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One of the issues in hijab that is surrounded by the most confusion is the JILBAB. Some sisters assert that the jilbab is not fard (duty from God) and that “shalwar kameez and a headscarf are OK”. Other sisters protest that the name “jilbab” is used in Arabic today to refer to a very specific style and type of garment and Allah SWT could not have specified that all Muslim sisters are to wear this and only this type of garment. After seeing these same questions and these same claims come up over and over again, I decided to write an essay setting out the answers to the questions: what is the jilbab? and is it fard to wear one?
For the purposes of this essay we are going to assume that we know nothing of Arab culture or of the types of garments that Arabs may wear. All we have to go on is the Quran and the Sunna, and the works of the scholars who have devoted their lives to study of the Quran and Sunna. After all, Muslims are supposed to base themselves only on Quran and Sunna. Because of this, I will refer a lot to the garment called “jilbab” and I ask my readers to suspend any knowledge they may have of what type of garment is called “jilbab”.
In the Quran, Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 (33:59) says:Ya ayyuha an-Nabiyy qul li azwajika wa banatika wa nisa al-mu’minin yudnina alayhinna min jalabib hinna; dhalika adna an yu’rafna fa laa yu’dhayn. Wa kana Allahu Ghafur RahimO Prophet! Say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the faithful to draw their JALABIB close around them; that is better that they will be recognized and not annoyed. And God is ever Forgiving, Gentle.
The word “jalabib” is the plural of “jilbab”. Clearly, this ayah states a command for Muslim women to wear a garment which Allah SWT has called “jilbab”.
Beyond this, the hadiths record how the sahabiyat (rAa) went about obeying Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 when it was revealed:Sunan Abu Dawud Book 32 #4090. Narrated Umm Salama, Umm al-Mu’minin: When the verse, “That they should draw their jalabib close around them” was revealed, the women of Ansar came out as if they had crows over their heads by wearing jalabib.In case there is any confusion about how the Muslim sister is supposed to go about obeying Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59, this hadith shows that the correct way to obey it is to wear the garment called “jilbab”, since that is what the sahabiyat (rAa) did. Note that they did not hesitate or delay or make excuses: when they were told by Allah SWT to wear the garment called “jilbab”, they did, right away.
And there is more even than this. Some of the women remained in seclusion and never went out so that they did not own the garment called “jilbab”. The hadiths record that the Prophet (sAas) commanded the women to come out for the Eid gathering, and what he said about the issue of the garment called “jilbab”:Sahih Bukhari Book 8 #347. Narrated Umm Atiyya: We were ordered to bring out our menstruating women and screened women to the religious gatherings and invocation of the Muslims on the two Eid festivals. These menstruating women were to keep away from the musalla. A woman asked, “O Messenger of Allah! What about one who does not have a jilbab?”. He said, “Let her borrow the jilbab of her companion”.
My dear sisters, surely the meaning of this is clear enough to you. If it were halal for a sister to go outdoors without the garment called “jilbab”, why didn’t the Prophet (sAas) allow the women to do this? But instead, he told them that they must find the garment called “jilbab” to wear, even if they had to borrow one from a friend. The rule is plain: it is a disobedience of Allah SWT and of His messenger for a woman to go outdoors if she is not wearing the garment called “jilbab”. Period. I really do not see any other meaning from Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 or from these hadiths. Do you?
I have provided above evidence from the Quran and Sunna that it is fard for the Muslim sister to wear the garment called “jilbab” when she goes out from her house. This is not just my opinion but the opinion of most of the scholars (ulama). The next question is: what type of garment is the jilbab? There are two opinions among the scholars on this matter:
1) That it is a loose outergarment like a coat or cloak.
2) That it is a sheet covering the entire body except for the eyes.
Notice that neither of these opinions mentions “conservative clothing” or “loose clothing” nor does either opinion say “shalwar kameez are OK”.
