Chastity and Hijab in the Teachings of Prophets Muhammad and Jesus Part 2
As might be expected the hadith literature contains several traditions mentioning khimar, jilbab or hijab or related concepts. We now examine these traditions in detail, especially those found in the four most reliable books: Ibn Ishaq, Mu'watta, Bukhari, and Muslim. Our examination shows that hadith literature does not add any substantial authentic teaching to what we can already deduce with considerable probability from the Qur'an.
THE HADITH OF IFK
Probably the most reliable tradition mentioning hijab is the story of the false accusation (ifk) against A'isha because it has the earliest documentation and deals with an incident referred to in the Qur'an. This story is found in such relatively early books as Ibn Ishaq (sirat rasul allah, preserved in an edited form by Ibn Hisham), Bukhari, where it occurs in a detailed form thrice (kitab al-maghazi, bab hadith al-ifk; kitab al-shahadat, bab ta'dil al-nisa' ...; and kitab al-tafsir, bab law la idh sami'tumuhu ...) and Muslim (kitab al-tawbah, bab fi hadith ifk). The earliest documentation of the story is found in Ibn Ishaq (died 151 AH) as quoted by Ibn Hisham (died 218 AH). Ibn Ishaq's authority is Ibn Shihab az-Zuhri.
Az-Zuhri, as quoted by Ibn Ishaq, says the story was first told by 'A'isha herself and then from her related in parts by four men:
'Alqama bin Waqqas,
Sa'id bin Jubayr,
'Urwa bin al-Zubayr, and
'Ubaydullah bin Abdullah bin 'Utba.
After mentioning these four sources, az-Zuhri said:
"each contributing a part of the story, one remembering more of it than another, and I have put together for you what the people told me."
The three detailed narrations of the story in Bukhari have different final link in the chain of narrators but they all quote Ibn Shihab as follows:
"Related to me 'Urwa bin al-Zubayr, Sa'id bin al-Musayyib, 'Alqama bin Waqqas and 'Ubaydullah bin Abdullah bin 'Utba bin Mas'ud from 'A'isha, the wife of the Messenger of God (may God bless and raise him evermore) regarding the time when the slanderers said about her what they said. Everyone among them related to me a part of the story and some of them who had better memories reported more and with better retention, and I tried to retain from what everyone related to me from A'isha and their reports confirmed one another."
This quotation is from kitab al-maghazi. The detailed narrations in kitab al-shahadat
and kitab al-tafsir quote Ibn Shihab az-Zuhri in essentially the same terms.
In Muslim we read:
"Sa'id bin al-Musayyib, 'Urwa bin az-Zubayr, 'Alqama bin Waqqas and 'Ubaydullah bin Abdullah bin 'Utba bin Mas'ud on the story of 'A'isha, the wife of the Messenger of God (may God bless and raise him evermore) when the slanderers said to her what they said God exonerated her of their allegation -- everyone of them reported a part of the story and some of them who had better memories reported more and with better retention, and I tried to retain what every one of them reported to me, their reports confirming one another."
All three documents agree that the source of the story are partial reports communicated from A'isha herself by four men: Sa'id bin al-Musayyib, 'Urwa bin az-Zubayr, 'Alqama bin Waqqas and 'Ubaydullah bin Abdullah bin 'Utba bin Mas'ud. Ibn Ishaq and Bukhari also agree that the partial reports were put together by Ibn Shihab az-Zuhri. Muslim does not clarify exactly who put the pieces of the story together, but after relating the story he too refers to az-Zuhri as follows:
And az-Zuhri said that this is the last we have received of the matter concerning these people (who were involved in ifk}.
Thus it is almost certain that the versions in Ibn Ishaq, Bukhari, and Muslim are all dependent on the account produced by az-Zuhri and not directly on what the earlier reports said. Despite the reported trustworthiness of az-Zuhri the possibility must be admitted that in the process of weaving the earlier partial reports into a comprehensive story some new elements were introduced and others were given a new light. But even after the story was once put together by az-Zuhri it underwent significant changes during its transmission. This is evident from numerous differences among the various extant versions and some other problems that they all raise.
Thus in Ibn Ishaq's version we read:
The Prophet "went out to the men and addressed them and recited to them what God had sent down concerning that. Then he gave orders about Mistah bin Uthatha and Hassan bin Thabit and Hamna bint Jahsh who were the most explicit in their slander and they were flogged with a precise number (80, Qur'an 24 of stripes."
