Islamic Discourses on Veiling, Hijab, Burqa, Chador and covering, a comprehensive write up

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Islamic Discourses on Veiling, Hijab, Burqa, Chador and covering. 

This is one of the most comprehensive, but yet straight forward write up on the topic. I appreciate the work done by UNC-Chapel Hill in this regard. There is also material about veiling in Jewish, Christian and other traditions. The have lined up what Quran, Hadith, Jurisprudence (Sharia) and interpretations are about.  A number of articles on the subject, are posted here at this site, but this is by far the best for Muslims and Non-Muslims to read and understand the issue.

Those who are prejudiced against Hijab, please let it be known, that a majority of women around the world, and 100% of women in the United States wear out of their own volition. Compelling women to comply to men’s demand is not Islamic, it is a men thing.  Indeed, the sadistic men (Christian, Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others) among us regardless of their national origins are insecure, and want to “control” their women through violence and  or economic dependence, Caucasian men are no exception to this. 

Most Muslims believe that the format of Hijab is cultural and not religious. If it was religious, it shouldn’t exist, but since it is cultural it has taken many forms and shapes. The current Hijab worn in the west and literally all other places is more of a fashion statement than a sign of modesty.  Hijab is more of a peer pressure than religious need. 

I just want to make sure, that Quran always address almost all issues to both men and women equally. You can read what the Quran says down below -addresses both men and women and uses the same language about Modesty.

I thank Shah N. Khan for sharing these sites on our forum at

Mike Ghouse

Hijab in Iran
This section focuses on veiling in Islam. There is a commonly-held belief among both Muslims and non-Muslims that Islam explicitly and unequivocally prescribes veiling upon Muslim women. Moreover, there is a parallel belief among both Muslims and non-Muslims that such a prescription is stated clearly in the Holy Book of Islam, that is the Quran.

This section explores the central religious texts in Islam that treat the topic of veiling.
In the section titled The Quran, we cite all passages from the Quran that address the topic of veiling.

In the section titled The Hadith Tradition, we examine key hadiths that are regularly invoked to justify veiling. 
The term “hadith” refers to the tradition of Reports that have preserved the Deeds and Sayings of the Prophet Mohamed. This tradition is considered foundational in Islam and viewed by Muslims as a key resource (second only to the Quran) that provides practical information on how Muslims are to behave on a daily basis.

In the section titled Islamic Jurisprudence and Law, we present what Islamic Law (or Sharia) tells us about the requirement that Muslim women veil.

In the section called Interpretations, we present both traditional and progressive interpretations of those passages in the Quran and Hadith that address the question of veiling.

The Quran

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The Quran is the Holy Book of Muslims believed to be the direct and unadulterated word of God transmitted to the Prophet Mohamed (d. 632 C.E), through the archangel Gabriel over a 22-year period, beginning in 610 C.E. The Revelation of the Quran to the Prophet Mohamed is said to have taken place while he was in meditative retreat in Mt. Hira, at the outskirts of Mecca in present-day Saudi Arabia. The Quran was revealed in Arabic, hence the prestigious, sacred, position of the Arabic language among Muslims until today.
The Quran consists of 114 chapters (known in Arabic as suras) and each chapter is subdivided into verses (known in Arabic as ayat).
The majority of Muslims and non-Muslims believe that the Quran explicitly and unequivocally prescribes veiling upon Muslim women. In this section, we propose to present what the Quran says about veiling.
In order to learn what the Quran says about veiling and in what terms this Book addresses the question of women’s clothing, we must look at two main types of passages in the Quran:

  1. Every occurrence of the term hijab (the Arabic word that is regularly translated as veil in English); and
  2. All Quranic verses that address the question of Muslim women’s proper attire, even though the Quran may not use the term hijab.

The term hijab in the Quran

The term hijab (in bold in the quotations below) is used in the Quran a total of five times (Q 7:46; Q 19:16-17; Q 33:53; Q 41:5; Q 42:51). These passages are listed below for easy reference. The English translations of Quranic verses provided here are by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem in his new translation of the Quran (Oxford World’s Classics, 2004).

We invite the reader to explore other Quran translations of the same passages to see how the term hijab has been rendered by other translators. The following link gives access to the full Quranic text in Arabic, accompanied by different translations and oral recitation: Multimedia Quran.

