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The Sunna and Hijab

The sunna —the sayings and examples of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.)— is the second most important source for Islamic laws. It is impossible to truly understand the Qur’an without studying the Prophet’s life that provided the context in which the holy Book was revealed. Almighty Allah says,

“And We have revealed to you (O Muhammad) the Reminder (i.e., the Qur’an) so that you may clarify to the people what has been revealed to them, and so that they may reflect.” (16:44)

“Sunna” is that “clarification” mentioned in this verse.

There is a tendency among the so-called progressive and liberated Muslims to claim that they only follow the Qur’an and ignore the sunna of the Prophet. Responding to such Muslims, Drs. Murata and Chittick write, “We are perfectly aware that many contemporary Muslims are tired of what they consider outdated material: they would like to discard their intellectual heritage and replace it with truly ‘scientific’ endeavors, such as sociology. By claiming that the Islamic intellectual heritage is superfluous and that the Koran is sufficient, such people have surrendered to the spirit of the times. This is a far different enterprise than that pursued by the great authorities, who interpreted their present in the light of a grand tradition and who never fell prey to the up-to-date—that most obsolescent of all abstractions.”1

From the Shi‘i point of view, the authentic sayings of the Imams of Ahlul Bayt portray the true sunna of the Prophet and further clarify the meaning of the Qur’anic verses. The Prophet himself introduced the Ahlul Bayt as the twin of the Qur’an.2

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The following two sayings from the Imams of the Ahlul Bayt on the issue of hijab are presented here as an example.

Al-Fudayl bin Yasar asked Imam as-Sadiq (a.s.) about the forearms of a woman: whether they are included in the “beauty” as described by the Almighty when He says, “and they should not display their beauty except for their husbands...” The Imam replied, “Yes, and what is beneath the veil covering the head (khimar) is from the beauty [as mentioned in the verse], and also what is beneath the wristbands.”3 As one can clearly see in this authentic hadith, the Imam has exempted the face and the hands, but everything else has been counted as “the beauty that should not be displayed except for their husbands...”

Abu Nasr al-Bazinli quotes Imam ‘Ali as-Rida (a.s.) as follows: “A woman does not have to cover her head in the presence of a boy who has not yet reached the age of puberty.”4 The implication of this statement is obvious that once a boy who is not related to a woman reaches the age of puberty, she has to cover her head in his presence.

Even the founders of the Sunni schools of law are unanimous in this view. According to the Maliki, the Hanafi, the Shafi‘i, and the Hanbali views, the entire body of a woman is ‘awrah and therefore it should be covered with the exception of the face and the hands.5

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The two verses discussed above put together clearly show that hijab, as a decent code of dress for Muslim women, is part of the Qur’anic teachings. This is also confirmed by how the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) understood and implemented these verses among the Muslim women. This is further confirmed by how the Imams of the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.), and the Muslim scholars of the early generations of Islam understood the Qur’an.6

It is an understanding that has been continuously affirmed by Muslims for the last fourteen centuries. And, strangely, now we hear some so-called experts of Islam telling us that hijab has nothing to do with Islam, it is just a cultural issue and a matter of personal choice!

  • 1. Sachiko Murata & William C. Chittick, The Vision of Islam (St. Paul, MN: Paragon House, 1995) p. xi.
  • 2. For more information on the sunna and also the connection between the Qur’an and the Ahlul Bayt, see my Introduction to Islamic Laws.
  • 3. Al-Kulayni, al-Furu‘ mina ’l-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 64.
  • 4. As-Saduq, Man la Yahduruhu ’l-Faqih, vol. 2, p. 140; Qurbu ’l-Asnad, p. 170. See Wasa’ilu ’sh-Shi‘ah, vol. 14 (Beirut: Dar at-Turath al-‘Arabi, n.d.) p. 169.
  • 5. ‘Abdu ’r-Rahman al-Juzari, al-Fiqh ‘ala ’l-Madhahibi ’l-Arba‘ah, vol. 5 (Beirut: Daru ’l-Fikr, 1969) p. 54-55.
  • 6. Besides the references quoted earlier, also see at-Tabrasi, Majma‘u ’l-Bayan, vol. 7-8, p. 138, 370; at-Tusi, at-Tibyan, vol. 8, p. 361; Fakhru ’d-Din ar-Razi, at-Tafsiru ’l-Kabir, vol. 23, p. 179-180.

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