Q: What about a woman's outfit and whether she is allowed to display it?
A: In prayer, a woman is allowed to display outward, but not inward ornaments. The predecessors had disagreed as to what outward ornament is Ibn Masood and his supporters stated it was the clothes, whereas Ibn Abbas and his supporters mentioned it was the face and the hands, such as the kohl (eye liner) and rings.
Based on these two views, scholars disagreed whether it is allowed to look at a strange woman. According to Abu Hanifa and ash-Shafi'i, driven by no sexual appetite, a man is allowed to look at a woman's hands and face.
According to Ahmad's view, a man is not allowed to. According to Malik, the whole body of a woman is considered private parts, right down to her nails [My note: That would therefore mean a sister must cover her hands].
Ornaments are of two types; outward and inward. Allah has allowed a woman to display her ornaments to people other than her husband and her prohibited affinities.
Before the verse obligating a woman to take the veil was revealed, women used to go out wearing no outergarments (jilbab) and men were able to see their hands and faces, since a woman was allowed to show both her hands and face then. Consequently, it was not unlawful for a man to look at them as she was allowed to display them.
When Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala, revealed the verse obligating a woman to take the veil, "O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters, and the believing woman, that they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad)". (al Ahzab: 59), women became forbidden to look at. That was when the Prophet married Zaynab bint Jahsh, he drew curtains and forbade women to be looked at. When he married Safiyya bint Huyat, a year later, in the year when the Battle of Khaybar took place, people said: If he forbade that she be looked at, she would be one of the mothers of the believers, otherwise she would be one of those whom his right hand possess. So he ordered that she be veiled.
Allah ordered that woman be not asked questions except from behind a veil, and ordered that the Prophet's wives and daughters as well as the believing women should cast their outer garments over their persons. This outer garment or jilbab is a sheet of cloth or what Ibn Masood and others refer to as raiment, and which is generally referred to by people as loincloth, that is the large loincloth covering her head and her whole body.
Abu Ubaydah (r) and others narrated that women used to hang it down on their heads so that only their eyes could be seen. Similarly, women who used to cover their faces.
According to the authentic book, "And the muhrima (a woman in the state of ihram) should not cover her face, and should not wear gloves". So if women are ordered to wear the outer garment (jilbab), which entails covering the face, the face and the hands are therefore understood to be among the ornaments that she is ordered not to display before strangers. In addition to that, strangers are allowed to look at all else with the exception of outside clothes [typo?].
Ibn Masood (r) mentioned the latter, whereas Ibn Abbas (r) the former. The verse allows a woman to display her ornaments to her prohibited affinities and others, while the Prophet's saying only permits it to the prohibited affinities. The verse mentions "their women, their slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical need", though a woman is not allowed to travel with any of them.
Allah says, "their women" so as to exclude the disbelieving women for a disbelieving woman is not to deliver a Muslim woman, nor to enter a bathroom with her. However Jewish women used to walk in on A'ishah (r) and others and they saw her face and hands, which men were not allowed to see.
Thus the face and hands are understood to be among the inward ornaments, and displaying them would depend on who is to see them. Allah says, "they should cast their outer garments over their persons (when abroad)", meaning a woman is to cover her neck, and so necklaces and the like are considered to be among the inward and not the outward ornaments.
Showing the face, the hands, and the feet before strangers (p.36)
On the other hand, a woman is not allowed to display her face, hands, and feet before strangers, according to the most valid of the two opinions, unlike what was followed before the verse was nullified by Allah. She is only to display her clothes. However, she is not to cover them during prayer, as all Muslims unanimously agree. They can be displayed in prayer according to the majority of scholars, such as Abu Hanifa, ash-Shafi'i and others.
Likewise, according to Abu Hanifa, the feet can be displayed, which is the opinion most likely to be correct. According to A'ishah, the feet are among the outward ornaments, she said "that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof". (an Nur: 31).
She also said, "The toe ring is a ring made of silver for the toes", narrated by Abu Hatim, which proves that women used to show their feet, their hands and faces, and they also used to hang down their garments so that if a woman walks her feet could be seen. Women did not use to wear shoes and so covering their feet in prayer would be an enormous inconvenience.
