Purdah and Veiling

The Revelation of Injunctions Regarding Pardah (covering)

life-and-characterFirst ever serialisation of the newly translated Volume II of Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad’sra outstanding biography, Seerat Khatamun Nabiyyin, on the life and character of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa.

Translated from the Urdu by Ayyaz Mahmood Khan

Revelation of Injunctions Regarding Pardah

On the second or third day after the marriage, the Holy Prophetsa invited his Companions for a Walimah at his own home. Since a public announcement was especially intended, the Walimah of Hazrat Zainabra was held upon a much larger scale by the Holy Prophetsa as compared to his other wives.1 Until that time, since injunctions relevant to Pardah had not been revealed, the Companions entered the very residence of the Holy Prophetsa in a very informal manner. Many of them continued to sit here and there, engaged in discussions even after the feast had finished. However, since the disposition of the Holy Prophetsa possessed a great degree of modesty, he was unable to say anything to them, and the Companions also did not pay attention as they were busy in conversation. As a result, the hour ran late and the Holy Prophetsa lost much of his precious time. Finally, the Holy Prophetsa stood up himself, and most of the Companions stood up with him, but three people continued to sit there and carried on talking. At this, the Holy Prophetsa went to the apartment of Hazrat ‘A’ishahra, but when he returned after some time, these people were still there. In this manner, the Holy Prophetsa was compelled to come and go two or three times. At last, when these people departed from the residence of the Holy Prophetsa, he also returned. At times, motivating factors arise in the revelation of divine commandments. Although the injunction is to be instituted either way, a certain occurrence becomes the temporary catalyst for its revelation. As such, this very incident became the motivating factor in the revelation of the initial commandments on Pardah. As a result, the verses which made it obligatory upon the Azwaj-e-Mutahharat of the Holy Prophetsa to observe Pardah were revealed, and those who were beyond the permissible bounds were restricted from freely entering the apartments of the Holy Prophetsa.2 After this, gradually and slowly, injunctions relevant to Pardah continued to be revealed, until it finally assumed the form, which is present in the Holy Qur’an and Ahadith today.3 In this light, whilst upholding the legitimate and necessary freedom of a Muslim woman, she has been forbidden from openly exhibiting the beauty of her body and clothing to such men who are beyond the permissible bounds. Furthermore, a man and woman who are beyond the permissible bounds for one another have been prohibited from meeting each other in seclusion. If one contemplates with an objective heart, these limitations do not become a hindrance at all in the legitimate freedom of a woman in terms of health, academic progress, participation in tasks of country and nation, or in other affairs. Furthermore, these limitations prevent the free and open intermingling of such men and women who are beyond the permissible bounds, which can lead to immoral and harmful outcomes, and which generally tend to arise in countries where Pardah is not observed.

At this instance, it is also necessary to mention that the manner in which Pardah is prevalent among the Muslims in this day and age, generally deviates from the true Islamic teachings. In certain countries, a poor lady is subjected to unjust strictness and more or less confined to the four walls of her home as if she were a prisoner, which destroys her health, education, training, and culture, etc. In other countries, the West has been followed blindly, where women have established improper freedom, which is resulting in a detrimental effect upon the morals and values of society. Both of these avenues are extreme, and they are forbidden in Islam. In light of the Islamic teaching, whilst abstaining from the public exhibition of her beauty, a woman is permitted to participate in all sorts of reasonable recreation and tasks. However, she is not permitted to walk about unveiled and sit with such men who are beyond the permissible bounds in seclusion, because this entails the risk of evil. Even in certain European countries, where all limitations of the veil have been broken, among the noble class, at least this much caution is exercised that normally, young ladies do not move about in public without a male member of the household or an elderly lady, nor do they sit freely with outside men in seclusion. Those girls who exhibit more freedom in this regard are generally frowned upon in noble societies. This proves that even in a free society like Europe, the completely unrestricted and open freedom of women is looked down upon. It is this very principle which has been taught by Islam more comprehensively and with greater quality; and it has instituted the injunctions of Pardah along with the principle of concealing a woman’s beauty. In this regard, Islam has broken away from a course of extremity and paved a way for moderation.

