By: Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani, translation by Zameelur Rahman
Writings on the topic of the veiling and unveiling of women have proliferated in our time. The best that I have seen on this subject is a treatise by my late father Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ (Allah have mercy on him) which he called Tafsil al-Khitab fi Tafsir Ayat al-Hijab, which is a section from his Ahkam al-Qur’an (3:393-483), in which he examined the verses and hadiths cited on the subject and exhausted the positions of the fuqaha (jurists) and the statements of the exegetes regarding the limits of hijab and its description. The sum of what he concluded after an extensive study is that the hijab that is legislated and commanded in the Book and the Sunnah has three levels, each above the other in hiddenness and concealment. All of them are mentioned in the Book and the Sunnah and none of them have been abrogated, but they have been prescribed for different circumstances.
Abu Bakr ibn Abi Shaybah and Abu Kurayb narrated to us. They said: Abu Usamah narrated to us: from Hisham: from his father: from ‘A’isha (Allah be pleased with her): she said:
“Sawdah (Allah be pleased with her) went out [in the fields] in order to relieve her need after the hijab had been prescribed upon her. She had been a bulky lady, physically taller than other women, and she could not conceal herself from one who had known her. ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him) saw her and said, ‘O Sawdah, by Allah, you cannot conceal [yourself] from us. Therefore, be careful when you go out.’” ‘A’isha said: “She turned back. Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) was at that time in my house having his evening meal and there was a bone in his hand. Sawdah entered and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, I went out and ‘Umar said to me so and so.’” ‘A’isha said: “Revelation came to him, then it was lifted from him and the bone was [still] in his hand and he had not put it [down]. He then said, ‘Permission has been granted to you that you may go out for your needs.’” (Sahih Muslim)
The subject of the hijab of women has, today, become a significant issue, on which discussion and debate has been ongoing, so we wish to produce an outline of the [correct] view on this [issue]. And Allah Most High gives success and is the Helper.
The Issue of the Hijab of Women and its Boundaries
Writings on the topic of the veiling and unveiling of women have proliferated in our time. The best that I have seen on this subject is a treatise by my late father Shaykh Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ (Allah have mercy on him) which he called Tafsil al-Khitab fi Tafsir Ayat al-Hijab, which is a section from his Ahkam al-Qur’an (3:393-483), in which he examined the verses and hadiths cited on the subject and exhausted the positions of the fuqaha (jurists) and the statements of the exegetes regarding the limits of hijab and its description. The sum of what he concluded after an extensive study is that the hijab that is legislated and commanded in the Book and the Sunnah has three levels, each above the other in hidden-ness and concealment. All of them are mentioned in the Book and the Sunnah and none of them have been abrogated, but they have been prescribed for different circumstances.
 Hijab of the persons (ashkhas) of women in houses and walls, private quarters and howdahs, whereby foreign men do not see any part of their persons, garments or external or internal adornment, or any part of their body, including the face, the hands and the remainder of the body.
 Hijab with burqa’ and jilbab, whereby nothing from the face and hands, the rest of the body and the clothing of adornment are shown, so nothing is seen besides their concealed persons from above the head to the foot.
 Hijab with jilbabs and items of clothing that resemble them, while exposing the face, the hands and the feet.
The default rule in the hijab of women is hijab of the first level which is that she is concealed in the house and does not emerge, except for a need, the explanation of which is to come. This is proven by the statement of Allah Most High, “and stay in your houses” (Qur’an 33:33). It is apparent that this command is not specific to the purified wives because none of the preceding and succeeding rules in this verse are specific to the Mothers of the Believers (Allah be pleased with them) by consensus. Likewise [this is proven by] His statement Most High, “And when ye ask of them anything, ask it of them from behind a veil” (Qur’an 33:53). This verse was revealed during the walimah (wedding feast) of Zaynab (Allah be pleased with her), whereupon a veil was drawn between her and the men.
Furthermore, this is proven by the following hadiths:
 It was narrated from ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him) that Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “The woman is ‘awrah. When she emerges [from her house] Satan looks at her.” Al-Tirmidhi transmitted it and said, “The hadith is hasan sahih (sound and authentic), gharib (uncommon)”. Ibn Khuzaymah and Ibn Hibban transmitted it in their Sahihs with this wording and added, “and the closest that she is to the Face of Her Lord is when she is in the depth of her home.” See al-Targhib by al-Mundhiri (1:136).
