treasure_chestIn many secret locations, treasure-chests, deposits, safes, banks, hidden excavations in the ground and chambers, people have hidden away from the eyes of men the most precious of items, the likes of money and jewellery. Some hide them out of fear of theft, whereas other items, such as precious stones and gold, are hidden in order to preserve their beauty and worth. Sadly, before the dignity of woman comes the need for the security of material assets.

The hearts which contain faith in the One Ever-Watching Lord ache in pain when seeing the abuse, misuse, oppression and brainwashing of women who are engrossed within titles of freedom and modernism yet unclad and devoid of shame and honour. Indeed, they have stripped off much more than their clothing: their ability to be judged for who they are over what they wear and look like. They have become prey for many men whose unrestrained glances relish and covet them with animalistic and hedonistic looks. Even many of their men don’t mind them being an open show for both the indecent people to stare at them and for decent people to become embarrassed by their immodest exposure. Strange indeed is their greedy protection for their precious inanimate objects, such as money, diamonds and jewellery that they so fastidiously store away, in comparison to their protection of the women of their homes, their ‘soul-mates’, wives, mothers and daughters.

I ask you: what liberty is there in being openly paraded in front of all men indiscriminately, regardless of whether they are drug addicts, alcoholics, gay, paedophiles, porn addicts... Are such women truly FREE?! Or are they free to be devoured by a godless, capitalist, hungry and sex-driven society. THAT is why majority of the monstrous media outlets relish in annihilating good ethics and morals. The media and news weekly censure the evil advances made towards women, such as date-rape and molestation, while simultaneously, hand-in-hand, they openly declare war against the pure veil. Yes, the very veil worn by Mother Mary, which was once upon a time for them an icon and embodiment of modesty and refinement, has now become, as declared by Jack Straw’s and Mr. Sarkozy’s Jihaad, a garb of the social outcasts.
No longer does it matter who doesn’t wear next to anything... it’s about who wears the ...burqas and abayas!

The Reality

Ah! How dark memories eat away at the tranquillity and peace of many a woman and young girl, who are now to live with regrets that tarnish and stain their lives.

My sisters, a woman –especially the Muslim woman - is more precious and deserving of attention and care than the most exquisite and beautiful of gems, diamonds and expensive stones. For she is a human being, with a heart that gushes forth sentiments and feelings from within her soul. She is a mother, a daughter, a wife and above all, she is from the Ummah (the people to whom the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) has been sent) of Islaam. Unlike these materialistic assets, she is a woman who is free to enjoy the permissible delights of this world, view its enchanting scenes and enjoy the shade of the expansive heaven above. She can breathe the freshness of the autumn breeze and can see her reflection in the lakes of summer.

Yes, she can do all this, while being covered and protected within the warmth and care of her Islamic attire. A Muslim woman wears her Hijaab and Jilbaab knowing that it is an open statement of her belief and faith in Allah, the One and True Lord. She walks with happiness, tranquillity and peace emanating from her heart. This is because she has been blessed by her Lord with the honour of wearing the dress code of the believing women of all times.

The Muslim Woman’s role models are the Mothers of the Believers and how excellent these role models are indeed! Her guide is the Qur’aan, of which the character of the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) was a receptacle.

The Sahaabiyaat's Reaction towards this Divine Command

Dear Sisters! Let’s open our hearts and allow it to sink in the words of the Lord of the heavens and the earth, {And say to the faithful women to lower their gazes, and to guard their private parts, and not to display their beauty except what is apparent of it, and to extend their head-coverings (khumur) to cover their bosoms...} (Surah an-Nur, verse 31)

Imaam Abu Abdullah Qurtubi (rahimahullah) said,

"Women in those days used to cover their heads with the Khimaar (cloth), throwing its ends upon their backs. This left the neck and the upper part of the chest bare, along with the ears, in the manner of the Christians. Then Allah commanded them to cover those parts with the Khimaar."

Imaam ibn Katheer (rahimahullah) wrote,

"{Extend their khimaars to cover their bosoms} means that they should wear the Khimaar in such a way that they cover their chests so that they will be different from the women of the Jaahiliyyah (Time of Ignorance) who did not do that but would pass in front of men with their chests uncovered and with their necks, forelocks and earrings uncovered."

