Is there a direct order in the Qur’an Â for covering heads for women or is it derived from authentic hadiths or just from “ulema“?
The Qur’an has suggested a dress code for women in two kinds of situations: 1) when people visit their homes; and 2) when they have to go out of their houses into public places.
The first situation has been mentioned in Surah Al-Noor. The Qur’an says:
And say to the believing women that they should turn their eyes away from temptation and cover their private parts; that they should not display their ornaments except what appears (without the intention of displaying); that they should draw their head coverings over their bosoms (Al-Noor 24: 31)
A close look at this verse shall show that the Qur’an has mentioned the covering of the women’s head as a matter that is already in practice, and taken for granted. The covering of a woman’s head is thus not a direct Qur’anic commandment, in this situation, yet it has been mentioned in the Qur’an in such a way that it can easily be inferred that according to the Qur’an the natural and the desirable way for a woman is to cover her head when friends and relatives visit her house or when she has to go out to visit them.
The second situation has been mentioned in Surah Al-Ahzaab:
O Prophet , tell your wives and daughters and the believing women that they should put their large wraps over their heads [pulling the corners of their wraps a little over their faces; when they have to go out] that is more convenient, that they should be recognized and (thus) not be harassed. (33: 59)
In this verse, in contrast to the earlier verse, the women are directed to put their large wraps over their heads. This direction, it must be remembered, is given to women for times when they have to go out of their houses or work places1. But even here, the direction is not to cover their heads, but to pull a part of their large wraps a little over their faces. The direction is not that of veiling a woman. It only means that the woman, by her appearance, should be recognized as one belonging to a decent and noble class and thus should not be harassed.
- According to my revised opinion, this verse is not a general directive for women to follow, while going in public places. On the contrary, as the context of the verse indicates, the verse relates to the particular situation in which two distinct social classes – with separate social and socio-moral standings – existed, side by side, in the society – the slave girls and the free women. The background of the verse is that some of the hypocrites would harass free women, when they would come out of their houses. Later, when they were reprimanded for their behavior, they would, innocently, say that they mistook these women for slave girls. It was in this background that the referred verses were revealed. Seen in this context, the verses do not entail a general directive for Muslim women to follow, when going out of their house, but a directive for Muslim women for the sole purpose of creating an apparent distinction between them and the slave girls – who existed in the society as a separate class of women, alongside the free Muslim women. In other words, the purpose of the directive is not to create a distinction between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ women of the society, but to create a recognizable distinction between the free women and the slave girls in the society. If this interpretation of the referred verses of Surah Al-Ahzaab is considered correct, then it would follow that the directive entailed in these verses shall stand redundant, with the universal abolition of the institution of slavery. Moreover, this would also mean that the Qur’an has not given any separate directives regarding the dress code of women for public and private places. In fact, the only permanant directive of the Qur’an, then, would be the one given in Surah Al-Noor. [↩]