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Is It Obligatory that Muslim Women Wear Niqab?

10 September, 2019
Q What is the ruling for niqab? Some maintain that it is obligatory; they base their opinion on the hadith narrated by Aishah in which she says that she used to cover her face from passersby during Hajj.


In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. 

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

In this fatwa:

1- It is known to most Muslims that the issue of niqab (face veil) is a controversial one.

2- However, it is agreed among most jurists that niqab is not compulsory (wajib), rather, it is a sunnah (mandub or mustahabb).

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3- That means a Muslim woman can either wear it (and will be reward for it by Allah Almighty) or not (and will not be punished).

Answering your question, Dar Al-Ifta Al-Misriyyah, states:

Niqab is a veil that covers the entire face except for the eyes. While hijab, the legal attire required of a Muslim woman, is what meets the following conditions:

1- It does not cling to the body,

2- It must not be transparent, and

3- It must conceal the entire body except the face and hands.

There is no harm in wearing colored clothes provided they are not vibrant, eye catching, or incite desires.

The majority of scholars maintain that it is not obligatory for a woman to cover her face or wear gloves.

The permissibility of exposing her face and hands is based on the Quranic verse: {And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof.} (An-Nur 24:31)

The majority of scholars from among the companions and those who came after them interpreted (adornments) in the above verse to mean the face and hands.

They based their opinion on reports from Ibn Abbas, Anas, and Aishah (may Allah be pleased with them all) and on the words of Allah Almighty: {And let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms.} (An-Nur 24:31)

The khimar mentioned in the above verse is a head-cover and al-jayb refers to the front opening of shirt and so forth.

In this verse, Allah commands Muslim women to cover their chests with their head covers. If it were obligatory for a Muslim woman to cover her face, then the Quranic verse would have indicated this explicitly.

Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated that Asma bint abi Bakr, her sister, entered upon the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) wearing transparent clothes. He turned away from her and said, “O Asma! If a woman reaches puberty, nothing of her (i.e., her body) should be seen except this and this (pointing to his face and hands).” (Abu Dawud)

Some scholars maintain that a woman must cover her face due to Aishah’s narration which states: “Riders used to pass by us when we were with the Prophet wearing ihram clothes. When they came closer, each one of us would lower (part) of her garment from her head over her face. When they passed by, we would uncover our faces.” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Ibn Majah)

This hadith does not include evidence on the obligation of wearing niqab because the actions of the companions are not a proof that something is an obligation.

Moreover, the niqab may have been particular to the Mothers of Believers (the Prophet’s wives) like the ruling that forbade them to marry after the Prophet’s death.

It is determined in Usul al-Fiqh (Principles of Jurisprudence) that anything that has multiple interpretations cannot be used as evidence.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “A woman in ihram is not to cover her face nor wear gloves.” (Al-Bukhari)

Based on this statement of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him), there is a scholarly consensus that a woman must not cover her face nor wear gloves during Prayer.

It follows from this that a woman’s face and hands are not awrah (i.e., the parts of the body that must be covered).

It is not conceivable that the Shari`ah (Islamic Law) legislates that a Muslim woman exposes her awrah during Prayer or while in ihram.

It is not obligatory for a Muslim woman to cover her face and hands. Niqab falls under “permissible acts” (mubaahat); a woman is rewarded for wearing it but not punished for abstaining from it. A woman fulfills her religious duty concerning her dress by wearing the hijab.

Almighty Allah knows best.

Editor’s note: This fatwa is from Ask the Scholar’s archive and was originally published at an earlier date.