“…and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers or their sons, or their husband’s sons, or their brothers, or their brother’s sons, or their sister’s sons, or their (Muslim) women (i.e. their sisters in Islam), or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or those male attendants (slaves) who lack vigour, or small children who have no sense of feminine sex…” [Suratu-n-Nuur: 24:31; Muhammad Muhsin Khan and Taqiyudeen Al-Hilal English Translation].
Islam is a religion that has a culturally diverse composition. Believers belong to many racial and regional groups bound together by essential beliefs and practices. Many of these are clearly indicated and detailed in the source material for Islamic behaviour – the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet so that no Muslim doubts the obligation to enact them. The daily prayers, fasting, etc., are prescribed in the general term in the Qur’an, and details by the Sunnah.
Indeed, at the beginning of Islam; the Muslim women reached the highest peak of purity, chastity, shyness and respect, by the blessing of believing in Allah and His prophet, and by following the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Thus, upon this upright Sunnah; generation and generation of this Ummah (nation) – and All Perfect praise for Allah- passed, and this was the way of women of Islam. And (then) up to the few past times, when what entered upon the women, entered (upon them). That is, the corruption of clothing and behaviours, and this is due to numerous reasons – of which now is not the time to discuss.
Therefore, this essay seeks to succinctly discuss the classes of people permissible for a matured Muslim woman to reveal her adornments (and nakedness) to and the extent (limit) of which it can be revealed with particular reference to the opening verse [Quran 24:31].
It is important to know the definition of some terms – before getting into the discussion – which will be re-appearing in this treatise.
- Mahram: These are relatives whom a person is not allowed to marry. A mahram is derived due to blood relationship (like father, mother, and siblings, etc.), or due to marital relations (like father and grandfather-in-law, or mother-in-law), or due to breastfeeding (meaning the person whom breastfeed you becomes your mother, and the people who breastfed from the same women become your sisters or brothers). In short, all those that are not allowed to be married due to blood relationship are applicable also to breastfeeding.
- Awrah: This refers to parts of the body that are impermissible to be displayed. It is different in men and women, and it has different rulings in regards to different sets of people. And this is what will be discussed in this treatise with respect to women, Inshaa’ Allah.
- Ajnabiyyah: Otherwise known as Non-Mahram. Literally, means strange men. These refer to people a Muslim woman is allowed to marry.
It is evident in the glorious Qur’an and the Hadith in myriads of lucid ways; where Allah and His prophet respectively placed emphasis on the indispensability of modesty (shyness, chastity and so on) amidst Muslim women and the entire society at large, and forewarning those who dissent from their order; lest Fitnah (affliction) strike them or a painful punishment.
In regards to this, the Prophet ﷺ said:
“Two types of people of the Hellfire – who I did not see (in my life) – are: People having whips like the tail of cows, beating the people with them. And the women who are dressed but appear naked (who would be inclined to evil), their heads would be like the humps of the Bactrian camels inclined to one side. They will not enter Paradise, and they will not smell the scent of Paradise, even though its smell can be smelt from such and such a distance [Saheeh Muslim: 2128]
The meaning of ‘clothed yet naked’; is when a woman puts on what does not properly cover her Awrah. So, she is considered to be dressed, but in reality, she is naked. Like the one who wears a thin cloth which is translucent and shows her skin, or like the tight cloth which describes her figure, or the short cloth which covers only some of her parts.
Going by the content of the opening verse; we will realize that Allah has successfully outlined for us the categories of people whom a Muslim woman can reveal (uncover) her Awrah before them. The verse tells us that, no matter how soothing and pleasing evil seems to us, or how beautiful nudity is portrayed in the World today, or how Zina (fornication) is made to seem normal, or how indecent dressing has become the order of the day, and so on, they will never be equated to engaging in act of goodness (diligence in covering up properly and in modesty). So, that short but wonderful verse is where the theme of this essay arises – Whose presence can she uncover?
Following this Qur’anic verse, the categories of people mentioned by Allah are those whom a Muslim woman can reveal her Awrah to. Thus, the extent (of reveal) varies among the mentioned subjects. Now, we take a look at the verse bit by bit.
“…and not to reveal their adornment”
What is the meaning of this sentence? Is it meaning the adornments themselves? Or is it the places of the adornments? There is no doubt – as explained by scholars – that the correct meaning is the place where the adornments are worn (and should not be revealed), except to those mentioned in the verse; as they follow below:
“…except to their husbands”
As for the husband and wife: There is no limit as to what can be seen. In other words, from the head to the foot of a woman is for her husband. So, she should try to adorn herself for him, unlike the way she should appear in front of others. There is no limit as to what can be seen.
“…or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers or their sons, or their husband’s sons, or their brothers, or their brother’s sons, or their sister’s sons”
All of these are a woman’s close relatives whom she can never marry (Mahram) and it is permissible for her to show her adornment to them, but without making a wanton display of herself.
“…or their (Muslim) women (i.e. their sisters in Islam)”
This means that she may also wear her adornment (or expose her Awrah) in front of other Muslim women, but not in front of the women of Jewish and Christian women, lest they describe her to their husbands.
“…or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess”
This means her slave girl. Even if the woman (slave girl) is an idolatress, it is permissible for a Muslim woman to reveal her adornments before such a woman. Praise to Allah, there are no slaves anymore. In the case of a female housemaid; if she is a Muslimah, she is considered among the Muslim women, and if otherwise, it is not permissible for her mistress to reveal her adornments before her.
“…or those male attendants (slaves) who lack vigour”
The meaning of this is that a woman may expose her adornments in front of a male slave who does not have a sexual desire (Taabi‘in). That is one who does not experience erections.
“…or small children who have no sense of feminine sex”
Because they are so young, they do not understand anything about women or their Awrah, or their soft speech, or their enticing ways of walking and moving. If a child is small and does not understand that, there is nothing wrong with him entering upon women, regardless of whether a relationship exists between them or not. But, if he is approaching adolescence, so that he knows and understands all aforementioned and can make a distinction between who is beautiful and who is not, then he should not enter upon woman, or otherwise, a woman should not display her ‘Awrah before him.
Then, the limit:
As stated in the verse, it is permissible for the women to reveal her adornments (or Awrah) to other Muslim women and to their Mahram. The part of the body which takes adornments include; the hair, the neck to the upper part of the chest, the hands, and likewise the lower part of the shins, so it is permissible for her to reveal all these to other Muslim women and to their Mahram.
As for her to reveal her thighs, breasts, backs, and similar things to other Muslim women and to her Mahram; this is Haram (unlawful). Similarly, it is not allowed for her to be in front of other Muslim women and Mahram with what describes her Awrah; like wearing tight trousers (pants) or something which is translucent and shows her body.
And in the case when she has to breastfeed her baby, then, she should do so while having a covering which covers her breasts. And she is not to reveal her breast in front of her Mahram – not even her children, or father, or brothers, or other Muslim women (including her mother and sisters). This is from the shyness (and modesty) which is a must on the women to observe and be immersed in.
At this point, I hope it is very clear to the reader that, this is the strong opinion due to the evident proofs; as explained by the people of knowledge. We ask Allah to rectify the affairs of Muslims and guide every one of us to the Right Path. And may peace and blessings be upon Prophet Muhammad, his households, his companions and those who follow their path till the Day of Eternity.