Q 7:46

سورة الأعراف ( آية 46)
وَبَيْنَهُما حِجابٌ وَعَلَى الْأَعْرافِ رِجالٌ يَعْرِفُونَ كُلًا بِسِيماهُمْ وَنادَوْا أَصْحابَ الْجَنَّةِ أَنْ سَلامٌ عَلَيْكُمْ لَمْ يَدْخُلُوها وَهُمْ يَطْمَعُونَ (46)

A barrier divides the two groups with men on its heights recognizing each group by their marks: they will call out to the people of the Garden, ‘Peace be with you!’-they will not have entered, but they will be hoping, etc.”

Q 19:16-17

سورة مريم ( آية 16 و 17)
وَاذْكُرْ فِي الْكِتابِ مَرْيَمَ إِذِ انْتَبَذَتْ مِنْ أَهْلِها مَكانًا شَرْقِيًّا (16)  فَاتَّخَذَتْ مِنْ دُونِهِمْ حِجابًا فَأَرْسَلْنا إِلَيْها رُوحَنا فَتَمَثَّلَ لَها بَشَرًا سَوِيًّا (17)

Mention in the Quran the story of Mary. She withdrew from her family to a place to the east and secluded herself away. We sent Our Spirit to appear before her in the form of a perfected man.”

Q 33:53

سورة الأحزاب (آية 53)
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَدْخُلُوا بُيُوتَ النَّبِيِّ إِلَّا أَنْ يُؤْذَنَ لَكُمْ إِلَى طَعَامٍ غَيْرَ نَاظِرِينَ إِنَاهُ وَلَكِنْ إِذَا دُعِيتُمْ فَادْخُلُوا فَإِذَا طَعِمْتُمْ فَانْتَشِرُوا وَلَا مُسْتَأْنِسِينَ لِحَدِيثٍ إِنَّ ذَلِكُمْ كَانَ يُؤْذِي النَّبِيَّ فَيَسْتَحْيِي مِنْكُمْ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَسْتَحْيِي مِنَ الْحَقِّ وَإِذَا سَأَلْتُمُوهُنَّ مَتَاعًا فَاسْأَلُوهُنَّ مِنْ وَرَاءِ حِجَابٍ ذَلِكُمْ أَطْهَرُ لِقُلُوبِكُمْ وَقُلُوبِهِنَّ وَمَا كَانَ لَكُمْ أَنْ تُؤْذُوا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَلَا أَنْ تَنْكِحُوا أَزْوَاجَهُ مِنْ بَعْدِهِ أَبَدًا إِنَّ ذَلِكُمْ كَانَ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ عظيم (53)

Believers, do not enter the Prophet’s apartments for a meal unless you are given permission to do so; do not linger until [a meal] is ready. When you are invited, go in; then when you have taken your meal, leave. Do not stay on and talk, for that would offend the Prophet, though he would shrink from asking you to leave. God does not shrink from the truth. When you ask his wives for something, do so from behind a screen: this is purer both for your hearts and for theirs.

Q 41:5

سورة فُصلت  (آية 5)
وَقالُوا قُلُوبُنا فِي أَكِنَّةٍ مِمَّا تَدْعُونا إِلَيْهِ وَفِي آذانِنا وَقْرٌ وَمِنْ بَيْنِنا وَبَيْنِكَ حِجابٌ فَاعْمَلْ إِنَّنا عامِلُونَ (5)

They [the unbelievers] say “Our hearts are encased against [the faith] you call us to; our ears are heavy; there is a barrier between us and you. So you do whatever you want, and so shall we.”

Q 42:51

سورة الشورى (آية 51)
وَمَا كَانَ لِبَشَرٍ أَنْ يُكَلِّمَهُ اللَّهُ إِلَّا وَحْيًا أَوْ مِنْ وَرَاءِ حِجَابٍ أَوْ يُرْسِلَ رَسُولًا فَيُوحِيَ بِإِذْنِهِ مَا يَشَاءُ ۚ إِنَّهُ عَلِيٌّ حَكِيمٌ (51)

It is not granted to any mortal that God should speak to him except through revelation or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger to reveal by His command what He will: He is exalted and wise.
Interestingly, those Quranic verses that use the word hijab do not address the question of Muslim women’s clothing. In order to continue to explore Quranic discourses on proper Muslim women’s attire, we must look at other Quranic verses that deal specifically with this topic.

