Dear Brothers and Sisters in Islam,
WHY NIQAB ?
As a muslimah brought up in a household where the 'Liberal' tradition
of our Beloved Faith held sway, and having received an equally liberal
and westernised education, many of my friends were surprised when, in my
early twenties, I decided that my previous half-hearted attempts to wear
hijab were contrary to the teachings of The Most Holy Qur'an. Almost overnight,
I not only adopted far more concealing clothing, but I also became a 'Niqaabi',
a sister who covers her face and hands when in public or in the presence
of any man outside her immediate family.
Although this transformation may have taken place quickly, I had
spent weeks and even months studying the problem of Hijab in some depth
and had read widely, not only from The Most Holy Qur'an and Hadith, but
also from teachers whose opinions I came to respect deeply. I spoke to
sisters both here in England and abroad. I prayed and sought the guidance
of Almighty Allah the Compassionate and Merciful. In the end, after much
prayer and study, I found myself faced with no alternative; my conscience
informed me that I should adopt full veiling , and I accepted that 'quiet
internal voice' wholeheartedly.
Because of the surprise shown by my friends when this transformation
took place, I decided to write to them, giving them at least part of the
reasoning behind my actions. The following is based on what I wrote to
them with one or two later additions so as to make this version more easily
comprehensible. I only hope that my words help at least some of those who
"As most of you know, I started wearing a Niqab (face veil) some
time ago, also concealing my eyes from the sight of others, and wearing
gloves when outside my home or in the presence of strangers. This has led
to my being asked many times why a seemingly 'modern' muslimah should adopt
such a 'strict' form of Hijab. In the main body of this letter, I hope
you will find some proofs that wearing of the Niqab is not merely a practice
of Arab people, but was also a practice of the female companions of the
As you will see, I have not sought to establish my argument for wearing
Niqab from a theological point of view, because I am not qualified to do
so. For me, the way I cover-up is a matter of conscience, guided Insh'Allah
by much reading, study and by my own self image. I spent long enough as
an adult in the modern world before finally accepting the need for decent
concealment to know that I can affect men because of the physical blessings
that Almighty Allah has granted me. As I would feel much guilt were I even
to risk leading a man from the One True Path, I prefer to hide away my
physical aspect and, Insh'Allah, to allow my mind and my actions to be
the elements upon which I am judged as a Muslimah and as a human-being.
So I am NOT attempting to establish whether or not the wearing of
Niqab is Waajib or Mustahab (Obligatory or Highly Recommended), for that
is an issue which scholars of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaa'ah are still debating.
Instead, I'll try to establish that the Niqab is indeed a practice of the
Sahabiyaat. If I can, it should be a refutation of those people who claim
that the Niqab is an expression of Arabian culture and that it is not from
Islam, and that it is even a hindrance to the our Da'wah efforts in Western
For instance it is claimed that Niqab wearing women work against
Da'wah as their "strict" dress scares away potential interested non-Muslims
My own limited experience has actually revealed the opposite to be
the case. Whereas once most of my non-Muslim friends had no interest in
Islam, at least now they wish to know more about our Glorious Faith, and
a longtime acquaintances who was once extremely sceptical about all religions,
is now preparing for her to take her Shahadah.
I also trust that, Insh'Allah, you will have to conclude - as I have
done - that the Niqab is a vital and spiritually beautiful aspect of the
Muslim woman's dress, and that it is in no way a hindrance to the true
Da'wah of Islam.
The Mufassireen, such as Al-Qurtubi, cite in their Tafseer of the
Ayah on Jilbaab (Al-Ahzab 33:59), that the Jilbaab is: "a cloth which covers
the entire body.... Ibn 'Abbaas and 'Ubaidah As-Salmaani said that it is
to be fully wrapped around the women's body, so that nothing appears but
one eye with which she can see." [Tafseer Al-Qurtubi]. The same narration
(of Ibn Abbas) is also in Al-Tabari, Ibn Katheer etc., and they also show
how Ibn Abbas answered the Sahaba's question on "what is meant by the verse"
by getting a sheet and wrapping it all around him so that only the eyes
However, in addition to this Tafseer, we do in fact have an authentic
Hadith mentioning Niqab. The Prophet (Peace be unto Him) commanded: "A
woman (pilgrim) does not cover her face with a Niqab (i.e. does not tie
or affix) nor should she wear gloves." [Al-Bukharee; Muslim; Saheeh Abi
Dawood #1600; authenticated by Al-Albaanee].
From this authentic Hadith, it can clearly be seen that the Sahabiyat
were used to covering their faces with Niqab and to wearing gloves. After
all, had they not done so, there would not have been any need for the Prophet
(Peace be unto Him) to specifically forbid this practice during the state
of Ihram. A parallel example to this is that, during Ihram, men are forbidden
to cover their heads, which clearly shows that outside of being in the
state of Ihram they were accustomed to covering their heads.