In actuality, if one reflects, all of the allegations levelled against Pardah are due to the practical method in which it is applied among the Muslims today in Islamic countries, and especially in India; which was a practice that Muslims were compelled to adopt for political reasons during a time when the Islamic States had fallen weak, but then took on a permanent and more rigid form as a tradition. In this respect, no sensible individual can raise an objection against the actual Islamic teaching which is derived from the Qur’an and Ahadith, and was actually practiced by the early Muslims, as proven by history and Ahadith. As a matter of fact, every such person who is accustomed to contemplation cannot remain without being convinced of its merit. The summary of the Islamic Pardah is only that: firstly, those men and women who are beyond the permissible bounds for one another should keep their gaze low before one another, and a woman should not exhibit the beauty of her face, body or clothing to any man outside the permissible bounds by way of sight, touch, etc;4 secondly, those men and women who are beyond the permissible bounds for one another should not meet each other in seclusion at such a place which is hidden from the sights of others.5 Taking these two restrictions into consideration, which is entirely in view of the well-being of society and the safeguarding of morality, a Muslim lady is free in all respects as far as Pardah is concerned. They can acquire an education in schools and can teach others. They can leave their homes for exercise, recreation and sport. They can buy and sell. They can participate in public gatherings, etc. They are permitted to meet with men who are outside the legal bounds, and speak to them. They can perform work and labour. They are permitted to work in offices, government departments, clinics and factories. They can participate in tasks of country and nation. They are permitted to participate in wars and offer reasonable service. Hence, the Islamic Pardah is not the slightest hindrance in the education and training, growth and development, necessary tasks and reasonable recreation of a woman. History establishes that in the time of the Holy Prophetsa and his Companions, Muslim women took part in all the legitimate tasks which presented themselves at the time. They attained an education and taught as well. They took part in the congregational Salat with the Muslim men. They listened to the addresses and speeches of the Holy Prophetsa. They gave counsel in matters of national importance. They would perform the rites of Hajj, shoulder to shoulder with men. They accompanied men during their travels. When it was required, they would meet men who were beyond the permissible bounds and would converse with them. They would mount on animals and witness amusing spectacles. They would participate in wars and tend to the wounded and offer services of nursing. In fact, when needed, they would take up the sword in the field of battle as well.6 Hence, all of the objections which are raised against Pardah are not actually levelled against the true Islamic Pardah, rather, they are levelled against the deformed Pardah of the current age, which has almost caged a woman in the four walls of her home, as if she were an animal. However, in order to remedy this wrong, one should not move from one extreme to the other, because both of these ways are ones of misguidance and destruction. The pathway to salvation is the one paved by Islam and which is the true voice of a person’s nature.

In addition to this, it should also be remembered that the actual place of a woman’s responsibility lies at home, where the children of the nation are brought up, who are to shoulder the burden of country and nation in the future. This is such a sensitive, vast and magnificent task that if a lady is to fulfil this very responsibility alone with skill and merit, and make herself capable in this respect, it is enough to fully engage her concentration. It is in this very manner that she can become a most excellent benefactor for the entire country and nation; it is obvious that the Islamic Pardah does not oppose this cause, rather, it only supports it.

Remaining Events Relevant to the Marriage of Hazrat Zainabra

At the time of her marriage, Zainab bint Jahashra was thirty-five years of age7 and in light of the circumstances of Arabia at the time, this was middle age. Hazrat Zainabra was a very righteous, pious and affluent lady. Despite the fact that from among all the wives of the Holy Prophetsa, Hazrat ‘A’ishahra was contested and rivalled by Zainabra alone, Hazrat ‘A’ishahra still highly praised the inherent virtue and purity of Hazrat Zainabra,8 and would often say:

“I have not seen a more pious lady than Zainabra. She was very righteous and truthful, she was very kind towards relatives, she would give a great amount of charity and alms, and worked tirelessly for goodness and to attain divine nearness. The only thing was that she was a bit heated in temper, but immediately thereafter, she would feel remorse herself.”9

The degree to which she would give charity and alms was such that Hazrat ‘A’ishahra relates: “On one occasion, the Holy Prophetsa said to us: ‘The one from among you who has the longest hands, shall be the first to pass away after my demise and join me.’”10

Hazrat ‘A’ishahra states that:

“We inferred this to mean physical hands, and would often measure our hands with one another. However, when the Holy Prophetsa passed away and Zainab bint Jahashra was the first to leave this world, it was then that the secret revealed itself to us that the word ‘hand’ referred to charity and alms, not a physical hand.”

