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Women’s Attire in Private and Around Unmarriageable Relatives

Answered by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question: How should women dress while in private and around unmarriageable relatives (mahrams). Is it permissible for her to wear half sleeves and uncover her hair, while wearing the traditional Pakistani shalwar kameez?

Answer: In the name of Allah, Most Merciful.

Walaikum assalam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh,

There is a difference between what legal limits entail and what dignity and propriety entail.
In terms of legal limits, the ‘nakedness’ (awra) of a woman in front of her immediate kin (her father, grandfathers, brothers, children, and first uncles) is: navel to knee plus the waist area.

As for propriety and dignity, our scholars tell us that young women should dress in a modest manner, preferring loose unrevealing clothing even at home.

This is akin to men: would it be proper for men to walk around at home with only a long towel covering them from navel to knee? No, it would be undignified and unbecoming.

Wearing a head covering (hijab) when alone, however, is neither obligatory nor a specific recommendation, except when one has reasons to fear unrelated men entering suddenly.

It is, nevertheless, from general proper etiquette (adab) to wear a head covering, when reasonably possible, as an expression of one’s modesty and dignity before Allah. In the same way, it is proper etiquette (adab) for men to have their head covered at home as well.

This is understood from the words of the beautiful beloved Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him, his family, companions, and followers), “Allah is more deserving of one’s sense of modesty than people are.” [Bukhari and others]

This modesty (haya) is an inward trait that each believer, male or female, should strive to cultivate. The proper manners of Islamic Law are means that Allah and His beloved Messenger Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) have shown us towards becoming realized in these inward perfections, that are themselves the means to the realization of our slavehood, love, and thankfulness to Allah.

Faraz Rabbani

Breastfeeding Leading to Mahram Relationship

Answered by Ustadh Abdullah Anik Misra

Question: I have read numerous views about the rule of breastfeeding which makes a person a mahram.

Some scholars believe that one suckling is enough to make a person mahram and others believe that the suckling or breastfeeding session should be five or more times within the first two years of a childs life to make him a mehram. I would like to know what is the most common understanding on this issue. How many times does one have to be breastfed to become a mahram?

Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate,

Wa alaikum as salam,

Thank you for your question. The mahram relationship, like the one between siblings or parent and child, is established in the Hanafi school after even a single instance of ingesting even a drop of the milk of a women, as long as the child ingesting it was less than 2.5 lunar years old at the time. [Mukhtasar al-Quduri]

According to the Kuwaiti Fiqh Encyclopedia, the position that one instance of feeding establishes the mahram relationship is the position of the majority of scholars, including many of the Sahaba, Tabi’een, the Hanafi and Maliki schools, as well as a narration from Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal. [al-Mawsu’a al-Fiqhiyya al-Kuwaitiyya]

Their proof for this is from the Qur’an itself, when Allah Ta’ala says, “And your mothers who breast-fed you…” [Quran 4:23]. This connects the event of breast –feeding to the establishment of the mahram relationship without any specification or qualification of the number of times it took place, thereby meaning that even one instance of suckling would fulfill the meaning and establish its ruling.

The opinion that there should be 5 feedings to establish the mahram relationship is the position of the Shafi’i and Hanbali schools. Their proof was the hadith of Aisha that you referred to, that originally the number of feedings was set at 10 in the Quran, then abrogated to 5 [am: then further abrogated from recitation, with the abrogation of its ruling being the point of difference here].

However, as Mufti Taqi Usmani explains in his commentary on this hadith, it is clear that after considering many other narrations of Sahaba and Tabi’een that mahram relations are established by “little or much” breast-milk, the ruling of 10, 5 or 3 feedings must have been abrogated in stages till only one feeding was required, but since this abrogation took place right before the passing of the Prophet [Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him], perhaps not every Companion was aware of the final ruling right away. Many of the jurists amongst the Companions, however, were. [Usmani, Takmila Fath al Mulhim Sharh Sahih al-Imam Muslim]

Wassalam,
Abdullah Anik Misra

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Is a Father Who Molests His Daughter Still Considered Her Mahram (Unmarriageable Kin)?

Answered by Ustadh Abdullah Anik Misra

Question: What punishment is given to a father who (sexually) molests his own daughter? Is he still considered her mahram?

Answer: In the Name of Allah, Most Merciful and Compassionate,

As salamu alaikum,

All praises are for Allah Most High, the Gently Kind and Loving. I’m very sorry to hear about this. Allah is on the side of the innocent child who has been violated through this abominable crime, and will call the perpetrator to full justice on the Day of Judgment. That will indeed be a day more horrifying for the oppressors than one can imagine. The Prophet (Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Beware of oppression, for indeed oppression will be waves of darkness on the Day of Judgment.” [Bukhari]

Someone who has been affected by this should not delay in seeking counseling, through professional channels, as well as a mature scholar in the community. They should make Allah their closest companion through constant supplication and remembrance. Whereas the prayers of so many people have a veil between them and Allah, for this person, Allah has removed all veils for them. The Prophet [Allah’s peace and blessings be upon him] said, “Fear the supplication of the oppressed person, for there is no veil between it and Allah.” [Bukhari]

Punishment for Crimes and the Recompense of those Afflicted

While descriptions of punishments for certain crimes were told to us, this was done to give mankind a glimpse at how terrible the torment of Hellfire is for the wrongdoers; surely there are punishments for other crimes that we do not know of, but that are beyond description and imagination.