Section A: Verification that these are the two opinions of the scholars
Some well-known modern scholars who support the first opinion
1) Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi (Shafi’i) – see Women’s Awrah – Qaradawi describes the jilbab as “a loose outergarment”
2) Shaykh Muhammad Nasir ad-Din Albani (Salafi) – Shaykh Albani had written an essay called “Women’s Dress”. Unfortunately, that web page seems to have vanished. He describes the jilbab as “an outergarment that is thick and opaque and covers the clothing under it and the woman’s form”.
Some well-known modern scholars who support the second opinion
1) Syed Abu-Ala’ Maududi (Hanafi) – see Introduction to Surah
al-Ahzab – Maududi describes the jilbab as an “outergarment covering the face”.
2) Shaykh Abdul-Aziz ibn Baz, Chief Mufti of Saudi Arabia (Salafi) – see The Danger of Women at Work – Ibn Baz describes the jilbab as “covering all of the body except the eyes”.
Section B: Why do the scholars say that the jilbab is an outergarment?
There is one thing that all the scholars referenced above are agreed on and that is that the garment called “jilbab” is an outergarment. Their only disagreement is in how much of the body the jilbab is to cover. How did the scholars derive that the jilbab is an outergarment? There are two ways to do this. First, they might just look up the definition of the word “jilbab” in a dictionary of classical Arabic. Second, they might verify for themselves by intelligent analysis of the Quran that the jilbab is an outergarment. We can look at both of these sources.What is the defintion of the word “jilbab” in Arabic?
The definitive dictionary of classical Arabic, Lisan al-Arab by ibn al-Mandhur, provides the following definition, “The jilbab is the outergarment, mantle, or cloak. It is derived from the word tajalbaba, which means to clothe. Jilbab is the outer sheet or covering which a woman wraps around her ON TOP OF HER GARMENTS to cover herself from head to toe. It hides her body completely” (Lisan al-Arab, volume 7, page 273)
The dictionary Al-Qamus al-Muhit by Abu Tahir al-Fayruzabadi provides the definition, “The jilbab…is that which CONCEALS THE CLOTHES like a cover”
The dictionary Al-Sihah by Jawhari provides the definition, “The jilbab is the cover and some say it is a sheet. Jilbab has been mentioned in the hadiths with the meaning of sheet, which the woman WRAPPED OVER HER CLOTHES”
Intelligent Analysis of the Quran 1: An argument why the jilbab is not just modest clothing but must be an OUTERGARMENT
Quran Surah an-Nur ayah 31 (24:31) reads as follows:
Wa qul li al-mu’minat yaghdudna min absarihinna wa yahfazna furujahunna wa laa yubdina zenatahunna illa maa zahara min haa wal-yadribna bi khumurihinna ala juyubihinna; wa laa yubdina zenatahunna illa li bu’ulatihinna aw aba’ihinna aw aba’i bu’ulatihinna aw abna’ihinna aw abna’i bu’ulatihinna aw ikhwanihinna aw bani ikhwanihinna aw bani akhawatihinna aw nisa’ihinna aw maa malakat aymanu hunna aw at-tabi’ina ghayri ulu’l-irbat min ar-rijal aw at-tifl alladhina lam yazharu ala awrat an-nisa wa laa yadribna bi arjulihinna li yu’lama maa yukhfina min zenatahinna. Wa tubu ilaAllahi jami’an, ayyuha al-mu’minun la’allakum tuflihun
And say to the faithful women to lower their gazes, and to guard their private parts, and not to display their adornment except what is apparent of it, and to extend their headcoverings (khimars) to cover their bosoms, and not to display their adornment except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers, or their sons, or their husband’s sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their womenfolk, or what their right hands rule (slaves), or the followers from the men who do not feel sexual desire, or the small children to whom the nakedness of women is not apparent, and not to strike their feet (on the ground) so as to make known what they hide of their adornments. And turn in repentance to Allah together, O you the faithful, in order that you are successful.
