upon their chests, and this is a textual proof that the ʿawra, the neck, and the chest ought to be covered, and it is also a textual proof that showing one’s face is permitted, and nothing else is possible in any case.
3. The command for men to lower their gaze:
Men have been commanded to lower their gaze in the Qurʾān and the sunna. God says, “Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and preserve their private parts. That is more pure for them. Indeed God knows what you do” (24:30). And the Prophet says [in a ḥadīth], “Guarantee for me six things, and I shall guarantee for you Paradise—be truthful when you speak, fulfil your obligations when you are entrusted with anything, lower your gaze, [etc].” Elsewhere he tells ʿAlī, “Do not follow up a glance with another glance, for you [are forgiven] the first, but not the second.” He also says, “O young people, whoever can marry should marry, for it will help you lower your gaze, and protect your private parts [...].” This has been narrated by all [of the six canonical collections of ḥadīth] on the authority of Ibn Masʿūd.
If women’s faces were all covered, and all women wore the niqāb, why should [men] be encouraged to lower their gaze? What could the eyes possibly see if faces were not exposed to allow for the possibility of attraction and temptation? And what does it mean that marrying helps lower one’s gaze if the gaze cannot fall upon any part of a woman?
4. The verse (even if their beauty pleases you):
This is further supported by [the verse in which] God informs the Prophet that, “No more women are permitted to you [in marriage], henceforth, nor may you change [current] wives for others, even if their beauty pleases you” (33:52). How could he find their beauty pleasing if there were no possibility for him to see the face which, all agree, is the center of beauty of a woman?
5. The ḥadīth, “If one of you sees a woman and is struck by her [beauty]”:
The sacred texts, and the numerous incidents indicate that most of the women in the time of the Prophet did not wear the niqāb apart from rare instances. Rather they used to show their faces.
Among [those incidents] is what has been narrated by Aḥmad, Muslim, and Abū Dāwūd on the authority of Jābir, that the Messenger of God saw a woman, and was struck by her [beauty], so he went to his wife, Zaynab — who was tanning an animal skin — and [slept] with her. He [later] said [to his Companions that,] “A woman comes and goes in the form of a seductress, so if one of you sees a woman and is struck by her [beauty], let him go to his wife, for that will banish what troubles his soul.” Dārimī narrates a similar ḥadīth on the authority of Ibn Masʿūd, but in this case, the wife in question was Sawdāʾ, and his comment was that, “Any man who sees a woman and is struck by her beauty, let him go to his wife, for she has what [the other woman] has.”
Aḥmad relates the story on the authority of Abū Kabsha al-Anmārī that the Prophet said, “So-and-so went past me, and I felt the desire for women in my heart, so I went to one of my wives and slept with her, and you should do the same, for among your most exemplary actions is doing what is permissible.”
The reason for the ḥadīth[s] indicate that the noble Messenger saw a particular woman, and felt the desire for women in his heart due to his human nature and masculinity, and this could not have been possible except if he saw her face, which would allow to recognise her as “so-and-so”, and it was his seeing her that provoked his human desire, just as his statement, “If one of you sees a woman and is struck by her [beauty...]”, indicates that this kind of incident could easily occur and was quite usual.
6. The ḥadīth, “So he raised his glance towards her and focused it”:
Among the proofs for this view is what Bukhārī and Muslim narrate on the authority of Sahl b. Saʿd that,
A woman came to the Messenger of God and said, “O Messenger of God, I have come to present myself to you [in marriage].” So the Messenger of God raised his glance towards her and focused it, and then lowered his head, so when she saw that he had not given a judgment on the matter, she sat down.
If the woman had covered her face, the Prophet could not have raised his glance nor focused it on her at length. It has not been narrated that she only did this for the marriage proposal, and later covered her face; rather it is narrated that she simply sat down, and one of the Companions in the gathering saw her, and asked the noble Messenger to marry her to him.
7. The ḥadīth of the [young] woman from Khathʿam and Faḍl b. ʿAbbās:
Nasāʾī narrates on the authority of Ibn ʿAbbās, “That a woman from Khathʿam sought a fatwā from the Messenger of God during the Farewell Pilgrimage, when Faḍl b. ʿAbbās was riding with him.” In the ḥadīth he mentions that, “Faḍl looked towards the woman, who was remarkably beautiful, so the Messenger turned [Faḍl’s] face to the other side.”
Ibn Ḥazm says [about this incident that],
If the face were part of the ʿawra and required covering, he would not have consented to her exposing it in the presence of people. [Rather,] he would have commanded her to drape something over it; and if her face were covered, Ibn ʿAbbās would not have been able to know whether she was beautiful or ugly. So all that we have said is most certainly correct, and all praise is due to God in abundance!
Tirmidhī narrates this story in [the form of] a ḥadīth narrated by ʿAlī, where he adds that the Prophet turned Faḍl’s [face away], and [Faḍl’s father], ʿAbbās asked, “O Messenger of God, why do you turn your nephew’s [face away from the woman]?” He replied, “I saw a young man and young woman, and I feared for their safety from the devil.” Tirmidhī states that the ḥadīth is authentic (ḥasan ṣaḥīḥ).
