Islamic Rethinking-Hijab, Khimaar, Jilbaab & Niqaab

There is numerous amount of controversy today, regarding the Muslim woman’s headscarf, popularly known as hijab.

Concept of Hijab, Khimaar, Jilbaab, Niqaab in Islam For Muslim Women

The opponents argue that it is a cultural thing and has no basis in the Quran or Islam.
The main proponents of this theory are usually neo-liberal progressive Muslims or non- Muslim Islamic studies academics, who carry no credibility in our faith for their opinions & do not give any credibility to our hadith literature, which prove the obligation of both the headscarf (khimar) and the outer garment (Jilbaab). 

The above notions are completely rejected by mainstream Islam. We argue that the obligation of a woman to cover herself in accordance to Islamic law is rooted in the Quran, Sunnah and over 1400 years of Islamic scholarship.

Let’s understand the term Hijab, Khimaar & Jilbaab in brief:


There are two meanings of hijab. There is a classical usage and modern usage of the term.

Concept Of Hijaab, Hijab For Women, Muslim, Islamic Concept Of Hijab

In the classical usage
, the word hijab means barrier, partition, or curtain to cause separation (Qabeelat Hosna 2009, 53). The word hijab comes up seven times in the Quran and implies this meaning.
For example, Allah Says in the Quran [meaning of which is]:
And it is not for any human being that Allah should speak to him except by revelation or from behind a hijab [partition] or that He sends a messenger to reveal, by His permission, what He wills.
[Quran 42:51].

Similarly, Allah Says regarding the people of paradise and the people of hellfire on the Day of Judgement [meaning of which is]:
And between them will be a hijab [partition]
[Quran 7:46]

According to Dr. Yasir Qadhi, “This classical usage was restricted to the wives of the Prophet Muhammad (صلى الله عليه وسلم)" (Qabeelat Hosna 2009, 53). 

This form of hijab is only mentioned in reference to the wives of the Prophet (pbuh). The other verses speaking about Muslim women covering in general do not mention the word hijab.

Hence, this is why Allah says in Surah Ahzab regarding the wives of the Prophet
(pbuh) [meaning of which is]:
And when you ask [his wives] for something, ask them from behind a hijab.
[Quran 33:53].

In this verse, it literally means a curtain. The wives of the Prophet (pbuh) had to speak fom behind a physical curtain. Their level of hijab was a degree higher than that required by other Muslim women. This is why in the Battle of the Camel, Aisha was in a tent on the camel and was not seen.

In modern usage, the word hijab means headscarf. It seems there is some vonfusion today in which some people came to believe that since hijab in the Qur’an is only in reference to the Prophet’s wives, it is not mandatory for the rest of the Muslim women but was restricted to the Prophet’s wives. This is because they erroneously think that hijab in the Quran in reference to the Prophet’s wives carries the same meaning as it does today [i.e. headscarf]. 

However, this is a mistake because the type of hijab mentioned for the Prophet’s wives was a literal curtain as mentioned above and in no way referring to the headscarf.

There is some evidence to suggest that it was Umar who first suggested the idea of hijab for the Prophet’s (pbuh) wives but the latter did not abide by it because it was not commanded by Allah at the time. It is reported that Umar said:
I said: ‘O Allah’s Messenger! Good and bad persons visit you! Would that you ordered the Mothers of the believers to cover themselves with Al-Hijab’ [some versions of thenarration from Aisha say ‘but the Messenger of Allah did not do so’]. So then the Divine verses of Al-Hijab were revealed.” (Bukhari 1997)



Proof of the Obligation of the Headscarf (Khimar) for All Muslim Women.

A Long Khimaar, Concept Of Khimaar, Hijab, EduIslam

Allah Says in the Quran [meaning of which is]:
َAnd tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their khumur [headscarves] over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women. [Quran 24:31]

The word khumur mentioned in the verse is a plural of khimar and comes from the root word khamr, which means intoxicant (Baalbaki & Baalbaki 2005, 523) because it messes with your head. 

This is why in Hans Webr dictionary, one of the definitions given for khumaar, a word also derived from the same root, is “aftereffect of intoxication or hangover” (Wehr 1979, 302). Point being that even the root of the word is related to the head. As for the word khimar used in the Quran in the verse cited above, then according to Lane’s Lexicon, it means “a piece of cloth with which a woman covers her head” (Lane 1863, 809).

In order to further prove that the word khimar was understood to mean a head covering during the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) time, it is important to look into hadith literature. In other words, men used to refer to their turbans as khimar because they cover their heads. For example, it is well known in Islamic law that during the act of purification (wudu), it is permissible to wipe over your socks and turban. In the following hadith, one of the companions defines this action of the Prophet (pbuh) by describing his turban using the word khimar, “I saw the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) wiping over the khimar [turban] and leather socks” (An-Nasa’i 2007). 

 Another hadith says, 
The Messenger of Allah wiped over his leather socks and his khimar [turban]. (Ibn Majah 2007). 

Lane’s Lexicon also has a very interesting entry related to this in his book under the discussion of khimar. He says: 
In the pre-Islamic days, the women used to let hang down their khimar behind their backs and reveal that which is in the front [neck, chest, bosom], so they were commanded to conceal [their frontal area]. The khimar for the woman is like the turban for the man. (Hajar 1986).

Outer Garment (Jilbaab):

Jilbaab, Concept Of Jilbaab, Veil in Islam, EduIslam

Allah Says in the Quran [meaning of which is]:
O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down over themselves [part] of their jalabeeb. That is more suitable that they will be known and not be abused.
[Quran 33:59].