 It was narrated from Jabir (Allah be pleased with him), he said: “Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “The woman advances in the shape of Satan and retires in the shape of Satan.” Muslim transmitted it (1:129).
 The hadith of the chapter transmitted by the compiler (Imam Muslim) as Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said therein, “permission has been granted to you that you may go out for your needs,” since this indicates that the permission to go out is restricted to [times] of need and in [times] other than need a woman stays in her house.
 It was narrated from ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him) that Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, “The prayer of a woman in her house is more virtuous than her prayer in her room and her prayer in her chamber is more virtuous than her prayer in her house.” Abu Dawud transmitted it and al-Hakim transmitted it in al-Mustadrak from Umm Salamah (Allah be pleased with her) as [mentioned] in Kanz al-‘Ummal (8:259). Ibn Khuzaymah transmitted it in his Sahih, as [mentioned] in al-Targhib by al-Mundhiri (1:135).
 It was narrated from Umm Humayd, the wife of Abu Humayd al-Sa’idi, that she came to the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and said, “O Messenger of Allah, I love to pray with you.” He replied, “I know that you love to pray with me. However, your prayer in your storage room is better than your prayer in your bedroom; your prayer in your bedroom is better than your prayer in your courtyard; your prayer in your courtyard is better than your prayer in the mosque of your people; and your prayer in the mosque of your people is better than your prayer in my mosque.” [The sub-narrator] said, “She requested that a prayer area be built for her in the deepest and darkest part of her house, and she prayed therein until she met Allah Most High.” Ahmad transmitted it in his Musnad (6:371) and Ibn Hajar in al-Isabah attributed it to Ibn Abi Khaythamah through this route, and this is an authentic chain. Al-Shawkani transmitted in Nayl al-Awtar (3:161) from Ibn Hajar that he said, “Its chain is sound (hasan).” Al-Mundhiri mentioned it in al-Targhib (1:135) and said, “Ahmad narrated it, as did Ibn Khuzaymah and Ibn Hibban in their Sahihs”.
 It was narrated from Ibn ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with them both) in marfu’ form, “Women do not have a share in leaving [the home] except in [times of] need.” Al-Tabrani transmitted it as [mentioned] in Kanz al-‘Ummal (8:263).
These hadiths prove with clarity that the default rule for the woman is that she is hidden in her house, her person is concealed from foreign men and she does not leave her house except for a need.
However, a woman may need to emerge for her natural needs. It will then be permissible for her to emerge in these kinds of situations while concealed in a burqa’ and jilbab whereby no part of her body is shown. This is the second level of hijab, and indeed this level has been commanded in the Noble Qur’an where Allah Most High said, “O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women, that they should cast their jilbabs over their [persons]” (33:59) and it is apparent that by casting the jilbab over the woman is meant concealing her entire body even her face.
Jilbab according to what was narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas (Allah be pleased with them both) is that which covers from top to bottom. Ibn Hazm said in al-Muhalla (3:217), “Jilbab in the language of the Arabs, in which Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) spoke, is that which covers the entire body, not a part of it.” Ibn Jarir, Ibn al-Mundhir and others transmitted from Muhammad ibn Sirin, he said: “I asked ‘Abidah al-Salmani about this verse ‘they should cast their jilbabs over their [persons]’ so he lifted the blanket [draped] around him, concealed his face with it and covered his entire head until it reached the eyebrows and covered his face, then he took out his left eye from the left side of his face”. This was [mentioned] in Ruh al-Ma’ani (22:89).
Ibn Jarir transmitted in his Tafsir (22:46) from Ibn ‘Abbas in the explanation of this verse, “Allah commanded the believing women [that] when they emerge from their houses for a need, they [must] cover their faces from above their heads with jilbabs and reveal [only] one eye.” It was also narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas and Qatadah, “[the woman] twists the jilbab above the forehead and tightens it, then she folds it unto the nose even if her eyes are exposed; nonetheless, she conceals the chest and most of the face.” Al-Alusi [mentioned] it in Ruh al-Ma’ani (22:89). In sum, this verse proves that the woman is commanded to cover her face when she emerges at her [time of] need.
