How Should We Understand the Relation Between Umar and the Verse Regarding Hijab?

Answered by Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat

Question: Assalamu alaykum

I have encountered several narrations of Umar, May Allah be pleased with him, coming across one of the wives of the prophet relieving herself in the night and the verse of hijab being revealed soon after. This is a point of pain for me, because my Iman became weak and I became very confused. I’m fighting very hard to keep doubts at bay right now. It was mentioned that Umar, May Allah be pleased with him, wanted a verse regarding hijab revealed and it only came into being when he saw Sawda that night. Is this hadith narrated by Aisha sahih? What does it mean if it is?

Answer: As-salamu ʿalaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuh

Thank you for your question. I’ll try to clarify the matter for you.

The verse of the veil

The verse in question, 33:53, was revealed in Dhul-Qaʿda in the fifth year after the hijra the morning after the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless I’m and grant him peace) married Zaynab b. Jahsh. The verse addressed some points of decorum regarding the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) which the believers were obliged to respect. Not doing so caused offence to him, so Allah clarified the matter for the believers.

There are a number of narrations which identify the cause of the verse being revealed, such as those which mention the guests who overstayed their welcome in the house of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) after his walima (wedding feast). However, there three are particular narrations which address that command of the veil ‘And if you ask [the wives of the Prophet] for something then do so from behind a curtain.’

The need for a veil

ʿUmar was the father of Hafsa, one of the wives of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace), and was always greatly concerned about him. Dignity and honour were very important to all Arabs, and a man’s female relatives were strongly attached to that honour. Although this is something present in many cultures throughout the world, it was was deeply embedded within the Arabian society.

Islam supported this notion, and the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) described Allah, as well as himself as having the quality of Ghayra (Bukhari, Muslim). This word refers to a sense of duty to protect that which is one’s right. It is a natural quality in men and women. An example of this is the feeling a man would feel if someone approached his wife and tried to make advances towards her. The husbands anger at this point is a natural response, and something expected in many cultures due to one’s dignity being affected by it.

ʿUmar was also a man of deep spiritual insight, and on a number of occasions he had a particular view which was subsequently confirmed by Allah through the revelation of a particular verse. This incident is also one of them.

ʿUmar felt uncomfortable with the fact that anyone who visited the houses Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) would also see his wives; and because the role, rank and social standing of the Messenger of Allah was so high, ʿUmar wanted a measure in place which would prevent unrelated men having contact with the wives of the Prophet. He said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, the righteous and the sinful enter your house, so why don’t you tell the Mothers of the Believers to [remain behind] a veil?’ (Bukhari).

This was a perfectly normal suggestion according to Arabian culture, and expressive of his concern. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) did not do so immediately as it was his practice, and reflective of his relationship with Allah, to wait until revelation came.

Other narrations

Imam al-Nasaʾi narrated from ʿAʾisha that she was once eating with the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) in the company of some of the companions. They were all eating out of one large dish, and her hand accidentally came into contact with the hand of one of the guests – which displeased the Messenger of Allah; after this the verse was revealed.

There is a final sound narration mentioned by Imam Ibn Jarir al-Tabari which states that the wives of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) would go out at night to relieve themselves, and just before the verse was revealed ʿUmar had mentioned to the Messenger of Allah that he should tell them to veil themselves, but the Messenger of Allah did not do so, probably due to his desire to wait for revelation. One night Sawda went out and ʿUmar recognised her due to her being quite tall, so he called out ‘We’ve recognised you, Sawda!’

The verse was revealed after these events, and in all likeliness, it was a combination of these three factors which was a the cause of the veil being legislated for the Prophet’s wives (Allah bless him and grant him peace). It seems that ʿUmar called out to Sawda to elicit a response, but this was not to embarrass her; rather, he wanted the veil to be legislated for the benefit of the Mothers of the Believers, and for the honour of the Messenger of Allah, seeing as the Devil has a way of getting people to assume the worst of those who are far beyond suspicion.

This concern of ʿUmar’s was proven valid when ʿAʾisha was wrongfully slandered a few months after the revelation of this verse. Upon returning from a military expedition she had accidentally been left in the desert when she wandered off to look for a necklace she had dropped. When she returned everyone had gone, so she waited for someone to come back for her.

Safwan b. al-Muʿattil was trailing behind the army to pick up any dropped items when he saw her. Without a word he got her to mount his camel and took her back to Medina. Rumours about them spread through the city despite their innocence, which caused a great deal of distress to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace), and to ʿAʾisha.

Therefore, ʿUmar’s actions were clearly out of concern for the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and not improper conduct. I hope this clarifies the matter for you.

May Allah grant us the best conduct in all situations.

[Shaykh] Abdul-Rahim Reasat

Shaykh Abdul-Rahim Reasat began his studies in Arabic Grammar and Morphology in 2005. After graduating with a degree in English and History he moved to Damascus in 2007 to study and sit at the feet of some of the most erudite scholars of our time.

Over the following eighteen months he studied a traditional curriculum, studying with scholars such as Shaykh Adnan Darwish, Shaykh Abdurrahman Arjan, Shaykh Hussain Darwish and Shaykh Muhammad Darwish.

In late 2008 he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continued his studies for the next six years, in Fiqh, Usul al-Fiqh, Theology, Hadith Methodology and Commentary, Shama’il, and Logic with teachers such as Dr Ashraf Muneeb, Dr Salah Abu’l-Hajj, Dr Hamza al-Bakri, Shaykh Ahmad Hasanat, Dr Mansur Abu Zina amongst others. He was also given two licences of mastery in the science of Qur’anic recital by Shakh Samir Jabr and Shaykh Yahya Qandil.

His true passion, however, arose in the presence of Shaykh Ali Hani, considered by many to be one of the foremost tafsir scholars of our time who provided him with the keys to the vast knowledge of the Quran. With Shaykh Ali, he was able to study an extensive curriculum of Qur’anic Sciences, Tafsir, Arabic Grammar, and Rhetoric.

When he finally left Jordan for the UK in 2014, Shaykh Ali gave him his distinct blessing and still recommends students in the UK to seek out Shaykh Abdul-Rahim for Quranic studies. Since his return he has trained as a therapist and has helped a number of people overcome emotional and psychosomatic issues. He is a keen promoter of emotional and mental health.