As it was apprehended, upon the marriage of Hazrat Zainabra, the hypocrites of Madinah raised many allegations and openly taunted that “Muhammadsa had married the divorcee of his son and had made his own daughter-in-law permissible for himself.” However, since the very purpose of this marriage was to erase this ignorant Arabian custom, these objections were also inevitable.

At this instance, it is also necessary to mention that Ibni Sa‘d, Tabari, etc., have recorded an absolutely false narration in relation to the marriage of Hazrat Zainabra. Since this narration furnishes an opportunity to raise an objection against the pristine character of the Holy Prophetsa, various Christian historians have adorned their books with this narration in a most unpleasant manner. The story goes that when the Holy Prophetsa married Zainab bint Jahashra to Zaidra, one day the Holy Prophetsa came to his home in search of him. At the time Zaidra was not at home. Standing outside at the front door, when the Holy Prophetsa called for Zaidra, Zainabra responded from inside saying that he was not at home, and recognising the voice of the Holy Prophetsa she dashed out immediately and submitted, “O Messenger of Allah! May my mother and father be sacrificed for you, please come in.” The Holy Prophetsa, however, refused and set back, but since Hazrat Zainabra had suddenly stood up flustered, she happened to stand up without a shawl on her body and the door of her home was open. As a result, the Holy Prophetsa happened to catch sight of her, and God-forbid, fell for her beauty and returned humming the words: “Holy is Allah, Who is the Possessor of all Greatness, Holy is Allah, Who turns the hearts of people however He so wills.” When Zaidra returned, Zainabra related the story of the visit made by the Holy Prophetsa. When Zaid further inquired as to what the Holy Prophetsa had said, Zainabra repeated these words of the Holy Prophetsa and also said, “I submitted to the Holy Prophetsa that if he desired he should come in, but he refused and returned.” Upon hearing this, Zaidra presented himself before the Holy Prophetsa and said, “O Messenger of Allah! Perhaps you desire Zainab for yourself. If it is your wish I shall divorce her and you can marry her.” The Holy Prophetsa responded, “O Zaid! Fear God and do not divorce Zainab.” However, Zaidra divorced Zainabra anyway. This is the narration as it is related by Ibni Sa‘d, Tabari, and others on this occasion. Although this narration can be elaborated in a manner which no longer leaves room for any objection, the truth is that this tale is absolutely fictitious and false from start to finish. It is proven to be fabricated both in terms of Riwayat and Dirayat. As far as Riwayat is concerned, it is enough to state that this narration is primarily related by Waqidi and ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amir Aslama, who are both looked upon by scholars as being absolutely weak and unreliable.11 In fact, Waqidi is so notorious for his falsehood and lies that from among all the Muslim narrators, he is perhaps second to none in this respect.12 In contrast, however, the narration which we have mentioned wherein Zaidra presented himself before the Holy Prophetsa and complained about the harsh treatment of Zainabra, to which the Holy Prophetsa responded, “Fear God and do not give a divorce,” is a narration of Bukhari. Friend and foe alike accept that after the Holy Qur’an, Bukhari is the most authentic record of Islamic history, to which no critic has ever had the courage to raise a finger. Therefore, in light of principles of Riwayat, the value and worth of both these narrations is evident. Similarly, if one contemplates in terms of rationality, there seems to be no doubt in the narration of Ibni Sa‘d, etc., as being false. It is accepted that Zainabra was the paternal cousin of the Holy Prophetsa, to the extent that it was he who acted as her guardian and married her to Zaid bin Harithahra. Similarly, no one can deny that until this time, the Muslim women did not observe Pardah; rather, the initial injunctions relevant to Pardah were revealed after the marriage of Hazrat Zainabra and the Holy Prophetsa. In this case, to presume that prior to this the Holy Prophetsa had not seen Zainabra and it was only then that he coincidentally happened to catch sight of her, and then fell for her, possesses no more value than a clear and blatant lie. Indeed, prior to that time, the Holy Prophetsa probably would have seen Zainabra thousands of times and the beauty and flaws of her body were apparent to him. Although there is no difference in seeing her with or without a shawl, when their relation was so close, the tradition of Pardah was not prevalent and there was constant interaction, it is most probable that the Holy Prophetsa would have had the opportunity to see her many times without a shawl. Furthermore, the fact that Zainabra invited the Holy Prophetsa inside proves that she was at least wearing enough clothing to be able to present herself before the Holy Prophetsa. Hence, irrespective of the angle from which this tale is analysed, it proves to be absolutely false and forged, which possesses no truth whatsoever. Along with these arguments, if the impeccably pure and holy life of the Holy Prophetsa is taken into consideration, which was evident from his every movement, nothing at all remains of this absurd and ridiculous tale. It is for this very reason that research scholars have categorically declared this tale to be fabricated and false. For example, ‘Allamah Ibni Hajar in his Fathul-Bari, ‘Allamah Ibni Kathir in his commentary, and ‘Allamah Zarqani in his Sharh Mawahib have explicitly stated that this narration is absolutely false, and have considered it to be a disgrace of the truth to even allude to it. So too is the case with other research scholars as well. This is not limited to research scholars alone, rather, every such individual who has not been blinded by prejudice, would give precedence to the viewpoint we have presented before our readers on the foundation of the Holy Qur’an and authentic Ahadith, in comparison to this meaningless and loathsome tale, which has been forged and related by certain hypocrites. The Muslim historians, whose only task was to gather all kinds of narrations, included this tale in their works without any investigation, and then blinded by religious prejudice, non-Muslim historians have made this tale the highlight of their books.