Furthermore, this is proven by His statement Most High, “Such elderly women as are past the prospect of marriage, there is no [blame] on them if they lay down their garments” (24:60), since Allah Most High made it permissible for old women in this verse to lay down their garments and it is clear that the intended meaning of laying down the garments here is not laying down all clothes. The intended meaning of it is only to lay down the jilbab or shroud from the external garments, the laying down of which will not lead to exposing the ‘awrah. For this [reason] ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him) explained garment in this verse as jilbab and shroud, and a similar [interpretation] was narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas, Ibn ‘Umar, Mujahid, Sa’id ibn Jubayr, Abu l-Sha’tha’, Ibrahim al-Nakha’i, al-Hasan, Qatadah, al-Zuhri, al-Awza’i and others as mentioned in Tafsir ibn Kathir. Hence, this verse proves that laying down the jilbab which necessitates exposing the face is specific to old women who have no prospect of marriage, and that it is not permissible for young women to lay down their jilbabs and expose their faces before foreign men.
It is clear that when the female Companions left for their needs they would go out concealed in jilbabs and hidden in shrouds and would not uncover their faces before foreign men. From the [narrations] that prove this are the following hadiths:
 Abu Dawud transmitted in Kitab al-Jihad, Bab Fadl Qital al-Rum from Qays ibn Shammas (Allah be pleased with him), he said: “A woman called Umm Khallad came to the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) while she was veiled (wearing a niqab) enquiring about her son who was killed. One of the Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said to her, ‘You have come to ask about your son while you are veiled?’ She said, ‘If I am afflicted with the loss of my son I will never suffer the loss of my modesty.’ Then Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, ‘He has the reward of two martyrs.’ She asked, ‘And why is that O Messenger of Allah?’ He said, ‘Because he was killed by the people of the book.’”
 It was narrated from Umm ‘Atiyyah that Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) would bring out the unmarried women, old women, the women in the private quarters and the menstruating women in the two ‘Ids. As for menstruating women they would keep back from the place of prayer and would witness the supplication of the Muslims. One of them said, “O Messenger of Allah! If one does not have a jilbab?” He said, “Let her sister cover her with her jilbab.” This hadith was transmitted by a number of collectors of authentic [narrations], and this is the wording of al-Tirmidhi (no. 539), Bab Khuruj al-Nisa’ fi l-‘Idayn, and al-Tirmidhi said, “this hadith is hasan sahih.”
 Al-Bukhari transmitted [something] similar to it (no. 980 in Kitab al-‘Idayn) from Hafsah bint Sirin and its wording is: “so she said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, is there harm for any of us when she does not have jilbab that she not come out?’ He said, ‘Her companion should cover her with her jilbab.’”
 ‘Abd al-Razzaq and a group transmitted from Umm Salamah, she said, “When this verse ‘they should cast their jilbabs over their [persons]’ was revealed, the women of Ansar came out as if there were crows on their heads, from the tranquillity, and [draped] over them were black clothes that they would wear.”
 Ibn Mardawayh transmitted from ‘A’ishah, she said, “Allah Most High bless the women of the Ansar. When ‘O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing women …’ was revealed they tore their thick outer garments and made veils from them, and they prayed behind Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) as if there were crows on their heads.” See Ruh al-Ma’ani (22:89) for the two narrations.
 It was narrated from ‘A’ishah, she said, “Riders would pass us when we accompanied the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) while we were in ihram. When they came by us, one of us would let down her jilbab from her head over her face, and when they had passed on, we would uncover our faces”. Abu Dawud transmitted it in Kitab al-Hajj (no. 1833).
These hadiths clarify that the female Companions (Allah’s pleasure be on them) would, after the revelation of the [verses of] hijab, adhere strictly to covering their bodies with jilbabs and draw them over their faces when going out. The last hadith proves that this importance of hiddenness does not cease to continue even in the state of ihram in which it is prohibited for a woman that a piece of clothing touches her face.
The third level of hijab which is that women go out concealing the bodies from head to foot while uncovering the face and hands, at the time of need, is with the condition of safety (amn) from temptation (fitnah). This is proven by His statement Most High in Surah al-Nur, “And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their ornaments except what appears thereof.” The exegetes have differed over the explanation of “what appears thereof”. It was narrated from Ibn ‘Abbas, Ibn ‘Umar and ‘A’ishah (Allah be pleased with them) that they explained it as the face and hands, and this is the view of ‘Ata’, ‘Ikrimah, Sa’id ibn Jubayr, Abu l-Sha’tha, al-Dahhak, Ibrahim al-Nakha’i and others. And it was narrated from ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him) that he interpreted “what appears thereof” as the shroud and jilbab. Hence, the verse according to the first explanation proves that the woman can uncover her face and hands at the time of need and this is further supported by the following hadiths:
 It was narrated from ‘A’ishah (Allah be pleased with her) that Asma’ bint Abi Bakr (Allah be pleased with them both) entered upon the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) while wearing thin clothing, so he turned away from her and said, “O Asma! Indeed when a woman reaches [the age of] menstruation, it is not proper that anything should be shown except this and this”, and he pointed to his face and hands. Abu Dawud transmitted it, but Abu Dawud and Abu Hatim al-Razi said: “it is mursal, Khalid ibn Darik did not hear from ‘A’ishah”.
