Should women cover their faces?

Should women cover their faces?

Abdo Khal

Abdo Khal


A WOMAN’S face cannot be considered an intimate part of her body. This is what well-known Saudi poet Ahmad Otaif told Asharq Al-Awsat when he was asked about his new book “Covering a Woman’s Face.” The book primarily focuses on the unanimous opinion of many Muslim scholars with respect to a woman’s face. The majority of scholars agree that a woman should not expose her face because it is not permissible to uncover it. However, the word “awrah,” meaning the intimate parts of a human body, does not refer or apply to a woman’s face.

Otaif notes that the Holy Qur’an does not have any text that says women must cover their faces or are advised to do so. Most of the scholars who call on women not to expose their faces support their position by quoting the interpretation of certain Qur’anic texts, but not the texts themselves. In other words, they concentrate on what scholars of Qur’anic exegesis said and consider these interpretations as sacred and something that cannot be challenged.

In his book, Otaif compares what each exegesis scholar says about these texts and looks deeply into the origin of Arabic words. In fact, all rulings related to women’s clothing and face coverings are derived from Qur’anic texts by such scholars.

The book aims to dispel the misconceptions surrounding this issue and argues that the male-dominated society played a pivotal role in perpetuating notions associated with women covering their faces. He says some authorities together with the Ministry of Education and the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (Haia) supported the view that women must cover their faces.

He stresses that some scholars who said there was nothing wrong from a religious perspective with a woman not covering her face would not issue any fatwa to this effect and decided to take back what they said fearing a social backlash. They would not make the fatwa official because they did not want society to be divided into those supporting the issue and those against it.

I am sure the book is controversial and will cause widespread debate among different sections of society. However, I hope the advocates and proponents pinpoint the reasons why scholars have differed on this issue.