How Was Hijab Enacted in Islam? Did it become obligatory gradually or instantaneously? Did the rules, which were applicable to the Holy Prophet’s wives, have any role in the obligation of hijab?
There are numerous evidences in the Quran which clearly indicate that women did not wear proper modest dress in public in the Arab society before the advent of Islam. No sooner Islam emerged in the Arabian Peninsula than it presented clear rules for women’s dress. The rules regarding hijab and its limits are mentioned in two chapters of the Holy Quran. First, the Quran makes mention of some of the rules of hijab in Sura al-Ahzab (which was sent down in the fourth Hegira year) and then the Quran provides more details into the rules of hijab in Sura al-Noor (which was revealed in the seventh Hegira year).
In Sura al-Ahzab, the holy Quran not only explains the duty of the wives of the Holy Prophet (s) as the closest people to him but it also speaks of how they should dress when in public. Because being the closest people to the Prophet (s), their deeds and conducts are ascribed to the Messenger of Allah and other women would look at them as role models. For this reason, it is necessary that their actions be in accordance with the Islamic standards and that they should avoid following the prevalent traditions, customs and norms of the ignorant Arabs. That was why the Quran speaking of their duties and obligations, said to them as such:
“O wives of the Prophet! you are not like any other of the women; If you will be on your guard, then be not soft in (your) speech, lest he in whose heart is a disease yearn; and speak a good word. And stay in your houses and do not display your finery like the displaying of the ignorance of yore; and keep up prayer, and pay the poor-rate, and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah only desires to keep away the uncleanness from you, O people of the House! and to purify you a (thorough) purifying.”
Also in another verse in the same chapter, the Quran says:
“O Prophet! say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers that they let down upon them their over-garments; this will be more proper, that they may be known, and thus they will not be given trouble; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.”
The commandments which have been revealed in these two verses are the following:
- The women should not speak in provocative way.
- They should not go out of their home in the same way as they used to go out in the time of Jahiliyah (ignorance).
- Establish prayers.
- Give Zakat.
- Obey God and His Prophet, peace be upon and his progeny.
- The women should let down upon them their over-garments; this will be more proper, that they may be known, and thus they will not be given trouble.
In ayah 31 of Sura Al-Noor, and in many traditions, the limitations of hijab have been made clear. In this verse Allah states:
“And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and do not display their ornaments except what appears thereof, and let them wear their head-coverings over their bosoms, and not display their ornaments except to their husbands or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or the sons of their husbands, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or the male servants not having need (of women), or the children who have not attained knowledge of what is hidden of women; and let them not strike their feet so that what they hide of their ornaments may be known; and turn to Allah all of you, O believers! so that you may be successful.”
In the occasion of revelation of this verse, they have said that Arabs during that time wore head-garbs and covering, and they would throw the ends over their shoulders or on their backs, in such a way that the head-garb would be set behind their ears, and they would only cover their heads and the back of their necks. The historians confirm that the women of the Arabian Peninsula did not wear proper hijab.
In another verse in the same chapter the Quran says:
“Such elderly women as are past the prospect of marriage,- there is no blame on them if they lay aside their (outer) garments, provided they make not a wanton display of their beauty: but it is best for them to be modest: and Allah is One Who sees and knows all things.”
The commandments which have been revealed in these two verses are the following:
- The women should cast down their looks. That is to say, they should not look at others with lust.
- They should guard their private parts.
- They should not display their charms and adornments except for those parts which are visible
- They should cover their bosoms with their veils (so that their necks and chests are covered with it).
- They should not reveal their adornments to anyone except their husbands, or their fathers, or their husband’s fathers, or their sons, or their husband’s sons, or their brothers, or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’, or their women or their female captives, or male dependants lacking [sexual] desire, or children initiated to women’s parts.
- They should not thump their feet to make known their hidden ornaments or lest they should create noise with their anklets.
- Women who are aged and who do not hope to get married in future are allowed to put their covering aside provided that they should not expose their ornaments.
