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The intimate parts (Arabic: عورة 'awrah, ستر, satr) of the human body must, according to Islam, be covered by clothing. Most of modern Islamic scholars agree that the 'awrah of a man is the area between the navel and the knees, and the 'awrah of a woman is the entire body except the face, hand; exposing the 'awrah of the body is against Islamic law.

The Quran addresses the concept of awrah several times. Islamic scholars have used the relevant surahs and the hadiths to elaborate the concept of 'awrah which is used in fatwas.

Etymology

Main article: Aurat (word)

In Arabic, the term 'awrah or 'awrat (عورة), with the root ‘a-w-r, means "defectiveness", "imperfection", "blemish" or "weakness". The most common English translation of awrah is "nakedness".[1] In Arabic, the word 'awrah is used in reference to both men and women.

In Persian as well as Kurdish, the word 'awrat (Persian: عورت) derived from the Arabic 'awrah, had been used widely to mean "nakedness."

In modern-day Iran, using the two word 'awrah to refer to women is uncommon and is considered sexist language. In Turkish, avrat is an often derogatory term for 'woman' or 'wife'. However in Urdu the word 'aurat' refers to a woman, especially when showing politeness or respect.

In the Quran

Muslims performing the ritual prayer. During the Salat, the awrah must be covered.[2][3]

The term 'awrah as it is used in the Quran is confined neither to women nor to the body. The Quranic text reveals the use of the term in various passages Surah An-Nur and Surah Al-Ahzab.

The below verse is about privacy as the Quranic text states:

... and let those among you who have not yet come to the age of puberty ask your permission (before they come to your presence) on three occasions; before the morning prayer, and while you put off your clothes for the noonday (rest), and after the late-night prayer. (These) three times are of privacy for you, other than these times there is no sin on you or on them to move about, attending (helping) each other.[4]

Another passage in the Quran that uses the term 'awrah, is in Surah Al-Ahzab where it concerns fleeing from battle:

A group of them ask The Prophet for leave, saying, "Our houses are 'awrah", even though their houses are not awrah. Their intent is to flee the battle.[5][6]

In this case, the term 'awrah means "vulnerable".[7][5]

There is another context that relates the story of creation of Adam and Eve in the Garden. In these two instances, the term saw’ah is used as an equivalent to 'awrah.

The text states:

O ye children of Adam! We have bestowed dress upon you to cover your nakedness...[8]

Another word which almost has the same meaning of 'awrah, is the word farj (Arabic: فرج) the plural is furuj (Arabic: فروج).[9] Another quote concerning covering the 'awrah is:

"O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters, and the believing women, to draw their cloaks (veils) over their bodies. That will be better that they should be known (as respectable woman) so as not to be disturbed. And Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." -Al-Ahzab:59 (Qur'an)

The Quran admonishes Muslim women to dress modestly and cover their private areas.[10] The Quran explicitly states that "O wives of The Prophet, you are not like anyone among women" (Quran 33: 32) and as such has separate rules specifically for the wives of Muhammad. The Qur'an tells the male believers (Muslims) to talk to the wives of Muhammad from behind a hijab (curtain or veil). [Quran 33:53] This passage was as follows:

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their khimār over their breasts and not display their beauty except to their husband, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. (Quran 24:31)

While the meaning of khimār is debated, it is often believed to be a headcover that pre-Islamic Arab women wore as an adornment. Part of the people mentioned in the surah above are those among a woman's mahram.

