Islamic FAQ > The Veil
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A: Islam stresses the relationship between body and mind. In covering the body one shields the heart from impurities. Men are instructed to restrain or avert their eyes from women, and women are expected to wear loose outer garments and to cover their heads and bosoms.
The ultimate goal of veiling is righteousness of the heart.
The purpose of hijab (veiling) in Islam is primarily to inspire modesty in both men and women. Women are admonished in the Holy Qur’an to cover their heads and to pull their coverings over their bosoms. Men are instructed in the Holy Qur’an to lower their gazes.
In chapter 24, verse 32 Allah says:
‘And say to the believing women that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts, and they display not their beauty and embellishments except that which is apparent thereof, and that they draw their head-covers over their bosoms, and they display not their beauty or their embellishment thereof save to their husbands, or to their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers or the sons of their brothers, or the sons of their sisters, or their women, or what their right hands possess, or such of male attendants who have no wickedness in them, or young children who have not yet attained any concept of the private parts of women. And they walk not in a style that such of their beauty as they conceal is noticed. And turn you to Allah all together, O believers, that you may succeed.’
Muslim women wear hijabs and loose clothing to fulfil the above command of God. It encourages them to be modest and not to dress in a manner that attracts men. The hijab is a protection for Muslim women against the unwanted gaze of men.
A woman in hijab, is seen by onlookers to be guarding her modesty. Her message is clear – she does not want men to look at her.
A: In the Qur’an women are admonished to cover their heads and to pull their coverings over their bosoms. However the style and degree of veil varies according to the situation. The veil affords women modesty, respect and dignity and protects herself from harm and the evils of society by covering her beauty.
‘O Prophet! tell your wives and your daughters, and the women of the believers, that they should pull down upon them of their outer cloaks from their heads over their faces. That is more likely that they may thus be recognised and not molested. And Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.’
In light of this instruction some women choose to cover their faces whereas others prefer to cover their heads only leaving their faces uncovered and bare of makeup – both of which are valid interpretations according to various schools of Islamic jurisprudence. Some choose to adopt a compromise between the two by covering their faces when they apply make up.
The ‘veil’ can take many forms.
The Hijab generally refers to a head-covering which covers the head and the neck, leaving the face uncovered. These head coverings come in many shapes and styles but the primary objective they all have is to cover the hair completely.
The Niqaab is generally understood as clothing that covers the face as well as the head, with the eyes showing, or with a netting over the eyes.
The burqa is a veil which covers the head, face and body of a woman from head to toe, allowing her to see from a gauze like material over the eye area. This style of veiling is seen in the Middle East more so than in the West and is the way in which some Muslim women choose to cover themselves. (Some cultural traditions can influence the style of veil women prefer to adapt).
The covering of the head is not a concept that is unique to Islam, but is found in Biblical literature also. The Bible taught the wearing of a veil long before Islam. In the Old Testament we read:
“When Re-bek'ah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she lighted off the camel. For she had said unto the servant 'What man is this that walketh in the field to meet us?' And the servant had said 'It is my master' Therefore she took a vail and covered herself.” [Genesis: 24:64-65]
In the New Testament we read:
“But every woman that prayeth or prophesieth with her head uncovered dishonoureth her head: for that is even all one as if she were shaven. For if the woman be not covered, let her also be shorn: but if it be a shame for a woman to be shorn or shaven, let her be covered.”(1 Corinthians: 11: 5-6)
There is no law in Islam that punishes a woman for not wearing a veil and according to Islamic law a man has no jurisdiction in forcing a woman to wear a veil or hijab. He can, if he has some authority over a woman (as a husband or father or brother) admonish, request, and in the case of a father to require it of his daughter, but absolutely no right in actively forcing a woman to adopt the hijab. However women are strongly advised to veil themselves as appropriate to maintain their honour and dignity.
Perhaps the view that the veil inhibits freedom and equality is a reaction to the original Biblical edict where St. Paul teaches
‘For a man indeed ought not to cover his head, forasmuch as he is the image and glory of God: but the woman is the Glory of the man. For man is not of the woman, but the woman of the man. Neither was the man created for the woman; but the woman for the man. For this cause ought the woman to have power on her head because of the angels.’ (1 Corinthians, 11:7-10).
According to St. Paul the veil is a sign of man's authority over her. It is possible that St. Paul’s pronouncements may have led many in the West to see the veil as a symbol of inferiority, subservience and degradation. In contrast, the veil in Islam signifies modesty as well as serving as a means of protection.
A: Women are expected to dress modestly in clothes that do not reveal the shape of their bodies to men. The loose coat or jilbaab covers the woman’s body and hides the shape of her body from onlookers. The veil and a loose outer clothing protects a women and inculcates modesty in her.
An ‘overcoat’, or outer garment, does not have to be made of heavy fabric. There are many light fabrics that can be used for the summer months. It is seen that many men in the West continue to wear suits during the hot weather, so Muslim women can also be seen wearing loose ‘overcoats’ in hot weather as well. The overcoat, or outer garment, is a sign of modesty. It is in no way a hindrance and it certainly does not have to be heavy.
So, come rain or shine a Muslim woman keeps her body under wraps so as to protect her modesty.
Verse references to the Holy Qur’an item count ‘Bismillah...’ (In the Name of Allah...) as the first verse of each Chapter. In some non-standard texts, this is not counted and should the reader refer to such texts, the verse quoted in Islamic FAQs will be found at one verse less than the number quoted. All Quranic quotes are from the translation by Maulawi Sher Ali as edited by Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad(ru).
In Islamic FAQs, for the ease of non- Muslim readers, ‘(saw)’ or ‘saw’ after the words, ‘Holy Prophet’, or the name ‘Muhammad’, are used. They stand for ‘Sallallahu ‘alaihi wa sallam’ meaning ‘Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him’. Likewise, the letters ‘(as)’ or ‘as’ after the name of all other prophets is an abbreviation meaning ‘Peace be upon him’ derived from ‘Alaihis salatu wassalam’ which are words that a Muslim utters out of respect whenever he or she comes across that name. The abbreviation ‘ra’ or (ra) stands for ‘Radhiallahu Ta’ala anhu and is used for Companions of a Prophet, meaning Allah be pleased with him or her (when followed by the relevant Arabic pronoun). Finally, ‘ru’ or (ru) for Rahemahullahu Ta’ala means the Mercy of Allah the Exalted be upon him.
In keeping with current universal practice, local transliterations of names of places are preferred to their anglicised versions, e.g. Makkah instead of Mecca, etc. For Biblical references the King James translation is used unless otherwise stated.
Generally the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community follows the Hanafi school of thought in light of the guidance of the Promised Messiah(as) and his Khalifas.