This ayah lists a number of things that Muslim sisters are to do:
1) Lower the gaze (from looking at what is haram to be seen of men).
2) Guard the private parts. This means not to let them be seen or touched by who is haram to see or touch.
3) Conceal all of the body and its decorations except “what is apparent of it”. Most scholars are agreed that the face and the hands are “what is apparent of it”. Some scholars say that only the eyes are “what is apparent of it”. See also point 5 below.
4) Wear a khimar (headcovering) and extend it to cover the bosom. This means that it covers the hair, the neck, the shoulders, and the upper chest.
5) That the husband, mahram relatives, women, slaves, male servants who do not feel sexual desire, and children are the only people who can see more of the woman than “what is apparent of it”.
6) Not stamp the feet or otherwise act so that what is hidden becomes known to others.
It can clearly be seen from this analysis that Allah SWT in Suran an-Nur ayah 31 already commands a woman that when non-mahram men are present, she is to wear clothing that is loose and opaque plus a headscarf (referred to in the Quran as khimar) so that with these garments, she covers everything but her face and her hands. If this were all that was necessary, why has Allah SWT also revealed Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59? For this reason, the garment called “jilbab” that has been commanded in Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 must be something in addition to the modest clothing. The only obvious interpretation is that the garment called “jilbab” is some type of outergarment, something that is worn on top of the modest clothing commanded in Surah an-Nur ayah 31.
Intelligent Analysis of the Quran 2: Another argument why the jilbab is not just modest clothing but must be an OUTERGARMENT
Surah an-Nur ayah 60 (24:60) provides an exemption for certain women in regard to hijab. It reads as follows:
Wa al-qawa’idu min an-nisa allati laa yarjuuna nikahan fa laysa alayhinna junahun an yada’na thiyab hunna ghayra mutabarrijat bi zenat. Wa an yasta’fifna khayru la hunna. WaAllahu Sami’un AlimAnd the elderly women, those who do not have hope of marriage, there is no fault on them that they lay aside (some of) their clothing as long as they are not making a display of their adornment. And that they refrain is better for them. And Allah is the Hearer, the Knower
Here is an interesting puzzle. Elderly women who have no hope of getting married again are allowed to “lay aside (some of) their clothing” – but they are restricted from making a display of their adornment. How can a woman lay aside any part of her clothing without making a display of her body?
The only possible answer is that she is laying aside an extra layer. When she takes off the extra layer, the layer of clothing that she is wearing under it will still cover all of her beauty that must be covered. This is the only way to understand this ayah.
So what is this “extra layer” that Muslim women are wearing? My dear sister, it is the jilbab! What else can it be? What we have here is that the Muslim woman is commanded by Surah an-Nur ayah 31 that when she is around non-mahram men, she must cover all of her body except her face and her hands. This rule is always in force whenever non-mahram men are present, whether she is indoors or outdoors. But when she goes outdoors, she is to wear an extra layer, an outergarment, over the clothes she is already wearing (on account of Surah an-Nur ayah 31). This extra layer or outergarment is the jilbab. The only exception to the rule regarding dress is that elderly women who do not have hope of marriage may leave off the jilbab as long as they continue to wear other clothing that covers all of their bodies except the face and hands.
Surah an-Nur ayah 60 would not even make sense unless the jilbab is an extra layer, an outergarment worn over the normal clothes.
This is another reason why modest clothing is not enough.
Note 1: This opinion has been reported from Ibn Abbas, Ibn Umar, Mujahid, Sa’id ibn Jubayr, Abu Ash-Sha’tha, Ibrahim An-Nakha’i, Al-Hasan, Qatadah, Az-Zuhri, and Al-Awza’i in Imam ibn Kathir’s tafsir (commentary) on Surah an-Nur ayah 60. Convinced yet?
