Talk by Prof Omar Hasan Kasule at Mahallat al Zahrawi Musallat organized by Dawa and Tarbiyat Department of the Medical Students Council on 30th September 2004 after salat al Maghrib


The term jahiliyyat is from the Arabic root-word jahl meaning ignorance. In Islamic usage it refers to moral ignorance leading to transgression and immorality. It does not mean academic or factual ignorance. Pre-Islamic Arabia was described as a period of jahiliiyat because of its immorality. Immoral communities before and after that have been described as jahliyyat communities. Study of such communities reveals that immoral behaviors are the same they only change form and technology. Even our modern society is full of jahiliyyat we only need to look around to see it.


The Qur’an talks about the first jahiliyyat in surat al ahzaab ayat addressing wives of the prophet in particular and all Muslim women in general ‘wa la tatabarrajna tabarruja al jaahiliyyat al uula (ahzab: 33). Do not display yourselves like the people of the old jahiliyyat. The mufassiriin have interpreted old jahiliyyat in several ways. Some said it was the period between Isa (PBUH) and Muhammad (PBUH)[i]. Others said that it was the period between Adam and Nuh when women used to expose themselves to men[ii]. Others sais it was between Adam and Nuh[iii] when two branches of Adam’s children lived apart one group lived in mountains and another one lived in the plains. Iblis came to a man in the plains and offered himself as a servant. Iblis made music and people came becayse they had never heard such sound before. They made a celebration at which men displayed themselves to women and women beautified themselves for the men. A man from the mountain saw the beauty of the plain’s women and called his colleagues who came and evil started from that time.  


We will deal with only one aspect of the modern jahiliyyat which is uncovering awrat and display, tabarruj. Modern ways of dressing and behavior violate the 2 basic reasons for covering ‘awrat: (a) prevention of zina which destroys the family (b) respect for the human being. Animals are not bothered about self-respect achieved by covering ‘awrat.



The definition of what is ‘awrat and should therefore be covered varies by gender and other factors discussed below. The limit of ‘awrat in salat is the standard, hadd al ‘awrat fi al salat[iv]. This does not mean that ‘awrat is covered only during salat. It should be covered al the time, satr al awrat fi kulli waqt[v]. Exposure of ‘awrat to others is generally forbidden, la tatula’u ahadukum ‘ala ‘awrat akhiihi[vi]. It is forbidden for a man or woman to show their awrat to any other person, man or woman, who is not a spouse except in cases of necessity or specific exceptions mentioned below. This is gleaned from hadiths of the prophet forbidding men and women from being naked in public baths[vii], covering ‘awrat when bathing, and covering ‘awrat when in the toilet[viii]. Once what is awrat is defined, then a person whether man or woman is allowed to look at the non-awrat parts of the body provided there is no lust in such a look. Thus innocent non-repeated or purposive looks are permitted. However when the looks are likely to lead to temptations then restrictions are imposed. Covering of awrat also includes making sure that the clothing does not define the underlying figure[ix]. What should not be seen should also not be touched.



The sunnat has given us the background reasons for revelation of the verses of hijaab, sabab nuzuul ayat al hijaab[x]. Hijab has great social, religious and political significance. A woman who refuses to display her beauty is making a statement that she wants to be looked at and treated as a person with intelligence and competence to contribute to society and not a body to be admired. Hijab is also a political statement by a Muslim woman that she is asserting the cultural identity of Islam and refusing to ride the bad-wagon of a Euro-American culture that is being imposed on the world. Hijab also has economic implications. A woman who covers her ‘awrat and does not display her beauty except inside her house is likely to spend less money on beauty products and fashionable clothing that are today a multi-billion dollar business.



The ‘awrat of a man is different from that of a woman in some situations. In general the man's ‘awrat is what is between the navel and the knee. Maliki scholars consider what is between the navel and above the knee since they do not include the knee as part of ‘awrat.