 It was narrated from ‘Ali (Allah be pleased with him) in the event of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) returning from al-Muzdalifah that he (Allah bless him and grant him peace) made al-Fadl ibn ‘Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) his riding companion. He came to the pillars to throw pebbles at them and then came to the place of sacrifice (manhar). It is mentioned therein: a young slave girl from Khath’am sought a verdict from him and said, “Indeed my father is an old man and the obligation to Allah to perform Hajj has reached him. Is it permissible for me to perform Hajj on his behalf?” He said, “Perform Hajj on your father’s behalf.” ‘Ali said: “he turned the neck of al-Fadl, and al-‘Abbas asked, ‘Why did you turn the neck of your cousin?’ He said, ‘I saw a young man and woman [in such a situation] that they are not safe from Satan.’” Al-Tirmidhi transmitted it in Bab ma Ja’a anna ‘Arafata kullaha Mawqif (no. 885).
Abu Ya’la transmitted from al-Fadl ibn ‘Abbas, he said: “I was riding behind Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and a Bedouin with whom was a beautiful daughter began presenting her to Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) in the hope that he would marry her”. He said, “I began to glance at her, and the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) took hold of my head and turned it.” Al-Haythami mentioned it in Kitab al-Nikah in Majma’ al-Zawa’id (4:277) and he said, “its narrators are the narrators of authentic [narrations].” Either this was another incident, or one of the narrators erred in the explanation that the girl belonged to a Bedouin. And the hadith of al-Tirmidhi is clear in that her father was not with her. And Allah knows best.
[Further] detail of this event was transmitted by al-Bukhari in Kitab al-Isti’dhan (no. 6228) from ibn ‘Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) and its wording is: Al-Fadl ibn ‘Abbas rode behind the Prophet as his companion rider on the back of his she-camel on the Day of Sacrifice (yawm al-nahr) and al-Fadl was a handsome man. The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) stopped to give the people verdicts. In the meantime, a beautiful woman from the tribe of Khath’am came, asking the verdict of Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace). Al-Fadl started looking at her as her beauty attracted him. The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) looked behind while al-Fadl was looking at her; so the Prophet held out his hand backwards and caught the chin of al-Fadl and turned his face to the other side in order that he should not gaze at her, [to the end of] the hadith.
This slave girl’s face was uncovered as is clear from the context of the hadith of Ibn ‘Abbas since he said therein that she was beautiful and al-Fadl was attracted to her beauty. The hadith explains that the Prophet turned the face of al-Fadl away from glancing at her and he did not command the slave girl to cover her face because she was in the state of ihram, and he (Allah bless him and grant him peace) probably feared she would collapse or something else if she was required to conceal her face in such severe crowding, so he did not command her to [do] this. This is a proof that it is permissible for a woman to uncover her face according to a need when the rest of her body is concealed.
 It was narrated from Sahl ibn Sa’d that a woman came to Allah’s Messenger and said, “O Messenger of Allah, I have come to give you myself in marriage.” Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) looked at her. He looked at her carefully and fixed his glance on her and then lowered his head, to the end of the hadith. Al-Bukhari transmitted it in Bab al-Nazr ila l-Mar’ati qabla l-Tazwij (no. 5125). It is clear in this event that the woman’s face was uncovered at this time, and al-Sarakhsi adduced this as proof in al-Mabsut (10:152) that the face of a woman is not ‘awrah.
As for the positions of the fuqaha on the permissibility of looking at the face of a woman and her hands, the fuqaha have agreed on the impermissibility when it is with the intention of gratification (taladhdhudh), or if there was a fear of temptation inviting the man to be alone with her. There is no dispute in the prohibition of looking at the face of a woman and her hands in this case. As for when the man is safe from temptation and does not desire gratification by looking there is disagreement over its permissibility. The position of the Hanafis and the Malikis is the permissibility of looking at the face and hands in this case and this is the position of many of the Shafi’is and few Hanbalis. However the preferred [view] according to the Shafi’is and the Hanbalis is absolute impermissibility even if safe from desire and temptation.