Muslim, however, does not mention at all any such flogging of the three participants in the slander and concludes his version, as already noted, with the words:
"az-Zuhri said that this is the last we have received about the matter concerning these (the two men and the woman involved in the slander),"
which leaves no room whatever of any report of flogging. Bukhari is also completely silent about any flogging. In Abu Da'ud, however, we read:
"'A'isha said: When my vindication came down the Prophet mounted the pulpit and mentioned that. Then when he came down from the pulpit he ordered the two men and the one woman (who were involved in the slander) should be given the prescribed beating."
Ibn 'Abd al-Barr in Isti'ab also mentions flogging but while he says that Mistah was flogged he is uncertain about the flogging of Hassan and Hamna. Muslim and Bukhari seem to be more reliable, since the people involved committed their crime before it was made a crime and punishment for it was prescribed. Usually punishment for an action is not given if the action is committed before the law prescribing the punishment for it has been laid down. Thus we do not hear of any punishment for drinking or stealing or adultery given for such acts committed before the punishment for them was prescribed.
It is also significant that Ibn Sa'd (died 230 AH) in his Tabaqat, probably written a little before Bukhari (died 256 AH) and Muslim (died 261 AH) compiled their collections of ahadith, presents us with some drastic differences from the three versions based on az-Zuhri's account. Thus in his chapter on Ghazwah al-Musayri` --named after a well of that name, and also called Ghazwah al-Mustaliq (after the tribe that used the well and were involved in the battle) -- Ibn Sa`d says:
"The Messenger of God (may God bless and glorify him) arrived in al-Muraysi` ... He ordered that his tent be erected there. He was accompanied by 'A`isha and Umm Salamah. ... It was in this Ghazwah that 'A'isha's necklace fell and when people stopped in its search the verse about tayammum came down. Usayd bin al-Hudayr said, 'O family of Abu Bakr! how good is this first blessing of yours.' In the same Ghazwah the incident regarding 'A'isha and the false accusation against her took place. The narrator said that God sent down a declaration of her innocence. In this Ghazwah the Messenger of God stayed away from home for 28 days and returned to Medina when the moon for the month of Ramadan was sighted."
This account differs radically from the other versions. Thus it tells us that the loss of 'A'isha's necklace was the cause of people stopping. But in the other versions people are unaware of the loss of the necklace and the loss is the cause of 'A'isha being left behind:
"I touched my chest to find that my necklace of zifar beads (Yemenite beads partly black and partly white) was missing. So I returned to look for my necklace and my search for it detained me. (In the meantime) the people who used to carry me on my camel, came and took my howdah and put it on the back of my camel ... and all of them left " (Bukhari, similarly Ibn Ishaq and Muslim).
Furthermore, the versions based on az-Zuhri's account tell us that whenever the Prophet intended to go on a journey he used to draw lots among his wives and take with him the one on whom the lot fell. In Ghazwah al-Mustaliq the lot fell on A'isha and therefore he took her with him. Ibn Sa`d, on the other hand says nothing about drawing lots and says that not only 'A'isha but also Umm Salamah went with the Prophet. From such differences it seems highly probable that Ibn Sa'd is using traditions that are independent of the versions in Bukhari, Muslim, and Ibn Ishaq.
Ibn Sa`d's story that A'isha lost her necklace which caused people to stop and search for it and provided the occasion for the revelation about tayammum is found in the books of Hadith, including Bukhari and Muslim. The necklace is sometimes said to be of Asma' (Bukhari, kitab al-tafsir (on Qur'an 4:43)) or of A'isha (Bukhari, kitab al-tafsir (on Qur'an 5:6)) or given to A'isha by Asma', her sister (Bukhari, bab fadl A'isha). It would be somewhat strange that A'isha lost her necklace twice, so that the possibility must be admitted that one story about the loss of a necklace is taking different forms in Ibn Sa'd and the other three sources, Ibn Ishaq, Bukhari, and Muslim.
Neither in terms of his ability as a historian nor in terms of the date of his writing Ibn Sa'd is to be preferred over Ibn Ishaq, Bukhari and Muslim but the fact that there existed alternative traditions about the incident of ifk does provide some cause for caution.