 The woman's ‘awrat is her entire body except the face and the hands. The face and hands of a woman are considered parts of the body that are normally exposed for the purposes of social interaction and working. Exposing the face helps in establishing identity so that a person can not misbehave in public in the confidence that no one will recognize her. This issue of identity is so important that in hajj where there are many people and establishing identity becomes even a more urgent requirement, it is strictly forbidden for a woman to cover her face. Women with other Muslim women could expose their head, hair, neck, and arms which are normally considered part of ‘awrat. The rules about exposing awrat to a non-Muslim woman are the same as for the man.



The rules of covering ‘awrat are relaxed for the elderly who have already passed the age of sexual temptation, being tempted or tempting others[xi]. This however does not excuse them from being decent. Similarly the rules are relaxed for children who are not yet aware of sexuality.



There is relaxation about the ‘awrat of female servants working indoors in the company of other women. They could expose what is normally forbidden if their work necessitates that. They could for example expose their head, neck, legs, and arms. The rules could also be relaxed in cases of blind men for obvious reasons. Some relaxation is also permissible for elderly male servants who on account of their age, social status, or physical disabilities are considered to have no sexual desires or sexual temptation.




It is considered decent for a man to cover his legs and also the upper part of the body although these are not part of the ‘awrat. This is more urgent he is young and sexually attractive. A stunningly beautiful woman should cover her face while in public for her own protection from embarrassing gazes of on-lookers. Covering the face could also prevent some temptations. This should however be the exception rather than the rule. In the view of the increasing evil of homosexuality and lesbianism, the relaxation of rules if one is with members of the same gender should be re-examined.



Spouses can see each other’s ‘awrat[xii]. The rules about looking at the ‘awrat of women are relaxed for close relatives for whom there is no fear of sexual temptation on the basis of consanguinity. The exceptions are 12 in number: spouse, father, father of husband, sons, husband's sons (stepsons), brothers, brother's sons, sister's sons, other Muslim women, female servants, male servants with no sexual desire, and children who are not yet aware of sexuality. The woman can expose to the categories of persons above those parts of her body that must be uncovered for efficient performance of in-door work. Some scholars have interpreted this to mean what is between the navel and the knee. This is however a minority opinion. We feel that what is between the navel and knee can be exposed only to the husband.

[i] Reported by Tabari from ‘Aamir (Tafsir al Tabari Vol 3 page 294).

[ii] Reported by Tabari from Hakam (Tafsir al Tabari Vol 3 page 295).

[iii] Reported by Tabari from Ibn Abbaas (Tafsir al Tabari Vol 3 page 295).

[iv] (KS405: Bukhari K8 B10 and 12)

[v] (KS 405-406: Tirmidhi K41 B42; Ibn Majah K9 B28; Muwatta K49 H5; Ahmad 4:191)

[vi] (KS405: Muslim K3 H74 and 78, Tirmidhi K41 B38, Ibn Majah K1 B137, Darimi K19 B23, Ahmad 2:187, Ahmad 3:63)

[vii] (KS405: Tirmidhi K41 B33; Ibn Majah K33 B38; Ahmad 3:262)

[viii] (KS 405: Muslim K3 H79, Abudaud K1 B6,11, and 19; Tirmidhi K1 B10; Ibn Majah K1 B23 and 24; Darimi K1 B5 and 7)

[ix] (33:59)

[x] (KS541: Bukhari K65 S2 B9; Bukhari K67 B68; Bukhari K70 B59; Bukhari K79 B10; Bukhari K97 B22; Muslim K16 H89, 92-95; Muslim K39 H81; Ahmad 3:105, 168, 195, 226, 236, 241, 246, 262; Ahmad 6: 223, 271; tayalisi H41)

[xi]  (24:60)

[xii] (KS405: Tirmidhi K41 B22 and 39, Ahmad 5:3 and 4)

Professor Omar Hasan Kasule Sr. September 2004