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Interpretation of Sura an-Nur - Verse 31

Adopted from the book: "The Light of the Holy Qur'an - Interpretation of Sura an-Nur" by: "Sayyid Kamal Faghih Imani & a Group of Muslim Scholars"

31. "And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty, and do not display their adornment except that which is (ordinarily) apparent of it, and to draw their veils over their bosoms, and not to reveal their adornment save to their own husbands or their fathers or their husbands' fathers, or their sons or their husbands' sons, or their brothers or their brothers' sons or their sisters' sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess (their slaves), or the male attendants void of sexual stimulant, or the children who know naught of women's nakedness. And let them not stamp their feet (in walking) so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment. And turn unto Allah all together, O' believers, in order that you may succeed."


Allah has not mentioned the number of units (Rak'at) in ritual prayers and that of ritual circumambulation of the Ka'bah and has charged the Prophet (p.b.u.h.) with the task of stating the amount and measure of alms-tax and many other issues, but Allah has paid attention to minimum issues of family, upbringing, and moral corruptions. By using female pronoun 25 times in this verse, Allah has paid attention to women. 52

Thus, in this verse, the women's duties and responsibilities are mentioned; first, it refers to the ones that are like the men's responsibilities and duties when it says:

"And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their modesty,..."

Therefore ogling is forbidden to women as it is to men. As all men are obliged to veil their pudendum, all women are also obliged to veil their pudendum from the eye of other women and men.

Then in three sentences the issue of veil, which is the women's characteristics, is referred to:

1) "... and do not display their adornment except that which is (ordinarily) apparent of it,..."

Upon the purpose of the adornment which women must not display, as well as the visible adornment which women are allowed to display, mentioned in the verse, commentators have stated different ideas.

Some of them say that hidden adornment is the very natural adornment (women's beautiful body), whereas the Arabic word /zanat/ has rarely been applied in this sense.

Most of commentators have considered it as the place of adornment, because the display of adornment itself such as ear-rings, bracelet, and armlet is not forbidden. But displaying where they are used such as ears, neck, arms and hands is forbidden.

Therefore, women totally are not allowed to display their adornments that are usually hidden, although their limbs are not shown. Consequently showing special ornate clothes that women wear under their usual clothes or veil (chador) is not permitted, because the holy Qur'an prohibits the display of such adornments either.

In many traditions narrated from Imams of Ahl-ul-Bayt (a.s.) we see the same matter that the interior adornment, in Arabic, is interpreted as 'Qalladah' (necklace), 'Dumlaj' (armlet), 'Khalkhal' (anklet). 53

Moreover, since in many numerous Islamic narrations, the apparent adornment has been interpreted as ring, eyeliner, and so on, we see that the purpose of interior adornment is also the adornments that are hidden.

2) The second ordinance that is brought up in this verse is:

"... and to draw their veils over their bosoms..."

The Arabic word /xumur/ is the plural form of /ximar/, which originally means veil, but it is usually applied to the thing with which women veil their head (scarf).

The Arabic word /juyub/ is the plural form of the word /jayb/, that means the collar of a shirt which is rendered to the throat and it is sometimes applied to the upper part of the breast, because it is located near it.

It is understood from this verse that before the revelation of this verse, women wore their scarf in a way that they put their scarf behind their head so that their neck and a part of their breast were visible. The Holy Qur'an enjoined them to wear their scarf in a way that that part of their neck and breast that are visible to be veiled.

3) In the third ordinance both the cases in which women are allowed to unveil themselves and display their inward adornment are specified. The verse says:

"... and not to reveal their adornment save to ..."

They must not display their adornment except in twelve instances:

1. To their own husbands ("... their own husbands ...")

2. To their fathers ("... or their fathers ...")

3. To their husbands' fathers ("... or their husbands fathers ...")

4. To their sons ("... or their sons ...")

5.To their husbands' sons ("... or their husbands' sons ...")

6. To their brothers ("... or their brothers ...")

7. To their brothers' sons ("... or their brothers' sons...")

8. To their sisters' sons ("... or their sisters' sons ...")

9. To their women ("... or their women ...")

10. To their slaves ("... or those whom their right hands possess (their slaves)...")

11. To those who do not have desire for women ("... or the male attendants void of sexual stimulant... ")

12. To kids who know nothing of pudendum ("... or the children who know naught of women's nakedness ...")

4) Finally the fourth ordinance is stated in this way, saying:

"... And let them not stamp their feet (in walking) so as to reveal what they hide of their adornment..."

