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What a Woman May Wear in Presence of Other Women

There is a difference of opinion among scholars concerning what a woman may show of her body in the presence of other women. Some scholars are of the opinion that she only needs to cover what is between her navel and her knees and they support their viewpoint with evidence. Others disagree, maintaining that a woman may only show what was customary for Muslim women at the time of the Companions to show when they were at home and engaged in household chores.

Whenever there is disagreement on a matter concerning Islamic Law, it is obligatory for us to refer it back to the Qur’ân and Sunnah. Allah says: “O you who believe, obey Allah and obey His Messenger and those in authority among you. If you disagree about anything, refer it back to Allah and His Messenger if you believe in Allah and the Last Day. This is best, and most suitable for a final determination.” [Sûrah al-Nisâ’: 59]

Therefore, we will be presenting the evidence for both opinions to determine which opinion is the strongest. We will start by presenting the evidence given to support the opinion of those who believe that a woman may show only what the women among our pious predecessors were accustomed to show.

Evidence of those who claim that a woman must cover what women customarily covered at the time the Qur’ân was revealed

1. Allah says: “Say to the believing women that they should lower their gazes and guard their chastity and not show of their beauty except what must appear thereof, and that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands’ fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers, their brothers’ sons, their sisters’ sons, their women, and those whom their right hands possess or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no shame of sex. Tell them that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O you who believe, turn to Allah in repentance that perhaps you might be successful. ” [Sûrah al-Nûr: 31]

They argue that this verse gives women a command to lower their gazes from what is not lawful to look at and to guard their chastity. It also prohibits women from displaying their charms, and even prohibits them from drawing attention to their hidden jewelry, except in front of their husbands and the others mentioned in the verse. This verse indicates that it is only allowed for women to show of their beauty and decorations that which was customary for women to display at the time the Qur’ân was revealed. Only the husband is allowed to see more, since there are other evidences indicating that he may see everything of his wife. This was the way many of the Companions and pious predecessors understood this verse

2. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “The woman must be covered. If she goes outside, Satan makes her noticeable.” [Authentically related in Sunan al-Tirmidhî (117), Sunan Ibn Khuzaymah (1685) and Ibn Hibbân (5598-5599)]

This hadîth makes it clear that the woman must be covered, meaning that nothing of her form may be revealed to anyone, except to those whom are specifically mentioned by textual evidence.

3. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Two groups of people from the denizens of Hell I have not seen. One comprises those who carry whips like the tales of cows with which they beat the people and women who are clothed yet undressed, enticing and enticed, their hair done up like the humps of camels.” [Sahîh Muslim] Women who are dressed yet undressed are those who wear tight and revealing clothing that show off the forms of their bodies. This hadîth shows that wearing such clothing is prohibited and makes no distinction between being at home with her family and being out in public.

4. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “A woman should not embrace another woman then go to her husband and describe that woman to him so that it is as if he could see her himself.” [Sahîh al-Bukhârî] Such behavior violates the very meaning of modest dress and is a revelation of what is customarily covered.

Evidence of those who claim that a woman needs to cover in front of other women to the same extent that a man must cover in front of other men

This is the opinion of the majority of scholars and jurists. Their evidence is as follows:

1. “What must be covered is what is above the knees and below the navel.” [Sunan al-Daraqutnî (879) and Sunan al-Bayhaqî (3237)] They argue that this hadîth makes it quite clear what must be covered in front of members of the same sex. It is worded generally; therefore it is applicable to both men and women.

2. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Teach your children how to pray. When they are ten years of age, discipline them about it and separate their sleeping quarters. If one of you marries off his slave girl to his male slave or servant, then he should refrain from looking at what must be covered on her, and that is the area between the navel and the knee.” Sunan al-Bayhaqî (3236)

3. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “You will open up the lands of the non-Arabs and you will find therein places called bath houses. Men should not enter these without wearing a waist cloth and women should not enter these unless they are ill or experiencing postnatal bleeding.” [Sunan Abî Dâwûd (4007) and Sunan Ibn Mâjah (3854)]

4. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “Be wary of bath houses.” His Companions asked: “O messenger of Allah ! Such places are good for treating the sick.” The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: “Those who enter such places should cover themselves.”