Note 2: Shaykh Yusuf Qaradawi discusses the permission for elderly women to lay aside their jilbabs at The Lawful and the Prohibited in Islam. Shaykh Qaradawi, as noted above, holds that the jilbab is a coat or cloak. The same issue is discussed from the viewpoint that the jilbab covers everything but the eyes at
The Third Category of Hijaab (note: this group seem to be holding to the traditional interpretation that it is the jilbab that the elderly women may lay aside, even though in their viewpoint this allows the display of some of the beauty – the face and hands – that is otherwise concealed).
Modesty is always a concern whenever non-mahram men are present, and for the purposes of modesty a sister must wear a khimar and loose, opaque clothing so that she covers everything but her face and hands whenever non-mahram men are present. This is what has been commanded by Surah an-Nur ayah 31. It is therefore correct to say that shalwar kameez or other conservative outfits, and the khimar, are sufficient for the purposes of modesty.
But when a sister goes outdoors or in public, there may be other concerns beyond modesty. Surah al-Ahzab ayah 59 mentions these concerns in giving the reason for the command of jilbab, when it says “that is better so that they are recognized and not annoyed”. From this we can see that the jilbab has two purposes:
1) To make the sister recognizable as a Muslim woman
2) To protect her from being “annoyed”, i.e., harassedA discussion of the duty of the Muslim sister to assert her Islamic identity can be found at Fear and the Muslim Woman, which discusses why Muslim women in the West should not let fear prevent them from wearing hijab, but they should assert their Islamic identity.
A discussion of the importance of protection for the Muslim sister when she is in unsecured locations outdoors or in public where all manner of people may be around can be found at The Quraanic Concept of Hijaab, which discusses why Allah SWT has set different rules of dress for different situations, and why the situation outdoors and in public demands protection for the Muslim sister.
In conclusion, the jilbab is not primarily for the purpose of modesty, which is satisfied by the khimar and conservative clothes, but is for the additional purposes of identity and protection, issues that are only factors of concern outdoors and in open public places. This is why Allah SWT has commanded the jilbab for these locations.
PART THREE: What are the rules for the jilbab?
In Part One of this essay, I have presented dalils from the Quran and Sunna to show that it is fard for the Muslim sister to wear a garment which Allah SWT has called “jilbab” when she goes out from her house. In Part Two of the essay I have presented various types of evidence and arguments that the word “jilbab” refers to an OUTERGARMENT, an extra layer that is worn over the clothing. This is the way that the scholars have understood it.The scholars have also stated as a general rule that clothing that is used to cover must be thick and opaque so that it does not show what is beneath it, and that it must be loose so that it does not reveal the contours of what is beneath it. These two conditions must necessarily apply to the jilbab as well.
The scholars have differed as to just how much the jilbab must cover. As explained above, there are two opinions on this.
The first opinion
The first opinion of the scholars is, in effect, that the jilbab or outergarment should cover everything but the face and the hands. There are two sub-opinions here. The first sub-opinion is that there must be a single garment that covers everything that must be covered. This would mean that the garment called “jilbab” must be something like the garments known as “abaya” and “chador”. The second sub-opinion is that a combination of garments that cover what the jilbab is to cover may substitute for the jilbab. Specifically, these scholars permit the head to be covered by the headscarf (khimar) and the feet to covered by socks and shoes. As long as a sister covers her head and neck with the khimar, then her jilbab does not need to cover over her head, but may be like a coat, which just covers from the shoulders on down. And as long as her feet are completely covered with socks and shoes, then her jilbab does not need to come down to the ground but may come down only to the ankles. This is the majority position. We can say that according to the majority opinion of the scholars, the garment called “jilbab” is any garment that meets the following criteria:
• this garment is an outergarment; an extra layer; something worn over the normal clothing
• if the khimar is not worn, this garment must cover from the top of the head on down, but if the khimar is worn, this garment only needs to cover from the shoulders on down
• similarly, if socks are not worn, this garment must cover down to the ground, but if socks are worn so that the feet are completely covered, this garment only needs to cover down to the ankles
• this garment must be made of fabric that is thick and opaque so that it does not show what is beneath it, and it must be loose so that it does not reveal the contours of what is beneath it
These scholars are agreed that the jilbab is to be worn outdoors and in open public places like the market, the masjid, etc. It does not need to be worn indoors, such as in the house or a building where access is controlled. This is because the jilbab serves the purposes of asserting the Islamic identity of a sister, and of protecting her from harassment, which are concerns only outdoors and in public. The rules in Surah an-Nur ayah 31 govern the dress of the Muslim woman indoors. Thus a sister may wear the khimar and modest clothing indoors, and this is her hijab for this location. However, the jilbab is part of her hijab when she is outdoors or in open public places.