In the following verse, the wives of Muhammad and believing women are asked to draw their jilbab (outer garments) over them (when they go out), as a measure to distinguish themselves from others (as Muslim women), so that they are not harassed. Surah 33:59 reads:

Those who harass believing men and believing women undeservedly, bear (on themselves) a calumny and a grievous sin. O Prophet! Enjoin your wives, your daughters, and the wives of true believers that they should cast their outer garments [Jilbāb] over their persons (when abroad): That is most convenient, that they may be distinguished and not be harassed. [...] (Quran 33:58–59)

In the Hadith

This hadith is frequently cited by Islamic scholars to support their definition of the female 'awrah:[11]

"Asma, daughter of Abu Bakr, entered upon the Apostle of Allah (Peace be upon him) wearing thin clothes. The Apostle of Allah (Peace be upon him) turned his attention from her. He said: O Asma’, when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except this and this, and he pointed to her face and hands." Abu Dawud 4104 [12] [13]


A hadith prohibits looking at private parts. According to Abu Saʽid al-Khudri, Muhammad said,

"A man should not look at the private parts of another man, and a woman should not look at the private parts of another woman. A man should not lie with another man without wearing lower garment under one cover; and a woman should not be lie with another woman without wearing lower garment under one cover." (Sahih Muslim 338a) [14]

Differences between men and women

Men

Pilgrims head to the 'mountain of mercy'.

In Sunni interpretations, the 'awrah of a man refers to the part of the body from the navel to the knees. The Maliki, Shafi'i, Hanafi and Hanbali schools of thought observe that there is a difference on whether the belly button and the knee itself are included. In particular, these observations generally require that the cloth not be too thin, that it is not pale to the extent the color of the skin can be seen, that a man ensures extra covering if his genitals' shape is discernible, and that the modesty of adulthood applies once a boy becomes ten years old.[15]

Women

A Turkish woman wearing a headscarf. Most Muslims hold that the face and the hands are excluded from 'awrah parts.
A Yemeni woman covering her face with niqab. Women who wear the niqab may believe that a woman's face is also part of her 'awrah.

Most of modern Islamic scholars agree that, in public, a woman must cover the entire body except the face, hands and feet.[16]

The covering of the female 'awrah changes according to the situation:

  1. It is from the shoulders and neck down (or navel) to below the knees (inclusive) (Maliki and Hanbali opinion) (Alternate Hanafi opinion)
  2. It is from the navel to the knees and everything in between it (Shafi'i opinion) (The breasts of a woman are not awrah to her mahrams)
  3. It is from the navel to the knees and the stomach and the part of the back parallel to the stomach (Hanafi opinion) (The part of her back parallel to her breasts are not awrah to her mahrams)

However, these views above are only the dominant view and does not represent the whole of Islam, as there are alternative views, such as the view that covering every part of a woman's body except for the face and the hands only apply during salah and ihram and the view that a woman must cover every part of her body at any time except in front of her husband.[20]

In the contemporary world, some Muslims insist that a woman's awrah in front of unrelated men is her entire body including her face and hands, which must be covered at all times in front of non-mahram men. Others disagree and claim it is permissible to show the face and hands. [21][22][23]

Relation with hijab

Afghan women in burqas, the most concealing Islamic garments, with mesh shielding the eyes

Some Muslim women, particularly those living in some parts of the Middle East and South Asia, wear the hijab headscarf.[citation needed] The type most commonly worn in the West is a rectangular scarf that covers the head and neck but leaves the face visible.[citation needed]

Female voice

Main article: Women's prayer in Islam

According to most scholars, the woman's voice is not part of her awrah because, according to hadiths, women asked Muhammad about various matters and he listened to them.

Also, according to tradition[clarification needed], at a mosque, a woman should invite the attention of the Imam by clapping, while men will speak. There is a difference of opinion whether or not a woman should recite the Quran in the presence of non-mahram men.

Certain scholars have concluded from the above differences that a woman's voice is part of her awrah.[24][25]

Debates, deliberations and activism

See also: Islamic feminist views on dress codes

In modern times, the concepts of 'awrah, Haya (Modesty), various levels of seclusion of Muslim women, and about extent to which Muslim restrain their exposure of bodily aspects and association vis a vis Islamic clothing; not only were contested by non-Muslims and ex-Muslims but also continuously been matter of discussions, deliberations, debates, movements and also been part of advice literature, within Muslim societies including that of common Muslim individuals, various traditional schools scholars, intelligentsia, numerous political dispensations and also at times contested by individuals and groups of cultural Muslims; liberals and progressives, modernists and Islamic feminists.[15] In the 1930s just after Turkish reformations under Kemal Atatürk, Malaysians debated adherence to traditional Islamic social restraints over awrah – commonly written as "aurat" in Indonesia and Malaysia[26] – and modesty in contemporary Islamic clothing and whether western modernism is really essential and beneficial.[15]

