"O believers! Let those your right hands own and those of you who have not reached puberty ask permission (before they come to your presence) at three times: before the ritual prayer of dawn and when you put off your outer garments at noon; and after the late night prayer; three times of undressing for you. Outside these times it is not wrong for you or for them to move about attending to each other; thus does God make clear the Signs for you, for God is All-knowing, All-wise.
"But when your children reach puberty let them (also) ask for permission as do those senior to them (in age). Thus does God make clear His signs for you for God is All-knowing, All-wise.” (24:59).
“Such women as are past childbearing age and have no hope of marriage, there is no blame on them if they put aside their (outer)garments, provided they make not a wanton display of their beauty; but it is best for them to be modest and God is All-hearing, All-knowing.” (24:60).
These three verses mention two or three exceptions. One of the exceptions is in the first verse which we had previously related, "If you enter houses, say, 'Peace'." No one has the right to enter the house of another without first announcing one's entrance and receiving permission; even a child has no right to enter the house of his mother or sister without permission. It is only the husband who does not need to announce his arrival. Home is a place which a woman considers to be her place of retreat and she is usually dressed in such a way that she does not want anyone but her husband to see her as such.
In the past, the doors of homes were kept open and they were not considered to be places of retreat. The places of retreat were particular only to the rooms. It can be said that the ruling which previously related to rooms now rules for a house. It is customary now to have the door or the home closed and a woman may even consider her courtyard to be part of her place of retreat unless others have a view into it.
We have previously mentioned this ruling. There is no exception to it, whether a son is going to his mother's house or a daughter is going to her father's house, they must receive permission to enter the part that is considered to be a retreat.
We had another issue in the next verse about people who are exceptions so that women do not need to cover before them. The amount of the modest dress that is required for people who are not mahram, "their fathers...or their women or what their right hands own or children...," and then we discussed whether it meant only male slaves or included female slaves as well.
We pointed out that the external form of the verse reveals those who are the exceptions. Traditions, in particular, Shi'ite traditions, have said that they are the male servants. But the other problem is that among the Islamic scholars, perhaps, there are very few people who have issued an edict saying that male slaves are mahram within the home. That is, the ruling is that it is not necessary for women to cover themselves before them because they are taken as mahram but the external meaning of the verse is clear and the traditions say the same.
In these verses there are other exceptions about what the right hand owns and children because we had the exception that in the place of retreat of women, everyone, except her husband, must seek permission to enter. Here two other groups are mentioned as exceptions to this rule other than at the special times mentioned in the Holy Qur’an; first is "what their right hands own" and second are "children before they reach puberty."
Now as to "what their right hands own," let no one think that because there are no longer any slaves, there is no need to discuss this. No. We do not want to mention a duty of a slave here, but Islamic precepts in regard to slaves should be understood and if a person wants to reason from the verse itself, he can expand this ruling to include other than slaves.
As we pointed out, the verse said no one has the right to enter the home of another without first announcing it except those who are your slaves and children who have not yet reached puberty. These people are exceptions to seeking permission to enter a woman's retreat unless it occurs at the three special times mentioned.
The three times mentioned are times when a woman is most often not wearing her normal clothes. One of the three times is before the dawn prayer when she has first woken up and has not yet fully dressed. They have no right to enter without announcing their entrance. Another time is the middle of the day when it is very hot, when you come home and take off your clothes. They must seek permission to enter. The third is at night after the night prayer which is the time for going to sleep.
To sum up, at times other than when a woman normally takes off her clothes, and is a time of rest, they can enter without permission. Then the verse itself analyzes this. If you recall, two weeks ago, we mentioned these exceptions other than the husband; perhaps a father can also be included who is mahram, a woman's father-in-law and perhaps one's husband's son for which exceptions exist for covering various areas such as the face and hands. It is not the criterion that, at other times, are stimulating areas and a man whose eyes fall on the body of a woman or on her face presents a danger. But if we extend these criteria further, we will create difficulties. We have mentioned this.
Here, there is one sentence which shows why these are exceptions because it is their work to "move about attending to each other." A child who has not yet reached puberty, who is within the house, is continuously moving about. If the child has to continuously seek permission, it is very difficult. Thus, only at the special times should these exceptions seek permission.
And, now another issue. In the verse, "what their right hands own," are they female or male slaves? We said male slaves. In this area, again, the traditions have said this. In Al-Kafi it has been recorded from Imam Al-Sadiq, "What is meant is male slaves who do not have to seek permission except at the three times." Not female slaves because women are mahram to women. They asked, "Do women need to seek permission at these three times?" He said, "No. It is not necessary."
There is another tradition in which it is questionable if female slaves are meant but male slaves are clearly indicated.
It can be said that men are meant and not women in this verse because here the pronoun is exclusive to the masculine. They are the slaves of these women and we could say, perhaps, only women are meant but here the masculine plural appears. That is, those men who are your slaves do not need to get permission other than at those three times. Thus they are clearly; mahram and does this abrogate the other? No. Whatever is said in the other verse that male slaves and children who have not reached puberty are mahram is the same here. These two, then, correspond and this also corresponds with what has appeared in the traditions, in particular, Shi'ite traditions. Of course, they do not con form with the religious edicts.