The word jalabeeb mentioned in the above verse is the plural of the word jilbaab which, according to Hans Wehr dictionary, means, “long, flowing outer garment or loose robe- like garment” (Wehr 1979, 153). Lane’s Lexicon gives a number of similar definitions for the word jilbaab. According to Lane, the word jilbaab means:
A woman’s outer wrapping garment or this is its primary signification...or one that envelopes the whole body...or one with which a woman covers over her other garments...or a garment wider than the khimarbut less than the ridaa’ (upper garment) with which a woman covers her head and bosom”
(Lane 1863, 440).

Further, the view of Ibn Mas`ud, `Ubaydah, Qatadah, Al-Hasan Al-Basri, Sa`id bin Jubayr, Ibrahim An-Nakha`i, `Ata’ Al-Khurasani and others is that jilbaab is a garment worn over the khimar (Kathir 2003). Some scholars said that it is a cloth that covers the whole body (Qurtubi n.d.).

A black jilbaab with a khimar.
In light of the above, it is clear that a jilbaab is a garment that a woman wears over her clothes. Therefore, this verse tells us that women need to cover themselves with an outer garment [jilbaab] in addition to their regular clothes covering their skin. Following is a list of further evidences proving requirements for a jilbaab.

It is reported that ‘Atiyyah reported: 
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) commanded us [women] to come out on Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha...I said: ‘Messenger of Allah, [what if] one of us does not have a jilbaab?’ He said: ‘Let her sister cover her with her jilbaab’” (Muslim 2007).

The meaning above is that let another Muslim sister lend an extra jilbaab to her from herself (Hajar 1986). This shows that when women go out, they should be properly dressed.

It is reported by a female companion of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) regarding helping the injured due to battles: 
We used to treat the wounded and look after the patients. Once I asked the Prophet (pbuh), ‘Is there any harm for any of us to stay at home if she doesn’t have a jilbaab?’ He said, ‘She should cover herself with the jilbaab of her companion and should participate in the good deeds and in the religious gathering of the Muslims” (Bukhari 1997).

The above two hadiths and others with similar meaning demonstrate that Muslim women at the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not desire to go outside without their jilbaab. This is because they understood it to be obligatory for Muslim women to go out with their jilbaab. If it was just culture, they would not need to ask about it.

The verse discussed in the previous section about the khimar and the verse under this section discussing the jilbaab show us that there are two items that a Muslim woman must wear in order to fulfill the requirements of covering:
  • A khimar that is worn to cover the head and chest.
  • A jilbaab that is worn over regular clothes to cover rest of the body.

Issue Of Niqaab (Face Veil):

The face veil (niqab) has been in practice since the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) but is it obligatory?

Niqab-face veil-Hijab-Muslim Women-EduIslam

This is one of those issues where there is a difference of opinion within the schools of thought. The very fact that there is intra-madhab debate shows that niqab has always been a controversial subject in terms of its obligation.

The books of Quranic exegesis from the earliest times are full of statements from various companions holding opinions that women should cover their faces. There are also many hadiths which indicate that there were women during the time of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) that used to cover their faces in addition to the rest of their bodies. 

No scholar in the past 1400 years ever said that the niqab is not part of Islam or that it is forbidden. Rather, they only differed over its obligation and even those who did not see it as an obligation said that it was something that was recommended.

As stated earlier, that there is not a single authentic hadith that makes covering the face obligatory. On the other hand, we find several ahadith which prove that covering the face is not compulsory in Islam. For instance, once while the Prophet (pbuh) was admonishing and preaching to a group of women after having admonished the men on the Eid day, “...a woman having a dark spot on her cheek stood up...” seeking clarification on the subject the Prophet was discussing. (Sahih Muslim, Vol. 2, Hadith No. 1926)

It is understood from the above-mentioned hadith that the woman having interaction with the Prophet was not covering her face nor did the Prophet command her to do so. It is incumbent upon every Muslim to enjoin right and forbid wrong, as Allah instructed us in the glorious Quran. Thus we cannot expect the Prophet (pbuh), on whom the Quran was revealed, to let the woman keep her face uncovered after having known the obligation of covering the face.

But if the women has adorned her face for her Husband then face Veil become must (Fard) if she goes out or infront of Non-Mehram as per the Aayah 31 of Surah An -Noor:
And tell the believing women to reduce [some] of their vision and guard their private parts and not expose their adornment except that which [necessarily] appears thereof and to wrap [a portion of] their khumur [headscarves] over their chests and not expose their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, that which their right hands possess, or those male attendants having no physical desire, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women.
[Quran 24:31]

  1. Wehr, H., 1979. Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic 4th ed. J. Cowan, ed., Urbana:
  2. Spoken Language Services, Inc. (Anecdotes for Reflection, vol. 2)
  3. Abu Dawud, S. bin A., 2008. Sunan Abu Dawud, Darussalam.
  4. Adamec, L.W., 2001. Historical Dictionary of Islam, Lanham Md.: Scarecrow Press.
  5. Ahmed, L., 1992. Women and Gender in Islam: Historical Roots of a Modern Debate, New Haven:Yale University Press.
  6. Al-Albani, M.N.-D., 2001. Al-Radd Al-Mufhim, Al-Maktaba Al-Islamiyyah.
  7. Al-Fatwa, A., 2012. Al-Radd ’Alaa Man Ankara Fareedha Al-Hijab. Dar Al-ifta.
  8. An-Nasa’i, A. bin S. bin A., 2007. Sunan An-Nasa’i H. Khattab, ed., Riyadh.
  1. Islamic Voice.
  2. Islamic Online University Magazine.

Post a Comment

Previous Post Next Post