Niqab? Why Niqab?

Niqaabis may not look too intellectual, and may often be mistaken for muslimahs who have no     opinions of their own. That can and nearly always IS a mistaken impression. Behind our veils lie women with emotions, thoughts, and ambitions of their own. I know many niqaabis with high academic qualifications and razor sharp intellects. So, please, never ever make the mistake of under-estimating a niqaabi.....................

 Assalaam Alaikum !

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Islam,


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 read them.


"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 Prophet.

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 nations.

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 showed.

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 authorship.

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 Islam?

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.

Walaikum salaam,

brothers and sisters

-----Amina S.

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Last Updated May 16, 1999 by Amina