Let us move beyond this. Those who are "what their right hands own," must not seek permission and also sons who have not reached puberty except at three times. The masculine plural is referred to and not women. Their work is to move about attending to each other; thus does God make clear the signs for you..."
"When your children reach puberty," they must always seek permission to enter. "Thus does God make clear His signs for you." The two exceptions which we had, one was in relation to male slaves and the other in relation to children who have not attained puberty. The third exception is "such women as are past child-bearing age."
In the previous section, it was said that women had to cover themselves and not reveal their adornment except that which is outward and what is meant is the face and hands. In the next sentence, they are told to cover their necks with their scarf except women who are past child-bearing age.
If we compare this verse to the previous one, it is clear that women have two layers of clothes, the outer and the inner. In the former verse, "When you take off your outer garments," is again referred to here. Thus a woman can take off her outer garment. Beyond this? No. They can take off their outer clothes but they must not draw attention to themselves.
Even though all of these exceptions exist, it is better if a woman does not show herself to a man. It is better if a man does not look at a woman. These exceptions are because of needs that may arise. Islam is not a religion which wants to cause fault or blame to its followers. When there is no necessity or need or difficulty, it is better to observe the modest dress.
As I mentioned before, perhaps there is a class that men and women want to attend. Both will benefit from it but they do not need to be in the same room. It is better if they are in separate rooms. Here, at the same time that women have reached a certain age is an exception, it it still better if they do not, for instance, take off their outer garment and they remain like other Muslim women. God is All-knowing.
We have two more verses in Surah Ahzab which we will refer to and then we will end our discussion on the modest dress.
One verse relates to the particularities of the wives of the Holy Prophet. Before Islam, in the houses of the people, according to the custom, there was no modest dress. There was complete intermixing of men and women. The people were, then, not accustomed to announcing their entrance. They would enter the home of the Holy Prophet unannounced and go through all of the rooms and if they were invited to dinner, it would be hours before they left.
They would stretch out their legs and begin to hold long discussions. This bothered the Holy Prophet and he was embarrassed to ask them to leave. Then verse 33:53 was revealed:
"And when you ask (his wives) for something you want, ask them from behind a curtain (hijab). That makes for greater purity for your hearts and theirs." (33:53)
Whenever the ulama referred to the verse on the modest dress they meant this verse. This is what the word hijab means. The word hijab here has nothing to do with the word hijab which we refer to when we say women should cover such and such parts of their body. Thus this has nothing to do with our discussion and refers to people who should not enter the house of the Holy Prophet without announcing their entrance and if they want something, they should take it from behind a curtain.
But there is another verse in this Surah which relates to our discussion.
"O Prophet! Say to your wives and daughters and the believing women that they draw their outer garments (jilbab) close to them; so it is more proper that they may be known and not hurt. God is All forgiving, All-compassionate.” (33:59).
“Now, if the hypocrites do not give over and those in whose hearts there is a sickness and they make commotion in the city, We shall assuredly set you against them and then they will be your neighbors there only for a little while." (33:60).
All of the commentators agree that there were certain events occurring to which this verse is related to in Madinah. There was a group of hypocrites and corrupt people who bothered people and, in particular, slave women. Then when they were asked why they were doing this, they said, "We thought they were slave women."
Slave women are among the exceptions. They do not need to cover themselves from non-mahram men and if they had outer garments, they did not wear it in a way to cover their hair. Very often Muslim women would walk down the street at night and this group of hypocrites would bother them. When they were caught, they would always use the excuse that they thought the women were slave women.
The verse was revealed for them to cover themselves and in this way be recognized so the hypocrites would not bother them or, at least, they would no longer have that excuse.
Some have commented on this verse in a different way. They say that it means that the women be recognized that they are not this way (to be bought and sold) because they say if a woman maintains her honor and respect and has a serious attitude about herself, even hypocrites will show her respect. If they know that she is not among the other women and if she conducts herself with dignity, they will not bother her.
Thus this verse refers to particular events which had occurred (and they are told to make their clothes a sign so that they be recognized apart from slave women). Then the verse threatens those who bother others, that if they do not desist, "We will set you against them."
Now let us see what limits were set so that they are recognized as being separate from the slave women. The verse says, "Draw your outer garments close to them." How close? They said they must cover their heads and some even said their chins so that this be their sign of difference with slave women.
It is not very clear exactly what the jilbab looked like. In the Munjid it says it is a loose flowing dress. If it were a dress, this verse would not then be telling them to cover their hair. Raghib Isfahani in the Mufridat, which is a very reliable book on the definition of words, having defined the words of the Holy Qur’an very well, says that it means both dress and scarf.
There is a tradition from Imam Ridha’, about women who are beyond a certain age, from which it becomes clear that it was something which covered the head. He said they may put aside the jilbab; there is no problem if one looks at the hair of an old woman. Here it is not clear if the jilbab covered the hair and the head.
In another tradition it would appear that the jilbab differed from the khamur but the difference is not clear. Perhaps it was larger. Imam Al-Sadiq was asked what these women can take off and he said their jilbab and khamur, i.e., their outer garment and scarf.
There are two points which can be made use of in this verse. The first is that this verse adds nothing more to the verse from Surah Nur. Why? Because the verse refers to particular events which were occurring at that time, not a total ruling for all times and secondly, the verse just says to draw the jilbab closer to themselves.