Umm Salamah said, "A woman can pray in a shift that reaches down and covers the top of her feet" so that if she kneels down in prostration, the sole of her feet could be seen.
It was proved both by the Qur'an and by the unanimity of scholars that a woman does not have to wear a loose garment that covers her body even if she prays at home. However she must wear it when she goes out. When she prays at home, her hands and face can be seen, as the private parts in prayer are not related to that private parts prohibited to be looked at. Ibn Masood (r) said that outward ornaments are clothes. However he did not say that the entire body of the woman is considered private parts, right down to her nails. This is rather the opinion of Ahmad. So, this is a must for the validity of prayer. Scholars call this <The Chapter on Covering the Private Parts>. This is not to quote the Prophet (saw). Likewise, netierh the Qur'an nor the tradition of the Prophet (saw) refer to the fact that what we cover in prayer is considered private parts. Allah, azza wa jal, says, "O the Children of Adam! Wear your beautiful apparel at every time and place of prayer". (al A'raf: 31). The Prophet (saw) forbade man to walk around his house naked, which, of necessity, applies to prayer.
Does a woman have to cover her hands in prayer? (p.38)
Ordering women to cover their hands in prayer is far fetched. When a woman kneels down in prostration she kneels down with her face and her hands as well. In the days when the Prophet (saw), lived, women used to wear garments. They used to work in their garments. Thus a woman would show her hands when grinding seeds, kneading bread and baking it. Had the covering the hands been a must in prayer, the Prophet would have stated so. The same thing applies to the feet.
However a woman is only ordered to wear a veil together with the garment. Hence, women used to pray in their garments and veils. As for the garment that the woman used to let down, she asked the Prophet (saw) about it and he said, "A hand span". They asked, "What if it leaves their legs uncovered?". He (saw) said, "Then the length of a forearm and let them not increase it".
The Prophet was also asked about the woman who drags her garments behind her over dirty places, he said, "what follows purifies it". yet, a woman does not wear such dragging shifts at home. Likewise women later began to wear slippers to cover their legs when they went out, yet they never wore them at home. That's why they asked, "what if it leaves their legs uncovered?". Hence, the purpose was to cover the leg, because if the garments were ankle-high, the leg could be seen while walking.
It has also been narrated that the Prophet said that if the woman had no appropriate garment to wear, she is to stay home. Muslim women used to pray at home, yet the Prophet (saw), said "Do not stop Allah's women slaves from going to Allah's mosques yet it is better for them to pray at home".
However, the woman was not ordered to cover her feet with slippers or with socks. Nor was she ordered to cover her hands with gloves or anything of the sort. This, in turn, proves that neither her feet nor her hands are to be covered in prayer unless there are strange men around.
It was also narrated, "The angels do not look at inward ornaments. So if a woman takes off her veil and her garment, they do not look at her". Khadija once narrated one of the Prophet (saw)'s sayings on this issue.
Therefore a woman is only ordered to wear a veil when praying. Similarly when a man prays in a loose shift he is ordered to cover his private parts and shoulders. A man's shoulders are considered equivalent to a woman's head as a man prays in a shift or the like. When in a state of ihram a man is not to wear a shift, and a woman is not to cover her face or wear gloves either. Similarly, a man is not to cover his head.
Scholars belonging to Imam Ahmad's school differed concerning a woman's face. Some said it is to be treated like a man's head and so is not to be covered. Others maintained a woman's face is equivalent to a man's hands and so must not be covered with special face veils that were tailored to its size, which is the opinion believed to be most valid, as the Prophet (saw) only forbade women to wear gloves and face veils.
Women used to hang down on their faces pieces of cloth to cover them from men, without actually clothing the face since her face is equivalent to her hands and to a man's hands. As previously mentioned, the entire body of a woman is considered private parts. Thus, she is allowed to cover her hands and face, but not using especially tailored close fitting clothes. Likewise a man is not to wear trousers but is to wear a loincloth.