Let us now look more closely at the direct and indirect references to hijab in the story. It is expressly said in all versions that the incident took place after the verses about hijab had been sent down. This is called into question by several facts:
The verses about hijab and jilbab are believed to have been revealed sometimes after Ghazwah al-Ahzab (the Battle of Confederates, also called Ghazwah al-Khandaq , the Battle of the Trench) as they are found in the surah which refers to that Ghazwah. Now Ibn Ishaq quotes az-Zuhri expressly saying that ifk took place during Ghazwah al-Mustaliq or Ghazwah al-Muraysi'. But there are reports which suggest that Ghazwah al-Mustaliq took place before Ghazwah al-Ahzab, in which case ifk took place before the verses about hijab and jilbab were revealed, and not after, as Ibn Ishaq, Bukhari and Muslim tell us.
Ibn Sa'd in his Tabaqat explicitly gives the following dates for the two battles:
Ghazwah of al-Muraysi' or al-Mustaliq --- Sha'ban 5 AH
Ghazwah al-Ahzab ---- Dhu al-Qa'dah 5 AH.
Thus Ghazwah al-Mustaliq took place 3 months before Ghazwah al-Ahzab and hence the incident of ifk took place at least three months before the verses about hijab and jilbab.
The uncertainty about the dates of the two Ghazwat and therefore of their relative temporal order and the relative temporal order of ifk and the revelation about hijab/jilbab is raised not just by the evidence from Ibn Sa`d. It is also raised by the evidence from Ibn Ishaq, Bukhari and Muslim themselves.
Bukhari mentions the following dating by Musa bin 'Uqbah about the two battles:
Ghazwah al-Mustaliq ---- 4 AH
Ghazwah al-Ahzab ---- Shawwal, 4 AH
(See the chapters in Bukhari on the two Ghazwat). Bukhari does not say which month Ghazwah al-Mustaliq took place and therefore we cannot say which of the two Ghazwat took place first.
Ibn Ishaq, however, gives the following dating:
Ghazwah al-Mustaliq ---- Sha'ban 6AH
Ghazwah al-Ahzab ----5 AH,
thus agreeing with Ibn Sa'd as far as Ghazwah al-Ahzab is concerned and disagreeing with the dates of both battles as given in Bukhari on the authority of Musa bin 'Uqbah..
Dating the incident of ifk after al-Ahzab not only conflicts with the dating of the two battles in some sources but also creates another difficulty. In all three versions there is an argument between some people from different tribes about whether the person(s) responsible for the slander should be killed. In Ibn Ishaq the argument is between Usayd bin Hudayr and Sa'd bin Ubada. But in Bukhari and Muslim the argument also involves Sa'd bin Mu'adh who is universally believed to be martyred during Ghazwah Banu Qurayza which took place immediately after Ghazwah al-Ahzab. Ibn Ishaq puts the martyrdom of Sa'd bin Mu'adh during Ghazwah Banu Qurayza which is said to have taken place soon after Ghazwah al-Ahzab before Ghazwah al-Mustaliq. Imam Nawvi raises the problem in his Sharh of Muslim and says that "the reference to Sa'd bin Mu'adh is difficult to understand because he died soon after Ghazwah al-Khandaq (= Ghazwah al-Ahzab) whereas the incident of ifk took place during Ghazwah Banu al-Mustaliq which was undertaken in 6 H." All writers of siyar are agreed on this date except Waqidi. Qadhi Ayad said that the reference to Sa'd bin Mu'adh in the story is not factual. The fact is that it was only Usayd bin Hudayr who spoke along with Sa'd bin Ubada. Musa bin 'Uqba said that Ghazwah al-Muraysi' (=Ghazwah al-Mustaliq) took place in 4 AH which is also the year of Ghazwah al-Khandaq. Then it is possible that both Ghazwah al-Mustaliq and the incident of ifk took place before Ghazwah al-Khandaq when Sa'd bin Mu'adh was alive". Thus either Bukhari and Muslim are both wrong in mentioning Sa'd bin Mu'adh in the story of ifk or all three versions are wrong in mentioning that the incident took place after the regulations for hijab.
