Does Muslim Women Dress Include Veiling of Face?

Muslim women dress is considered an Islamic way of women discrimination. The ‘Hijab’ or ‘Muslim women veils’ have generated not only hot debates in many parts of the world but also created political controversies. The Muslim women are unable to dress the way as they believe in many developed countries of the world. Many countries have already banned the Muslim women to wear a dress of their choice. Many other legislatures are considering to put a ban upon Muslim women dress in one way or the other.

Muslim Women Dress According to Quran

Quran starts with a claim that:
“This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who are ‘Mutqi’ (One who lives an accomplished life by keeping in view the laws of God)”
On the other hand Quran also claims that it gives a code to live a peaceful social life. A family is the basic unit of social structure which Quran propagates. The main responsibility to earn money for the family lies with the man. However, the woman is not bound to contribute anything from her own resources. How women should live according to this code?
Quran nowhere prohibits the women to wear ornaments or wear dress in fashion. However, there are certain limitations on Muslim women dress:
“And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain success.”
(Quran 24: 31)The above verse states Muslim women dress code when they are within their families. However, when they go out slight change has been made within the dress code.
“O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their Jilbab (outer garments ) over their persons (when abroad): that is most convenient, that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Quran 33: 59)
It is very clear that the Muslim women dress is specified for two reasons; one is that they should be recognized that they are Muslim women and second that they should not be harassed. Furthermore, it is no where mentioned that they should hide their faces. Javed Ahmed Ghamidi and Leila Ahmed argue this point of view. And I don’t see anything against Islam in this argument.

Specific Criterion for Wives of Muhammad (PBUH)

On the other hand the criterion for the women of family of the Prophet is a bit harder. Quran says:“O Wives of the Prophet! Ye are not like any of the (other) women: if ye do fear ((Allah)), be not too complacent of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire: but speak ye a speech (that is) just. And stay quietly in your houses, and make not a dazzling display, like that of the former Times of Ignorance; and establish regular Prayer, and give regular Charity; and obey Allah and His Messenger. And Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you, ye members of the Family, and to make you pure and spotless. “ (Quran 33: 32-33)The criterion become more strict a few verses ahead of the same Surah:
“O ye who believe! Enter not the Prophet’s houses,- until leave is given you,- for a meal, (and then) not (so early as) to wait for its preparation: but when ye are invited, enter; and when ye have taken your meal, disperse, without seeking familiar talk. Such (behaviour) annoys the Prophet: he is ashamed to dismiss you, but Allah is not ashamed (to tell you) the truth. And when ye ask (his ladies) for anything ye want, ask them from before a screen: that makes for greater purity for your hearts and for theirs…” (33:53)
The restriction to ask something ‘from before a screen’ applies only to the family and wives of Muhammad (PBUH). It was natural when people used to come from far flung areas daily and stay for a few days close to the house of the last Prophet. This segregation intended to enforce and maintain the inviolability of the wives of Muhammad (PBUH).
Prima facie the veil is applied solely to the wives of Muhammad (PBUH). However, if other Muslim women wear veils there is nothing against Islam.

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