FATWA: On the hijab in our day and age and addressing past scholarly opinions on the hijab

Letter 1:


Thank you for responding to this email. 


I read the fatwa on the permissibility of not wearing the headscarf in the United States and found it compelling, logical, and easy to understand. I truly appreciate the detail given in the explanation for passing the fatwa. Most scholars usually pass a ruling, or give advice without giving detailed explanations as to why they have reached such conclusions. I have been wearing the headscarf for more than 10 years and I live in Canada and personally do not feel threatened and have never been harassed for my decision to wear the headscarf. However, I do question whether it is actually obligatory or not to wear a headscarf. For several years I did not question the reasons for wearing a headscarf (albeit, I did not have much knowledge surrounding the issue either) however after having children and deciding on a career that requires personal interaction with clients, I began to look into the matter as I began to feel burdened by it. Although the explanation for the fatwa was informative, I still have questions that need to be addressed by an expert in the subject matter such as yourself. I would like to take this moment to make it clear, that my intentions and desire is solely for the pleasure of God and to increase my knowledge on the matter in the hopes that I can be of benefit to others in the process.


My questions are as follows:


1. Traditional scholars have always stated that the legal ruling for the headscarf has never been debated historically (as far back as the time of the companions) and has always been a necessity in all times and circumstances and they have stated that it is absurd to argue otherwise (ie: their argument essentially states that since it has been viewed as a truth historically, it is erroneous to assume otherwise).


2. Traditional scholars also argue that the command for the headscarf is implied in surah Nur. Is it common for the Quran to imply a command (ie: are there are other instances where rulings/commands in the Quran are not explicit)? If not, is it reasonable to assume that legal rulings in the Quran are explicit and not implied? If there is an example of any other command in the Quran that is implied could you please provide an example so that I can better understand.  


If Allah wanted a woman to wrap her head scarf around her neck head and chest, why would the commanding verb "wa yadribna" begin with a "striking or throwing over" the neckline, where the body first begins? Why would Allah skip the neck and go straight to the chest?  Also Quran commentators explain that women during the time of the companions wore the headscarf and had the two ends thrown behind them, and that Allah instructed them to bring the two ends forward and wrap it around their neck and chests. Are there any authentic reports to back this historical claim? Also if Allah wanted women to extend or wrap around with their head coverings, wouldn't He use an Arabic word for wrap, or say to lengthen by saying "min" (from)  instead of "bi " (with) khamoor? Allah says to cover their chest with the khimar, and didn't say extend or wrap around. What do you think of such arguments? 


The problem I have with past male jurists making decisions about a woman's clothing is that they lack knowledge of what a woman adorns herself with. For example as a female I know that an adornment that lays exactly on the Juyoob (neckline opening) is a necklace, hence when Allah asks women to not display her adornments then commands to cover the juyoob, I know what adornment is being mentioned. A necklace is exactly the kind of adornment that brings attention to the breast. Hence, Allah is saying cover those adornments that brings attention to ones body parts. What are your thoughts on this? 


3. You wrote the evidence for khimar being a cloth that covered the head or covered the face is simply not there. If this is true where do scholars come to conclusions about these types of clothing? Do they not have evidence for the description of jilbab as well? How do we know that jilbab began from the head and that all jilbabs were the same type of clothing? For example, a shirt can be a t-shirt, long sleeve shirt, or a open v-neck shirt. 


4. Is there a single authentic hadith (from the Prophet or the companions) that unequivocally states that it is mandatory for a woman to cover her head or hair in public, or that women covered their hair after the verses regarding dress code were revealed?  Could the hadith about women looking like black crows refer to the fact that it was night time and it was dark outside when they went out to relieve themselves? 


5. Is it possible for the word "zeena" to be interpreted as beauty in general? For example, some scholars have stated that a woman's breasts and hair are considered "zeena", is this interpretation correct? 


I have many more questions however I know you have a busy schedule, but I would appreciate if you could answer the above questions.


Thank you for your time.

May Allah reward you. 


Question 2:


Asalam alaikum,


I've read your fatwa on allowing women to not wear the headscarf if they feel that  they will be harassed or harmed. I have also read your explanation on how their isn't any sufficient evidence to suggest that wearing the headscarf is mandatory.


I found your arguments to be very compelling and truthful which resulted in feelings of enlightenment. I did my own research and found that much of what you were writing was in fact accurate .

My question is, how do you counter the argument that it is unreasonable to suggest that scholars for centuries have been wrong, or could possibly be wrong about the obligation of wearing the headscarf?


Thank you,

(Name withheld for privacy)





Al salamu alaykum wa Ramadan Mubarak,


You have written me two messages, both regarding the issue of hijab. In one of your messages, you inquired whether it is possible that all scholars through history have been wrong about requiring or mandating that women cover themselves in the manner that in our day and age we call the hijab; and in the other message, you have raised a series of very probative and insightful questions about the evidence regarding the purported duty to wear the hijab. Unfortunately, I will not be able to adequately respond to your message in this forum but my intention insha'Allah is to address this question exhaustively in a more scholarly and comprehensive fashion in a new revised version of my book, And God Knows the Soldiers, to be published next year insha'Allah. Please pray that Allah gives me the health and strength to complete this project if it pleases God, and I ask for your patience with the hope that you will read my discussion of this issue when the book comes out. I am writing to make a few remarks that I pray will be helpful in this context. 