In exchange, those who were wronged will be recompensed immensely for what they patiently had to live with in this life, according to the severity of what they went through. As Allah promised His beloved Prophet: “And the Hereafter will indeed be better for you than what came before.” [Quran 94:4]

Is the Father Still Considered a Mahram? What Are the Legal Implications?

As for whether the father is still considered a mahram (unmarriageable relative), he would technically still be a mahram to the daughter. However, it would be obligatory upon the daughter to avoid all situations of seclusion with the father, given his corruption and untrustworthiness.

This would be true of whether something actually occurred, or something like this is feared will happen. Thus, if he is her sole mahram, Hajj would not be obligatory for her, as the father would not be fit to travel alone with her as a guardian. This is what I have learned upon consulting Shaykh Ashraf Muneeb, one of the world’s foremost jurists specializing in family issues according to Islamic Sacred Law.

True Healing is Through the Remembrance of Allah

The final thing to remember is that true healing occurs only by completely giving one’s pain and grief up to Allah in devotion, and through that, realizing His never-ending warmth, love and mercy for you. He says, “Lo, by the remembrance of Allah do the hearts find rest.” [Quran 13:28]

We ask Allah Most High to make it easy for those who have suffered from this and to heal their hearts, and to eradicate this abominable crime from our communities.

Wassalam,

Shaykh Abdullah Anik Misra

Checked & Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Is My Maternal Uncle Considered by Mahram (Unmarrigeable Kin)?

Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas

Question: I was abandoned by my father at birth and I don’t know my paternal family. Moreover my maternal grandfather is dead and I don’t have a brother. I was raised by my mother but above all by my maternal uncle. He has been like my father.  I  searched for my father and I found him, but he left again soon after I found him.  Is my uncle considered as my mahram? What about my father who didn’t raise me?

Answer: assalamu `alaykum

May Allah grant you ease and facilitation.

A mahram is an individual to whom marriage is permanently imperrmissible and invalid. This permanent impermission and invalidity is established by (a) kinship, (b) foster relations, or (c) marriage relations. [Ibn `Abidin, Hashiya]

Your maternal uncle is considered your mahram on account of kinship. Similarly, your father will also still be considered your mahram, as well as many other members of your family such as your grandparents, brothers, nephews, maternal uncles, and paternal uncles.

Apart from the ruling of it being impermissible to marry one’s mahram, there are also other important rules that need to be taken into account. The rules of hijab do not apply between an individual and their mahram, though modesty needs to be emphasized at all times. Similarly, rulings related to interaction between an individual and their mahram are more lax than between an individual and a non-mahram, as long as their is no fear of inappropriate actions and the like.

Wassalam
Salman

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

Are First Cousins Considered Like Brother and Sister for the Purposes of Marriage?

Answered by Sidi Tabraze Azam

Question: One of my relative is about to marry his father’s own brother’s daughter.  Isn’t he a mahram to her? Aren’t they like brother and sister. Is it allowed in Islam?

Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

I pray that you are well, insha’Allah.

It is permitted to marry one’s cousin. This is clear. [Mawsili, al-Mukhtar li’l Fatwa; Maydani, al-Lubab fi Sharh al-Kitab]

The scenario you mention seems to indicate that he is marrying his cousin. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Examples from the Sunna

Examples from the sunna include that of the Prophet’s (Allah bless him and give him peace) marriage to Zaynab bint Jahsh (Allah be pleased with her), his cousin; and that of Sayyiduna Hanzala (Allah be pleased with him) who married his cousin Jamila bint Ibn Ubayy.

The Conclusion

The upshot is that they are not considered like brother and sister. Far from it, rather, they are considered to be two unrelated people. He is not of the unmarriageable kin (mahram) for her; hence they would observe proper etiquette accordingly.

Related Answers:

[1] Are First Cousin Marriages Permissible in Islam?

[2] The Ruling of First Cousin Marriages: A Balanced Perspective

And Allah knows best.

Wassalaam,

Tabraze Azam

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

A Reader On Gender Interaction

gender-interaction

General Guidance

Guidelines for Interacting With the Opposite Sex

A Detailed Exposition of the Fiqh of Covering One’s Nakedness (awra)

Hadith About Seclusion (khalwa) and Unmarriageable Kin (mahram)

Breaking Family Relations Due To Adulterous Acts

Limits of Relationship between Males and Females

How Do We Bring About An Islamic Environment To Our MSA?

Lower Your Gaze – Shaykh AbdulKarim Yahya

Guidance for Men (Relevant for women also)

I Like a Girl: Controlling One’s Interactions & Feelings

Approaching a Potential Spouse

Guidance for Women
(Relevant for men also)

How Should I Interact With Non-Mahram (Marriageable) Males?

What do I do if I Develop Strong Feelings For a Brother I am Friends With?