The Quran on women’s clothing

There are three references to women’s clothing in the Quran that are made without the use of the term hijab. All three references listed below. In these three Quranic passages about women’s clothing,  the Quran uses the Arabic word khimar to refer to women’s headscarves (Q 24:31), jilbab to their outer garments (Q 33:59), and zinah to refer to their “finery” (Q 32:33).

Q 24:30-31

سورة النور (آية 30) و (آية 31)
قُلْ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ يَغُضُّوا مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِمْ وَيَحْفَظُوا فُرُوجَهُمْ ذَلِكَ أَزْكَى لَهُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا يَصْنَعُونَ (30)
وَقُلْ لِلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَى جُيُوبِهِنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَائِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَائِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي أَخَوَاتِهِنَّ أَوْ نِسَائِهِنَّ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُنَّ أَوِ التَّابِعِينَ غَيْرِ أُولِي الْإِرْبَةِ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ أَوِ الطِّفْلِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يَظْهَرُوا عَلَى عَوْرَاتِ النِّسَاءِ وَلَا يَضْرِبْنَ بِأَرْجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعْلَمَ مَا يُخْفِينَ مِنْ زِينَتِهِنَّ وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ (31)

“[Prophet], tell believing men to lower their glances and guard their private parts: that is purer for them. God is well aware of everything they do. And tell believing women that they should lower their glances, guard their private parts, and not display their charms beyond what [it is acceptable] to reveal; they should let their headscarves fall to cover their necklines and not reveal their charms except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their womenfolk, their slaves, such men as attend them who have no sexual desire, or children who are not yet aware of women’s nakedness; they should not stamp their feet so as to draw attention to any hidden charms. Believers, all of you, turn to God so that you may prosper.”

Q 32:32-33

سورة الأحزاب (آية 32 و 33)
يَا نِسَاء النَّبِيِّ لَسْتُنَّ كَأَحَدٍ مِّنَ النِّسَاء إِنِ اتَّقَيْتُنَّ فَلا تَخْضَعْنَ بِالْقَوْلِ فَيَطْمَعَ الَّذِي فِي قَلْبِهِ مَرَضٌ وَقُلْنَ قَوْلاً مَّعْرُوفًا (32)
 وَقَرْنَ فِي بُيُوتِكُنَّ وَلا تَبَرَّجْنَ تَبَرُّجَ الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ الْأُولَى وَأَقِمْنَ الصَّلاةَ وَآتِينَ الزَّكَاةَ وَأَطِعْنَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ إِنَّمَا يُرِيدُ اللَّهُ لِيُذْهِبَ عَنكُمُ الرِّجْسَ أَهْلَ الْبَيْتِ وَيُطَهِّرَكُمْ تَطْهِيرًا (33)

“Wives of the Prophet, you are not like any other woman. If you are truly mindful of God, do not speak too softly in case the sick at heart should lust after you, but speak in an appropriate manner; stay at home, and do not flaunt your finery as they used to in the pagan past; keep up the prayer, give the prescribed alms, and obey God and His Messenger.”

Q 33:58-59

سورة الأحزاب (آية 58) و(آية 59)
وَالَّذِينَ يُؤْذُونَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِناتِ بِغَيْرِ مَا اكْتَسَبُوا فَقَدِ احْتَمَلُوا بُهْتانًا وَإِثْمًا مُبِينًا (58)
يا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُلْ لِأَزْواجِكَ وَبَناتِكَ وَنِساءِ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِنْ جَلابِيبِهِنَّ ذلِكَ أَدْنى أَنْ يُعْرَفْنَ فَلا يُؤْذَيْنَ وَكانَ اللَّهُ غَفُورًا رَحِيمًا (59)

“And those who undeservedly insult believing men and women will bear the guilt of slander and flagrant sin. Prophet, tell your wives, your daughters, and women believers to make their outer garments hang low over them so as to be recognized and not insulted: God is most forgiving, most merciful.”

The Hadith Tradition

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The term hadith refers to the tradition of Sayings by the Prophet Mohamed, and of actions he did. This tradition is viewed by Muslims as a key resource of practical information on how Muslims are supposed to behave on a daily basis.
There are six canonical hadith collections believed to contain the most authentic reports of the Prophet’s sayings and doings, the most famed being those by Bukhari (d. 870), by Muslim (d. 875), by Abu Dawud (d. 888) and the Musnad by Ibn Hanbal (d. 855).
Hadith tradition

Veiling according to the hadith tradition

Of the thousands of reports included in the canonical hadith collections, only one can be said to address explicitly the requirement of women’s covering. This hadith is reported by the ninth-century hadith compiler Abu Dawud (d. 888).