My dear sister, Allah (the Mighty) has not only sanctioned the Khimaar, but another garment also comes your way, which will envelop your beauty, your very being, your physical charm and preserve it for him who is worthy of you, who has respected you by taking you under his protection in the name of Allah and by undertaking the strong covenant of marriage. More importantly, by wearing it you will be following the Words of your Creator, you will be actualising your honourable title of being a Muslimah, a woman who submits to her Lord. Your love for the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) will adorn your actions, just as the horizon is adorned by the golden light of dawn. For, Allah (the Mighty) commanded His Messenger to announce to all the Muslim Women, of which you my dear Sister are also a member,

{O Prophet! Say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the faithful to draw their outer-garments (jalaabeebihinna) close around themselves; that is better that they will be recognized and not annoyed. And God is ever Forgiving, Gentle.}

You are following the way of the pious women before you. Therefore, envelop yourself with Allah’s guidance and mercy by following His teachings, just as the Sahaabiyaat did. Umm Salamah, the Mother of the Faithful said,

“When the verse, {That they should draw their Jalaabeeb close around them} was revealed, the women of Ansaar (the women companions of Madinah) came out as if they had crows over their heads by wearing Jalaabeeb.” (Sunan Aboo Daawood, Book 32 #4090)

In fact, some of the Sahaabiyaat remained in their homes and would not go out until and unless they had a Jilbaab. In Prophetic Narrations (ahaadeeth), we find that the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) commanded the Sahaabiyaat to come out for the ‘Eed gathering. One of them then asked the Messenger (peace be upon him),

"O Messenger of Allah! What about the one who does not have a Jilbaab?” He said, "Let her borrow the Jilbaab of her companion." (Saheeh Bukhaari, Book 8 #347)

It is noteworthy that the Prophet (peace be upon him) did not say that she could suffice with a baggy shirt and a baggy lower-garment, as the men wore. Secondly, he did not have to define to her what the Jilbaab actually was. This is because the Jilbaab was understood and known to them, both by language as well as by the faith that glowed and alighted the path of guidance for them. In truth, many of us today know what the Jilbaab signifies yet try to interpret it to mean something else. Is it really ignorance or is there a bigger agenda… of the satan that perches on the heart of man when Allah (the Mighty) isn’t remembered.

Let’s look at how the female Companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him) wholeheartedly complied with the command of their Lord, submitting to it by embracing the Jilbaab. In Rooh al-Ma’aani, 22/89, it says,

“After the revelation of this verse, many female Companions (may Allah be pleased with them all) used to emerge outside their homes with complete reticence as though birds were sitting on their heads. They used to cover themselves with long black cloaks.”

niqaabigrey89As I come near to the conclusion of this article I wish to present to you, my dear Sister, a beautiful narration of our Beloved Messenger (may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). The Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) said, "Allah said, ‘My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him.’” (Saheeh al-Bukhaari)

That is why we find many of the female Companions also adopting the face-veil. For many the face-veil brings about a frown on the face, but as for those who are acquainted with history know that the face was covered not only by many Muslim women but also by many pious women in the past. For it was an emblem of modesty, something to be respected and not vilified.

After Surah an-Noor, verse 31 had been revealed, the Mothers of the Faithful, as well as the Sahaabiyaat (Women Companions), continued to wear Niqaab with the approval of the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam). This has been specifically mentioned for Umm Khallad (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 14 #2482), Asma bint Abu Bakr (Muwatta, Book 20 #20.5.16), and some Qurayshi women who were visiting the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) (Sahih Bukhari, Book 54 #515).

Therefore, we should respect the Niqaab even if we do not don it ourselves. How can our hearts have a dislike, an itch against any of the practices of the Sahaabiyaat? Although there is a difference of opinion over whether the Niqaab is binding upon a Muslimah, there is no difference of opinion over the fact that it is a highly recommended action. Therefore, the Khimaar (a big Hijaab fully covering the chest) and the Jilbaab are a must and binding upon every single Muslimah who has testified in the Oneness of Allah and the Messengership of the final Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him).

Following the Deen al-Haqq (true religion) is an honour and great blessing. For, Allah (the Mighty) has blessed you with belief in Him, without you ever having seen Him. That in itself is truly a miracle. Not only that, dear Sister, Allah (the Omnipotent) has blessed you in becoming a follower of the Final and Noble Messenger Muhammad (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam), although you have never sat in his presence nor met him in this life.

Let’s not shy away from being enveloped by the teachings of Islaam and the command of our Lord and His Messenger, peace be upon him, and let’s allow our every single breath to be an act of worship until we meet our Lord.

And surely, the meeting is soon.


This is an amazing lecture by Imaam Siraaj Wahaaj on the Jilbaab. All sisters are advised to listen to this talk and pass it on to other sisters.

Allah Almighty has said: {O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their Jilbaabs over their bodies. That will be better (for them), (so) that they shall be known (as free respectable women and) and not harmed. And Allâh is ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.} (Surah al-Ahzaab [33]:59)

Download (right click & "save target as")

For more recommended lectures: Click Here.


currentaffairsAllah, the Most High says:

“O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and believing women that they should cast their Jalaabeeb [outer- garments] over their persons. That is most convenient that they should be known (as such) and not molested. And Allah is Most Forgiving and Most Merciful.” (Surah al-Ahzaab, verse 59).

