The Qur'an lays down the code of conduct
for women in the following words
And play your role
by being in your houses and do not keep exhibiting your beauty and
decorations like what used to happen in the Jahiliyyah period (before
Abu Bakr al-Jassas
says in explaining this verse,
"This verse points out
the fact that women are ordered to play their role in the house and are
forbidden from loitering outside of their houses."
It was revealed when
the Muslim ummah was being formed in Madina as an example for the coming
generations of Muslims. It sought to put an end to the Jahiliyyah
practices of the pagan Arabs. The khalif 'Umar remarked:
Allah, we did not give any position to women in the Jahiliyyah period
until such time that Allah sent His command in respect of them and
apportioned for them the role that was to be theirs." (Muslim)
apportionment women were given the role of making their own homes the
centers of their attention rather than going about exhibiting their
physical charms and worldly possessions. The Prophet (peace be upon him)
said that the following type of women constitute one of the categories of
the dwellers of Hell:
women who seem naked even when dressed and those who walk flirtingly and
those who plait their heads like the humps of camels, thus inviting
people's attention, will not enter Paradise nor will they smell its
fragrance even though its fragrance can be smelt from a very long
Islam, however, does
not prohibit beautification (zinat) on the part of women as long as it is
not done in a way that injuriously interferes with the limbs or the body.
In ancient times there were many kinds of defacement practiced on the
bodies of men and animals, partly on account of superstition or pagan
custom and partly on account of the craze for fashion and display.
Examples of this were tattooing, sharpening or spacing the teeth, shaving
or plucking the hair, wearing hair pieces, etc. Many of these practices
still survive and are, in fact, getting more and more refined.
Since all these
practices change or seriously interfere with the natural creation of
Allah, the Prophet (peace be upon him) cursed those who indulged in them
for the purpose of mere beautification. One report says,
Messenger of Allah cursed women who tattooed, and those who got themselves
tattooed, those who engaged in sharpening the teeth (as a mark of beauty)
and those who had their teeth sharpened." (Bukhari and Muslim)
The Messenger of Allah
cursed women who had spaces made between their teeth in order to increase
their beauty, thus changing the creation of Allah. A third report says,
Messenger of Allah cursed the women who plucked hair and those who were
employed to pluck the eyebrows." (Abu Dawud)
This method of
beautification would include the modern practice of shaving the eyebrows
and then painting on new ones, or shaving certain hair and leaving the
eyebrows to look like two inverted crescents.
However, if a woman
has some obtrusive hairs on her face which are a problem and embarrassment
for her, she may remove them. When 'A'ishah was approached by the young
wife of Abu Is'haq who wished to remove her facial hairs in order to look
beautiful for her husband, she advised her to do so. (Reported by
atTabarani) On this basis some Hanafi jurists are of the opinion that
there is no harm in removing the hairs from a woman's face and applying
cosmetics if it is done with the permission of the husband, in order to
please him and with a good intention. But Imam alNawawi opposes even
removing the hairs on a woman's face because he considers the practice
similar to plucking hair.
A fourth report says:
reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) cursed women who
wore hair pieces and the women who aided in this practice." (Bukhari)
This method of
beautification would include the modern practice of wearing wigs. It
consists of using a plait of one woman's hair or artificial hair and
joining it to another woman's hair with the object of making the woman's
hair appear very long and beautiful. Mu'awiyah, while holding a plait of
such hair in his hands during his address to the Muslims, castigated the 'ulama:
are your learned men gone? (meaning why did they not stop women from using
such hair) I heard the Messenger of Allah stop them from using this." He
also said, "Undoubtedly the Israelites destroyed themselves when their
women adopted such things." (Bukhari)
The Shari'ah also
requires women to abstain from displaying their "decorations" except to a
restricted circle of people. The Qur'an says:
And say to the
believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty;
and that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what
(must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over
their bosoms and not display their beauty save to their husbands, or their
fathers, or their husbands' fathers, or their sons, or their husbands'
sons, or their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons,
or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male
servants free of physical desire, or small children who have no sense of
sex; and that they should not stamp their feet in order to draw attention
to their hidden ornaments. And O believers! Turn all together towards Allah, that you may attain
Thus, the following
people fall in the exceptional category to whom decorations can be
displayed by a woman:
Her father, including
maternal and paternal grandfathers.
Her husband's father.
He is also like her own father.
Her son, including
grandsons from her son's side or her daughter's side.
Her husband's son by
another woman, provided that he is staying with her, and she is looking
after him as her son.
Her brother, whether
full, consanguine, or uterine (that is to say, real or step).
Her brother's son.
Her sister's son.
Muslim women and
other women of good character.
Her female slaves or
servants. However, some 'ulama even include male slaves or servants in
the excepted category.
Children who have not
yet developed sexual feelings.
Her uncle, whether
paternal or maternal.