Women, Unlawful Gazes, and Leaving the House

Women & the Workplace: Is it Impermissible for Me to Work Even If I Observe Proper Limits?

Love for a Non-Muslim Man & Inviting Him to Islam

Guidelines for Interacting With the Opposite Sex

Answered by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari

Question: Being put in situations with women leaves me confused with no idea about how to interact with them.  I know the issues of khalwa and modesty are important, but I don’t really understand what they practically mean or how to put everything together.  Could  you provide some detailed guidelines on how brothers should interact with sisters in a way that is completely in line with the shariah?

Answer: In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.

Praise be to Allah. May His peace and blessings shower upon our beloved Messenger. May Allah reward you for seeking knowledge of His deen.

In Islam, interactions between the sexes are permitted within certain limits specified by the Quran and the Sunna. To some, these limits might appear to be very strict. However, there is a divine wisdom underpinning the limits set down by the Shariah. In adhering to the boundaries set by the Sharia, we can uphold the Quranic command to the believing men and women to be awliya of one another, or protecting friends, while at the same time maintaining the modesty and purity of heart that come from obeying Allah and His Messenger in this regard.

In brief, when interacting with a woman who is not a member of your unmarriageable kin or your wife, you must avoid khalwa, or seclusion; guard your gaze; and obviously, avoid any physical contact.

In more detail:

Khalwa

Khalwa takes place when one man or more than one man are alone with one woman in a place where no one can see them or enter. If there are two women and a man, for example, this is not khalwa. However, when there is only one woman, this situation is considered as seclusion, and becomes unlawful. Obviously, this is for the protection of the woman and the man (or men) so that a situation will not arise where the male becomes tempted and the woman possibly harmed.

If you are in a situation where you are in a room with two or more women, this is not khalwa and there is no need for you to be uncomfortable.

Guard Your Gaze

Guarding your gaze is a good practice that fosters modest interaction between the sexes. The Quran commands both believing men and women to guard their gaze. Unfortunately, many Muslims have lost this practice. What guarding the gaze means is that you should refrain from staring at a woman’s face (if she’s not a member of your unmarriageable kin or your wife). It does not mean keeping one’s eyes glued to the ground. In Western societies, guarding one’s gaze can sometimes be interpreted as a lack of assertiveness or respect for the other person.

However, with Muslims, guarding one’s gaze indicates respect for the other person’s space and modesty of intention. Our scholars have said that looking at a woman’s face is permitted in certain occasions. For example, if you are seeking a woman in marriage, it is permitted to look at her face. If you work in any type of job that requires you to look at people and interact with them, looking is permitted as long as you don’t look with desire. If you are a teacher, looking at your female students is permitted as long as you don’t look more than necessary or with desire. In short, be modest and respectful.

If You Can’t Look, You Can’t Touch

According to the Shariah, where looking is not permitted, then touching is also unlawful. This can be a sensitive topic for Muslims living in the West where handshaking is commonplace and is considered a polite thing to do. Shaking the hand of someone from the opposite sex is unlawful.

According to our scholars, the Prophet, peace be upon him, never shook the hand of a woman who was not a member of his unmarriageable kin or his wife. So you should do your utmost to avoid shaking hands. But try to do it in a way that does not offend the other person. For many non-Muslims, if you simply explain to them that your religion (or culture) does not permit shaking hands and that you mean no offense, then usually people are okay with that.

Covering the Awrah (Nakedness)

Covering the awrah or one’s nakedness. Another requirement of interaction between the sexes is that everyone should observe Islamic modesty or covering the awrah. For men, this means covering what’s between the navel and the knee. For women, this means covering the whole body except the face and hands. Obviously, this is possible in a Muslim gathering. But there are very few places in this world where you will encounter women who are always covered. Obviously, if you live and work in the West, everyday you will see women who are not properly covered. What you need to do here is to simply be modest, behave respectfully, and avoid looking at women without need.

Conclusion

In conclusion, when you find yourself in a situation with women, Muslim or otherwise, simply be modest and respectful. There is no problem with talking to a member of the opposite sex or working with that person when there is a need. As long as we adhere to these boundaries, inshallah everything should be fine.

There is no need to be uncomfortable when there are women around. I have seen some Muslim brothers who when they sight a woman or hear her voice, immediately start scowling or act very tense. This is unnecessary. I have also seen Muslim brothers who feel very comfortable chatting with non-Muslim women, but as soon as a Muslim woman comes around, they ignore her and won’t even give salaams. This too is unnecessary and looks very strange to the non-Muslim observers.

What’s important to remember here is the example of our Prophet, peace be upon him. He was modest, respectful, and kind to everyone. He also interacted with women when there was a need to do so. He is the best example for us.

I hope this is helpful to you.

And Allah alone gives success. And Allah knows best.

(Umm Salah) Zaynab Ansari

How Should I Interact With Non-Mahram (Marriageable) Males?