The above verse is clear in determining that it is obligatory (Fardh) upon a woman to cover herself with a Jilbaab. This leaves us with a question, what is a Jilbaab?

It is stated in Lisaan al-Arab:

“Jilbaab, plural of Jalaabeeb: an outer garment or a cloak with it a woman covers her head and chest. And it is said: It is a long cloak that covers a woman completely." (Ibn Manzur, Lisan al-Arab, 2/317).

Sayyiduna Ibn 'Abbaas (may Allah be pleased with him) states: “Jilbab is long cloak that covers a woman from her head to her feet.” (Ruh al-Ma’ani, 22/88).

The Two Types of Jilbaab

There are two kinds of Jilbaab:

1. A Jilbaab which is worn from the head down, all the way down to the feet, wearing just one cloth. This type of Jilbaab is predominant in Saudi Arabia, Iran and such places.

2. Other sisters wear a Jilbaab which is detached from the Khimaar (head-cover), and flows from the shoulder downward. If a sister wears this kind of Jilbaab then she must insure that her Hijaab is big enough and covers her hair, ears, neck and chest properly. If she is complacent in doing so, then a day is near when she will be accountable to her Lord.

Let's contemplate the following narration:

'After the revelation of this verse, many female Companions (Allah be pleased with them all) used to emerge outside their homes with complete reticence as though birds were sitting on their heads. They used to cover themselves with long black cloaks.' (See: Ruh al-Ma’ani, 22/89).

The above and other interpretations of Jilbaab are clear that a Jilbaab is the outer garment that women must wear when emerging in front of strangers, be it outside or within the home. This garment must be wide, loose, and modest and cover the body completely. The scholars differed over whether or not the face-veil is included, without a doubt it is highly recommended.


Evidence from the Qur’aan

muslimah-at-sunset2In the Quran, Allah ('azza wa jall) says:

{O Prophet! Say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the faithful to draw their Jalaabeeb close around them; that is better that they will be recognized and not annoyed. And God is ever Forgiving, Gentle.} (Surah al-Ahzab, [33]:59)

In this verse there is a clear command for Muslim women to wear a garment which Allah ('azza wa jall) has referred to as "Jalaabeeb", the plural of "Jilbaab". The Jilbaab is an outer-garment, an extra layer, something worn over normal clothing.

Further, in Surah an-Noor, chapter 24, verse 31, Allah ('azza wa jall) commands the Prophet (sallallahu `alayhi wasallam) to say to the believing women,

{And say to the faithful women to lowe r their gazes, and to guard their private parts, and not to display their adornment except what is apparent of it, and to extend their head-coverings (khumur) to cover their bosoms, and not to display their adornment except to 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' sons, or their womenfolk, or what their right hands rule (slaves), or the followers from the men who do not feel sexual desire, or the small children to whom the nakedness of women is not apparent, and not to strike their feet (on the ground) so as to make known what they hide of their adornments. And turn in repentance to Allah together, O you the faithful, in order that you are successful.}

This Qur'anic verse lists a number of things that Muslim Sisters are to do:

1) Lower the gaze (from looking at that which is impermissible).

2) Guard the private parts; by, for example, not having sexual relationships outside marriage.

3) Conceal all of the body and its decorations except "what is apparent of it". Some scholars have agreed that the face and the hands are "what is apparent of it"; other scholars say that only the eyes are "what is apparent of it".

4) Wear a Khimaar (head-covering) and extend it to cover the bosom. This means that it covers the hair, the neck, the shoulders, and the upper chest.

5) That the husband, mahram relatives, women, slaves, male servants who do not feel sexual desire, and children are the only people who can see more of the woman than "what is apparent of it".

6) Not stamp the feet, so that what is hidden becomes known to others, such as anklets.

jilbaabis566It can clearly be seen from this analysis that Allah ('azza wa jall) has commanded every believing woman that when non-Mahram men are present, she is to wear the Jilbaab, which is loose and opaque, plus a headscarf (referred to in the Quran as 'Khimaar').

Surah an-Noor, chapter 24, verse 60, provides an exemption for certain women in regard to the Jilbaab. It reads as follows, {And the elderly women, those who do not have hope of marriage, there is no fault on them that they lay aside (some of) their clothing as long as they are not making a display of their adornment. And that they refrain is better for them. And Allah is the Hearer, the Knower.}

For those who who say that the Jilbaab is 'just a tradition' and 'not from Islaam', here is an interesting puzzle. Elderly women who have no hope of getting married again are allowed to, "lay aside (some of) their clothing" - but they are restricted from making a display of their adornment. How can a woman lay aside any part of her clothing without making a display of her body? The answer is: she is laying aside an extra layer. This is the only way to understand this verse.

So what is this "extra layer" that Muslim women are wearing? My dear sister, it is the Jilbaab! Many of our predecessors explained that these verses pertain to the Jilbaab.