Book 32, Number 4092

This hadith is narrated by Aisha (the youngest wife of the Prophet) and reports an incident involving an encounter between the Prophet and Asma who is the daughter of Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s closest friend and first Caliph at the death of the Prophet:

Asma, daughter of Abu Bakr, entered upon the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) wearing thin clothes. The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) turned his attention from her. He said: O Asma’, when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except this and this, and he pointed to her face and hands.

This hadith is included only in Abu Dawud’s late ninth-century compilation and is considered to be the single most explicit and authoritative source for the belief that women are required to veil in Islam.

Islamic Jurisprudence & Law

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Islamic law is oftentimes used as a synonym for sharia. However, we must understand this Islamic law to be a law created by men, and not the law of God which itself is perforce unknown and unknowable. In fact, the Arabic term sharia literally means “path,” and is used in the Quran to refer to God’s law.
Because God’s law/sharia in the Quran was not as specific as one may have wished, and once the Prophet was no longer living to interpret the divine laws for the Muslim community, highly educated scholars and jurists were entrusted with the responsibility of elucidating God’s law. It is the body of laws that these ninth- and tenth-century jurists developed that came to be known as Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), a human legal system that stands in contrast to sharia, which is God’s Law. The Arabic word fiqh literally means “understanding.”
By the end of the eleventh century four schools of Islamic jurisprudence emerged, each named after its leading interpreter: Maliki, Shafii, Hanafi and Hanbali. Each of them struggled to interpret the few Quranic verses on women’s dress and to name with certainty those body parts that were to be concealed.
Muslim Jurists developed a five-part moral scale to evaluate every conceivable human act from mandatory, to recommended, to morally neutral or permissible, to reprehensible to prohibited. Such a scale was meant to guide humans in understanding which acts they were required to perform and which ones to avoid if they were to obey God’s law.

What does Islamic law say about Muslim women’s proper dress?


The Hanbali and Shafii schools, the most conservative of the four, required Muslim women to cover their entire body, including their face and hands.
Ko Panyi, Thailand

Most Maliki and Hanafi jurists believed that the entire woman’s body, except for the face and hands, had to be covered.

Interestingly, the juridical discussion of women’s attire did not treat the specific question of hijab, or appropriate Islamic dress to be worn by women in public. Muslim women’s dress was understood to be part of Islamic etiquette and not of required Islamic behaviors.
This means that in traditional Islamic law, the whole debate over clothing fell into the legal categories of appropriate Islamic conduct (wajib and adab), rather than mandatory behaviors (fard) such as praying, fasting during Ramadan or giving alms to the poor. From the perspective of early Islamic law, and in contrast to the way many Muslims continue to assume, failing to cover one’s private parts (Arabic awrah) constitutes only a minor sin for Muslims, not a major sin. Donning hijabcan thus only be a “recommended” action, not a “required” behavior.
The only element debated by Muslim jurists was whether a woman’s hands and face were to be concealed or whether they could be left uncovered. On this specific matter, the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence differ. (See the examples with the two photos above.)

Implications for Muslim women today

Muslims are expected to follow the rituals and adopt the practices (including those related to veiling) of the Muslim-majority society they live in. These practices are defined by the particular school of Islamic law that the country observes.
The Hanbali school, like the Shafii, urge the Muslim communities living within their jurisdiction, to follow a more conservative dress code than the Hanafi and the Maliki. And this is one of the primary reasons Muslim women living in Saudi Arabia or Indonesia dress differently from those in Egypt or Morocco.