Answered by Ustadha Zaynab Ansari

Question: I would like to know how in this day and age, a woman can observe modest behavior and be seen as a normal person. I don’t like sitting with and talking to na-mahram men.  Because I don’t smile at men and talk to them openly I am often told that I lack social skills or that I am austere. Lately, I have been questioning my own acts. Perhaps they are right. I think because I don’t talk to men that often I don’t even know how to interact with them. My awkward behavior makes them feel awkward. How can a single muslimah living in this western society maintain the balance of making people around her feel comfortable as well as maintain the rules of purdah? (Clear cut rules of conduct would help as I often like to think of things in black and white; for example, I can do this but I can’t do that, that sort of thing.)

Answer: In the Name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful

Dear Sister,

Assalamu alaikum,

Thank you for your question.

I pray this message finds you well.

The first thing I can tell you is that these rules of behavior are not as black and white as you may think. What is considered polite or friendly in one society may be out of line in another.

Just be yourself. Stop feeling uptight or nervous around non-mahram men. If you live in the West, chances are you will have to interact with non-mahram men quite frequently, particularly if you go to school or have a job.

Simply observe your hijab, be pleasant, and don’t engage in aimless conversation. Any Muslims you deal with (whether family or not) should be able to respect this.

But bear in mind that observing Islamic etiquette is not an excuse for rudeness. So give salaams, ask people how they and the family are doing, and keep on going.

I pray this helps.

Related Answers:

Guidelines for Interacting With the Opposite Sex

Women & the Workplace: Is it Impermissible for Me to Work Even If I Observe Proper Limits?

Limits of Relationship between Males and Females

Who is Mahram

Hadith About Seclusion (khalwa) and Unmarriageable Kin (mahram)

A Detailed Exposition of the Fiqh of Covering One’s Nakedness (awra)

Regards,

Zaynab Ansari

A Detailed Exposition of the Fiqh of Covering One’s Nakedness (awra)

Answered by Mufti Muhammad ibn Adam

Question: Can you please explain in detail the awra of a woman in different situation, in front of men, women, unmarriagable kin and so forth?

Answer: The covering of one’s nakedness (awra) is of utmost importance for a male and female in Islam, thus the Qur’an and Sunnah have laid great emphasis with regards to this. We also see the various books of Islamic Jurisprudence (fiqh) discussing the issues relating to the Awra of both the male and female in great detail. In this brief article, I will attempt to shed some light and look comprehensively as to what is a woman’s Awra.

Awra is an Arabic term the plural of which is Awrat. Linguistically, it means a hidden and secret place, and a person’s Awra is that which must be kept hidden. It also refers to everything that causes shame when exposed, thus, the Awra of an individual is the area of the body which (normally) causes embarrassment if exposed. (Ibn Manzur, Lisan al-Arab, 9/370).

In the terminology of Islamic Jurisprudence, Awra refers to the area or part of the body that must be covered with appropriate clothing. In the English language, it is normally translated as ‘nakedness’ or ‘area of the body that must be concealed’. Many people (normally form the Indo/pak) refer to it as ‘Satar’. For the purpose of simplicity, I will use the term ‘Awra’ in this article, Insha Allah.

The Awra of a woman

A woman’s Awra can be initially divided into two categories:

1) Inside prayer

2) Outside prayer

The latter is then divided into further sub-categories:

a) In seclusion

b) In front of the husband

c) In front of Muslim women

d) In front of Mahram males (unmarriageable kin)

e) In front of non-Mahram males

f) In front of non-Muslim women

g) In front of non-Muslim Mahram males

1) Awra inside prayer (Salat)

A woman’s Awra whilst performing Salat consists of the whole body except the face, hands and feet. Allah Most High says: “O children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel (zeenah) at every time and place of prayer.” (Surah al-A’raf, 31)

The majority of the Companions (Allah be pleased with them all), their followers (tabi’un), Jurists and exegetes of the Qur’an have deduced from this verse (along with the other evidences) the obligation of covering one’s Awra in prayer. (See: Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi, Ahkam al-Qur’an, 4/205, Ma’arif al-Qur’an (English), 3/565)

Sayyida Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) narrates that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Allah does not accept the prayer of a woman who experiences menstruation (i.e. who has reached puberty, m) except with a head cover (khimar).” (Sunan Abu Dawud, no. 641, Sunan Tirmidhi, Sunan Ibn Majah and others)

The great Hanafi jurist, Imam al-Haskafi (Allah have mercy on him) states in his renowned Durr al-Mukhtar:

“The Awra for a free woman (i.e. not a slave, m) is her full body including her descending hair according to the correct opinion, except for the face, hands……and feet”. (See Radd al-Muhtar, 1/405).

Therefore, a woman must cover herself properly when performing Salat. Everything besides the face, hands and feet must be covered. The face must be covered properly so that no hair is exposed. Also, care should be taken that no part from above the wrists and ankles is exposed.

It must be remembered that the Awra whilst performing Salat must be covered regardless of another person being present or otherwise, and regardless of whether one is performing Salat in dark or light. (Maraqi al-Falah, 210)

The feet, according to the more correct opinion, is not regarded as part of Awra. However, due to the difference of opinion with regards to it, it would be more precautious and advisable to cover them, as it will be explained in detail later.