Some of them include:

  • Ibn Abbas,
  • Ibn Umar,
  • Mujahid,
  • Sa'id ibn Jubayr,
  • Abu ash-Sha'tha,
  • Ibrahim an-Nakha'i,
  • Al-Hasan,
  • Qatadah,
  • Az-Zuhri, and
  • Al-Awza'i in Imam ibn Kathir's Tafseer (commentary) of Surah an-Noor, verse 60.

May Allah be pleased with them all. Hence, what we learn is:

*The Muslim woman is commanded in Surah an-Noor, verse 31, that whenever she is around non-Mahram men, she must cover with a Jilbaab. This rule is always in force whenever non-mahram men are present, whether she is indoors or outdoors.

*The only exception to the rule regarding the Jilbaab is that of elderly women who do not have hope of marriage. They may leave off the Jilbaab, as long as they continue to wear other clothing that covers them. Although, it is important to note that if an elderly woman has the potential to be a temptation for men, for example she still looks young, then such a woman should be careful and cover, so as to safeguard herself and also not be a cause of temptation for others, as this exception is for women who have aged outwardly.

The Women-Companions and the Jilbaab

When the above verse was revealed, the Sahaabiyaat were eager to obey the command of their Lord, the Most High, without complacency or procrastination.

Umm Salamah, the Mother of the Faithful, said,

“When the verse, "That they should draw their jalaabeeb close around them" was revealed, the women of Ansaar came out as if they had crows over their heads by wearing Jalaabeeb.” (Sunan Abu Dawud, Book 32, #4090)

Jilbaab_BrownIn fact, some of the Sahaabiyaat remained in their homes and did not go out when they didn’t have a Jilbaab. In Prophetic Narrations (aHaadeeth), we find that the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) commanded the Sahaabiyaat to come out for the Eid gathering:

Narrated Umm Atiyya: “We were ordered to bring out our menstruating women and screened women to the religious gatherings and invocation of the Muslims on the two Eid festivals. These menstruating women were to keep away from the musallaa (prayer area). A woman asked,

"O Messenger of Allah! What about one who does not have a Jilbaab?"

He said, "Let her borrow the jilbaab of her companion." (Sahih Bukhari, Book 8, #347)

My Dear Sister, surely if it were allowed for a sister to go outdoors without Jilbaab, why didn't the Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wasallam) allow the Sahaabiyaat to leave their homes, in order to join the believers in the celebration of E’id, without their Jilbaabs? But instead, he told them that they must find the garment called "Jilbaab" to wear, even if they had to borrow one from a friend!

The rule is plain: It is disobedience to Allah (subhaanahu wa ta'aala) and His Noble Messenger (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) if a woman goes outdoors without wearing the garment called "Jilbaab".

What does the dictionary say about Jilbaab?

The definitive dictionary of classical Arabic, ‘Lisan al-Arab’ by Ibn al-Mandhur, provides the following definition of Jilbaab,

"The Jilbaab is the outer-garment, mantle, or cloak. It is derived from the word tajalbaba, which means to clothe. Jilbaab is the outer sheet or covering which a woman wraps around her on top of her garments to cover herself from head to toe. It hides her body completely." (Lisan al-Arab, volume 7, page 273)

The dictionary al-Qamus al-Muhit by Abu Tahir al-Fayruzabadi provides the following definition,

"The Jilbaab is that which conceals the clothes like a cover."

The dictionary al-Sihah by Jawhari provides the definition,

"The Jilbaab is the cover and some say it is a sheet. Jilbaab has been mentioned in the Prophetic Narrations with the meaning of sheet, which the woman wrapped over the clothes."

What material should the Jilbaab be made of?

This garment must be made of fabric that is thick and opaque so that it does not show what is beneath it, and it must be loose so that it does not reveal the contours of what is beneath it.

A Statement of Modesty, A Protection

Modesty is always a concern whenever non-Mahram men are present, and for the purposes of modesty a sister must wear a Khimaar and Jilbaab, which has been commanded by Allah ('azza wa jall) in the Qur’aan. It is therefore incorrect to say that Shalwaar Kameez or other conservative outfits with the Hijaab alone, are sufficient for the purposes of modesty.

Rather, when a sister goes outdoors or in public, there may be other concerns beyond modesty. Surah al-Ahzab, verse 59, mentions these concerns in giving the reason for the command of Jilbaab, when it says, "that is better so that they are recognized and not annoyed" . From this we can see that the Jilbaab has two purposes:

1) To make the sister recognizable as a Muslim woman.

2) To protect her from being "annoyed", i.e., harassed, molested and hurt.

In Conclusion:

The Muslim woman, as is clear from the verses of the Qur'aan, must wear the Jilbaab.

