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The Hijab and Social Behavior of Muslim Women

Abu Khadijah Damansari


Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Rulings Pertaining To Looking at Members of the Opposite Sex

It is Unlawful for a man to look at a woman who is not his wife or who is not one of his unmarriageable kin i.e. Muhrim. It is important to understand that in this Shari'i ruling - there is no difference between the face and hands or some other part of a woman if it is uncovered - the cover of which fulfills the injunction of Hijab in Islam. Not just mere tight or see-through clothing which is Unlawful.

Her Voice

It is important to be aware that the Aurat of a woman generally does not include her voice. However, her voice will only become permissible to listen to under the condition that there is no likelihood of temptation. Temptation here refers to anything that would result - gradually or immediately in sexual intercourse, or its usual preliminaries.

Her Face

Allah SWT mentions in the Holy Qur'an:

"Tell Believers to lower their gaze.'' (Surah 24: Ayat 30)

The majority of the Ulama of the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama'ah i.e. of the Shafi'i, Maliki and Hanbali schools of jurisprudence - define, as per injunctions from Qur'an and Hadith that it is Unlawful for women to leave the house with faces unveiled; and this rule is effective whether or not there is likelihood of temptation. Only the Hanafi School of Jurisprudence give such leeways to let the face leave uncovered when there is no likelihood of temptation.

However, when there is likelihood of temptation, all scholars of the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama'ah i.e. the Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi'i and Hanbali Schools of Jurisprudence - unanimously concur that leaving the house without the veil is Unlawful.

As previously mentioned, temptation means - anything that leads to sexual intercourse or its usual preliminaries. As for when there is real need - looking does not become Unlawful, under the conditions that temptation is unlikely.
There is major misunderstanding especially among modern teachers of Islam, as well as their students - that the Aurat of a woman is everything but her face and hands. This view has been misunderstood from the two injunctions pertaining to the Aurat of women:

(a) As for when she is outside the house, or in exposure to the sight of non-Muhrim men - it is her whole body, and she must be veiled.

(b) As for when she is standing in front of Allah for Solat, or other acts of Ibadah mandating the same - it is her whole body except her face and her hands.

It is ruling (b) that has been misunderstood to represent the injunction of physical Hijab for women as a whole - which is incorrect, whilst ruling (a) has been almost hidden to those who are unaware of Fardhu 'Ain Knowledge obligatory for adherents of the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama'ah.

Being In Her Company

Being alone with a woman who is not one's wife or unmarriageable kin is absolutely Unlawful.

As for within the relationship between husband and wife, a man may look at his wife, while the wife may look at her husband including each other's nakedness. However, it is offensive (Makruh) for either husband or wife to look at the other's genitals.

As for Muhrims, a man may look at his unmarriageable female relatives, while a woman may look at her Muhrim male relatives - thus viewing any part of the body that shows e.g. while they are working - except what is between the navel and knees.

As for a woman looking at a man other than her husband or Muhrim male relatives, it is absolutely Unlawful, just as a non-Muhrim man looking at her is Unlawful.

It is Unlawful for a woman to show any part of her body to an adolescent boy or a non-Muslim woman, unless the latter is her kinswoman, in which case it is permissible.


Whenever looking is Unlawful - so is touching. That is to say , whatever is Unlawful to look at, is also Unlawful to touch. Also by default, it must be remembered that any permissible looking that leads to temptation is Unlawful.

Ordinary people sometimes mistakenly assume that the Hanafi school's position that - touching a woman does not nullify one's ablution (Wudhu), means they permit men shaking hands with women who are not wives or unmarriageable relatives. This is wrong, and the correct rulling for this is that it is actually Unlawful. Neither the Hanafi school nor any other school of jurisprudence holds such acts to be permissible.

Doctors Treating Patience Of The Opposite Gender

With regards to doctors treating patients of the opposite gender, the Shari'ah has laid out clear injunctions on how to go about things.

Both - looking and touching are permissible for medicinal bloodletting, cupping, and medical treatment when there is real need. A Muslim woman needing medical attention must be treated by a Muslim woman doctor, or if there is none, then by a non-Muslim woman doctor. If there is none, then a male Muslim doctor may treat her, while if none of the above are available, then a male non-Muslim doctor. If the doctor is of the opposite sex, her husband or non-Muhrim male relative must be present. It is Obligatory to observe this order in selecting a doctor. The same rules apply to Muslim men with regard to having a doctor of the same gender and religion; whereby the same gender takes precedence over the same religion.

Necessary treatment of a woman's face or hands permits looking at either. As for other parts of the body, the criterion for permissibility is the severity of the need for treatment, meaning that there must be an ailment as severe as those permitting dry ablution (Tayammum), and if the part concerned is the genitals, the need must be even more acute, though it includes gynecological examinations for women with fertility problems, which are permissible.

When Looking Is Permissible

Looking at a woman is permissible for testimony in court, for commercial dealings with a marriageable man, or non-commercial dealings e.g. when he wishes to marry her, and so forth - such as obligatory learning (Fardhu 'Ain) or recommended learning, in which cases looking is permissible to the degree required. It is not permissible to exceed the degree required, as when looking at part of the face is sufficient, in which case looking at the rest of it is not permissible, as it exceeds the amount required.

Also it must be remembered that an Ustazah (female teacher) must be sought after when such teachers are available. There should also be no looking, when that is not necessary, and such teachings between a male teacher and a female student may take place between a curtain.

When Looking Is Recommended

The Sunnah when one wants to marry a woman is to look at her face and hands; as the face indicates her beauty, while the hands indicate the robustness of her body.

Imam Tirmidhi RA reports from Al-Mughira that when he got engaged to a woman, the Prophet Muhammad SAW said:

"Look at her, for it is likelier to last between you."

The above gives the meaning that love is likelier to last, and there will be much tenderness in the relationship before getting engaged to her, even if the woman does not give her permission to do so; because in such cases Allah's permission as the Lawgiver is already sufficient.

Such a male prospective groom is entitled to repeat looking at his possible match, as many times as he wishes - with the intention that he needs to make sure of how she looks, so he does not come to have regrets after getting married. She, in the same lines, is also entitled to do the same.

It must be emphasised here that the male may not look at other than her face and hands; and anything more than is sinful.

In such cases where he is unable to go and see her, he may send a reliable woman to go and see her for him, as such a woman would be likely to notice more than he, and she may describe her to him. This rule is an exceptional rule against the general Unlawfulness of describing a woman's physique to a man who is non-Muhrim i.e. marriageable to him.

Another post shall InshaAllah be sent later to discuss on the virtue of Hayaa (modesty) - the highest decree of women.

Compiled and Posted by Abu Khadijah Damansari at 14:40


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