The Hadith is warning against affixing a Niqab, however the 'Ulama
allow for a woman to cover her face with non-affixed material. Our mother
'Aisha (RA) said: "Pilgrims were passing by us while we were with the Prophet
of Allah (PBUH). When they came close to us we would draw our garments
from the head to cover the face." [Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah. Ad-Daraqutni
reports a similar Hadith on the authority of Umm Salamah]. From this we
see that covering the face was a priority of the Sahabiyat and should definitely
be a characteristic of the women who opt to follow their righteous path.
When the Ayah in Surah An-Noor (24:31) was revealed, 'Aisha (RA)
narrated: "May Allah bestow His Mercy on the first Muhajirat. When Allah
revealed, '...and draw their Khumur over their Juyubihinna...', they (i.e.
the women) tore their material and covered themselves with it." [Saheeh
Al-Bukharee]. Ibn Hajar Al-Asqalanee, who is known as Ameer Al-Mu'mineen
in the field of Hadith, said that the phrase, "covered themselves", in
the above Hadith means that they "covered their faces". [FathAl-Bari].
To reinforce these samples, many of our contemporary 'Ulama, such
as Shaikh 'Abdul-'Azeez 'Abdullah bin Baaz, and Shaikh Muhammad ibn Saalih
Al-'Uthaimeen, feel that the Niqab is indeed Waajib upon the believing
women and they produce strong arguments to back this up. Sisters too tell
us to view 'covering up' as fard, some like Maryam Jameelah being most
insistent on this point. If you scour the Net, it is possible to find page
upon page of worthy and learned Muslims and Muslimah arguing far more cogently
than me that the Niqab is a religious obligation for Muslimahs. The very
few pages I have managed to find that rail against Niqab come virtually
unanimously from non-Islamic sources, having mainly Christian or secular
If those trying to lead brothers and sisters away from the One True
Faith pick upon Niqab as being 'dangerous', perhaps it is an even more
potent tool in Da'wah that even I had ever thought.
Others from amongst the 'Ulama, such as the Muhaddith of our time,
Shaikh Muhammad Naasiru-Deen Al-Albaanee, clearly feel that the Niqab is
not Waajib but rather Mustahab (that is Highly Recommended), as he says
in his book, "Jilbaabul Mar'atul Muslimah". (I confess that I have only
read it in a rather inferior translation!)
Regardless of which opinion you choose to follow, I have to say that
there is no doubt concerning the benefits of Niqab, and the scholars certainly
do not differ in this respect. In fact, today when we do hear criticism
from our fellow Muslims aimed at the Niqab, their various reasons do not
make much sense.
For example, the argument that Niqab is counterproductive to Da'wah
in non-Muslim lands. After having come to see that the Niqab is indeed
an authentic part of Islam, I must then conclude that to hide it would
be counterproductive to Da'wah. No one would dare think that the Sahabah
spread Islam all around the world by concealing the practices they learned
from the Messenger of Allah (PBUH). Praying five times a day may seem incomprehensible
to atheists, but no-one is advocating that Salaat is kept secret. So why
imagine that a mere piece of veil should make unbelievers shy away from
Instead, we should be listening to the wonderful words of 'Umar ibn Al-Khattab (RA)
"Let the Sunnah go forth and do not stop it with opinions."
(At times, even I have to pray that more members of the Ummah would
hear those words in their hearts!)
Finally there are modernists like Du'at claiming that the Niqab is
in fact Makruh or disliked! That seems VERY strange to me, as someone who
wears Niqab and has a lot of experience regarding its advantages, disadvantages
and the affect it has on others. I have come across people who do not understand
why I hide myself so diligently, but I have yet to meet a Believer or unbeliever,
who view my Niqab as Makruh. (I confess that this argument against Niqab
makes me smile, because I like to believe myself to be thoroughly 'modern',
yet I cover-up fully!)
I hope that sisters reading this letter may look into their hearts
and consider their approach to Hijab. As I said initially, I am NOT attempting
to make any ruling on the subject. And I am certainly not arguing the case
for wearing Niqab - I am no jurist and thus such arguments are beyond my
scope. But I do trust that my sisters will consider this topic.
Even if they feel their own mode of hijab meets the demands of The
Most Holy Qur'an, I trust they will in future view those of us who have
chosen to wear niqab with some understanding of why we are hidden in that
way. I finally hope that, Insh'Allah, my words may have shed a little light
on what - to me - is a simple subject, but which has somehow become complex
and emotive. I cover my face and hands in public because I believe that
it is the Will of Almighty Allah.
And that is more than sufficient reason for me.
brothers and sisters
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Last Updated May 16, 1999 by Amina