She should wear it proudly and with conviction, because it asserts her Islamic identity and is a command from the Lord of the Worlds.


sistershelpThe sources in Islamic law are primarily the Qur’aan and Sunnah[1]. The Qur’an, the book held sacred by Muslims, contains approximately 500 verses dealing with diverse topics which are of a legal relevance. The Sunnah represents the repository of reports of sayings, acts and consent of the Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam). The role of the Sunnah is seen as an elaboration of the Quranic injunctions. There are other sources which derive from the two primary sources and they are the Ijmaa’ (legal consensus), Qiyaas (analogical deduction) and other disputed sources but they are not relevant to the discussion at hand.

The Notion of an Islamic Dress Code

Islamic law is comprehensive in its enunciation of a code of conduct with respect to an individual’s life and dealings with others. Part of this are the rules pertaining to dress and attire. The dress code includes rules for men and women. So for example, a man is obliged to cover a certain part of his body whilst in front of others and he is not allowed to wear gold and silk which women are allowed to do. On the other hand women are also obliged to cover a certain part of their person when going out of the family home wearing a headscarf (Khimaar) and an outer garment (Jilbaab) which men are not required to do. Thus, the Jilbaab is not a new innovation but part of the well known attire of the dress code for Muslim women.

Explicit Mention of Jilbaab in Primary Muslim Religious Sources

The authority of the requirement for women to wear the Jilbaab is the Qur’an itself. In the chapter of al-Ahzaab (The Confederates) the following verse instructs Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam),

{O Prophet! Say to your wives and your daughters and the women of the faithful to draw their jalaabeeb (pl. of jilbaab) close around them; that is better that they will be recognized and not annoyed. And God is ever Forgiving, Gentle.}[2]

The divine wisdom for instructing women to wear the Jilbaab mentioned in the above verse is so that women be modestly attired and not be subject to the irreverent insults of the unscrupulous.

The obligation of Jilbaab is also derived from the Sunnah of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) which is the second primary source of law for Muslims.

Umm Atiyyah narrated: We were ordered to bring out our menstruating women and screened women to the religious gatherings and invocation of the Muslims on the two Eid festivals. These menstruating women were to keep away from the musallah (place of prayer). A woman asked,

"O Messenger of Allah! What about one who does not have a Jilbaab?”

He said, "Let her borrow the Jilbaab of her companion."[3]

The above understanding was practised by women at the time of the revelation of the above verse as the following reports indicate,

Umm Salamah (a wife of the Prophet) narrated,

“When the verse, {That they should draw their Jalabeeb close around them} was revealed, the women of Ansaar (inhabitants of Madinah) came out as if they had crows over their heads by wearing Jalaabeeb.[4]

'Aa'ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) also reported,

“The wife of Rifa'a al-Qurazi came to Allah's Messenger while I was sitting...and she was showing the fringe of her Jilbaab.”[5]

The Opinion of Reputable Experts in Quranic Exegeses

The classical experts of Quranic exegesis all support the legitimacy of the Jilbaab with only difference being whether it extends to covering that face. Here are some quotes from the most widely recognised Islamic sources.

Ibn Jarir At-Tabari (d.310[6]):

‘God Almighty said to His Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam[7]): Tell your wives, daughters and the wives of the believers…that they should draw over themselves their Jilbabs.’

Al-Qurtubi (d.671):

‘Jalabeeb is the plural of Jilbaab, and it is a garment larger than a Khimaar (headscarf). It has been narrated by Ibn ‘Abbas and Ibn Mas'ood that it is a ridhaa (large sheet of cloth). It is said that it is a qina’ (veil) but the correct view is that it is a garment which covers the whole body. It has been reported in Sahih Muslim on the authority of Umm ‘Atiyyah who asked; "O Messenger of Allah! What about one who does not have a Jilbaab?". He said, "Let her borrow the Jilbaab of her companion."

Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi (d. 606):

‘In the days of Jaahiliyyah (pre-Islamic times) the free and women in bondage would go out uncovered and they would be followed by those intent on fornication and consequently allegations would be levelled against them. So that is why God ordered the free women to wear the Jilbaab.'[8]

Ibn Kathir (d.774):

‘God Almighty commands His Messenger (Muhammad) to command the believing women – especially his wives and daughters – to draw the Jilbaab over their persons’[9]

In Safwat at-tafaaseer, a modern work by Muhammad Ali as-Sabuni, which compiled the exegeses from most of the reputable works of Quranic exegesis, said that verse 59 of chapter Ahzab is saying to the Prophet to,

‘Tell the women that they should wear a wide outer garment.’ [10]

This view is not confined only to Sunnis but is the view of the Imami Shia as well. Al-Janabizi said,

‘The women did not cover their faces and chests with their Jilbaabs, hence God Almighty ordered them to cover their faces and chest with Jilbaabs so that they can be distinguished from other women. The woman’s Jilbaab is a wide garment worn over the normal clothes…’ [11]

Views of Contemporary Scholars

jilbaab657The classical position that that the Jilbaab is obligatory is the view generally held by contemporary scholars as well. Like the classical scholars, their difference was over whether the Jilbaab should cover the face or not, and not on the conditions of the Jilbaab. As an example of the contemporary position the following are words of the deobandi Mufti Ibn Adam al-Kawthari which is representative of the general view,

‘The above and other interpretations of jilbaab are clear that a Jilbaab is the outer garment that women must wear when emerging in front of strangers. This garment must be wide, loose, and modest and covers the body completely.’

