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Between niqab and hijab (I)

The incident, which is a true life story, occurred in one of the ancient Muslim cities of Northern Nigeria. There lived a committed Muslim brother…

The incident, which is a true life story, occurred in one of the ancient Muslim cities of Northern Nigeria. There lived a committed Muslim brother (ustaz) whose wife was always wearing a niqab or hijab, within and outside her home. One day, the wife went to attend a wedding ceremony (zifaf) and a visitor came to see her. So, the husband led the visitor to the venue of the occasion which his wife had gone to attend. When the husband got to the venue of the event that was purely a women affair, he requested to have the attention of his ‘ustazah’ wife. The wife who left home in full hijab was only to be seen by the husband in the most gorgeous head-gear (onigogoro)! The ustaz who was amazed by what he saw asked his wife in Hausa “Ina hijabin ki?” (Where is your hijab?). She replied “Malam! Nan ba wajen hijabi bane” (Malam! This is not the place for hijab). It was clear from the tone of the wife’s response that the ustaz needed not to ask further questions. When women are caught up in the orgy of celebration, it is reasonable that their husbands do not interfere until it is over. This incident indicates that between niqab and hijab is another head-gear, the onigogoro.

While the covering of a Muslim woman’s hair and body has been established by all the schools of jurisprudence in Islam, there exist differences of opinion about whether or not the face is part of the body that must be compulsorily covered. If the use of niqab is compulsory for women as claimed by the proponents of the pinion, it thus implies that Muslim women who put on a head-gear and loose clothing down their feet are guilty of a sin by omission. This is one of the contentious issues that this column seeks to address in this piece that would be serialized for at least two weeks.

Niqab refers to the covering of the face by a piece of cloth or one’s outer garment, leaving at most only one eye or the two eyes exposed, to enable the woman see the way she is going. Interestingly, the word “niqab” is not mentioned in the holy Qur’an. Rather, the terms “hijab”, “jilbab” and “khimaar” are used in the Qur’an when making references to a woman’s concealment or veiling of her body. The word “hijab” as used in Qur’an 33:53, Qur’an 17:45 and Qur’an 42:51; refers to that which stands as a barrier to obstruct or impede one’s sight. Hijab in the contemporary sense of the word implies head-cover. Khimaar, on the other hand, as used in Qur’an 24:30-31 denotes a cloth that covers a woman’s head (including her hair) and extends down to her chest. This interpretation derives from the meaning of the Arabic word Khimaar which is “to cover”. While some scholars define khimaar as that which covers the head and the chest, others such as Al-Bani describe it as the covering of the head only. Jilbab has been defined as a garment larger than the khimaar, covering a woman’s head and chest but which may also extend to cover the rest of a woman’s body.

We would now attempt to examine the arguments of the proponents of the view that seeks to make niqab compulsory for women. We shall later in the discourse outline the views of those who are opposed to its being wajib. Some of the reasons advanced by those who argue that the use of niqab by women is wajib include the following. One, Qur’an 33:53 which commands believers to speak to the Prophet’s wives from behind a curtain (hijab) is enough evidence to make the use of niqab compulsory for contemporary Muslim women. This view holds that if the companions (Sahabah) of the Prophet (SAW) and his wives who were purest of Muslim women were commanded to .abide by this law of decorum, other believing women whose hearts need more purification have greater need to covering themselves with niqab. Second, that Qur’an 33:59 “O Prophet, tell your wives and your daughters and the believing women that they should cast their outer garments (jalabib plural of jilbab) over their persons (when abroad)…” implies that the use of niqab is compulsory for women. Ibn Taymiyyah who shares this view argues that Ibn Abbas initially allowed for a Muslim woman’s face and hands to be seen after the revelation of Surat un-Nur but changed his mind when Surat ul-Ahzb (Qur’an 33:59) was revealed.

The third argument given for niqab being compulsory for women is Qur’an 24: 31 “…And say to the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty (zeenat) except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof…”. The proponents of this view maintain that “except that what (must ordinarily) appear thereof” in the quoted verse refers to the outer garment that a woman wears. This view is also shared by Ibn Masud as elucidated in Tafsir Ibn Kathir. Fourth, the proponents quote the hadith related by Bukhari on the authority of Aisha (AS) that Allah’s messenger used to offer the early morning (fajr) prayer and some believing women who covered themselves used to attend the fajr prayer and would return to their homes unrecognized. Fifth, most followers of the Hamblite school of thought opine that the entire body of a woman is nude (awrah). Sixth, advocates of the compulsory use of niqab argue that since the contemporary world is replete with immoralities, it becomes obligatory for a woman to use niqab to protect themselves from that which could lead to troubles (fitnah). We shall continue from here next week, insah Allah. May Allah (SWT) guide us, amin.


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