While some facts suggest that the incident of ifk took place before the revelation of the verses about hijab, there is at least one argument that supports it. Thus the versions of the incident of ifk in Ibn Ishaq, Bukhari, and Muslim all assume that the marriage of the Prophet with Zaynab bint Jahsh had already taken place. For example, it is said that Zaynab's sister Hamna bint Jahsh was among those who spread the false accusation and the reason given is that "her sister Zaynab bint Jahsh was one of the apostle's wives and only she could rival me in his favor" (Ibn Ishaq; similarly Bukhari and Muslim). Now some traditions in Bukhari and Muslim (see below) tell us that the verses about hijab were revealed on the day of the walimah (marriage) party for the Prophet's marriage with Zaynab. This means that the incident of ifk took place after the revelation of the verses about hijab.
That the uncertainty about the dates and the relative temporal order of the two battles was considered significant enough is shown by the versions of the incident of ifk in Bukhari and Muslim. Bukhari refers to the view of az-Zuhri that the incident took place in Ghazwah al-Mustaliq but himself shows reservations about that view. He first has a chapter on Ghazwah al-Mustaliq, then on Ghazwah al-Anmar and then on the incident of ifk. And in his version of the story of ifk it is simply stated that the Prophet took 'A'isha on "one of the Ghazwat" without mentioning the name of the Ghazwah. Muslim's version also does not mention the name of the Ghazwah and simply speaks of "a Ghazwah". Clearly the versions in Bukhari and Muslim are trying to avoid the problem created by the dating of the Ghazwat.
In view of the uncertainty about dates pointed out above, the possibility remains that the incident of ifk took place before the regulations of hijab and jilbab and consequently the statements to the contrary in Ibn Ishaq, Bukhari and Muslim are historically inaccurate.
In any case, let us now look at the references to hijab and jilbab in the story of ifk in the various versions and compare them. As we shall soon discover this comparison brings to light an important fact.
The part of the story of ifk related to hijab in the various versions read:
Ibn Ishaq: So I wrapped myself in my outer garment and then lay down where I was, knowing that if I were missed they would come back for me, and by God I had but just lain down when Safwan bin al-Mu'attal al-Sulami passed me; he had fallen behind the main body for some purpose and had not spent the night with the troops. He saw my form and came and stood over me. He used to see me before the veil was prescribed for us, so when he saw me he exclaimed in astonishment, "The Apostle's wife" (za'ina, a woman carried in a howdah)" while I was wrapped in my garments. He asked me what has kept me behind but I did not speak to him. Then he brought up his camel and told me to ride it while he stood behind. So I rode it and he took the camel's head going forward quickly in search of the army, and by God we did not overtake them and I was not missed until the morning. The men had halted and when they were rested up came the man leading me and the liars spread their reports and the army was much disturbed.
Bukhari, kitab al-shahadat: So, I went to the place where I used to stay, thinking that they would discover my absence and come back in my search. While in that state, I felt sleepy and slept. Safwan bin Mu'attal As-Sulami Adh-Dhakwani was behind the army and reached my abode in the morning. When he saw a sleeping person, he came to me, and he used to see me before veiling. So, I got up when I heard him saying, "inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un (We are for God, and we will return to Him)." He made his camel kneel down. He got down from his camel, and put his leg on the front legs of the camel and then I rode and sat over it. Safwan set out walking, leading the camel by the rope till we reached the army who had halted to take rest at midday.
Bukhari, kitab al-maghazi: [Sometime during night time departure of the troops is announced and 'A'isha is left behind.] So I intended to go to the place where I used to stay, thinking that they will miss me and come back to me. While I was sitting in my resting place, I was overwhelmed by sleep and slept. Safwan bin al-Mu'attal as-Sulami adh-Dhakwani was behind the army. When he reached my place in the morning, he saw the figure of a sleeping person and he recognized me on seeing me as he had seen me before hijab (was prescribed). So I woke up when he recited istirja (that is, inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un) as soon as he recognized me. I veiled my face with my outer garment (khammartu wajhiya bijilbabi) at once, and by God, we did not speak a single word, and I did not hear him say any word besides the istirja'. He dismounted from his camel and made it kneel down, putting his leg on its front legs and then I got up and rode on it. Then he set out leading the camel that was carrying me till we overtook the army in the extreme heat of midday while they were at a halt.