Distribution of the four schools of Islamic jurisprudence

Islamic school of law
The Hanafi school is the most prevalent one in Muslim-majority societies, with followers in about one-third of them, including:
Central Asia
The Caucasus
The Balkans
Parts of Iraq
The Hanbali, the most conservative school of Islamic jurisprudence, has most of its adherents in Saudi Arabia.
The Maliki school, the second most-dominant school, prevails in countries such as:
The Arabian Gulf States (Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Dubai and Abu Dhabi)
East and West African countries (upper Egypt, Sudan, Tunisia, Algeria, Libya, Morocco, Mali, Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Senegal, Mauritania)
The Shafii school is widespread in countries such as:
Sri Lanka
East Africa (Somalia, Kenya, Tanzania)


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The information about veiling that is gleaned from Islamic religious texts (the Quran or the hadith), is ambiguous and open-ended. In fact, whether or not veiling is required in Islam, and the extent of that veiling, depends primarily on the interpretations of religious texts by Islamic scholars, as well as on the particular country a Muslim lives in.
We provide here an overview of the traditional interpretations of Islamic texts, and of the more progressive interpretations of these same texts are they are developing today.

Traditional interpretations

Traditional interpretations of the Quranic verses treating  women’s clothes were developed from the ninth to the thirteenth century, that is two to six centuries after the Prophet’s death. These interpretations were made by Quranic scholars, the most important of whom are undoubtedly Al-Tabari (b. 839, Iran); al-Razi (d. 1209); ibn al-Jawzi (d. 1200). This tradition of Quranic exegesis is known in Arabic as tafsir.

According to most traditional scholars, the Quran explicitly and unquestionably requires that Muslim women cover their entire bodies with loose fitting clothes and that they only leave their faces and hands uncovered. This interpretation of the Quranic verses continues to have a number of followers today, as can be observed by the way many Muslim women wear hijab around the world.

Some traditional Islamic scholars have opted for an even more extreme interpretation of the Quranic verses on women’s attire and asserted that the entire woman’s body ought to be covered, including hands and face. Some Muslim women feel swayed by this interpretation and dress in a manner consistent with this traditional view. Some Muslim rulers also have adopted this interpretation and required that women living in their country, whether Muslim or not, dress in this most conservative style. This is how we may interpret Muslim women’s adoption of a niqab (a veil that covers the face but not the eyes) or a burqa (a veil that covers both the face and eyes).

Progressive interpretations

Progressive Muslims is a group of pious Muslims from around the globe who are seeking to reinterpret Islam and core religious texts from an egalitarian, socially inclusive perspective. They believe that Islam, as is practiced around the world today, has been hijacked from the egalitarian spirit that was the core of the message that the Prophet received and preached in the seventh century. Their goal is thus to peel away the layers of interpretations that have been imposed on the Quran over the centuries and that have closed off the more open ended and fluid message of the Holy Book.

Progressive interpretations of the Quran

Progressive Muslims’ engagement with the Quran and with its exegetical tradition has led to the following conclusions:

  • The Quran does not prescribe a specific dress code for women. Rather, it invites both men and women to observe culturally appropriate codes of modesty.
  • The notion that Muslim women are required to veil is an interpretation of the Quran, rather than a prescription explicitly enjoined in the Quran. This interpretation has been superimposed on the Quran beginning in the ninth century by exegetes who read the Holy Book from the perspective of their own socio-cultural traditions.
  • The only women who were required to veil during the Prophet’s time were his wives. In fact, in the seventh century, the verb “to veil” was synonymous to “become the wife of the Prophet”.
Progressive interpretations of hadith


Progressive Muslims are also engaged in a rigorous examination of the hadith tradition and especially as it relates to Muslim women’s proper attire.

Progressive Muslims have called into question the reliability of Abu Dawud’s hadith and challenged the authenticity of his hadith based on their research into the massive scholarship of the hadith tradition. They have observed:

  • Abu Dawud’s hadith is not reliable because it is cited only in this one collection and is not attested anywhere else. It thus exhibits the very feature marking possible fraudulent reporting according to the complex evaluation system of authentification developed by classical hadith scholars themselves.
  • Abu Dawud’s hadith is not reliable because it is not supported by an unbroken chain of reporters going all the way back to the Prophet to guarantee its authenticity as all hadiths are supposed to be. It is cited only by Abu Dawud who lived in the ninth century, that is two hundred years after the Prophet’s death.
  • Abu Dawud’s hadith is unreliable because the female body parts that ought to be concealed are not contained in the Prophet’s own words, but are specified by the hadith reporter himself, in this case, Abu Dawud.

For these reasons, progressive Muslims have concluded that Abu Dawud’s hadith is unreliable and cannot be considered an indisputable proof that Muslim women are required to veil their entire body, except for the face and hands, as some Muslims continue to believe.

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