In the context of this fabricated tale, it should especially be remembered that this time was an era in the Islamic history when the hypocrites of Madinah were at full force. A full-fledged conspiracy to defame Islam and the founder of Islam was being hatched under the leadership of ‘Abdullah bin Ubaiyy bin Sulul. It was their custom to concoct false and fabricated tales and propagate them in secret; or if the actual case was something else, they would twist it, add a hundred lies to it and begin to publicise it covertly. As such, in Surah Al-Ahzab of the Holy Qur’an, where the marriage of Hazrat Zainabra has been alluded to, the hypocrites of Madinah have especially been mentioned in parallel as well. Referring to their acts of mischief, Allah the Exalted states:

“If the hypocrites, and those in whose hearts is a disease, and those who propagate false seditious news in Madinah, desist not from their schemes, then O Messenger! We shall give you permission to take action against them, and then these people shall not continue to reside in Madinah, except for a little while.”13

In this verse, the false nature of this tale has clearly been mentioned in principle. Then, as it shall be mentioned ahead, it was around this time when the terrible incident of slandering Hazrat ‘A’ishahra transpired. ‘Abdullah bin Ubaiyy and his wretched followers propagated this lie so widely, and disseminated such a twisted version of it that the Muslims began to lose their peace of mind. Certain Muslims, who were of weaker dispositions and unmindful, became victims of this propaganda as well. Hence, this era was especially a time of full force for the hypocrites, and their most desirable weapon was to spread false and filthy propaganda in order to slander the Holy Prophetsa and his relatives. These rumours were spread so cunningly that on certain occasions, due to not having in-depth knowledge of affairs, the Holy Prophetsa and his most prominent Companions could not even find the opportunity to rebut these allegations, and their poison would continue to spread. In these instances, later Muslims, who were not in the habit of thorough investigation and deep thought, would consider this misinformation to be true and begin relating these accounts. It is in this manner that these narrations have found way into the collections of such Muslims who are of the Waqidi type, etc. As mentioned above, these narrations are absolutely nowhere to be found among the authentic Ahadith, nor have research scholars accepted them.

