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Last Updated: 2011/04/20
Summary of question
Are the boundaries of the Islamic hijab contingent upon different urfs, environments and places? Can ta’zir be carried out if one does not submit to it?
Can social customs or the environment at work change the legal boundaries of hijab? For instance, women from lorestan who are seasonal migrants, braid their hair at a certain age and leave some of it hanging out of the hijab, or women in the south of Iran which normally don’t wear socks, or women from the north that fold up the bottom of their pants while working in fields or female employees when a little above of their wrist is showing? Is not submitting to the restrictions of hijab a sin? If so, is it considered to be a major sin? Regardless of that, can the Islamic judge carry out ta’zir as regards to their actions along with other women in society who reveal their hair, or wear tight clothing which is revealing of the body’s figure, or women with inappropriate clothing and women who wear makeup?
Concise answer

It is wajib for all women to conform to a complete hijab in front of non mahram men. There is no distinction in this hukm between women who are migratory and others and social customs or special environments do not create an exception.

What has been relevantly asserted regarding seasonal migrators is whether they, and whoever else that doesn’t adhere to the obligation of hijab and therefore does not have true respect for themselves, can be looked at without lustful intentions or the fear of leading to a sin.

Anyhow, not observing hijab is a sin by which the ruler of the Muslim government has the authority to execute ta’zir upon the said person contingent upon it being to the benefit of the whole and the individual.

Detailed Answer

It is mandatory for all women to conform to a complete hijab in front of non-mahrams. There is no distinction in this ruling between women who are seasonal migrants and other groups of women. Moreover, social customs or a special environment do not make any exceptions.

Islam has strictly determined the boundaries for women’s hijab; first regarding the extent of hijab covering the body - which is to cover the whole body except for the face and hands (up to the wrists). And second in relation to ‘in what way’ it should be, i.e., it cannot be tight and revealing of the body’s figure and should not attract the attention of the opposite gender. The position of society in regard to the hijab, is that it usually indicates the style of hijab one can wear, while keeping in mind the boundaries which Islam has fundamentally dictated, meaning that the urf (social custom) of every society must make sure that its attire corresponds with Islamic standards. It is for this reason that the native clothing of every society includes clothing that is compatible with hijab and clothing that isn’t. One lady might be wearing a common and acceptable form of clothing in Lorestan that sustains her hijab as opposed to one who wears another traditional clothing that doesn’t.

However, the popular discussion about seasonal migrants and those similar to them is that they, and in general whoever that does not act according to the ruling of hijab and therefore does not respect herself, can be looked at under the condition that there are no bad intentions involved or even the fear of it leading to a sin.

In the Tawdih al Masa'il of the great maraje taqlid, most importantly Imam Khomeini, it reads: “Women must cover their hair and body from non-mahrams. Furthermore, as an obligatory precaution, a boy that is not yet baligh but is able to distinguish right and wrong and has reached an age where he is able to look with lust is the same as a non-mahram” [1] . In addition to that, wearing clothing that is attractive because of its color, type or simply the way of wearing it, causing non-mahrams to sin, is also considered haram [2] .

The Supreme Leader asserts that: “Women must cover their entire body in front of non-mahrams, except the face and hands up to the wrist” [3] .

Makarem: “It is required for women to cover their whole body from non-mahrams with the exception of their faces and hands up to the wrist. And this amount of hijab can be carried out using any type of clothing as long as it is not tight and expressive. However, the chadur is the best hijab. But when around mahrams, women can show their head, neck and uncover some of the upper chest, arms and legs while covering the rest, that is that one cannot be half naked even in when she is among her mahrams. Also, the urf of a society as well has no influence on this ruling [4] . There are no restrictions as to the type of clothing that must be worn as long as it isn’t tight and expressive or considered to be finery [5] .

Sistani: It (urf, environment and special place) makes no difference; women are not legally allowed to uncover more than their face and hands – to the wrist – before non-mahrams [6] . Although, looking at careless women who do not submit to the complete hijab when being asked to do so, is halal, assuming that it is a look without lust or the fear of leading to a sin. This ruling applies to both Muslim and Non-Muslim women, making other portions of their body that they do not usually cover no different than the face and hands [7] .

Therefore hijab is an undisputable ruling in the Islamic school of thought which makes submitting to the distinct amount of hijab (the whole the body except the face and hand to the wrist) mandatory in all environments, conditions, countries and cities (just like how a large amount of Muslim women in European countries and America and other Non-Muslim environments wear their hijab in the best and most complete manner). Thus it is considered haram and a sin not to wear a complete hijab [8] . As a result every woman should abide by what is written in the Resalah of the Maraje’ about the Islamic hijab. Of course the appearance of the hijab may alter in different societies, environments, places and at different jobs but this is of little importance to Islam, although the chadur is known as the best hijab.

Even though what happens in the personal life of someone is a personal matter in which no one has the right to intrude, when something personal is exposed it turns into a social issue that consequently affects others. It is in this case that the Islamic government and the Islamic judge can – as a means of nahy an-munkar (forbidding evil) – impose the use of hijab onto a particular person or even appoint a punishment for not abiding by it in order to attain moral order. This is essentially because not adhering to the Islamic hijab is illegal and according to the general ruling in Islam every haram act can be subject to ta’zir.

For more information on the topic please refer to the following entries:

1. The ruling of hijab and the reasons for its enforcement, Question 1174 (website: 1177).

2. The boundaries of women’s hijab, Question 496 (website: 537).

3. The different degrees of sins, Question 1613 (website: 1614).

[1] Tawdih al-Masa’el (annotated by Imam Khomeini), vol. 2, pg. 488.

[2] Ibid, vol. 2, pg. 1012.

[3] Written inquiry from his eminence’s office.

[4] Written inquiry from his eminence’s office.

[5] Ibid, vol. 2, pg. 492.

[6] Written inquiry from his eminence’s office.

[7] Tawdih al-Masa’el (annotated by Imam Khomeini), vol. 2, pg. 488.

[8] In some sayings it has been said that not observing the hijab is a small sin that is on the verge of being a great sin, and it is because of this that when the individual commits a small sin, it is as if he has engaged in a great sin; therefore it is because of this that they say insisting on small sins is a great sin and there is no distinct line between small sins and great ones. See: translation and commentary of Tabsirah al-Muta’allemin fi Ahkam al-Din, vol. 2, pg. 503 and pg. 717.

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