Bukhari, kitab at-tafsir: Then I found my necklace after the army had gone. I came to their camp but found nobody therein so I went to the place where I used to stay, thinking that they would miss me and come back in my search. While I was sitting at my place, I felt sleepy and slept. Safwan bin Al-Mu'attil As-Sulami Adh-Dhakwani was behind the army. He had started in the last part of the night and reached my stationing place in the morning and saw the figure of a sleeping person. He came to me and recognized me on seeing me for he used to see me before veiling. I got up because of his saying: "inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un," which he uttered on recognizing me. I covered my face with my outer garment, and by God, he did not say to me a single word except, "inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un," till he made his she-camel kneel down whereupon he trod on its forelegs and I mounted it. Then Safwan set out, leading the she-camel that was carrying me, till we met the army while they were resting during the hot midday.
Muslim: The story in Muslim is very similar to that in Bukhari, kitab al-maghazi.
In many points there is agreement between the three sources but when it comes to jilbab and hijab there are serious disagreements:
1) In Ibn Ishaq 'A'isha wrapped herself in a smock and is recognized by Safwan as the Prophet's wife because before the regulation about hijab came down he had seen her. This means that her face was not covered. Bukhari and Muslim also say that 'A'isha was recognized but the two versions in Bukhari and the one version in Muslim say that after seeing Safwan she covered her face. Ibn Ishaq and one version in Bukhari (kitab al-shahadat) say no such thing. Clearly in the time of Ibn Ishaq the view had not yet been established that women have to cover their faces. Such a view probably got prevalent only sometimes between the writing of Ibn Ishaq and of Bukhari, that is, sometimes between the first half of the second century and the early decades of the third century. But Ibn Ishaq does say that Safwan recognized 'A'isha as the Prophet's wife because he saw her before the regulation about hijab came down. Does that mean that after the verse about hijab he could not have seen her since she would not have gone out without covering her face? Not necessarily. The verse about hijab might have limited opportunity of seeing 'A'isha because now believers could not enter the Prophet's house (and each others' houses) without permission and were to talk from behind hijab and the Prophet's wife went out of the houses much less.
2) In Bukhari and Muslim it is said that 'A'isha fell asleep and was still sleeping when Safwan discovered her. In Ibn Ishaq 'A'isha does not fall asleep. Perhaps the purpose of sleep in the versions in Bukhari and Muslim is to explain why 'A'isha's face was not covered when Safwan saw her and recognized her. In Ibn Ishaq this question does not arise since his version is not assuming that women's face needs to be covered.
3) In Ibn Ishaq, Safwan exclaims: za'ina, a woman carried in a howdah and then asked 'A'isha how she got left behind but she did not speak to him. But in Bukhari and Muslim the only word that Safwan speaks is the istirja'. Besides this neither he nor 'A'isha say any thing. The tradition it seems is overstressing that the two did not even talk, even though the Qur'an only says that believers should talk with the wives of the Prophet from behind a hijab and not that they should not talk at all.
Thus our examination of the most reliable hadith mentioning hijab shows that the first generations of Muslims did not think that women have to cover their faces.
THE OCCASION OF THE REVELATION OF THE HIJAB VERSES
There are two different types of accounts about the circumstances under which the verses about hijab were revealed. Both accounts are found in both Bukhari and Muslim.
First account. The more reliable account is attributed to Anas bin Malik and describes the occasion as the party (walimah) for the marriage of the Prophet with Zaynab. Various versions of this account are collected by Muslim in his kitab al-nikah, bab zawaj Zaynab bint Jahsh wa nazul al-hijab. Bukhari also has most of these ahadith in his kitab al-isti'dhan, bab ayah al-hijab and kitab at-tafsir, bab la tadkhulu buyut an-nabi .... . One of these ahadith reads:
Anas bin Malik narrated that he was a boy of ten at the time when the Prophet emigrated to Medina. He added: I served the Messenger of God for ten years (the last part of his life) and I know more than the other people about the occasion whereupon the order of hijab was revealed. Ubay bin Ka'b used to ask me about it. The order about hijab was revealed during the marriage of the Messenger of God with Zaynab bint Jahsh. In the morning, the Prophet was her bride-groom and he invited the people, who took their meals and went away, but a group of them remained with the Messenger of God. When they prolonged their stay the Messenger of God got up and went out so that people leave. I too, went out along with him till he came to the lintel of 'A'isha's dwelling place. He thought that those people had left by then, so he returned, and I too, returned with him till he entered where Zaynab was and found that they were still sitting there and had not yet gone. The Prophet went out again, and so did I with him till he reached the lintel of 'A'isha's dwelling place, and then he thought that those people must have left by then, so he returned, and so did I with him, and found those people had gone. At that time the ayah of hijab was revealed, and the Prophet set a screen between me and him (his family).