Sheikh Muhammad Al-Hanooti:

‘The verse 59 of Surah Al-Ahzab urges a woman to wear a Jilbab. A Jilbab means the outer garment over her inner clothes to guarantee that everything of her body is covered and doesn’t show or shape any of her figures. That is the objective of Sharee’ah.’

What is a Jilbaab?

The jilbaab is an outer garment which covers the whole body. This definition is discerned from a lexical and textual basis:

Lexical description of Jilbaab as an Outer Garment:

The nature and description of the Jilbaab can be understood from the lexical definition of the word Jilbaab as explained in classical Arabic dictionaries. These sources also explain the function of the Jilbaab as an outer garment:

Ibn Manzur,

"The Jilbaab is the outer garment, mantle, or cloak. It is derived from the verb tajallbaba, which means to clothe. Jilbaab is the outer sheet or covering which a woman wraps around her on top of her garments to cover herself from head to toe. It hides her body completely."[12]

Al-Fayruz Abadi,

"The Jilbaab...is that which conceals the clothes like a cover."[13]

As for modern dictionaries it is worth citing from the monumental work of the 19th-century British scholar and lexicographer Edward William Lane (1801-76),

‘Jilbaab: …one that envelopes the whole body: (TA) and a wide garment for a woman, less than the milhafah (sheet): or one with which a woman covers over her other garments…’[14]

This description has also been given in the Oxford Dictionary of Islam edited by John L. Esposito where it states,

‘Jilbab: Generic term for women’s outer garment (shawl, cloak, wrap) in Arabian sedentary communities before and after the rise of Islam. The Qur’an (333:59) instructs Muslim women to cloak themselves as a mark of status and as a defensive measure against sexual harassment in public places.’[15]

The textual definition as enunciated by the law giver is of Jilbaab as an outer garment.

The reasons for concluding that the Jilbaab is an outer garment are textual as well as linguistic. What is meant by textual in this context is the primary corpus of Islamic legal text obligated by the law giver i.e. the Qur’aan and the practise of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). So for example, in chapter 24 the following verse gives elderly women the option to set aside their outer garment,

jilbaabis566{And as for women past child-bearing who do not expect wed-lock, it is no sin on them if they discard their (outer) clothing in such a way as not to show their adornment. But to refrain (i.e. not to discard their outer clothing) is better for them. And Allâh is All-Hearer, All-Knower.} [24:60]

The garment mentioned must be an outer garment as the verse could not possibly be saying they should discard their normal everyday clothing. That is why companions of Muhammad, such as Ibn ‘Abbaas and Ibn Mas’ood, both understood the garment to refer to the Jilbaab, since that is the outer garment that is worn by women.[16] Both of whom are considered experts in Quran exegesis.

Authority for it as an outer garment is also to be found in the Sunnah. The above report of Umm ‘Atiyyah is clear in its indication that the Jilbaab is an outer garment. This is because the Prophet (peace be upon him) stipulated that before going out she needs to wear Jilbaab and if she does not have one she must "…borrow the jilbab of her companion."[17] The fact that she was not allowed to go outside without it indicates its function as an outer garment.

Also Abu Dawud records a report on the authority of Umm Salamah (a wife of the Prophet) which indicates that Jilbaab is an outer garment. It is reported that she asked the Prophet,

"Can a woman pray in a long dress and a headscarf without wearing an Izaar (a type of Jilbaab)?"

He (sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam) replied, "If the long dress is ample and covers the surface of her feet." (Abu Dawud[18]) The fact that Umm Salmah asked if she can wear a long dress and headscarf without the Izaar (Jilbaab), this indicates that the Izaar (Jilbaab) is normally worn on top of the regular clothes.

This is supported by the view of companions who said that the clothing of women during prayer is the above three items, which means the Izaar (jilbaab) must have been worn above the normal clothes. So, for example, it is narrated that 'Umar (radhiallahu `anhu) said,

‘The woman should pray in three items of clothing: long dress, headscarf and Izaar (Jilbaab).’