The polymath, Shawkānī, states that,
Ibn al-Qaṭṭān derives from this [ḥadīth] that it is permissible to look [at a woman’s face] if one does not fear [sexual] desire, since he did not tell her to cover her face; and had ʿAbbās not considered looking to be permissible, he would not have asked [the question], and if what he thought were not permissible, the Prophet would not have consented to his thinking so.
[He continues] in Nayl al-Awṭār, stating that,
This ḥadīth can be used to prove that the aforementioned verse on the ḥijab [i.e. the verse, “And when you ask of [the Prophet’s wives] anything, ask it of them from behind a curtain (ḥijāb)” (33:53) applies only to the Prophet’s wives, because the story of Faḍl [took place] in the Farewell Pilgrimage [ten years after the hijra], while the verse of the ḥijāb concerns the marriage of Zaynab [which took place] in the fifth year after the hijra.
8. Other ḥadīths:
Among the ḥadīths that may be used as evidence in this issue is the one in Muslim on the authority of Jābir b. ʿAbd-Allāh in which he says,
I was with the Messenger of God on the day of ʿĪd, and he began the prayer before the sermon…Then he kept walking until he reached the women and exhorted them saying, “Give in charity, for indeed most of you are fuel for the Fire! Then one of the best women, with rosy cheeks, stood up and asked, “Why is that, O Messenger of God? He replied, “Because you complain much, and are ungrateful.” So they began donating their jewelry, tossing into Bilāl’s cloth their earrings and rings.
How could Jābir have known that she had rosy cheeks if her face were covered with a niqāb?
Bukhārī also narrates the story of the ʿĪd prayer, but on the authority of Ibn ʿAbbās, [saying] that he attended the ʿĪd prayer with the Messenger of God, and that he delivered the sermon after the prayer, and then went with Bilāl to the women and exhorted them to give in charity. [Ibn ʿAbbās added], “I saw them lowering their hands into Bilāl’s cloth, tossing into it [their jewelry].” Ibn Ḥazm notes that, “Here we have Ibn ʿAbbās in the presence of the Messenger of God seeing their hands, so it is true that a woman’s hand and her face are not part of her ʿawra.
Muslim and Abū Dāwūd also narrate this ḥadīth, and [here I use] Abū Dāwūd’s version, on the authority of Jābir,
That the Prophet stood on the day of [ʿĪd] al-Fiṭr and prayed before delivering the sermon. Then he delivered the sermon, and when the Prophet of God finished, he descended [from the pulpit], came to the women and exhorted them while leaning on Bilāl’s arm. Bilal had spread his cloth, and the women were casting their charity into it. A woman would throw her fatakh into it, and [others] would cast one item after another.
Ibn Ḥazm states that, “Fatakh are large rings that they used to wear on their fingers, and if it were not for their hands being visible, they would not have been able to throw them.”
Among [such ḥadīths] are what has been narrated in the two authentic works on the authority of ʿĀʾisha that “the believing women used to attend the dawn prayer with the Prophet, wrapped in woolen cloths, and then they would return to their houses after completing the prayer, unrecognizable because of the darkness.”
This indicates that they would have been recognizable were it not for the darkness, and this would only have been possible if their faces were exposed. Another relevant ḥadīth is what Muslim narrates in his Ṣaḥīḥ that, Subayʿa b. al-Ḥārith was married to Saʿd b. Khawla, who was one of the men who had fought at Badr, and that she had been bereaved of him in the year of the Farewell Pilgrimage while she was pregnant. Shortly thereafter she gave birth, and when she recovered from childbirth, she adorned herself for potential suitors, but was visited by Abū al-Sanābil b. Baʿkak who told her, “Why do I see that you are adorned? Is it because you wish to [re]marry? By God, you are not [permitted] to marry until four months and ten days have passed.” Subayʿa said, “When he told me that, I gathered my things in the evening, went to the Messenger of God, and asked him about it, and he informed me that I was permitted to marry from the time that I had given birth, and told me that I should marry if I wished to.”
This ḥadīth shows us that Subayʿa appeared before Abū al-Sanābil while she was adorned, even though he was not a maḥram of hers. In fact he was one of the people who later proposed to her, and if her face were not exposed, he would not have known whether she was adorned or not.
[In another ḥadīth,] narrated on the authority of ʿAmmār b. Yāsir, “A man passed by a woman, and having fixed his glance on her, walked into a wall and injured his face causing it to bleed. So he came to the Messenger of God, his face flowing with blood and said, “O Messenger of God, I did such-and-such,” and the Prophet replied, “When God wishes good for a servant [of His], He hastens his punishment in this world, and if He does not wish so, He lets him persist in his sin so that he may be recompensed in full on the Day of Resurrection, as though he were a donkey.”
This indicates that the women would not cover their faces, and that there were among them those whose beauty would attract the glances of men to the extent that they would walk into walls, and bleed as a result!