Whilst alluding to the tale of Zainab bint Jahashra, Sir William Muir, from whom a better mentality was expected, has not only accepted the fictitious and forged narration of Waqidi, but has made a hurtful remark taunting that along with his advancing age, the carnal passions of the Holy Prophetsa grew as well, and Muir has attributed the expansion of his household to this very sentiment. In my capacity as a historian, I do not wish to enter into a religious debate, but upon witnessing the false portrayal of historical account, I cannot remain without raising a voice against such an unpleasant and unjust assertion either. Undoubtedly, it is a historical fact that the Holy Prophetsa married more than once and history also establishes that with the exception of Hazrat Khadijahra, all of these marriages took place in an era, which may be described as one of old age. However, without any historical evidence, rather, in contradiction to clear historical fact, to assert that the marriages of the Holy Prophetsa were, God-forbid, owed to carnal passions, is far from the greatness of a historian, and even further still from the greatness of a noble man. Mr. Muir was not oblivious to the fact that at the age of twenty-five, the Holy Prophetsa married a forty-year elderly widow (Hazrat Khadijahra), and then fulfilled this relationship until the age of fifty, with such integrity and loyalty that its like can be found nowhere else.14 After this, until the age of fifty-five, the Holy Prophetsa practically kept only one wife, and coincidentally this wife (Hazrat Saudahra) also happened to be a widow, who was a lady well advanced in age.15 During this entire period, which is especially a period of carnal urge, the Holy Prophetsa never thought of additional marriages. Mr. Muir was also not at all unaware of the historical occurrence that when the people of Makkah could no longer bear the preaching efforts of the Holy Prophetsa and considered it to be destructive to their national religion, they sent a delegation to the Holy Prophetsa leaded by ‘Utbah bin Rabi‘ah. The delegation fervently pleaded to the Holy Prophetsa so that he would desist from his efforts. In addition to bribing him with wealth and power, they also begged that if he would be content upon marrying a worthy girl, and thus refrain from speaking ill of their religion and abstain from preaching this new faith, they were prepared to give him any girl he desired. At that time, the Holy Prophetsa was not very old, and his physical strength was also better than in his later life. However, the response that the Holy Prophetsa gave to the representative sent by the chieftains of Makkah is an open page of history, which does not need to be repeated here.16 This historical occurrence was also not hidden from the eyes of Mr. Muir that prior to his divine appointment— that is, until forty years—the people of Makkah considered the Holy Prophetsa to be a man of impeccable character.17 However, despite all these testimonies, for Mr. Muir to write that after the age of fifty-five, the Holy Prophetsa became indulged in sensuality and lust, despite the fact that his physical strengths naturally became weaker, and his engagements and responsibilities grew to such an extent that the busiest of people are put to shame, cannot be considered as being anything other than a prejudiced remark! Anyone is free to say as he wishes and others do not have the power to stop such a person’s tongue and pen, but an intelligent person should not make a statement which common sense rejects. If Mr. Muir and others like him had removed the veil of prejudice from their eyes, they would have come to know that the mere fact that all these marriages of the Holy Prophetsa took place in his old age proves that they were not motivated by carnal desires. Obviously, there were other motives hidden beneath the surface, especially when it is a historical fact that the Holy Prophetsa spent the days of his youth in such a state, that his own and others, all referred to him by the title of “Amin.”

Vintage engraved illustration, Holy city and burial place of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, Founder of Islam  (Trousset Encyclopedia (1886-1891)
Vintage engraved illustration, Holy city and burial place of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa, Founder of Islam
(Trousset Encyclopedia (1886-1891)

I derive a spiritual pleasure in studying the fact that the era in which these marriages of the Holy Prophetsa took place was a time when the greatest burdens of the responsibilities of prophethood were being shouldered by him and the Holy Prophetsa was becoming fully engrossed in the fulfilment of his countless and heavy responsibilities. In my view—and I would presume the same for every just and noble person—this very fact alone establishes that these marriages of the Holy Prophetsa were a part of his responsibilities of prophethood, for which he destroyed his own domestic peace in order to support the objectives of preaching and training. An evil person searches for an evil motive in the actions of others, and due to his own filthy state, is often at a loss to understand the pure intentions of others. However, a noble person knows and understands that often the same action is performed by a sinister man with evil intent, while a pious man can and does perform the same action with a good and pure intention. I would also like to mention that in Islam the purpose of marriage is not so that a man and woman can come together in order to satisfy their carnal desires. Although the union of man and woman is a genuine purpose of marriage so that human life can continue, there are also many other wholesome purposes as well. Hence, in identifying the motives behind the marriages of such a person whose every movement in life was a testimony to his selflessness and purity and twisting them towards ill-intent in the manner of wicked people cannot harm the person with regards to whom this opinion is voiced, but instead the inner state of the critic can well be understood. I shall say no more in response to this allegation.18



 1.  Bukhari

2.  Bukhari, Kitabut-Tafsir

3.  The Holy Qur’an, Surah Nur, Surah Ahzab; Bukhari

4.  The Holy Qur’an, Surah Nur; Bukhari

5.  Bukhari

6.  The references of all the above-mentioned have either been provided already at various points throughout the book, while others shall be presented ahead.

7.  Al-Isabah

8.  Bukhari

9.  Muslim

10.  Bukhari, Muslim referenced by Isabah

11.  Tahzibut-Tahzib

12.  Tahzibut-Tahzib

13.  The Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Ahzab (33:61)

14.  Isabah, Zarqani

15.  Isabah, Zarqani

16.  Sirat-e-Halbiyyah, Tabrani, Lubabun-Nuqul

17.  Muir

18.  And it is Allah alone Whose help is to be sought against what they assert. (Publishers)