With regards to the area below the chin, it should be remembered that the limit of the face in length starts from the point where the hairline usually begins to the bottom of the chin, and in breadth the portion between the two earlobes. (Maraqi al-Falah, P. 58)

Keeping this in mind, it becomes clear that the area below the chin is not included in the face, thus it would fall within the legal definition of Awra, and one should try to cover it. However, because of the difficulty in covering it, if a little part of it became exposed, there should not be a problem.

Finally, (in this section), the Awra must be concealed from before entering into Salat and must remain concealed until the end. If quarter of a part/organ that requires concealment is exposed before initiating Salat, then Salat will not be valid from the outset. If however, quarter of the organ which is included in the Awra becomes exposed during Salat, then, if this remains to the duration of reciting Subhan Allah thrice, Salat will become invalid, otherwise, it will be valid. (See: Maraqi al-Falah, P. 242)

Note) One should consult a scholar with regards to how the parts of the body are categorized and divided, for at times, one may regard a organ of the body to be one part, whereas, legally, it may be considered to be two parts.

2) Awra outside prayer

a) Awra in privacy and seclusion

It is necessary (wajib) (and recommended according to another opinion) in the Hanafi school, to cover one’s minimum nakedness (between the navel and knee for both men and women) even when alone. The exception to this is when there is a need, such as taking a shower, relieving oneself, or changing one’s clothes. Even in such situations, it is recommended to minimize the exposure.

The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Modesty is part of faith (iman).” (Sahih al-Bukhari & Sahih Muslim)

Ya’la ibn Umayya reports that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him & give him peace) said: “Verily Allah is modest and discreet and He likes modesty and discretion. When one of you takes a bath, one should cover one’s self.” (Sunan Abu Dawud, Sunan Nasa’I & Musnad Ahmad). This is a command of recommendation when alone.

Imam al-Haskafi (Allah have mercy on him) said in his Durr al-Mukhtar:

“(And to cover one’s Awra), this is a general obligation, even when alone, according to the correct opinion, unless it is for a valid reason.”

Allama Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) writes whilst commentating on the above in his Radd al-Muhtar:

“(al-Haskafi’s statement “Even when alone”) That is: Outside of prayer, it is obligatory to cover one’s Awra in front of others by scholarly consensus, and even when alone according to the correct opinion…..

Now, the apparent meaning of covering one’s Awra when alone outside of prayer (in this context) is that only which is between the navel and knees, such that even women do not have to cover other than that (when alone) even if it is of their Awra in front of others….

(al-Haskafi’s statement “According to the correct opinion) For Allah Most High, even though He sees the covered just as He sees the naked, sees the one with their nakedness uncovered leaving proper manners and sees the covered exhibiting proper manners. These proper manners (here) are obligatory whenever there is ability to exercise them.

(al-Haskafi’s statement “Unless it is for a valid reason”) Such as, using the toilet or cleaning one self (istinja)”. (See: Radd al-Muhtar, 1/405, matlab fi satr al-awra).

Therefore, (according to the more correct opinion), a woman must cover even in privacy between her navel and (including) knees except when there is a need, such as relieving herself, showering, changing her cloths, etc…

b) Awra in front of the husband

In principle, it is permissible for the spouses to look at any part of each others body. As such, there is no Awra in front of the spouse (for this will be exempted from the ruling of concealing in privacy due to need).

Scholars mention however, that although it is permissible for the spouses to look at any part of the partner’s body, it is disliked that they become completely naked during cohabitation. A cover or sheet over the naked bodies would be sufficient.

Sayyida Aisha (Allah be pleased with her) said: “I never saw the Messenger of Allah’s (Allah bless him & give him peace) private parts”. (Sunan Ibn Majah, Hadith no. 662)

c) Awra in front of Muslim women

The Awra of a woman in front of fellow Muslim women is the same to that which is a man’s Awra in front of other men, i.e. from the navel up to and including the knees.

It is stated in al-Hidaya:

“A woman may see of another (Muslim, m) woman that which is permitted for a man to see of another man, due to them being from the same sex, and the non-existence of desire (shahwa) between them normally…..Similarly, due to the need and requirement of them exposing amongst themselves”. (See: al-Marghinani, al-Hidaya, 4/461).

Therefore, a woman must cover from the navel up to and including her knees in front of other Muslim women.

d) Awra in front of (Muslim) Mahrams (unmarriageable kin)

The Awra of a woman in front of her Mahram men (those with whom marriage is permanently unlawful), such as the father, brother, son, paternal uncle (father’s brother), maternal uncle (mother’s brother), father in-law, grandson, husband’s son (from another marriage), son in-law, etc consists of the area between the navel and knees, and also the stomach and back.

Thus, it will be permissible for a woman to expose the following parts of her body in front of Mahram males: head, hair, face, neck, chest, shoulders, hands, forearms, and legs from below the knees. It will not be permissible to expose the stomach, back or any area which is between the navel and knees. (See: al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 5/328 & al-Hidaya, 4/461).