It is noteworthy that
the above verse of the Noble Qur'an does not mention uncle, but uncle is
included in the exceptional category on the basis of a tradition of the
Prophet (peace be upon him). The Prophet said,
"The uncle (maternal or paternal) is of the same degree as one's father."
Let us here give a
little more consideration to the women to whom another woman is permitted
to display her finery. These are the women with whom she has blood or
family relations. It should be borne in mind that the foregoing Qur'anic
verse implies only women of good character. Other women who may not be
well known to her or who are notorious for their evil ways or who may be
of doubtful character are excluded from this permission, because contact
with them might easily lead to disastrous results. That is why the khalif
'Umar wrote to Abu 'Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah, the Governor of Syria, to
prohibit the Muslim women from going to the baths with the women of the
Ahl al-Kitab (the People of the Book). (At-Tabari, Ibn Jazir) According to
Ibn 'Abbas too:
Muslim woman is not allowed to display herself before the women of the
unbelievers and non-Muslim poll-tax payers (Ahl al- Dhimmah) any more than
she can display herself before other men." (At-Tabari).
between women on grounds of character and religion is intended to
safeguard Muslim women against the influence of women whose moral and
cultural background is either not known or is objectionable from the
Islamic point of view. However, the Shari'ah allows Muslim women to mix
freely with non- Muslim women who are of good character. It is important
to note that permission to display zinat does not include permission to
display those parts of the body which fall within the female satr. Thus
zinat covers decorations, ornaments, clothing, hair- dos, etc. that women
are by nature fond of showing in their houses. But tight jeans, short
blouses, sleeveless dresses are not counted as zinat for they also reveal
The Shari'ah further
requires a woman not to stamp on the ground while walking, lest her hidden
decorations should be revealed by their jingle, and thus attract the
attention of passers-by. Writing about these restrictions, Maulana Maududi
"It cannot, however,
be claimed that a display of fineries will turn every woman into a
prostitute, nor that every man who sees her will become an adulterer. But,
at the same time, nobody can deny that if women go about in full make-up
and mix freely with men, it is likely to result in countless open and
secret, moral and material disadvantages for society."
As against this view,
the Egyptian scholars, notably 'Abbas Mahmud al-'Aqqad, are of the view
that these restrictions were only imposed on the wives of the Prophet
(peace be upon him) and other Muslim women are not bound by them. 'Aqqad
says, "We should discuss this point in the light of the fact that the
command to stay at home was merely addressed to the wives of the Prophet
(peace be upon him) with particular reference to them without referring it
to Muslim women in general. It is for this reason that the verse begins
with the statement of Allah: O women of the
Prophet, you are not like other women. (33:32)
It is respectfully
submitted that this view of Al-'Aqqad needs reconsideration. There are a
number of verses in the Qur'an which, though apparently laying down "dos"
and "don'ts" for our Prophet and for the other Prophets (peace be upon all
of them) preceding him, contain clear messages for Muslims in general, nay
for all mankind. And Al-'Aqqad contradicts himself when he quotes the
following verse of the Holy Qur'an:
who believe! Do not enter the Prophet's house until leave is given you for
a meal, (and then) not (so early as) to wait for its preparation; but when
you are invited, enter; and when you have taken your meal, disperse,
without seeking familiar talk. Such (behaviour) annoys the Prophet. He is
ashamed to dismiss you, but Allah is not ashamed (to tell you) the truth.
And when you ask his womenfolk for anything you want, ask them from behind
a screen; that makes for greater purity for your hearts and for theirs.
Nor is it right for you that you should annoy Allah's Apostle, or that you
should marry his widows after him at any time. Truly such a thing is an
enormity in Allah's sight. (33:53)
This verse apparently
lays down a code of manners for the believers when entering the house of
the Prophet (peace be upon him) and taking food there. After quoting this
verse, Al-'Aqqad says:
this is part of the etiquette of visiting people with which all visitors
should be well disciplined.' In other words, he agrees that this ayat,
which is specific to the house of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and
taking food there, in reality contains rules applicable to all believers
who want to enter somebody else's house. If from this special case a rule
of general application can be deduced by Al- 'Aqqad, there seems no reason
why he should refuse to deduce a rule of general application for Muslim
women from the verse addressed to the wives of the Prophet.
Moreover, this view
seems to get support from a tradition of the Prophet in which he said:
"...a woman who freely mixes with other people
and shows off her decorations is without light and virtue " (At-Tirmidhi)
Hence we may conclude
that no Muslim woman should display her zinat (decoration) before others
intentionally, but she is not held responsible for something which cannot
be helped e.g. her stature, physical build, gait. etc. nor for uncovering
her hand or face when there is a genuine need to do so and without any
intention of attracting men. In such cases it is the responsibility of
Muslim men not to cast evil glances at women with the intention of drawing
pleasure from them. The Qur'an ordains:
to believing men to lower their eyes. (24:30)
"Invite all to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and
And consult with them in ways that
are best and most gracious."
(Al Qur'an, 16:125)