Rafed English

The Command not to Reveal their Adornment

The word farj is used in Arabic to refer to both a man and a woman's private parts. The fact that men and women have both been commanded to guard their modesty, to guard their private parts is in relation to two things: the view of others and this includes everybody except a husband and wife, and the other is that one should guard one's modesty from corruption, from adultery. If we look at the external form of the verse, perhaps we would conclude that it only refers to corruption but because, from the time of the prophet's companions and the very first commentaries up the Holy Quran, it has been clearly recorded that wherever the Holy Quran says, "guard their private parts," it means from adultery except in those verses where it is to guard the private parts from the view of others. Thus, this verse, either refers to the collective view or it refers to the view of others if we take the traditions into account. There is no difference of opinion here.

The third duty is not to reveal "their adornment ..." which refers to that which is separate from the body like jewels and gold as well as things that are attached to the body like hena and collyrium.


As to the fact that they should "reveal not their adornment", there are two exceptions in the Holy Quran. The first is "except such as is outward" and the second is "except to their husbands ... etc." Both of these have to be discussed further, in particular, the first exception.

Women should "not reveal their adornment ... except such as is outward." What does this refer to? Is it beauty which is most often hidden under clothes that must not be revealed? Then what is that which "is outward"? From the beginning of Islam, many questions arose in relation to "except such as is outward" which were asked from the companions of the Holy Prophet and the helpers and many Shi'ites asked the infallible Imams. There is almost total agreement regarding this point. That is, whether one is Sunni who refers to the companions and helpers of the Holy Prophet or one be a Shi'ite who refers to the recorders of those traditions, there is more or less agreement that which "is outward" is collyrium, a ring and, in some an anklet.

That is, adornments which are used on the two hands and the face. This then shows that it is not obligatory for women to cover their face or their hands. Things which adorn them may appear as long as they are part of common usage. The adornments which are applied to the hands and the face are not obligatory to be covered.

There are great many traditions in relation to this. It was asked from Imam Sadiq what may be displayed of adornments. That is, those things which are not obligatory to cover. He said, "It refers to collyrium and a ring and they are on the face and hands."1 Abi Basir said he asked Imam Sadiq about the exception and he said a ring and bracelet.2

Threre is a tradition recorded by a person who was not a Shi'ite but because of his reliability, he is referred to and quoted by the 'ulama'. He says that he heard from Ja'far ibn Muhammad (A.S.) that the exception is the face and the hands. These are all similar in what they say. When the face and hands do not need to be covered, then their adornment, even more so.

There is another tradition narrated by 'Ali ibn Ibrahim from Imam Baqir, peace be upon him. He was asked about this exception and he said it includes the woman's clothes, collyrium, ring and colouring of the palms of the hands and a bracelet.3 Then the Imam said that we have three levels of adornment, the adornment all people may see, the adornment which mahram may see and the adornment for one's spouse. That which may be displayed for the people is the face and hands and their adornment such as collyrium, a ring, a bracelet but the adornment which may be displayed before someone who is mahram is the neck and above including a necklace, an armlet, hands plus an anklet and anything below the ankles. There is, of course, a difference of opinion as to what can be revealed before someone who is mahram. That which can be concluded from the totality of the traditions and according to the edicts of the religious jurisprudents is that no one is mahram other than one's husband from the navel to the knees. That is, a woman must cover herself from the navel to the knee from even her father or brother and from the navel above, it must be covered from everyone except one's father. But for the husband, a woman may display her whole body.

We have other traditions in this area as well such as the fact that women must 'veil their bosoms'. Before the revelation of this verse, women would wear a scarf but they would place the ends behind their head so that their earrings, neck and chest would show sinc their dresses were most often v-necked. With the revelation of this verse, it became clear that they had to cover their ears, neck and chest with their head covering. There is a tradition recorded by Ibn 'Abbas, the well known transmitter of traditions, that it is obligatory for women to cover their chests and necks.4
The first exception we have referred to relates to what is not obligatory to be covered. The second exception refers to those before whom it is not obligatory to cover such as fathers, husbands, children, etc.

1. "Kafi", vol.5, p.521 and Wasail", vol.3, p.25.

2. Ibid.

3. "Tafsir ul Quran, Safi", 24 : 31.

4. "Majma' al-Bayan" Quran 24 : 31.

Adopted from the book : "On the Islamic Hijab" by : "Murtaza Mutahhari"

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