The Position of the Hanafis on the Ruling of Looking at a Woman
Shams al-A’immah al-Sarakhsi said in al-Mabsut (10:152), “It is permissible to look at the area of apparent adornment of women and not the hidden [adornment] due to His statement Most High, ‘they should not display their ornaments except what appear thereof’ (24:31). ‘Ali and Ibn ‘Abbas (Allah be pleased with them) said, ‘what appears thereof’ is kohl and the ring. ‘A’ishah (Allah be pleased with her) said one of her two eyes and ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him) said her shoes (khuff) and shroud (mula’ah), and he adduced as evidence for this his (Allah bless him and grant him peace) statement ‘women are the snares of Satan by which he hunts men’ … and since the prohibition of looking is for fear of temptation and the greater part of her attractiveness is in her face, the fear of temptation in looking at her face is greater than it is when looking at other parts. ‘A’ishah reasoned similarly but she said, ‘if she finds no escape from walking on the road, then it is necessary that she opens her eye to see the road, so it is permissible for her to uncover one of her eyes due to this necessity, and what is established by necessity should not go beyond the scope of the necessity.’
“However, we [Hanafis] adopt the view of ‘Ali and Ibn ‘Abbas (Allah be pleased with them) since reports have been transmitted giving a dispensation to look at her face and hands. From these reports is what was narrated that a woman offered herself [for marriage] to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace), and he looked at her face and did not desire her.
“And when ‘Umar (Allah be pleased with him) said in his sermon, ‘Know that you may not go in excess in the dowries of women’ and a woman with flushed cheeks said, ‘Are you expressing [a view] using your [personal] opinion or did you hear this from Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace), for indeed we find in the Book of Allah Most High the opposite of what you say…?’ Hence, the narrator mentioned that she had flushed cheeks, and this contains a clarification that her face was unveiled.
“And Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) saw the hand of a woman that was not dyed with henna and he asked, ‘is this the hand of a man?’
“And when Fatima (Allah be pleased with her) gave one of her two children to Bilal or Anas (Allah be pleased with them), Anas said, ‘I saw her hand and it appeared as if a half-moon.’
“It is thus proven that there is no harm in looking at the face and hands. Furthermore, the face is the site of kohl and the hand is the site of the ring…Moreover, there is no doubt that it is permissible to look at her garment, and fear of temptation is not considered in this, and looking at her face and hands is the same. Al-Hasan ibn Ziyad narrated from Abu Hanifah that it is permitted to look at her foot also, as was mentioned by al-Tahawi, because just as she is tried with showing her face in working with men and showing her hand in receiving and giving, she is tried with showing her feet when walking barefooted or wearing sandals, and she may not find shoes on every occasion [when she goes out]. It is mentioned in Jami’ al-Baramika, it was narrated from Abu Yusuf that it is permissible to look at her forearm also because in baking and washing clothes she is tried with showing her forearms also. It was said, ‘similarly, it is permitted to look at her front teeth also, because that appears from her when talking to men.’
“All of this is when looking is not with desire (shahwah). If one knows that if he looks, he will become desirous, then it is not permissible for him to look at any part of her because of his statement (Allah bless him and grant him peace), ‘whoever looks at the beauties of a foreign woman with desire, [melted] lead will be poured into his eyes on the Day of Resurrection’ and ‘Ali (Allah be pleased with him) said, ‘do not follow up a glance with another glance for indeed the first is [permissible] for you and the second is against you’, meaning by the second that one does it intentionally with desire … And similar is the case if his preponderant opinion is that if he looks he will become desirous, because preponderant opinion in that thing the reality of which cannot be known [with certainty] is just like certainty.”
The Maliki Position
As for the Malikis, their position is what was mentioned by al-Kharshi in his marginalia on Mukhtasar Khalil (1:347): “The ‘awrah of a free-woman before a foreign man is her entire body, even her loose hair and forelock, with the exception of the face and hands, the outside of them and their inside. Furthermore, looking at them (the face and hands) without gratification and without fear of temptation and without a reason, is permissible, even if it is a young woman. Malik said, ‘a woman may eat with a non-near-relative (ghayr dhi mahram) and with her male servant, and she may occasionally eat with her husband and others of those with whom he dines’. Ibn al-Qattan said, ‘this contains proof of the permissibility of the woman showing her face and hands to a foreign man, since it is not conceivable to eat except in this manner [i.e. by showing the face and hands].’” An equivalent [passage] is [found] in Sharh al-Muwaq of al-Hattab (1:499) in more detail.
