The Holy Qur’ān has given guidance on how women
should behave while in the presence of men in two different sūrahs. While in
Sūrah Noor the desired behaviour within the confines of a home is discussed,
Sūrah Ahzaab lays down the conditions to be met if a lady is to step out of her
home for some purpose.
According to Sūrah Noor, women ought to differentiate
between two categories of adult men inside the homes: those who are ‘mahrams’
and those who are not. ‘Mahrams’ is a commonly used term for those very close
male relatives whose list has been provided in detail by the Almighty Himself.
It comprises of such very closely related men as husbands, fathers,
grandfathers, fathers-in-law, sons, grandsons, sons-in-law, uncles, and nephews
who, apart from husbands of course cannot be married to the ladies they are so
closely related to. Women have been spared from being extra careful about the
dress while in their presence. The Qur’ān leaves the obvious forms of decency in
this case, as in many others, unmentioned, assuming that all reasonable
individuals are already adequately equipped with inner conciousness about them.
An absence of mention, therefore, doesn’t imply an absence of desirability to be
within reasonable limits, even before these relatives.
In case non-mahram relatives or non-relative confidants of
the family visit the family, the Qur’ān lays down certain restrictions on both
men and women on such occasions. Such men have been asked to enter a house where
women are also residing only if permitted. They should, moreover, be decently
dressed and should guard their gaze from taking unreasonable liberties. Women,
apart from the restriction to lower their gazes like men, have been asked to
cover their entire body except face, hands, and feet in the presence of such
men. They have been furthermore, asked to cover their chests with an additional
piece of cloth. Elsewhere, the tendency of being informal with non-mahrams and
meeting them alone has also be discouraged. All these cares are to be taken,
mind you, in case of men by no means strangers.
It must also be pointed out, however, that the same sūrah
ensures that the restrictions should not be stretched beyond the desirable
limits to erect unnecessary barriers against the exchanges of social visits by
relatives and friends. In verse 61 of the sūrah the Almighty has clearly
permitted the believers to visit each other and to have food whether
‘separately’ or ‘together’. Obviously in case some believers choose to take food
‘together’, the restrictions mentioned above have got to be strictly followed.
If a Muslim lady steps out of her home, she has been
further required in Sūrah Ahzab, verse 59 to draw a part of her wrap on her face
so as to protect herself from the evil of the ill-intentioned. Since outside the
home there can be no restrictions imposed on the behaviour of the strangers,
greater care in dressing up is a natural requirement.
Scholars are, however, divided on the question of whether
the requirement to cover the face while stepping out of the home is binding on
ladies or not. Although the verse is explicit in expressing a clear desire, even
if it is not considered binding, it should definitely be considered as strongly
recommended. Moreover, in any case the restrictions mentioned in Sūrah Noor are
by no means less than binding. Believing women must, therefore, always follow
those instructions in the presence of non-mahrams, whether inside or outside the