By Abdulla Tariq
Q.1. What is woman’s Satr in Islam? As far as I know, her Satr is to cover the whole body except eyes, ankles and toes. But I read one Hadith of Abu Daud. It’s meaning is that Prophet (Pbuh) had said that when a woman became adult, not any part of her body should be seen except her face and ankles. So please explain this contrast.
M.Iqbal : Ahmedabad
Ans. The Satr of a woman has clearly been described in the Hadith quoted by you. What you have heard otherwise, is the derivative of scholars which is not universally accepted by all scholars. Those who are in favour of including the face in Satr limits opine that a woman’s Satr for a non-Mahram includes her face while the Satr limits defined in the aforesaid Hadith are a woman’s Satr for a Mahram. This opinion is not correct. It may be noted that the above instructions were given by the Prophet (Pbuh) to Asma, the Prophet’s sister -in- law and Hazrat Ayesha’s elder sister when she came before the Prophet (Pbuh) wearing a very thin dress. It may also be remembered that a woman’s brother-in-law is her non-Mahram. Let us see what Qur’an and Hadith say in this regard and also analyze the reasons behind the difference of opinion among scholars.
The following verse of Qur’an lays down the guidelines for the limits of exposable parts of a woman and the persons from whom she must conceal her Satr.
“Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and to guard their chastity; that they should not display their adornments except what (ordinarily) appear therefore; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their adornments except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their step-sons, their brothers, their brother’s sons, their sister’sons, their women, or those whom they possess (as war captives), or their male attendants lacking in sexual vigour, or small children who have no carnal knowledge of women; and that they should not stamp their feet in walking so as to reveal their hidden trinkets. Believers, turn to Allah together in repentance that you may be successful. (24:31)
The bold typed phrases in the above verse are worth special attention in understanding the subject under discussion.
Lower their gazes: The Arabic words for gazes, here is Basar Not ‘Ain’ which means eyes. Also, ‘lower’ is not the exact translation of Arabic word derived from the root Ghadh. Its actual sense is to check the intensity. (See Qur’an 31:19 and 49:2). It means that the prohibition is not of absolute or casual gazing, but an intense or lusty gaze is prohibited. This prohibition is not limited to women only but in the immediately preceding verse (24:30) asks men to check their gazes and guard their chastity in the same words.
They should not display their adornments: This is the actual order for the concealment of Satr. The ladies are required to draw their veils over their bosoms and in addition, they are also required to conceal their adornments. There are two exceptions to this and therefore these words have been brought twice, to describe the two exceptions each time. The first exception is regarding limits of adornments.
Except what (ordinarily) appear thereof: There are a number of different interpretations attributed to different Sahaba. Ta’bieen (the companions of Sahaba) and other renowned scholars, in respect of the above phrase. The interpretations are so varied that in explaining them, Maulana Maudoodi, a staunch advocate of concealment of face before non-Mahrams, had to admit in his famous work ‘Purdah’, (Translated from Urdu):
Everyone has according to his own perception and the women’s need, tried to understand to which limit and which parts are exposable by the call of need. Whether they are exposed in compulsion or as a habit. I say that you do not bind ‘except what ordinarily appear’ with any of these considerations. A believing woman who wants to stick to the dictums of Allah and the Apostle and who is not prepared to be put to trial, can herself, according to her circumstances and need, decide whether or not to expose the face, when to open and when not to open and to which limit she might reveal or conceal. The law-maker (Allah and the Apostle), has neither given definite orders in this regard nor, considering the diversity of circumstances and needs, it is demanded by wisdom that definite instructions be framed.
In fact, the law-maker has given specific instructions in this regard. What the Prophet (Pbuh) said in this respect has already been quoted by you vide the Hadith of Abu Dawood. What the Qur’an directs, is discussed below.
The second exception in the verse 24:31 is in relation to the persons before whom the concealable adornments may be exposed. These two exceptions viz. how much may be exposed and before whom the adornments may be exposed, gives us a vital clue for our problem. The two exceptions described in the same verse and followed by the same phrase, expound each other. Naturally, the upper limit of concealment has been relaxed in respect of the persons listed in the verse. It means that if the face is not permitted to be exposed, it is not permitted to be exposed before all except the persons described in the verse. Now the list includes, Their Women. In other words, Women would not be permitted to reveal their faces (except when in compulsion) before any woman other than ‘their women’. Who are their women? Their maid servants? Their relative women? All Muslim women? The widst scope of this word can in my opinion be taken to mean the women of their acquaintance who, they know, are of sound character. If any of the above or even the last one be true, then life would become impossible for women-folk. They would not be permitted to show their faces before any woman other than the women they know. Whoever among Muslim Ulema believes in and asks their women to stick to this instruction? The fact is that the face is not included in a woman’s Satr for non-Mahrams.
The verses of Surah Ahzabh like (33:53 etc), quoted to prove the order of concealment of face, are special instructions for the wives of the Prophet (Pbuh). One other verse said to impart specific instruction of concealment of face is also subject to discussion as far as the key words Jalbab and Yudneena are concerned but even if it is accepted that the verse orders to cover the face, the order is not general but is limited to special circumstances when she steps out of her house. I may here point out that the above discussion in relation to Satr of a woman is a discussion of a principle that Shariat has not necessarily ordered a woman to cover her face before a non-Mahram. There is no dispute in that. If she takes care to cover her face like the Prophet’s (Pbuh) wives were ordered, then it is preferred for her.