‘Alish said in Minah al-Jalil (1:133), “Thus, it is permissible for her to uncover them [i.e. the face and hands] before a foreign man, and he may look at them if he does not fear temptation. If temptation is feared then Ibn Marzuq said, ‘the well-known position of the madhhab is the obligation to conceal them.’” An equivalent [passage] is [found] in Mawahib al-Jalil by al-Hattab (1:399, 500).
The Shafi’i Position
The position of the Shafi’is is what was mentioned by al-Nawawi in Kitab al-Nikah from al-Minhaj in his statement, “It is prohibited for a mature male to look at the ‘awrah of a mature foreign free woman, and similarly [it is prohibited to look at] her face and hands when one fears temptation, and also when safe from temptation according to the correct opinion.”
Al-Khatib al-Shirbini said below his statement, “according to the correct opinion”, “and Imam [al-Juwayni] reasoned that the Muslims are in agreement on banning women from emerging while their faces are unveiled, and [he reasoned] that looking is the act in which one would most expect temptation and the stirring of desire … And the second view is that it is not prohibited, and Imam [al-Juwayni] attributed this to the majority (jumhur) [of the Shafi’is] and the two shaykhs (al-Nawawi and al-Rafi’i) attributed it to most (aktharin).
“[Al-Isnawi] said in al-Muhimmat that: It is the correct view because most have adopted it. Al-Balqini said, ‘giving weight (tarjih) [to one opinion] depends on the strength of reason, and the verdict (fatwa) is given according to what is in al-Minhaj‘… That which the Imam transmitted regarding agreement on banning women, i.e. the rulers banning them, [from emerging while their faces are unveiled], conflicts with what al-Qadi ‘Iyad related from the ‘ulama that it is not obligatory on the woman to conceal her face along her path and that it is only a good practice (sunnah), and it is [obligatory] on men to lower their gaze from them because of the verse [i.e. 24:30]. The author (al-Nawawi) related this in Sharh Muslim and approved of it. One of the latter-day scholars said there is no conflict in that, rather their being banned from that is not because concealing [the face] is obligatory on them in its essence, rather because there is general benefit in it, and in leaving [the ban] is an infringement of honour (muru’ah). [Here] ends [the statement of al-Isnawi]. The outward purport of the statement of the two shaykhs is that concealing [the face] is obligatory in itself, so [the need for] this reconciliation does not arise, and the statement of al-Qadi is weak.” See Mughni al-Muhtaj (3:128, 129). An equivalent [passage] is [found] in Nihayat al-Muhtaj (6:184, 5).
The Hanbali Position
The position of the Hanbalis is what was mentioned by Ibn Qudamah in al-Mughni (6:558,9) in Kitab al-Nikah in his statement, “As for men looking at a foreign woman without a reason, it is prohibited entirely according to the apparent statement of Ahmad … and al-Qadi [Abu Ya’la] said, ‘it is prohibited for one to look at anything besides the face and hands because this is ‘awrah, and it is permitted for him to look at her with reprehensibility (karahah) when safe from temptation and the look is without desire. This is the position of al-Shafi’i … [In support] of our view is Allah’s statement Most High, “And when ye ask of them anything, ask it of them from behind a veil” (33:53) … As for the hadith of Asma, if it is authentic, it is possible that it was before the revelation of [the verses of] hijab, so we understand it as such.’”
By considering these four positions it is clear that they all agree on the prohibition of looking at the face of a woman with the intention of gratification or when there is fear of temptation. The preponderant view in the madhhab of the Shafi’is and the Hanbalis is its prohibition when safe from temptation also. The Hanafis and Malikis only allow it with the condition of safety from temptation and the intention of gratification. Meeting this condition is very difficult, particularly in our age in which corruption has become prevalent, to the degree that it has become a condition that almost cannot be met in most situations, and for this [reason] the latter-day scholars from the Hanafis prohibited it absolutely.
