What Is the Shafi’i Position on Women Covering Their Faces?

Answered by Shaykh Irshaad Sedick based on Mufti Taha Karaan’s Fatwa


What is the position of the Shafi‘i School about Tabarruj (women uncovering their faces in public)?


In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate. May Allah guide us to that which pleases Him, forgive us for our shortcomings, and alleviate our difficulties, Amin.

There are differing views on this matter, and scholars have reconciled these views in various ways. According to the fatwa of the late Shafi‘i Mufti, M. Taha Karaan, covering the face and hands is not compulsory, but Sunna, though this requires some elaboration.

Translation of the Fatwa on a Woman Covering Her Face and Hands by the late Shafi‘i Mufti, Mawlana Taha Karaan (Allah have mercy on him)

Students of the late Mufti, Mawlana Taha Karaan (Allah have mercy on him) at the Dar Al-Ulum Al-Arabiyyah Al-Islamiyyah (DUAI) have translated his fatwa on the issue from Arabic to English. Following is the English translation and then the Arabic original.

Preliminary Remarks

I [M.T. Karaan] was asked regarding a woman covering her face and hands in the Shafi‘i School; and, thus, responded that it is not obligatory [wajib] for her. Moreover, Ibn Hajar maintained this in the Tuhfa, differing from both Ramli and Khatib. Ibn Hajar’s position is preferred [rajih], considering both the Madhhab as well as the evidence [dalil]. Subsequently, I decided to elaborate on the issue, thereby providing additional detail.

Perhaps, confusion may arise when evaluating this issue along with the issue of looking at a strange woman’s face. Therefore, the ruling of looking shall be clarified before the issue of covering the face.

Looking at a Strange Woman’s Face and Hands

Looking at a strange woman’s face can be one of three scenarios:

  1. Done with desire. This is unrestrictedly unlawful.
  2. Done while fearing fitna (probable temptation). This is also agreed-upon, unlawful.
  3. Regarding the third scenario, it is when there is no desire, and fitna is not feared. In the School, this is a point of differing opinions.

The difference of opinion found in the third scenario is as follows:

  1. The majority of the scholars of the School (Ashab), especially the early ones, opined that it is not unlawful. However, Sh. Abu Hamid and others added that it is disliked.
  2. Abu Said al-Istakhri and Abu Ali Al-Tabari opined that it is unlawful. Abu Muhammad Al-Juwayni and Imam Al-Haramayn preferred this view. Abu Ishaq Al-Shirazi and Ruyani affirmed it authoritatively. Both Imam Rafi‘i and Imam Nawawi authenticated it. Consequently, it is the [relied upon view in the] School.

Differentiating Between the Two Issues

In reviewing the matters of covering the face and looking at the face, one may understand that looking at the face and hands is impermissible; and, thus, obligatory for a woman to cover those parts.

On the contrary, the issue of covering or exposing is an entirely separate topic within the Shafi‘i School. There is no need to infer the School’s stance by relying on the issue of looking. Indeed, the issue of covering the face is based on what is related from authorities and not based on mere inference.

The Difference of Opinion between Ibn Hajar, Ramli, and Khatib

If we look at what is related about the issue, we find that the Minhaj’s commentators (Ibn Hajar, Ramli, and Khatib) differ. There are two views:

  1. Ibn Hajar considers it not a fundamental obligation yet enforceable concerning the public’s common interest.
  2. Ramli and Khatib consider covering the face a fundamental obligation.

Each has a basis for his view, as follows:

Ibn Hajar’s View

After relating from Imam Al-Haramayn that there is agreement [ittifaq] on preventing women from going out with their faces uncovered, Ibn Hajar stated, “What Imam Al-Haramayn transmitted does not negate Qadi Iyad’s citation of an agreement [ijma], that it is not binding on a woman to cover her face in the street. Rather, it is sunna, and men must lower their gazes; the Quranic verse supports this. Women are not bound to uncover when the leader orders it due to it being disliked [makruh]. – And the leader may stop what is disliked when it is for the public benefit. – The obligation of covering the face is upon them [women] without forbiddance, even though it is not nakedness [awra]. Oversight of the public’s interest is specific to the leader or his deputies.” [Ibn Hajar, Tuhfat Al-Muhtaj 7/193]

Two points should be noted from the quotation:

  1. The face and hands are not part of a woman’s awra. Therefore, the default ruling is that they do not need to be covered.
  2. The agreement related by Imam Al-Haramayn is for a leader binding the state’s citizens on account of public interest, not because a Sacred Law principle makes it obligatory. This does not contradict the consensus [ijma‘] that Qadi Iyad transmitted, which Imam Nawawi acknowledged.