It is also reported that his son Abdullah b. Umar said,

‘The woman should pray wearing long dress, headscarf and milhafa[19] (Jilbaab).’[20]

It is due to the above narrations that ash-Shirazi took the view that the jilbaab is the outer garment as the following excerpt shows,

‘It is recommended that when a woman prays that she wears three items of clothing: a headscarf by which to cover the head and neck. A dress to cover the body and feet and a Milhafah (jilbaab) by which to cover her clothes. This is due to the report that Umar (radhiallahu 'anhu) said, ‘The woman should pray in three items of clothing: dress, headscarf and Izaar (Jilbaab).’ It is also reported that Abdullah b. Umar who said, ‘The woman should pray wearing dress, headscarf and Milhafah (Jilbaab).’ Also, it is recommended that her Jilbaab is thick so that it does not describe parts of her body and does not move away when she assumed the bowing and prostration positions so that it does not describe her clothes.’

An-Nawawi (d.676)[21], a commentator of Al-Shirazi’s Muhazzab explained the latter’s comments and attributed it to Shaafi'ee (the founder of the Shafi’i school of thought),

‘This ruling has been stated by ash-Shaafi’ee and the scholars of the school are agreed on this.’

Then he quotes the view that the Jilbaab,

‘...is a sheet worn over the clothes (i.e. that it is an outer garment)’ saying, ‘This view is correct and it is the view of ash-Shaafi’ee (i.e. that the Jilbaab is worn over ones clothes).[22]

Ibn Hazm stated in his al-Muhalla,

‘In the Arabic language of the Prophet, Jilbaab is the outer garment which covers the entire body. A piece of cloth which is too small to cover the entire body could not be called Jilbaab.’[23]

Thus, the fact that the Jilbaab is an outer garment is established by the Qur’aan and Sunnah and it is the same meaning understood by the Companions of Muhammad (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) and attested by the scholars.

Other conditions:

There are other conditions which are not specific to Jilbaab but generally applicable to all clothing when women go before men who aren’t Mahrams ('Mahrams' refers to close relations to whom marriage is impermissible or the spouse) whether inside or outside the home. They are the following:

i. It must be loose-fitting
ii. Should not be semi-transparent
iii. Should not become an attraction (Tabarruj)
iv. Should not resemble the clothing of men.

These conditions are well known and accepted and there is no need to dwell on them, for further discussion of their evidences one can consult the relevant books of Islamic jurisprudence.[24]

Is Shalwaar Kameez Sufficient?

The question that needs to be answered is that does it fulfil the key requirements of a Jilbaab i.e. is it a loose fitting outer garment which covers the entire body? The Shalwaar Kameez normally does not cover the whole body but leaves some parts exposed and nor is it always loose fitting and provided even these conditions are met, it is certainly not an outer garment. It is not worn over ones normal clothes; rather it is an every day garment worn by south Asian women. An outer garment by definition is worn over the home clothes and outside the home whereas the Shalwaar Kameez is the normal home clothes worn inside the home. Therefore, the Shalwaar Kameez fails the first basic criteria of being an outer garment before one looks at the other criteria’s that have been mentioned.

Is modest clothing enough to fulfil the requirement of Jilbaab?

The answer to the question depends whether one includes the conditions mentioned above as part of what constitutes modest clothing. It is valid that the outside garments do not all have to be uniform in their design but they nevertheless have to fulfil the criteria set down by Islamic law. Modesty is not left to the subjective interpretation of individuals but rules have been laid down governing the requirements of modesty i.e. modesty cannot transcend the conditions but must incorporate them. Hence, it is not enough that the garments cover the whole body but is tight fitting and nor is it enough that it is loose fitting but not an outer garment. In this respect, the outer garment can be of diverse forms as long as the individual conditions have been met.

Juristic Difference and the Muslim Individual

Those who aren't familiar with Islamic law wonder why certain Muslims insist on following a rule which other Muslims do not follow and consequently assume that the one insisting is extreme or unnecessarily strict. So for example, a particular Muslim scholar might see a certain dress as acceptable, but this does not mean others are bound or even allowed to follow this view. The reason for the difference is that like any other legal tradition Muslim jurists differ on the details of law and it is up to the individual to follow the verdict of the jurist s/he regards as the most trustworthy and competent. The criterion for following a particular ruling is not self interest and expediency but the competence of the jurist who derived it. Having followed a particular verdict this becomes God’s law for that individual and cannot be changed for considerations of public approval or disapproval. This is because not following the rule is an abandonment of a religious obligation which has to be accounted for in the Hereafter. Thus, in the context of the Jilbaab for a Muslim woman who follows a particular jurist’s understanding of what is required by Islamic law, she is obliged to follow that even if others hold different views simply because she believes that view to be sound. In this respect, it does not matter what contrary views exist out there as the obligation on her is to follow the jurist she trusts and not what is expedient. Particularly in this case as the view that Jilbaab is necessary, it is something that has been expressed in both the letter of the law and in harmony with the spirit of the law. In fact it is a rule that traditionally has not been a matter of dispute amongst early jurists.

Religious Duty or Political Statement?