Its reprehensibility was transmitted in Al-Durr al-Mukhtar: “If one fears desire or has doubts, looking at her face is prohibited. Thus, the permissibility of looking is conditional on the absence of desire and otherwise it is prohibited. This was in their time. As for our time, Quhustani and others prohibited looking at [the face of] young girls except when looking is due to a need, like when a judge and a witness judge and witness over her…”
Al-Haskafi said in Shurut al-Salah, “and it is prohibited for a young woman to uncover the face among men, not because it is ‘awrah, but for fear of temptation.” And he said in Bab al-Ta’zir, “the master may reprimand his slave, and the husband his wife if she doesn’t beautify [herself]” to his statement “or she uncovers her face before a non-close-relative.”
Imam Abu Bakr al-Jassas said in Ahkam al-Qur’an (4:458) under His statement Most High, “they should cast their jilbabs over their [persons]”, “in this verse is an indication that the young woman is commanded to conceal her face from foreign men and to display the concealment and modesty when going out so that suspicious people do not desire them.”
My father, ‘Allamah Mufti Muhammad Shafi’ (Allah have mercy on him), said in his Ahkam al-Qur’an (3:469), “and by this explanation we offered, the texts and narrations that are apparently contradictory are in agreement. As you know from what we cited to you of the verses and narrations that some of them allow uncovering the face and hands, either with certainty and conviction like the hadith of al-Fadl ibn ‘Abbas according to al-Bukhari and the hadith of Asma bint Abi Bakr in [Abu Dawud’s] al-Sunan and the hadith of the one who offered herself [for marriage] according to al-Bukhari and [other narrations] like them; and some [of the verses and narrations] allow it as a possible interpretation due to the disagreement that occurred between the Companions (Allah be pleased with them) in the explanation of His statement Most High ‘except what appear thereof’, the details of which have passed.
“And some [of the verses and narrations] prohibit uncovering the face and hands, and foreign men looking at them, like His statement Most High ‘and stay in your houses’ (33:33) … and His statement Most High ‘ask it of them from behind a veil’ (33:53) and His statement ‘they should cast their jilbabs over their [persons]’ (33:59) according to the explanation of the majority of the Companions and His statement Most High ‘except what appear thereof’ (24:31) according to the explanation of ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud …
“Thus, these texts of the Book and narrations of the Sunnah apparently conflict and contradict and in what we have mentioned to you, with the help of Allah Most High, this problem is resolved, for when you realise what we said, you will understand that all of these texts are in agreement in meaning, well-coordinated in the rulings, and all of them are in effect (muhkam) and are not abrogated, but a [particular] ruling is preconditioned by conditions, so wherever the conditions are met, it is made permissible, and wherever they are not, then it is not [permissible] …
“All of this is when the reality of the difference between the explanations of Ibn ‘Abbas and ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud is conceded. Our teacher, the noblest of teachers, Ashraf ‘Ali al-Thanawi (Allah illuminate his resting place), said in a volume devoted to this subject called Ilqa’ al-Sakinah fi Tahqiq Ibda’ al-Zinah that there is no difference between their explanations upon an in-depth and close examination, since the phrase ‘what appears’, although it was explained [by Ibn ‘Abbas] as the face and hands, but what is cited as the exception [in the verse] is on the [morphological] pattern of zuhur (passive appearance) not izhar (active showing). This clearly indicates that the objective [of the verse] is making an exception of what cannot be concealed. Rather, [it is an exception] when adornment appears upon exertion and work, without an intention to show it, because harm may be inflicted upon them by concealing [the face and hands] upon exertion and work. In this case, the exception would also be in accordance with the explanation of Ibn ‘Abbas (Allah be pleased with him) which is the face and hands may appear due to a need, and this does not contradict the statement of ‘Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud (Allah be pleased with him). I say: and this meaning is supported by what Ibn Kathir said in his explanation of His statement Most High, ‘they should not display their ornaments except what appear thereof’, ‘i.e. they should not reveal any part of their adornment to foreign men except what they are unable to conceal.’”
The upshot is that a woman is commanded in the Noble Qur’an to stay in her house and not emerge except when there is a need. Moreover, if she were to emerge due to a need, then she is commanded to conceal the face by donning the jilbab or burqa’ and in [a manner] that she does not unveil her face. Yes, there are two situations that are exceptions to this: first, the situation of needing to show the face because concealing it will inflict harm upon her as in a [large] crowd or for another need like providing testimony. Second, her face becomes exposed unintentionally during exertion and work. Men are commanded in these two situations to lower their gaze. And Allah Most High knows best.
Takmilah Fath al-Mulhim, vol. 4, pp. 225-234