This ruling is based on the verse of the Qur’an in Surah al- Nur:

“They (believing women) must not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husband’s sons, their brothers, their brother’s sons, their sister’s sons or their women…” (24-31).

It will also be permissible for a Mahram to touch those parts that are permissible to expose in front of them, provided there is no fear of temptation or desire.

Imam al-Quduri (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“There is nothing wrong in touching those parts that are permissible to see” (Mukhtasar al-Quduri).

However, it should be remembered that if there is a fear of temptation (fitna), then it will be impermissible to expose these parts even in front of Mahrams, neither will it be permissible to see or touch those areas of a Mahrams body. (See: al-Lubab fi Sharh al-Kitab, 3/218).

e) Awra in front of non-Mahram males

The Awra in front of non-Mahram males (those with whom marriage is unlawful), which includes cousin brother, brother in-law, paternal uncle (one’s father’s sister’s husband), maternal uncle (one’s mother’s sister’s husband), husband’s uncle, husband’s nephew, etc) consists of the whole body except the face, hands and feet. It is similar to that which is considered Awra in prayer (salat).

Imam al-Marghinani (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“It is impermissible for a man to look at the whole body of a non-Mahram woman (due to it being part of Awra, m) except for her face and hands, for Allah Most High says: “Women must not display their beauty and ornaments except what appear thereof” (al-Nur, 31). Sayyiduna Ali and Sayyiduna Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with them) interpreted this verse with the face and hands… This is textual evidence on the impermissibility of looking at her feet (for it is awra, m), but Imam Abu Hanifa (Allah have mercy on him) said that it is permitted to look at her feet due to need”. (al-Hidaya, 4/458).

Imam al-Tumurtashi (Allah have mercy on him) states in Tanwir al-Absar:

“A woman’s Awra consists of her whole body except her face, hands and feet. However, she will be prevented from exposing her face in amongst men due to the fear of temptation (fitna)”.

Therefore, a woman’s Awra in front of non-Mahram men is her whole body except her face, hands and feet.

It must be remarked here that there is a difference between Awra and Niqab or Hijab. Due to the failure of distinguishing between the two, many people become victims of misinterpreting Islamic law in one way or another.

The face according to the scholars is not part of the Awra, yet, as we have seen in the text of Imam al-Tumurtashi, it will be necessary to cover it due to the fear of temptation and incitement. Ibn Abidin states: “(A young woman will be prevented from exposing her face), not because it is part of Awra, rather (for the fear of temptation)”. (Radd al-Muhtar, 1/406)

Thus, our discussion is solely regarding Awra, and not Hijab or Niqab. As far as the decisive ruling with regards to the covering of the face or otherwise is concerned, we leave that for another time.

It is also worth mentioning here that although the Fatwa position in the Hanafi Madhab is that the feet are not included within the Awra, but there is another strong opinion (within the madhhab and according to other Madhabs, such as the Shafi’is), that they are part of Awra, and must be covered. As such, legally, one will not be sinful for exposing them, but it would be advisable as a precautionary measure to cover them.

Moreover, (according to the Fatwa opinion), it is only allowed to uncover the feet up to the ankles. Anything above the ankles is from the Awra without a doubt. Many women wear veils, Burqas and Jilbabs that normally cover the ankles, but reveal the leg area above this while walking (especially in the wind, sitting and coming out of a car, etc), thus they commit the sin of exposing What is considered Awra according to all.

Therefore, we need to emphasise the importance of covering the feet. Covering the feet is just as important as covering the face if not more, for the face is not considered part of Awra, whilst, there is a strong opinion in the Hanafi Madhhab (and the Fatwa opinion in the other madhhabs) that the feet are.

Those who strongly call for and emphasise the necessity of covering the face (not that I object to them) must also realise that the feet are just of the same importance. At times, all the emphasis is laid upon the face, whilst the woman is seen to expose the area above the ankle while walking and there is no realisation that a sin is being committed.

f) Awra in front of non-Muslim women

The Awra of a woman in front of non-Muslim women is, strictly speaking, the same that is in front of non-Mahram men, i.e. the whole body besides the hands, face and the feet.

The verse of Surah al-Nur that we quoted earlier details the list of people besides whom a woman is not allowed to expose her beauty. Such people (as explained earlier) are known to be her Mahrams (unmarriageable kin). Also, in that verse, Allah Almighty states: “their women” (al-Nur, 31) indicating that a woman must only expose herself to her woman and not others.

The exegetes of the Qur’an differ with regards to the interpretation of this statement of Allah. Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“With regards to the statement of Allah “or their women”, there are two opinions. The first is that it refers to those women who are on the same religion (din) as them (i.e. Muslims, m). This is the opinion of the majority of the predecessors (salaf). Ibn Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) states: “It is impermissible for a believing/Muslim woman to uncover herself in front of non-Muslim women, and she is only allowed to expose that what is allowed in front of non-Mahram men… Sayyiduna Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him) wrote to Abu Ubaida ibn al-Jarrah (Allah be pleased with him) to stop non-Muslim women from entering bath areas (hammam) with Muslim women.