Jilbaab is essentially a religious duty first and foremost. The authority for it is derived directly from Islamic sources and not the political writings of contemporary Muslims. It was advocated by the classical jurists who expounded its requirement a thousand years before the phenomenon of resurgent Islam. The Jilbaab predates the current political controversies and therefore the motivation for adhering to it is born of a feeling of religious obligation and not a political statement.

The legislative wisdom behind the Jilbaab dress code is for women to be modestly attired, as mentioned in the aforementioned verse and commentary of the Qur’aan. The motivation is religious. Had the motive been other than religious then it would not be accepted as an act of worship which requires that the act be of exclusive devotion to God. Wearing it as a political statement or even as a fashion statement and not a religious obligation will still be considered as a sinful act because the motivation was not adherence to the religious obligation, which is the only motive that is acceptable in matters of obedience to God.

Is Jilbaab a symbol of Oppression?

The Muslim woman’s attire is viewed by some non-Muslims as oppressive because, it is claimed, the Jilbaab represents the inferior status of woman, that they are compelled against their will or that it inhibits their participation in public life. This view is not born of an understanding of the divine wisdom for legislating the dress and nor from the positive effects that accrue from its adherence. Rather, the origins of such thinking are the abuse of women by some Muslim men which Islamic law itself denounces or the stereotypical perceptions of the role of women in Islaam[25]. Islamic law views men and women as the same in their worth and religiosity before their Lord. The disparity in the rules arises not from a discriminatory view of any one gender but the fact that Islamic law recognises that there is a gender difference and hence prescribes rules accordingly. The great majority of rules apply equally to men and women due to their identical nature, but differ in a few cases due to the gender dissimilarity.

Thus, Muslim women wear the Jilbaab to remain modestly attired in public life and feel that it enhances their worth rather than diminish it. Its practical effects are also appealing to women who feel they can confidently[26] participate in outside activities, such as work and study, free from the disrespectful glances of men. So far from obstructing women’s social participation the jilbaab actually facilitates it by empowering and liberating her from unwanted sexual advances and thereby promoting an atmosphere which is conducive to the social interaction of men and women.



[1] For a good over view see: Sources of Islamic Law: An Overview by Yasin Dutton. http://www.muhajabah.com/docstorage/dutton.htm
[2] Qur’an: (33:59)
[3] Sahih Bukhari Book 8/347
[4] Sunan Abu Dawud 32/4090
[5] Sahih Bukhari Book 72/684
[6] Date of death according to Hijri calendar.
[7] pbuh is abbreviation for ‘peace be upon him.’
[8] ar-Razi, Fakhr ad-Din, at-Tafsir al-Kabir, p.231.
[9] Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-‘Azim.
[10] as-Sabuni, Muhammad Ali, safwat at-tafasir, p.538.
[11] al-Janabizi, Tafsir bayan al-sa’adah fi muqaddimat al-ibadah, see commentary of verse 59 of surah Ahzab.
[12] Ibn Man.zur, Muhammad ibn Mukarram, Lisan al-`Arab, (Bayrut : Dar .Sadir, 1955-56). Vol.7, p. 273.
[13] Al-Fayruzabadi, al-Qamus al-Muhit,
[14] Lane, Edward William, An Arabic-English lexicon, (London 1863-1893) under the relevant root verb.
[15] Esposito, John L. (ed.), The Oxford Dictionary of Islam, (Oxford University Press, 2003).p.160.
[16] al-Qurtubi, Jami li-ahkam al-Qur’an, verse 60 of sura Nur.
[17] Sahih Bukhari Book 8/347
[18] This narration is mawquf and is attributed more correctly to Umm Salama, the wife of the Prophet.
[19] Milhafa is a synonym of jilbab. Notice here Abdullah b. Umar uses the word milhafa (jilbab) instead of izar, indicating that izar here is the jilbab. See al-majmu’ sharh al-muhazzab, p.259.
[20] Al-Nawawi, al-majmu’ sharh al-muhazzab, (Beirut, 2002), pp.258.
[21] A major reference for Islamic law who’s interpretation of law is canonized in the Malaysian legal code.
[22] An-Nawawi, al-majmu’ sharh al-muhazzab, (Beirut, 2002), pp.258-9.
[23] Ibn Hazm, Al-Muhalla, vol. 3, p.217
[24] For a contemporary source see Badawi, Jamal, The Muslim Woman’s Dress According to the Qur’an and Sunnah, (Ta-Ha Publishers Ltd,1980) or http://members.tripod.com/iaislam/TMWD.htm
[25] Bullock, Kathrine, Rethinking Muslim Women and the Veil: Challenging and Historical and Modern Stereotypes, (Herndon, VA: International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2002).p.73.
[26] Ali, Sayyid, ‘Why Here, Why Now? Young Muslim Women Wearing Hijab,’ The Muslim World, vol.95, (2005), pp.515-530.