Women must be so exact and strict in observing chastity and avoiding affairs which kindle lust in men's heart and may cause deviation from the path of chastity that they must withdraw from letting strange men hear their anklet sound. This indicates how exact and precise Islam is in these affairs.

In the end of the verse, all the believers, irrespective of men and women, are invited to repent and return to Allah, where the Qur'an says:

"... And turn unto Allah all together, O' believers, in order that you may succeed."

If they have committed such sins, now that the facts of the ordinances of Islam are explained, they must repent their wrong actions and go to Allah for salvation and deliverance, because successfulness is found only with Him. On our way there are slippery slopes from which no one can be saved, and we must trust to Allah!

The Prophet (p.b.u.h.) said about the commentary of the Qur'anic sentence: /'ilia libu'ulatihinna/ (save to their own husbands): "Allah has cursed those women who do not apply cosmetics to their hair and face for the sake of (their) husband or do not fulfil what the husband demands." 54

The Philosophy of Veil

1. Undoubtedly in our age, which some persons have called the age of sexual liberty and nudism and Western exponents who regard women's promiscuity as part of women's liberty,speaking about veil is not welcomed by them and sometimes it is considered as legends of the past times!

But umpteen corruptions and increasing problems and difficulties that are caused by these unrestrained freedoms cause gradually some people to pay attention to such words.

The issue is that whether women (I ask your pardon) must be at the mercy of all men for abuses through various aural, visual, and physical means (save sexual intercourse), or they must be limited to their own husbands.

The question is that whether women must be engaged in a contest for showing their body and stirring men's lust and defiled low desires or whether these issues must be removed from the society and be confined to family environment and the life of man and wife.

Islam is in support of the second plan and veil is part of this plan, while western-fascinated persons are in favour of the first plan.

Islam says that sexual gratifications, including sexual intercourse and physical, visual, aural relishing, are only limited to spouses. Anything other than that will defile and corrupt the society. The sentence /aoka lahum/ "... That is purer for them ...", mentioned in the previous verse, refers to this matter.

The philosophy of veil is not something hidden and invisible, because:

A)Women's nakedness that naturally has the consequences such as: applying cosmetics, coquettishness and the like, sets men, specially young ones, in a state of continual temptation (always tempts them), and that subjects them to tension and stress. It causes nervous diseased excitements and sometimes it is the source of psychological abnormalities. How much can human bear such excitements? Do not all psychotherapists say that continual excitement is the cause of illness?

We must specially pay attention to this fact that sexual instinct is man's most powerful and deepest instinct and in the course of history it has sowed the seeds of fatal events and gruesome crimes and so it is said: "No important event there is save a woman plays a role in it!"

Is not it playing with dynamite to stir this instinct through showing naked women? Is it a rational job?

Islam wants Muslim men and women to have a calm psyche, a sound nerve, and pure eye and ear. This is one of the philosophies of veil.

B) The documented figures show that divorce and separation in spousal relationships has constantly increased with the increase of nakedness in the world, because whatever eye sees heart often desires it. And whatever heart, that is unrestrained low desires, wants man pursues it at any price it may be, and so every day he is after one woman and says goodbye to the other one.

In a community that vile exists (and other Islamic conditions are observed) two spouses belong to each other and their sentiments, love and feelings are limited to each other.

However, in 'the open market of nakedness' in which women have been practically turned into common products (at least at the level of non-sexual intercourse), sacredness of marriage contract is no longer meaningful, and families will be quickly and easily destroyed, like spider web, and children will be without guardian.

C) Spreading indecency and the increase of illegitimate children are the sorest consequences of unveiling, which do not need any statistics and figures, we think. Its reasons are especially so fully visible in western countries that they need no explanation We do not say that the main factor of indecency and illegitimate children is only unveiling. We do not say that shameful colonialism and destructive political issues are not playing role in it, but we say that one of its most influential factors is nakedness and unveiling.

With regard to the fact that 'indecency' and worse than that 'illegitimate children' have been and are the source of kinds of crimes in human societies, the perilous dimensions of this issue will be made clearer.