The second opinion is that, it refers to all the women (i.e. she may uncover in front of all the women, m). This is the adopted opinion, and the opinion of the predecessors is based on superiority (istihbab)”. (See: Tafsir al-Kabir, 8/365).

As we have seen, that Imam al-Razi (Allah have mercy on him) adopted the second view in that a woman may uncover in front of non-Muslim women to the extent of what she is allowed to uncover in front of Mahram men.

However, many scholars chose the first view, and it is the view that is adopted by the Hanafi School. Imam al-Haskafi (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“An unbelieving woman is similar to a non-Mahram man according to the correct opinion. Thus, she is not allowed to see the body of a Muslim woman”. (Radd al-Muhtar, 6/371)

Allama Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) explains:

“It is impermissible for a Muslim woman to uncover in front of a Jewish, Christian or a atheist woman except if she is her slave…It is also disliked that a corrupt woman (fasiqa) sees the body of a pious woman, for she may describe her to the men, thus she should avoid taking off her outer garment (jilbab) or scarf (khimar)”. (ibid).

It is evident from the text of Ibn Abidin that the main reason for the impermissibility of uncovering in front of a non-Muslim woman is that she may describe her to other men. If this is feared from a corrupt Muslim woman, then one should avoid uncovering in front of her also.

Therefore, the Awra of a woman in front of non-Muslim women is all her body except her face, hands and feet. Thus, a woman should cover in front of non-Muslim women whenever reasonably possible. However, scholars say that if this is difficult, then it will be permissible to expose some part of the body in front of them.

The ruling of covering in front of non-Muslim women is not as strict as the other situations, for, firstly, there is a difference of opinion between the scholars regarding it, and secondly, it may be at times very difficult to cover in front of women. The great exegete, Imam al-Alusi (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“This opinion (of not covering in front of non-Muslim women) is more appropriate these days, for it is almost impossible to cover in front of them”. (Ruh al-Ma’ani)

In conclusion, a woman should cover whenever reasonably possible in front of non-Muslim women, especially when there is fear that she may describe her to other men. Also nowadays, Fitnahs such as lesbianism have become so wide spread that it has become necessary for women to observe caution with non-Muslim women. However, if it is difficult to fully cover, then one may take the concession on not covering and minimising it to the minimum.

g) Awra in front of non-Muslim Mahrams

With regards to a woman’s Awra in front of her Mahrams who are non-Muslim, such as a non-Muslim father, brother, son, etc, I could not find an explicit ruling on the issue in the Hanafi School.

However, it seems that non-Muslim Mahrams are similar to other Mahrams in that a woman may expose herself besides from the navel to the knee and the stomach and back, provided there is no fear of temptation (fitna).

There are two reasons for this:

Firstly, the verse of the Qur’an and the statements of the jurists (fuqaha) are general when discussing Mahrams. They don’t distinguish between a non-Muslim and Muslim Mahram. The Qur’an permits a woman to expose herself (to a degree, as explained above) in front of her father, brother, son, etc without specifying that he be a Muslim.

Secondly, the Fuqaha explicitly mention that a Mahram with whom a woman may go on a journey of Hajj includes also a non-Muslim. Imam al-Haskafi (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“A woman may travel for Hajj with her husband or a Mahram, even though if he (Mahram) is a slave or a non-Muslim or (he is considered a Mahram, m) due to breastfeeding. He must have reached puberty and is sane, and a boy who is close to puberty is like the one who has reached puberty, except a fire worshipper and an immoral and corrupt person”.

Allama Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) explains:

“The reason why travelling with a Mahram who is a fire worshipper is impermissible, is that they (fire worshippers, m) consider marriage with a close relative to be permissible”. (Radd al-Muhtar, 2/464)

Imam al-Kasani (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“A Mahram is one with whom marriage is permanently unlawful… whether this Mahram is a free person or a slave, for slavery is not contrary to the close relationship (mahramiyya), and whether he is a Muslim, a non-Muslim or an atheist (mushrik), for a non-Muslim Mahram normally safeguards her, except that he is a fire worshipper, for he considers marriage with her to be permissible”. (Badai’i al-Sana’i, 2/124).

It is stated in Fath al-Qadir:

“It is permissible for her to travel with all types of Mahrams except a fire worshipper, for he believes marriage with her to be permissible”. (Ibn al-Humam, Fath al-Qadir, 2/422).

In the Shafi’i Madhhab, we have a clear text permitting the uncovering in front of a non-Muslim Mahram. Imam Ibn Hajar al-Haytami (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“It is not permissible to look at what lies between the navel and knee of one’s close relative (mahram); everything else is permissible, provided there is no desire (shahwah), and even if he is a non-Muslim, because the close relationship (mahramiyyah) makes marriage unlawful, so it is as if they were two males or two females”. (Tuhfat al-Muhtaj ala al-Minhaj)

Therefore, it would be permissible for a woman to uncover besides the area between the navel and knees, and the stomach and back in front of her non-Muslim Mahrams, provided two conditions are met:

1)That there be no desire (shahwah) or fear of temptation (fitna), especially when we live in a age where evils such as incest among the non-Muslims is becoming common,

2)That the non-Muslim close relative not be from among those who believe that it is permissible to marry close relatives,

Finally before parting, I would like to mention in relation to our discussion three points.