See also

References

  1. ^ Wehr Arabic-English Dictionary pg 131
  2. ^ Amer, Dr Magdah. An Islamic Perspective on Legislation for Women Part II. ScribeDigital.com. ISBN 978-1-78041-019-7.
  3. ^ Moj, Muhammad (2015-03-01). The Deoband Madrassah Movement: Countercultural Trends and Tendencies. Anthem Press. p. 181. ISBN 978-1-78308-446-3.
  4. ^ Quran 24:58-Sura Al-Nur
  5. ^ a b Haideh Moghissi (2004). Women And Islam: Critical Concepts In Sociology, Social conditions, obstacles and prospects. p. 82.
  6. ^ Surah Al-Ahzab 33:13
  7. ^ Tafsir An-Nur Volume 2 Page 45
  8. ^ Quran Sura- Al-A'raf 7:26
  9. ^ Sura Al-Anbia 91, Sura Al-Muminun 3
  10. ^ Martin et al. (2003), Encyclopedia of Islam & the Muslim World, Macmillan Reference, ISBN 978-0028656038
  11. ^ Sahar Amer (2014, What Is Veiling?, University of North Carolina Press, p. 33-34
  12. ^ "The Hadith Tradition | ReOrienting the Veil".
  13. ^ Dawud, Abi. "34 Clothing (Kitab Al-Libas)". sunnah.com. SUNNAH.COM. Retrieved 27 November 2023.
  14. ^ "كتاب الحيض 3 The Book of Menstruation". sunnah.com. SUNNAH.COM. Retrieved 27 November 2023.
  15. ^ a b c Lee, Nazirah, and Zanariah Noor. "Islam or progress of the nation?: An assessment of the aurat issue in Malay newspapers and magazines in the 1930s." Geografia-Malaysian Journal of Society and Space 12.6 (2017).
  16. ^ Sahar Amer (2014), What is Veiling?, University of North Carolina Press, p. 36
  17. ^ The Hanbali school of thought also views the face as the awrah, though this view is rejected by Hanafis, Malikis and Shafi'is.
  18. ^ Hsu, Shiu-Sian. "Modesty." Encyclopaedia of the Qur'an. Ed. Jane McAuliffe. Vol. 3. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill Academic Publishers, 2003. 403-405. 6 vols.
  19. ^ Abdullah Atif Samih (March 7, 2008). "Not comupulsory to cover the face". Mutaqqun. Archived from the original on May 3, 2006. Retrieved 2008-06-02.
  20. ^ "aurat 'aridhiyah". Islam Rahmah Mission 1.
  21. ^ Mohammad Nasir (March 23, 2007). "In Defense of The Obligation of Niqab". Seeking Ilm. Archived from the original on July 1, 2008. Retrieved 2008-06-02.
  22. ^ Abdullah Atif Samih (March 7, 2008). "What is Awrah?". Mutaqqun. Archived from the original on 2012-10-25. Retrieved 2008-06-02.
  23. ^ Marfuqi, Kitab ul Mar'ah fil Ahkam, pg 133
  24. ^ According to this strictest opinion, the entirety of the woman is awrah. As Faqeeh Qadhi Ibn Al-Arabi said: "And all of the woman is awrah; her body, her voice, and it is not permissible for her to uncover that unless out of necessity, or need such as witnessing (in court), or a disease that is affecting her body…" [Ahkaam Al Qur'aan 3/1579]
  25. ^ Shaikh Khalid Yasin (March 7, 2009). "The Awrah Of Muslim Women Is Also The Voice". YouTube. Retrieved 2008-06-02. [dead link]
  26. ^ Wichelen, Sonja van. (2010). Religion, politics and gender in Indonesia : disputing the Muslim body. London: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-203-85065-7. OCLC 645262104.