Now we will discuss the Quranic verses and after we clarify what traditional
commentators have explained about the verses, then, with the help of traditions
which have been narrated on this topic and the edicts of the religious
jurisprudents on this issue, it will become clearer. The verses relating to the
modest dress are found in Surah Nur and Surah Ahzab. We will mention all of
We will begin our discussion with the verses from Surah Nur. Of course the
verses which relate directly to the modest dress are verses 30 and 31 of Surah
Nur but there are three verses before this which are more or less introductory
to the modest dress and relate to this issue.
The Command to Announce Your Entrance to Someone's
﴾O believers, do not enter houses other than your houses until you
first ask leave and salute the people thereof; that is better for you; haply you
will remember. (24:26)﴿
This verse describes the duty of a man who is not mahram, to the house of
another person, that is, the house of a person whose wife is not mahram to him.
Of course, there are rules regarding those who are mahram and we will mention
them later. Also there are some places where it is not particular to those who
are mahram. It relates to what a person who wants to enter the house of another
It was not the custom among Arabs in the Age of Ignorance to announce that they
wanted permission to enter. They felt it was an insult to seek permission to
enter. The Holy Quran says in another verse,
﴾If you go and seek permission and it is not granted, return.﴿
This may be considered to be an insult by some but this emphasis in the Holy
Quran is one of the introductory aspects of the modest dress because every woman
in her own home is in a situation that she does not want to be seen or she does
not want to see a person. A verse was revealed.
﴾And when you ask his wives for something, ask them from behind a
curtain (hijab). (33:54)﴿
When the Holy Prophet would enter, he would stand behind the door of the room in
a place where they could hear his voice and would call out, "As-salam alaykum ya
ahl al-bayt" ("Peace be upon you oh household of the Prophet"). He said,
"If you hear no answer, perhaps the person did not hear you. Repeat it again in
a loud voice. Repeat for a third time if you receive no response. If, after the
third time that you announce yourself, you hear no response, either that person
is not home or the person does not want you to enter; return." The Holy Prophet
did this and many stories have been narrated about this, such as when he wanted
to enter his daughter's house, he would call out salutations in a loud voice. If
she responded, he would enter. If he called out three times and received no
response, he would return.
"This is purer for you." That is, the commands We give are better for you,
contain goodness, are not illogical. "Know that this is good."
﴾And if you do not find anyone therein, enter it not until leave is
given to you and if you are told "return"; that is purer for you; and God knows
the things you do. (24:27)﴿
﴾There is no fault in you that you enter uninhabited houses wherein
enjoyment is for you. God knows what you reveal and what you hide. (24:28)﴿
This was very difficult for the Arabs to understand. To seek permission when
they wanted to enter a house was itself difficult and then to be told to return
and then to actually do so, was next to impossible. It was an insult.
In the verse,
﴾there is no fault in you...﴿,
an exception arises. Does this ruling apply whenever one wants to enter anyone's
home or only a person's residence. The Holy Quran says this is not a general
ruling and only applies to someone's home.
A home is a place of privacy, the place of one's private life. If this were not
so, there would be need to seek permission. If there is, for instance, a
caravanserai and you have business, do you have to seek permission, etc? No.
Here it is not necessary to enter by seeking permission. What about a public
bath? There is no need here. "There is no fault in you..." if it is not a place
of residence in which you have business. "God knows what you reveal and what
From the word, "uninhabited", one can understand that the philosophy of why a
person cannot enter the home of another without announcing it first is because
of the wife as well as the fact that the home is the place of one's privacy.
Perhaps there are things which one does not want someone else to see.
Thus, when a person enters the privacy of another's home, the entrance must be
announced. A person must, in some way, announce that he wants to enter even if
the person knows that the other has allowed him to enter. He is your friend. He
knows that you are going to enter. You know that he is totally in agreement with
your entering. Still, you should realize that you are entering upon his privacy.
The Command to "cast down their glance", "to Guard Their Private
Parts" and "not to reveal their adornment".
﴾Say to the believing men that they cast down their glance and guard
their private parts; that is purer for them. God is aware of the things they do.
﴾Say to the believing women that they cast down their glance and guard
their private parts and reveal not their adornment except such as is outward and
let them cast their veils (khumar) over their bosoms and reveal not their
adornment except to their husbands, 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 what their right hands own, or such men
as attend to them, not having sexual desire, or children who have not yet
attained knowledge of women's private parts nor let them stamp their feet, so
that their hidden ornament may be known. And turn all together to God, O you
believers, so you will prosper. (24:31)﴿
In the phrase, "Say to the believing men that they cast down their glance,"
there are two words which we have to define. One isghadh and the other is absar.
A person who might say absar, the plural of basar, needs no explanation because
it means eyes but absar essentially means "sight". If it had said "ain asin
ghamdh"ain it would have meant "close their eyes". It would have had a
particular meaning in this case. What does ghadh basar mean? Ghadh means
"lower", "cast down", not "cover" or "close". We see this in another verse,
﴾Be modest in thy walk and lower (yaghaddwu) thy voice; the most
hideous of voices is the ass's. (31:19)﴿
This does not mean to be silent. A person's voice should be moderate. In the
same way, "to cast down one's glance" means not to look in a fixed way, not to
There are essentially two ways of looking. One is to look at another with care
as if you were evaluating the person by the way he looked or dressed. But
another kind of looking is in order to speak to that person and you look since
looking is necessary for conversation. This is a looking which is introductory
and a means for speaking. This is an organic looking while the former is an
autonomous kind. Thus, the sentence means: "Tell the believers not to stare
at or flirt with women."
In the next sentence it says,
﴾Tell the believing men. . . to guard their private parts. (24:30)﴿
To guard from what? From everything which is not correct, guard against both
corruption and the glance of others.
As you know, it was not the custom among Arabs in the Age of Ignorance to hide
their private parts. Islam came and made it obligatory to cover this area.
It should be noted that the present Western civilization is moving directly
towards the habits of the pre-Islamic Arabs in the Age of Ignorance and they are
continuously weaving philosophies justifying that nakedness is a good thing.
﴾Say to the believing women that they cast down their glance...
You see that in these two verses, the ruling for a man and woman is the same.
This is not something particular to men. For instance, if women were forbidden
from looking and not men, there would have been a distinction that such and such
was all right for men but not for women. It is clear, then, that when there is
no distinction made between men and women, it has another purpose which we shall
discuss in the next lesson.
TThe 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 henna or 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 pure Imams. There is almost total agreement regarding this
point. That is, whether one is a 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
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 a woman's
clothes, collyrium, ring and coloring of the palms of the hands and a bracelet."
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.
We have other traditions in this area as well such as the fact that women must
"cast their veils over 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 since 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
traditional recorded by Ibn Abbas, the well known transmitter of traditions,
that it is obligatory for women to cover their chests and neck.