Firstly, it should be remembered that all the parts of the body that need to be covered (in the various situations discussed above) must be covered with clothing that is loose and opaque. The clothing must not be close-fitting whereby the figure of the body is visible or transparent by which the colour of the body is able to be seen. If this is not taken care of, then it will not be regarded to be sufficient covering of the Awra.

Imam al-Haskafi (Allah have mercy on him) states:

“Clothing that is considered to be sufficient covering is such that, it is not possible to see thorough them”.

Allama Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) explains:

“(It is not possible to see thorough them), meaning in a way that the colour of the skin can not be visible. This exempts thin and other see-through clothing… However, if the clothing is thick in a way that the colour of the skin is not visible, but it is tight to the body, then this should not prevent the validity of Salat… However, it is still impermissible to see that part of the body”. (See: Radd al-Muhtar ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar, 1/410)

This excerpt of Ibn Abidin explains that if the skin of the body becomes visible in prayer, Salat will become invalid. However, tight clothing would not prevent the validity of prayer, yet it is still necessary not to wear tight-fitting clothing.

Secondly, in all the foregoing occasions where it is permissible to uncover and expose the body, if there is a fear of desire (shahwa) on either side or there is fear of temptation (fitna), then it will be necessary to cover. A woman may make this decision herself in accordance with the surroundings she is in.

Thirdly, it will be permissible to uncover and expose parts of the Awra in cases of extreme need and necessity, such as medication. However, care should be taken that this is limited to only the part that needs treatment. If treatment is needed on the actual private parts, then it would be better to receive treatment from someone of the same sex. However, if this is not possible, then it would be allowed to receive treatment from a specialist of the opposite sex, with taking due care of the injunctions and guidance of Shariah.

Allama Ibn Abidin (may Allah have mercy on him) states:

“It is permissible for a male physician to view the affected area of a woman for the purpose of medication, provided it is minimised to only the area that actually needs treatment, for necessity is restricted to only the actual need. If the private parts need treatment, then a female should carry out the treatment, as seeing someone of the same sex is less of an evil.” (Radd al-Muhtar, 5/261)

The above was a comprehensive look at the Awra of a woman. The extent of the Awra differs from one occasion to another and from one person to another. The whole concept and idea behind this is that Islam desires its followers to live a life that is chaste and free from any type of corruption or immorality. This is a basis for every sound and pure society. May Allah guide us all to the straight path, and that we are able to act upon the injunctions of Shariah in a manner that is most pleasing to Allah Almighty.

And Allah Knows Best

Muhammad ibn Adam
Darul Iftaa
Leicester , UK

Uncovering In Front of Non-Muslim’s of Unmarriageable Kin (mahram)

Answered by Ustadh Faraz A. Khan

Question: 1. May a muslim woman uncover her hair in front of her non-muslim sister/mother/first degree female relative? If so can she uncover in front of her, as she would in front of a mahram muslim male? i.e. everything except what is between the navel and the knees (excluding back and sides). Is it relevant whether the non-muslim is a first-degree relative or second-degree relative? 2. May a muslim woman uncover her hair in front of her non-muslim brother/father/ father-in-law? 3. Does the issue/illah (as in the Maliki madhab) revolve around describing the woman to a non-mahram male?

Answer: Assalamu alaikum wa rahmatullah,

I pray this finds you in the best of health and faith.

1. The Hanafi opinion that a Muslim woman cannot uncover in front of non-Muslim women applies to non-relatives (ajnabiyyat). [Mawsu’a Fiqhiyya Kuwaitiyya]. Also, the definition of a mahram (male relative who a Muslim woman can never marry) includes non-Muslims [Kasani, Bada’i al-Sana’i].

Hence, a Muslim woman would be allowed to uncover in front of non-Muslim relatives, male or female, that which she can uncover in front of Muslim relatives, which legally speaking would be any part of her body except from the navel to the knees, and except her stomach and back. However propriety, dignity and modesty would entail that she wear loose clothes and not uncover much of her body. There is no difference of this ruling whether the person is a first-degree relative (parent, child, sibling) or second-degree relative (grandparent, grandchild, aunt, uncle).

An exception to this permissibility is if she feared that there would be some sort of temptation (fitna/shahwa) or that they might describe her physical features to non-relatives. [Nahlawi, Hadhr wal Ibaha]

2. The father-in-law, even if he is non-Muslim, is considered a woman’s mahram. [Kasani, Bada’i al-Sana’i] Therefore, the above ruling extends to the non-Muslim father-in-law yet with the same exception of fear of temptation or description. Caution and discretion should be exercised.

3. The legal reasoning for the prohibition of uncovering in front of non-Muslim women that are not relatives is fear of description, i.e., that they would describe her physical features to unrelated men. The same ruling can apply to uncovering in front of a corrupt Muslim woman (fajira) based on the same reasoning, that is, fear of description. [Nahlawi, Hadhr wal Ibaha]

And Allah alone gives success.

wassalam

Faraz A. Khan

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani