How Does the Qur’an Tell Women To Cover and What Does Jilbab Mean?

Answered by Ustadha Shazia Ahmad


Please don’t send me an old answer but reply personally to this if possible. Would you please explain to me how the evidence points to the obligation of covering, especially in Surah Al Ahzab verse 59? What does jilbab mean? How do we know it means just to cover up and not something like abaya? What is the difference between older women and younger women hijab? Is jilbab just a commandment to cover up only?


Assalamu alaykum,

Thank you for your question. If I send you an older answer, you should read it and take the knowledge from it. I don’t link answers that are unrelated to your question.

The obligation of hijab

In Surah Ahzab, verse 59, Allah Most High says, “O Prophet! Ask your wives, daughters, and believing women to draw their cloaks over their bodies. In this way, it is more likely that they will be recognized ˹as virtuous˺ and not be harassed. And Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful. “[Qur’an, 33:59]

The explanation of this verse in Tafseer al-Jalalayn, translated by Feras Hamza, is the following, “O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks closely over themselves jalābīb is the plural of jilbāb, which is a wrap that covers a woman totally — in other words, let them pull part of it also over their faces leaving one eye visible when they need to leave the house for something. That makes it likelier that they will be known to be free women and not be molested by being approached. In contrast, slavegirls did not use to cover their faces, and so the disbelievers used to pester them. And God is Forgiving of any occasion in the past when they may have neglected to cover themselves Merciful to them in His veiling them. ”

Modesty inward and out

The meaning of jilbab is a loose outer garment that one wears over one’s clothing, but loose, modest clothing itself also suffices, as does an abaya. Jilbab helps one achieve outward modesty, but being modest in one’s behavior and in one’s heart is just as important the clothing. So, although this verse commands women to cover outwardly, many Prophetic hadith indicate that inward modesty is also necessary. The Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) himself was more shy than a veiled virgin girl. [from a hadith related by Bukhari] See more information here:

Older women and younger women

Customarily, there is a difference between the hijab of older women and younger women. There is a verse in the Qur’an which explains that older women may don her clothing with less strictness, though she must still cover her hair. See that explanation here:

Take it easy

Don’t fall into the trap of picking apart words and trying make them fit into specific meanings. Anything specific in the Qur’an has a mercy and wisdom behind it, as do words that are a bit more vague. The overall meaning is understood, and it will stand as Allah’s command for all ages until Judgment day; however, they are applied according to different times and places. Focus on your intention and fear Allah as much as you can. May Allah give you the best of this world and the next.

[Ustadha] Shazia Ahmad

Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadha Shazia Ahmad lived in Damascus, Syria, for two years, where she studied aqidah, fiqh, tajweed, tafseer, and Arabic. She then attended the University of Texas at Austin, where she completed her Masters in Arabic. Afterward, she moved to Amman, Jordan, where she studied fiqh, Arabic, and other sciences. She recently moved back to Mississauga, Canada, where she lives with her family.