Ramli and Khatib’s View

Khatib and Ramli considered the matter as follows:

Ramli stated, “What Imam Al-Haramayn transmitted regarding preventing women – meaning the government’s preventing them – contradicts what Qadi Iyad relates: that it is not obligatory for a woman to cover her face in the street, rather sunna; and it is incumbent upon men to lower their gazes. In Sharh Sahih Muslim, Imam Nawawi acknowledged it [iqrar, إقرار]. The claim of some [like Ibn Hajar] is that there is no contradiction; them (women) being prevented is not on account of covering being fundamentally obligatory. Rather, because it is in the public’s interest and in leaving it is a breach of magnanimity [muru’a]. [The claim] is rejected. It is evident [zahir] from Imam Nawawi’s and Imam Rafi‘i’s words that covering is fundamentally obligatory. The reconciliation is not accepted, and Qadi Iyad’s statement is weak.” [Ramli, Nihayat Al-Muhtaj 6/188]

And Khatib mentioned, “It is evident [zahir] that they both [Rafi‘i and Nawawi] consider covering the face obligatory for a woman. This is the apparent analysis of Shaykhayn’s [the two Shaykh’s] words. However, trying to make this understood from their words [istizhar] is weakened as Imam Nawawi acknowledged [iqrar] Qadi Iyad’s claim of ijma. Istizhar is only considered in the absence of what is expressed [tasrih]. Acknowledgement [iqrar] is equivalent to expression [tasrih]. It is not necessary, in fact, invalid, to make istizhar from Imam Nawawi’s words that conflict with his expressed statement [tasrih]. It is not acceptable to ascribe a view to one who has remained silent. This is one of Imam Shafi‘i’s renowned principles. How is it possible to ascribe an opinion to one who has expressed something to the contrary?” [Shirbini, Mughni Al-Muhtaj 4/209]

Rashidi’s Objection

Rashidi objected to Ramli. He considered that the refutation that Ramli – and likewise Khatib – directed towards Ibn Hajar was out of context. He mentioned in his marginalia on Nihaya,

“What that someone [like Ibn Hajar] claimed is not understood. The bottom line of his claim is that what Imam Al-Haramayn related does not necessitate covering the face being obligatory in the street.  In fact, it is permissible that it be for the public interest, as he mentioned. This is inevitable. His refutation is unsound; what is evident [zahir] from their words is what he mentioned. The contradiction is not between permissibility which Qadi Iyad mentioned and unlawfulness; it is between it and the agreement on preventing them, like what preceded.” [Rashidi, Hashiyat Nihayat Al-Muhtaj 6/188]

Mufti M.T. Karaan’s Commentary

What is clear to me, and Allah knows best, is that the basis of Ramli and Khatib’s refutation is sound from their point of view. It is based on there not being any need for reconciliation, as reconciliation is only done between two solid pieces of evidence. And neither of them considers Qadi Iyad’s claim as solid evidence. With that, the School, according to them, is based on making istizhar of shaykhayn’s [Rafi‘i and Nawawi] words. Hence, the obligation to cover would be fundamental. Therefore, one who considers that according to the School, the fundamental obligation is to cover, then the claim of [Qadi Iyad’s] ijma would be unsound; thus, there is no need for reconciliation.

Regarding one who takes the School from Imam Nawawi’s acknowledgment [iqrar] of Qadi Iyad’s claim of ijma, it is established that the School does not consider covering [the face and hands] a fundamental obligation. Moreover, when it is not considered fundamentally obligatory, it harmonizes the agreement that Imam Al-Haramayn related with what Imam Nawawi acknowledged from Qadi Iyad. This is Ibn Hajar’s view; he reconciled the two. With that, the prevention that Imam Al-Haramayn related is not an obligating Sacred Law ruling. In effect, it is an issue of public interest, and the state’s leader [or his representatives] holds the authority to obligate the people to do it.

To conclude, my preferring [tarjih] Ibn Hajar’s opinion over that of Ramli and Khatib is considering iqrar equivalent to tasrih and preferred over istizhar.

With prayers and salutations on the Prophet Muhammad and praises to Allah in the beginning and end.