D) The issue of 'woman's meanness' and her degradation is very important after all, which does not need statistics and figures, too. When society desires nakedness of woman, it is natural that every day it demands her more make-up and more ostentation and display. When woman is used as a means for attracting tourists and sight-seers in waiting rooms and shops, because she is physically beautiful and attracting, woman's personality is degraded to a doll or a valueless product and her high humane values are totally forgotten. And her only pride is her youth, beauty and display. Thus, she turns into a means for satisfying unrestrained desires of some wicked, deceiving, beastly men.

How can a woman with her moral characteristics achieve high status and show her knowledge in such a society?

It is really sorrowful that, in western countries and western-influenced countries, lewd and promiscuous women are most famous and acquire the highest earning and every thing is in favour of them,who are known as artist and actress. Wherever they go, they are welcomed by organizers of defiled places,in which people fall over themselves for them. We had, of course, such a situation in Iran before Islamic Revolution.

We thank Allah that it is wound up in Iran and woman is changed from being just a doll, worthless product and wickedness into a personality who has found her status again. She veils herself, but she is not isolated from society. She has participated in all good and edifying activities and even in the holy defense she has appeared with veil.

This was a part of clear philosophies of veil in Islam, the philosophies that are appropriate to our discussion.

2. The commentary of the Qur'anic sentence: /'ulil 'irbat-i-min-ar-rijal/ (the male attendants void of sexual stimulant).

The Arabic word /'irbah/ is derived from the word /'arab/. As Raqib says in Mufradat: It means desperate need that man finds ways to gratify it. And it is sometime used as absolute need. The purpose of the phrase /'ulil 'irbat-i-min-ar-rijal/ here is those persons who have sexual desire and need spouse. Therefore the Qur'anic phrase /qayr-i-'ulil 'irbah/ includes the ones who do not have such desire. That to whom this sentence refers, is a matter of discussion between commentators:

Some of them say that it refers to the old men who have sexual desire no longer, such as /'al-qawa'idu min-an-nisa'/ (the women who are unsexed or the women who are beyond the conventional age for marrying).

Some other commentators say it refers to men who are castrated.

And some commentators say that its purpose is those who are neuter, that is: they have no sex organ at all.

However, what must be emphasized and it is mentioned in some valid traditions by Imam Baqir (a.s.) and Imam Sadiq (a.s.) is that the purpose of this sentence is those insane men who have no sexual desire at all. These men are usually hired to do simple jobs and work as servants. The application of the Arabic word /'at-tabi'an/ also strengthens this meaning. 55

Since this quality, that is the quality of the lack of sexual desire, is correct about a group of old men, it is possible that this verse can include such old men. Imam Kadhem (a.s.) emphasized such group of old men in a tradition. However, the verse does not imply that such men are like those who are unmarriageable. It is certain that veiling some part of head or some part of hand, and the like, before such men is not compulsory.

3. Which children are the exceptions of this ordinance?

We said that the 12th group before whom veil is not compulsory is children who have not yet enjoyed desire.

The Qur'anic sentence /lam yazharu/ has sometimes been interpreted as /lam yatta li'u/ (are not aware), and sometimes as /lam yaqdiru/ (are not able), because this word has been used in both meanings and in the Holy Qur'an it is sometimes used to mean this and sometimes to mean that.

For example, in Sura Al-Kahf, No. 18, verse 20 we read: "... if they prevail against you, they, will stone you, ..."

And in verse 8 from Sura At-Taubah we recite: "How (can be?) For if they prevail against you, they will observe towards you neither ties of relationship nor treaty. ..."

However this differentiation in the concerned holy verse has no significant influence on the conclusion of discussion. Its purpose is children who are neither perceptive nor potent because of lack of sexual desire.

Therefore ladies must veil themselves before those children who have reached an age in which such a desire and ability is dully developed.

4. Every kind of tempting factor is forbidden!

The last matter is that at the end of this verse the Qur'an implies that women should not walk in a manner that the sound of their anklet can be heard. This shows that Islam is so exact and fastidious in the issues concerning common chastity that even such a thing is not allowed. Of course a fortiori, things that set youths' lust on fire, such as circulation of tempting pictures, blue movies, sexy novels and stories, are not permitted. Undoubtedly Islamic society must be free from such matters that lead people, girls and boys, to centers of corruption and wickedness.


52. QurtAbi, Commentary

53. Ali-ibn-IbRuhim, the Commentary

54. Nur-uth-Thaqallyn, the commentary

55. Wasa'il-ush-Shi'ah, chapter 124, Tradition 8

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