These two hadîth show that entering bath houses is permissible under the condition that the one who does so covers himself. These hadîth do not differentiate between men and women with respect to this obligation. Therefore, when women enter bath houses with other women, they only have to cover with a waistcloth what is between the navel and the knee.

5. Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said: “A man should not look at what must be concealed of another man nor a woman at what must be concealed of another woman.” [Sahîh Muslim] The argument here is that what is being said about women is the same as what is being said about men. We can therefore assume that what a woman must conceal in front of another woman is the same as what a man must cover in front of another man.

6. It is a matter of consensus that a woman may wash the body of a deceased woman in the same way that a man may wash the body of a deceased man. Since a man may see what is above the navel and below the knees of the body of the deceased, then it is likewise permitted to do the same when she is washing a woman’s body.

Discussion of the evidence

Those who argue that a woman may only show to other women what she should customarily wear inside her home do not accept the evidence of those who disagree, arguing that such evidence is of two kinds. The first is evidence that is clear-cut but unauthentic. The second is evidence that is authentic but not clear in indicating that women only have to cover between the navel and the knee.

The hadîth that reads “What must be covered is what is above the knees and below the navel.” [Sunan al-Daraqutnî (879) and Sunan al-Bayhaqî (3237)] is inauthentic. It contains two narrators who are unacceptable: Sa`îd b. Râshid and and `Ubbâd b. Kathîr.

The hadîth that reads “…If one of you marries off his slave girl to his male slave or servant, then he should refrain from looking at what must be covered on her, and that is the area between the navel and the knee.” is also inauthentic, since its chain of transmission contains the weak narrators al-Khalîl b. Murrah and Layth b. Abî Sulaym. Moreover, there are other narrations of this hadîth. In some of these narrations, the body that is being discussed is that of the master and not that of the slave girl, meaning that she may not look at his private area which is between the navel and the knee. This inconsistency in the hadîth makes it completely unsuitable as evidence.

Another argument against using this hadîth as evidence is that even if it were authentic and without any inconsistency, it would merely be showing what a married slave girl must cover in front of her master and not necessarily what a free woman must wear.

Regarding the hadîth about bathhouses that begins “You will open up the lands of the non-Arabs…”, it is inauthentic as well, since it contains in its chain of transmission the weak narrator al-Ifrîqî. Moreover, al-Ifrîqî relates this hadîth from `Abd al-Rahmân b. Râfi` who is unknown. Moreover, even if this hadîth were authentic, it does not touch upon the topic of how the women who enter the bathhouses must dress and only grants a concession to women who have a medical need to enter the bathhouses. Because of this, no general ruling about women’s dress can be derived from it.

The other hadîth about bathhouses can be found with a number of incomplete chains of transmission, without any mention the person who should have heard the hadîth from the Prophet (peace be upon him). The only narration that mentions a Companion is related by Ya`lâ b. `Ubayd from al-Thawrî, who mentions the Companion Ibn `Abbâs. It is well known that Ya`lâ b. `Ubayd, though generally a good narrator, is unreliable in his narrations from al-Thawrî. Since all the other and much stronger narrations ofthis hadîth do not mention Ibn `Abbâs, we can safely assume that Ya`lâ was mistaken.

As for the Prophet’s statement “A man should not look at what must be concealed of another man, nor a woman at what must be concealed of another woman”, it is undoubtedly authentic. However, it does not at all support their claim that what a woman must conceal in front of other women is exactly the same as what a man must conceal in front of other men. There is no reason for us to assume from this text that they are the same, nor can we reason that they are by way of analogy. Allah says elsewhere in the Qur’ân: “Men are not like women.”

The claim that since women can wash the bodies of other women, they can see as much of their bodies as men can see of the bodies of other men is a very weak argument. First of all, washing is supposed to be performed while the body is covered with a sheet. Secondly, even if their argument stood for washing a body, it would be understood as merely a concession to facilitate washing. It could not be applied to a living woman who has no reason to expose what is above her navel and below her knees.

Conclusion

The strongest of the two opinions ...


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