In view of the commandments in the verses of these two chapters (which were revealed within a time gap of four years), it is clear that the verses in Sura al-Noor does not abrogate or modify any verses of Sura Al-Ahzab. Indeed, there is only one exception which includes the elderly and aged women who have passed the age of marriage and who no longer hope to get married to anyone. “Such elderly women as are past the prospect of marriage,- there is no blame on them if they lay aside their (outer) garments, provided they make not a wanton display of their beauty…”
Therefore, it can be said that none of the injunctions in the previous verses (Sura al-Ahzab) have been cancelled or abrogated or adjusted by the verses in the succeeding chapters. In fact, there is only one exception about the elderly women who have passed the age of marriage as they are not under the obligation to observe the Islamic modest dress in the same way as young and marriageable women should. As for other women, the rules hold good for them. It should be noted that Islam has not ordered women in an absolute manner not to get out of their homes. It says: “And stay in your houses and do not display your finery like the displaying of the ignorance of yore.” It can, therefore, be concluded that women’s going out with complete covering had been permissible from the very beginning.
 Vide: Muhammad Hussein Tabatabai, Tafsir al-Mizan, vol. 2, pg. 376-377, Society of Teachers, Qom; Muhammad Zarkashi, Al-Burhan, vol.1, pg.251, Dar al-Fikr, Beirut, 1408 A.H; Jalaluddin Suyuti, Al-Etqan, vol. 1, pg. 41 and 43; Muhammad Hadi Ma’refat, al-Tamhid fi Ulum al-Qur’an, vol. 1, pg. 106 – 107, Mehr Publication, Qom, 1396.
 Al-Ahzab, 32 – 33:
“یا نِسَاء النَّبِى لَسْتُنَّ کَأَحَد مِّنَ النِّسَاء إِنِ اتَّقَیتُنَّ فَلَا تَخْضَعْنَ بِالْقَوْلِ فَیطْمَعَ الَّذِى فِى قَلْبِهِ مَرَضٌ وَقُلْنَ قَوْلًا مَّعْرُوفًا* وَقَرْنَ فِى بُیوتِکُنَّ وَلَا تَبَرَّجْنَ تَبَرُّجَ الْجَاهِلِیةِ الْأُولَى..”
 Al-Ahzab, 59:
“یا أَیهَا النَّبِى قُل لِّأَزْوَاجِکَ وَبَنَاتِکَ وَنِسَاء الْمُؤْمِنِینَ یدْنِینَ عَلَیهِنَّ مِن جَلَابِیبِهِنَّ ذَلِکَ أَدْنَى أَن یعْرَفْنَ فَلَا یؤْذَینَ وَکَانَ اللَّهُ غَفُورًا رَّحِیمًا“
 Al-Noor, 31:
:”وَ قُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ یَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَرِهِنَّ وَ یحَْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَ لَا یُبْدِینَ زِینَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَ لْیَضْرِبْنَ بخُِمُرِهِنَّ عَلىَ جُیُوبهِِنَّ وَ لَا یُبْدِینَ زِینَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ ءَابَائهِنَّ أَوْ ءَابَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَائهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَاءِ بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنىِ إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنىِ أَخَوَاتِهِنَّ أَوْ نِسَائهِنَّ أَوْ مَا مَلَکَتْ أَیْمَانُهُنَّ أَوِ التَّابِعِینَ غَیرِْ أُوْلىِ الْارْبَةِ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ أَوِ الطِّفْلِ الَّذِینَ لَمْ یَظْهَرُواْ عَلىَ عَوْرَاتِ النِّسَاءِ وَ لَا یَضْرِبْنَ بِأَرْجُلِهِنَّ لِیُعْلَمَ مَا یخُْفِینَ مِن زِینَتِهِنَّ وَ تُوبُواْ إِلىَ اللَّهِ جَمِیعًا أَیُّهَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّکمُْ تُفْلِحُون.
 See, Jawad Ali, Al-Mufassal fi Tarikh al-Arab, vol. 4, pg. 617, Yahya al-Jaburi, Al-Jahiliyah, pg. 72 and Murteza Mutahhari, Ibid, vol. 19, pg. 385 – 391.
 Al-Noor, 60:
” وَ الْقَوَاعِدُ مِنَ النِّسَاء اللَّاتِى لَا یرْجُونَ نِکَاحًا فَلَیسَ عَلَیهِنَّ جُنَاحٌ أَن یضَعْنَ ثِیابَهُنَّ غَیرَ مُتَبَرِّجَات بِزِینَة وَ أَن یسْتَعْفِفْنَ خَیرٌ لَّهُنَّ وَ اللَّهُ سَمِیعٌ عَلِیمٌ“