[Mufti] M.T.Karaan
as transmitted by [Shaykh] Irshaad Sedick
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Irshaad Sedick was raised in South Africa in a traditional Muslim family. He graduated from Dar al-Ulum al-Arabiyyah al-Islamiyyah in Strand, Western Cape, under the guidance of the late world-renowned scholar, Shaykh Taha Karaan. 

Shaykh Irshaad received Ijaza from many luminaries of the Islamic world, including Shaykh Taha Karaan, Mawlana Yusuf Karaan, and Mawlana Abdul Hafeez Makki, among others.

He is the author of the text “The Musnad of Ahmad ibn Hanbal: A Hujjah or not?” He has served as the Director of the Discover Islam Centre and Al Jeem Foundation. For the last five years till present, he has served as the Khatib of Masjid Ar-Rashideen, Mowbray, Cape Town.

Shaykh Irshaad has thirteen years of teaching experience at some of the leading Islamic institutes in Cape Town). He is currently building an Islamic online learning and media platform called ‘Isnad Academy’ and pursuing his Master’s degree in the study of Islam at the University of Johannesburg. He has a keen interest in healthy living and fitness.

Arabic Reference:

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

سئلت عن حكم ستر المرأة وجهها ويديها في المذهب، فأجبت بأن ذلك ليس واجبا عليها، وهو الذي جرى عليه ابن حجر في التحفة، خلافا للرملي والخطيب، والذي جرى عليه ابن حجر هو الراجح مذهبا ودليلا.

ثم رأيت أن أفصل الكلام في المسألة بعض التفصيل، فكتبت ما يلي:

لا يبعد أن يقع اشتباه بين هذه المسألة ومسألة النظر إلى وجه الأجنبية ويديها، لذا رأيت أن أبين حكم النظر قبل الخوض في حكم الستر.

للنظر إلى وجه الأجنبية ويديها ثلاثة أحوال:

أحدها: حيث يكون بالشهوة، فالنظر حرام قطعا.

والثاني: حيث تخشى الفتنة، فالنظر حرام بلا خلاف أيضا.

أما الحال الثالث: وهو ما إذا لم تكن شهوة ولا تخشى فتنة، فهذا موضع اختلاف في المذهب:

فذهب أكثر الأصحاب لا سيما المتقدمون إلى عدم التحريم، لكن زاد الشيخ أبو حامد وغيره إثبات الكراهة.

وذهب أبو سعيد الإصطخري وأبو علي الطبري إلى التحريم في هذه الحالة أيضا، واختاره الشيخ أبو محمد وابنه الإمام، وبه قطع الشيرازي والروياني، وإياه صحح الرافعي والنووي، فهو المذهب.

هذا، والنظر في مسألة النظر قد يؤدي بالناظر إلى الظن بأنه لما لم يجز النظر إلى وجهها ويديها كان عليها أن تستر هذه الأعضاء وجوبا، إلا أن لمسألة الستر والكشف تفصيلا مستقلا في المذهب لا نحتاج معه إلى استنتاج موقف المذهب من خلال مسألة النظر، فالمقام مقام نقل لا محل استنتاج.

فإذا توجهنا إلى النقل في المسألة وجدنا شراح المنهاج الشهاب ابن حجر والشمس الرملي والخطيب الشربيني اختلفوا فيها على رأيين:

• فابن حجر يرى عدم وجوب الستر لذاته، بل للمصلحة العامة؛

• والخطيب والرملي يريان وجوب الستر لذاته.

ولكل من الرأيين أساس يعتمد عليه صاحبه، وإليك بيانه:

قال ابن حجر في التحفة (7/193) بعد النقل عن إمام الحرمين اتفاق المسلمين على منع النساء أن يخرجن سافرات الوجوه، قال: ولا ينافي ما حكاه الإمام من الاتفاق نقلَ المصنف عن عياض الإجماع على أنه لا يلزمها في طريقها ستر وجهها، وإنما هو سنة، وعلى الرجال غض البصر عنهن للآية، لأنه لا يلزم من منع الإمام لهن من الكشف لكونه مكروها – وللإمام المنعُ من المكروه لما فيه من المصلحة العامة – وجوبُ الستر عليهن بدون منع، مع كونه غير عورة، ورعاية المصالح العامة مختصة بالإمام ونُوَّابه.اهـ

يستفاد من كلامه هذا -رحمه الله-:

– أن الوجه والكفين ليس من العورة، فالأصل فيها عدم وجوب الستر.