The second opinion
According to the second opinion of the scholars, the jilbab must cover the entire body except for the eyes. Just as most of the scholars who hold the first opinion allow the khimar, coat, and socks and shoes to substitute for a one-piece outergarment that covers everything but the face and hands, so most of the scholars who hold the second opinion allow multiple pieces to substitute for the one-piece outergarment or sheet that covers everything but the eyes. These multiple pieces may include a separate affixed face veil (niqab), a headscarf (khimar), a coat or cloak (jilbab), and socks and shoes. However, these scholars would strongly emphasize that the coat-jilbab is not the same as the Quranic jilbab. The Quranic jilbab must cover everything but the eyes. It should also be noted that most of these scholars also hold that Surah an-Nur ayah 31 mandates the covering of everything but the eyes around non-mahram men, even when the sister is indoors. It is not clear if these scholars would allow modest clothes, a khimar, and a niqab or if they do require the jilbab indoors (i.e., if non-mahram men are present). Sisters who prefer this opinion should consult a scholar for specific advice on this question.
Note: Some scholars of this group hold that the jilbab must be a one-piece outergarment that covers everything but the eyes. This is the position of the Saudi ulama.
Inshallah, I hope that in this essay I have proved that the Quran and Sunna do command and make obligatory the garment called “jilbab”. I further hope that I have shown that the word “jilbab” in classical Arabic, and in the usage of the scholars, is a very general term that may be translated into English simply as “outergarment”. Any outergarment that meets the criteria given above is a jilbab. There are many styles that are possible, and there are many outergarments in many Muslim cultures that can be used for what the Quran means by jilbab. These may be called “abaya”, “chador”, “djellaba”, “burnous”, “haik”, “milaya”, or a thousand other names. They may even be called “jilbab”.
What we must always keep clear in our minds is that there is the Quranic jilbab, which is any outergarment that meets the criteria set out in the Shari’a; and there may also be a “cultural jilbab” that refers to a very specific style. As Muslims we are responsible for following the Shari’a not Arab culture. When a word is used in the Quran or hadiths, we need to give it the definition it has according to the Shari’a, not the definition it might have in Arab culture.
So whether you wear an abaya, a chador, a djellaba, or indeed a “jilbab”, be sure that it meets the criteria of the Shari’a:
• It is an outergarment, an extra layer, something that you wear over your clothes
• It is made of thick, opaque fabric so that nobody can see what is under it
• It is loose so that nobody can see the contours of your figure
• If you are going to wear a coat-like jilbab, be sure that your head and neck are covered by your khimar and that your feet are completely covered by your socks and shoes (and, if you follow that opinion, that your face is covered by your niqab)The materials on this page are written by Al-Muhajabah. You may copy, display, or distribute these materials for non-commercial purposes as long as you give me proper attribution as the author.
The Material on this page has been obtained with permission of the writer Al-Muhajabah. Some of references and sections of this article have deliberately omitted for its length. If you like you may read the whole article at: Evidence for Jilbab Furthermore, the editor of this site does not necessarily agree to the contents of this article.