1) It is important to always recall that my fatwa dated 12/31/2016 addressed the question of wearing the hijab in lands or countries where Muslims are a minority (the so-called fiqh al-aqalliyyat; see Said Fares's book entitled Fiqh Al-Aqalliyyat: History, Development and Progress). There is nothing such as a normative Shari'ah obligation without contingencies and conditions, and the contingencies and conditions that confront Muslims in countries where they are a minority are materially different from those where Muslims are a clear majority. 


2) Please note that there is also nothing such as a Shari'ah obligation in the absolute without a clear understanding of a hierarchy of duties that one owes God. In fiqh (jurisprudence), we call this a case of tazahum and awlawiyyat (conflict and priorities). So for instance, under Shari'ah, there is an affirmative obligation to avoid being harmed or to put others in harm, and this is affirmed by the Qur'anic revelation, "Do not cast yourself unto ruin". But there is also an affirmative obligation upon every Muslim, especially in predominantly non-Muslim countries to be a good and effective ambassador of Islam. So even if we concede that hijab is a normative obligation upon a Muslim woman, a jurist and also any Muslim woman must consider what takes priority if a conflict exists. I am sure then that you can very quickly imagine that a "hard and fast rule" is the path of either ignorant or lazy scholars. Even if I concede that the hijab is an obligation upon Muslim women in predominantly non-Muslim countries, as a jurist, I must balance that with the other normative obligations of safety to oneself and others, as well as the obligation of being a good ambassador and representative of Islam. The obligation upon a woman that is a refugee from Syria that hardly speaks the language and will not be professionally employed and will likely live her entire life on the social margins of non-Muslim society, could be very different than an obligation upon a professional woman raised in this country that leads a highly competitive life and that brings her face to face with non-Muslim society on a daily basis.


3) Please note that it is highly imprecise for anyone to claim that jurists from the time of revelation until today have unanimously upheld the hijab as a legal duty. Other than my promised treatment mentioned above, which insha'Allah I plan to complete, I invite you and all others interested to listen to the 5-hour halaqa on I gave on this matter (The Hijab: Issue and Evidence). Please note that in Shari'ah sources, there is no chapter in jurisprudence entitled, The Hijab. This is a much later development and its first appearance were in books of adab (ie. books on social manners and customs) written to the laity and not in jurisprudential treatises of fiqh. The issue traditionally treated in jurisprudential sources is the 'awra (or the part that should be covered) of a woman IN PRAYER. Now, mind you, the rules for 'ibadat (acts of ritual) are very different than the rules for mu'amalat (rules for social interaction). Some ill-learned individuals have taken the discourses on 'awra in prayer and attempted to generalize them to every day interactions. The solemnity and sacredness when in the presence of the Lord is a very different condition and contingency than when one is in the presence of other human beings. Also, please note that in books of tafsir or Qur'anic interpretation, we will often find a discussion about the event in the final year of the Prophet's message when the hijab was decreed upon the wives of the Prophet (peace and blessing be upon him). And, there is a well-established legal principle that what has been decreed for the family of the Prophet is not generalizable beyond the family of the Prophet. Having said all of this, as discussed in my aforementioned halaqa, juristic discourses on women's 'awra, in and out of prayer, is far more nuanced and diverse than most contemporary Muslims assume.


4) But even if we assume that all the jurists of the past agreed upon a point X, this is but one important factor for the learned person to consider. The law of God is as alive and evolving as the creation of God, and every age has its epistemological and deontological moral bearings. It is morally flawed to say, especially when it comes to questions of mu'amalat, that just because it has been in the past, so must it be today.


5) The most overriding normative obligation ever-present for a Muslim man or woman is true iman. True iman does not mean that we obey blindly, aimlessly and pointlessly. The law must affirm and soothe our hearts, and thus allow our iman to flourish and grow. If the law causes a rupture in our iman, conflicts with our hearts and souls, and causes our sense of faith to bleed and weaken; and turns us into ineffective ambassadors of the beautiful faith that we call Islam, then we have a problem. It does not fit a jurist (in our age, who is typically a man) to ignore the problem and keep declaring that women must do X or Y. This is not the Shari'ah or literally, the path to life, Godliness and everything beautiful. The path of Godliness must be as vibrant and effective as the faith it is supposed to fulfill.

Thank you for your thoughtful message and questions, and please forgive me if I have not addressed all of your valuable points. And as always, in all cases it is only God that knows best. May Allah accept your fasting and make this a blessed Ramadan for you and your family.


Wa al-salamu alaykum,


Shaykh Abou El Fadl