– ثم الاتفاق الذي حكاه إمام الحرمين إنما هو شيئ يلزم الإمام الناس به للمصلحة لا لموجب شرعي أصيل، فلا ينافي الإجماع على أصل الجواز الذي نقله القاضي عياض وأقره عليه النووي.

ورد الخطيب والرملي هذا الجمع بما يلي:

قال الرملي في النهاية (6/188): وما نقله الإمام من الاتفاق على منع النساء – أي منع الولاة لهن – معارض لما حكاه القاضي عياض عن العلماء أنه لا يجب على المرأة ستر وجهها في طريقها، وإنما ذلك سنة، وعلى الرجال غض البصر عنهن للآية، وحكاه المصنف [النووي] عنه في شرح مسلم وأقره عليه، ودعوى بعضهم عدم التعارض في ذلك إذ منعهن ليس لكون الستر واجبا عليهن في ذاته بل لأن فيه مصلحة عامة وفي تركه إخلال بالمروءة – مردودة، إذ ظاهر كلامهما [أي النووي والرافعي] أن الستر واجب لذاته، فلا يتأتى هذا الجمع، وكلام القاضي ضعيف.اهـ

ومثله كلام الخطيب في المغني (4/209).

يظهر منه أن تمسكهما في إيجاب الستر عليها هو ظاهر صنيع الشيخين لا غير، لكن هذا الاستظهار يضعف إلى جانب إقرار النووي للقاضي عياض في دعوى الإجماع، فالاستظهار شيئ لا يصار إليه إلا عند فقد التصريح، والإقرار في قوة التصريح، فلا ينبغي بل لا يصح أن يستظهر من صنيع النووي شيئ يخالف تصريحه، وإذا لم يصح أن ينسب لساكت قول – وهي قاعدة مشهورة لإمامنا الشافعي – فأنى يصح أن ينسب إلى مصرِّح قول يخالف تصريحه؟

وللرشيدي اعتراض على الرملي، فإنه يرى أن الرد الذي وجهه الرملي – وكذا الخطيب – إلى ابن حجر ليس في محله، قال في حاشيته على النهاية: هذا لا يلاقي ما ادعاه هذا البعض، لأن حاصل دعواه أن ما حكاه الإمام من الاتفاق على منع النساء لا يلزم منه أن ذلك لوجوب سترها وجهها في طريقها، وإن فهمه منه الإمام حتى وجهه به، بل يجوز أن يكون للمصلحة التي ذكرها، وهذا لا محيد عنه، ولا يصح رده بأن ظاهر كلامهما ما ذكر لأن المعارضة التي دفعها ليست بين الجواز التي ذكره القاضي عياض والحرمة، وإنما هو بينه وبين الاتفاق على منع النساء كما سبق.اهـ

قلت: الذي ظهر لي – والله أعلم – أن منشأ الرد الرملي والخطيب سليم من وجهة نظرهما، ذلك بأن ردهما يقوم على عدم الحاجة إلى هذا الجمع، لأن الجمع لا يكون إلا بين مسلَّمين، ووهما لا يسلمان دعوى عياض، مع أن المذهب عندهما – بناء على استظهارهما موقف الشيخين – وجوب الستر لذاته، فمن تقرر عنده أن المذهب وجوب الستر لذاته، وأن دعوى الإجماع غير صحيحة، لا يحتاج إلى الجمع.

أما من يستوحي المذهب من إقرار النووي لعياض ثبت عنده أن المذهب ليس وجوب الستر لذاته، فإذا لم يجب لذاته فلا بد من توجيه الاتفاق الذي حكاه الإمام كي يتلاقى مع ما أقر النووي عياضا عليه، وهذا الذي حدا بابن حجر إلى الجمع بينهما بأن المنع الذي حكاه الإمام ليس حكما شرعيا أصيلا، وإنما هو من باب المصلحة العامة التي للسلطان الحق في إلزام الناس به.

وأخيرا، فإن ترجيحي لرأي ابن حجر على رأي الرملي والخطيب مبني على ترجيح الإقرار الذي هو في قوة التصريح على الاستظهار الذي لا يصار إليه إلا عند إعواز التصريح.

وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد وآله وصحبه وسلم، والحمد لله في البدء والختام.

محمد طه بن يوسف كران

I pray this is of benefit.

Irshaad Sedick