Let us recall the verse about hijab. It reads:
33:53. O believers! Do not enter the dwellings of the Prophet for a meal without waiting for the proper time unless permission is granted to you. But when you are invited do enter and when the meal is over then disperse. Do not linger for (idle) chat. This would indeed annoy the Prophet but he would be shy of you (to ask you to go). And when you ask of them (the wives of the Prophet) anything, ask of them from behind a hijab. This is purer for your hearts and their hearts. And it is not for you to annoy the Messenger of God nor that you should ever marry his wives after him. That in God's sight will be an enormity.
This verse fits well with the story described in the above hadith and that supports the authenticity of the hadith in some form. But hadith is not without difficulties, for there are many important differences among the various versions. Thus while in the above version the Prophet goes to the dwelling of 'A'isha in other versions he goes to the dwellings of all the wives and greets them. In the above version he goes away several times, in others he goes away only once. Also in the above version Anas goes with the Prophet as he leaves the gathering, but in others he seems to stay behind and then informs the Prophet when people leave, as in the following version:
Anas bin Malik narrated: When the Prophet married Zaynab, the people came and were offered a meal, and then they sat down (after finishing their meals) and started chatting. The Prophet showed as if he wanted to get up, but they did not get up. When he noticed that, he got up, and some of the people also got up and went away, while some others kept on sitting. When the Prophet returned to enter, he found the people still sitting, but then they got up and left. So I told the Prophet of their departure and he came and went in. I intended to go in but the Prophet put a screen between me and him, for God revealed:-- 'O you who believe! Enter not the Prophet's houses..' (33.53) (Bukhari, kitab al-istidhan).
Note also that in the above two versions all the people are gone when the verse about hijab is revealed and screen is set between Anas and the wife of the Prophet. But in another version the people are still present when the verse is revealed and the screen (hijab) is set up in their presence, after which they leave:
So the Prophet went out and then returned several times while they were still sitting and talking. Then God revealed the verse [33:53]. So the screen was set up and the people went away.
Still other important differences exist between the various versions. Thus in some versions meat and bread are served at the walimah while in others only hais (a sweet dish made from butter cheese and dates) was served. According to a version in Muslim, hais was sent by Umm Sulaym, Anas' mother, and was miraculously multiplied to serve several hundred people, a story that is told in Bukhari in connection with the Prophet's marriage with Safiyyah and not Zaynab.
Second account. Another account of the circumstances that led to the revelation of the verse of hijab is also found in both Bukhari (kitab al-istidhan, bab ayah al-hijab, kitab at-tafsir, bab la tadkhulu ...) and Muslim (kitab as-salam, bab ibahat al-khuruj li an-nisa ...). According to this account it is at the prompting of 'Umar that the verse about hijab was revealed. In one simple form in Bukhari the account runs as follows:
Umar narrated: I said, "O Messenger of God! Good and bad persons enter upon you, so I suggest that you order the mothers of the believers (i.e. your wives) to observe hijab." Then God revealed the verses of hijab.
But in other versions a more elaborate story is told:
'A'isha narrated: 'Umar bin al-Khattab used to say that the Messenger of God, "Let your wives be in hijab". But he did not do so. And the wives of the Prophet used to go at night to al-Manasi (a vast open place near Baqia at Medina to answer the call of nature). Once Sawda bint Zam'a (the wife of the Prophet) went out and she was a tall lady. 'Umar bin al-Khattab saw her while he was in a gathering and said, "I have recognized you, O Sawda!" (He said so, as he desired eagerly that the verse of al-hijab may be revealed.) So God revealed the verses of al-hijab.
This account raises some questions. Why was 'Umar more anxious for the verse of hijab than the Prophet and why was the revelation so dependent on what 'Umar thought? In the hadith quoted earlier 'Umar tells the Prophet, "Good and bad persons enter upon you". Were God and his Messenger unaware of the situation and needed to be reminded of it? More seriously, we have another hadith where 'Umar sees Sawda not before but after the verse of hijab had been revealed:
Narrated 'A'isha: Sawda (the wife of the Prophet) went out for her need after hijab had been ordained. She was a fat huge lady, and everybody who knew her before could recognize her. So 'Umar bin al-Khattab saw her and said, "O Sawda! By God, you cannot hide yourself from us, so think of a way by which you should not be recognized on going out. Sawda returned while the Messenger of God was in my house taking his supper and a bone covered with meat was in his hand. She entered and said, "O Messenger of God! I went out for a need and 'Umar said to me so-and-so." Then God inspired him (the Prophet) and when the state of inspiration was over and the bone was still in his hand as he had not put it down, he said (to Sawda), "You (women) have been allowed to go out for your needs." (Bukhari, kitab at-tafsir, bab la tadkhulu buyut an-nabi ... )
It is possible to argue that 'Umar twice saw Sawda go out, once before the revelation of the verse of hijab and once after. But it is more natural to conclude that we are dealing here with a single story that is being used in two different ways. And it is far from certain that there is any historical truth behind any of the two traditions. This second tradition is confused about the issue involved. 'Umar is telling Sawda to dress in a way that she is not recognized. He is not saying whether women can get out. But when the Prophet receives inspiration, he says that women can go out for their needs, which is not at all the issue for 'Umar. This is also not an issue in the verses about hijab and jilbab, where the Qur'an is taking it for granted that women including the wives of the Prophet can go out (see above). So why is there need for a non-Qur'anic revelation for permitting women to go out? Also, on what grounds in Islamic teaching 'Umar is saying that a woman should be dressed in such a way that she is not recognized.
It seems that some people who in contrast to the authentic teaching of the Qur'an and Hadith wanted to cover women from head to toe or to confine them to houses were inventing all kinds of stories to project their sentiments and of course in the process producing traditions with all kinds of contradictions.
HIJAB FROM THE BLIND IBN UMM MAKTUM
There are several references in Hadith where looking at a member of the opposite sex is mentioned. In some cases the reference can be taken to a lustful look only but in others it seems to be in a more absolute sense.
Thus in one hadith the Prophet tells 'Ali, "Do not follow one look by a second one. For while the first look is (automatically) forgiven, the second is not" (Ahmad, Tirmidhi, Abu Da'ud, Darimi). (See also the hadith about al-Fadl bin 'Abbas discussed below.) In another hadith a lustful look is described as an adultery of the eyes:
Ibn 'Abbas narrated: I have not seen a thing resembling 'lamam' (minor sins) more than what Abu Hurayra reported from the Prophet who said: "God has written for son of Adam (i.e. human being) his share of adultery which he inevitably commits. The adultery of the eye is looking (with desire), the adultery of the tongue is talking; the self wishes and desires and sexual organs then either testify all this (i.e., go along with the desire) or deny it" (see, e.g. Bukhari, kitab al-'isti'dhan, bab zina al-jawarih ...).
The Qur'an makes parallel statements about men and women in that it commands both to lower their gaze. One hadith points in the same direction. Thus in Ahmad, Abu Da'ud, and Tirmidhi it is reported that two of the wives of the Prophet, Umm Salamah and Maymuna, were sitting with the Prophet when his blind companion Ibn Umm Maktum came. The Prophet told the wives to do hijab. They said, "Is he not blind? He will not see us, nor recognize us." The Prophet said, "Are you two also blind? Will you not see him?" Contrary to this we have another hadith found in the earlier collections Mu'watta (kitab at-talaq, bab ma ja'a fi nafaqat al-mutallaqa) and Muslim (kitab at-talaq, bab al-mutallaqah al-na'in la nafaqah la ha), according to which the Prophet advised a divorced woman to stay in the home of the same Ibn Umm Maktum, saying "He is blind. You can stay there with freedom to dress with ease." While the first tradition is closer to the Qur'an in that it expects similar standards from both men and women, it may have misinterpreted the Qur'an in assuming that lowering gaze is complete avoidance of looking. The second hadith may have captured the Qur'anic spirit better in that it does not view lowering of gaze literally and absolutely. The concern in the hadith is more about privacy than about looking, although the latter is also important within the limits of the Qur'an. Incidentally, this hadith in Mu'watta and Muslim shows us another aspect of the atmosphere in early Islam. For the hadith relates that before sending the divorced woman to the house of Ibn Umm Maktum the Prophet considered the possibility of sending her to the house of Umm Sharik, but discarded the idea saying that "this is a woman whom my companions visit". Clearly, we do not have here a segregation of women that later became part of the Muslim ideal of piety.