Many people say that women have to cover their faces because of desire or Fitnah. But what is desire and Fitnah?



Islamic Text

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ

In the Name of Allah Most Merciful Most Kind

Short Answer

Many later Hanafi scholars did say that women must cover their faces due to Fitnah or desire. Although this does not seem to be the position of earlier Hanafi Imams. Nevertheless, desire is called Shahwah in Arabic, and it often refers to sexual attraction. As for Fitnah it is often translated as temptation. In our context it refers to a strong urge to commit sin.

عَنْ جَرِيرِ بْنِ عَبْدِ اللهِ، قَالَ: سَأَلْتُ رَسُولَ اللهِ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ عَنْ نَظَرِ الْفُجَاءَةِ فَأَمَرَنِي أَنْ أَصْرِفَ بَصَرِي

(Sayidina) Jarir bin Abdillah said, I asked the messenger of Allah ﷺ about the inadvertent glance. So, he ﷺ commanded me to avert my eye. (Sahih Muslim 2159 – 45)

The Hadith above makes it clear that women do not have to cover their faces. Rather the onus is upon men to lower or avert their gazes. Therefore, even in situations where men look with desire (Shawah) or Fitnah is likely, men are obliged to take action. Namely, lower their gaze. This was mentioned by Imam Qadi Iyad according to Imam Ali al-Qari.


قَالَ الْقَاضِي عِيَاضٌ – رَحِمَهُ اللَّهُ -: قَالُوا فِيهِ حُجَّةٌ عَلَى أَنَّهُ لَا يَجِبُ عَلَى الْمَرْأَةِ سَتْرُ وَجْهِهَا إِنَّمَا ذَلِكَ سُنَةٌ مُسْتَحَبَّةٌ لَهَا وَيَجِبُ عَلَى الرِّجَالِ غَضُّ الْبَصَرِ عَنْهَا فِي جَمِيعِ الْأَحْوَالِ إِلَّا لِغَرَضٍ صَحِيحٍ شَرْعِيٍّ. (مرقاة المفاتيح شرح مشكاة المصابيح)

Qadi Iyaad (May Allah Most High have mercy upon him) said: They said it contains proof that a woman is not obligated to cover her face. Rather that is a recommended practice for her. And the obligation is upon the men to avert their gaze in all circumstances. Unless there is a valid legal purpose. (Imam Ali al-Qari 1014H, Mirqaat al-Mafateeh).

Onus on the men

We see in the Nass above that women are not required to cover their faces. Rather men should lower the gaze. Therefore, even if the argument is made that we live in times of Fitnah and men look with desire, the onus is upon men. They are required to avert the gaze.

فَدَلَّ أَنَّهُ لَا يُبَاحُ النَّظَرُ إلَى شَيْءٍ مِنْ بَدَنِهَا وَلِأَنَّ حُرْمَةَ النَّظَرِ لِخَوْفِ الْفِتْنَةِ وَعَامَّةُ مَحَاسِنِهَا فِي وَجْهِهَا فَخَوْفُ الْفِتْنَةِ فِي النَّظَرِ إلَى وَجْهِهَا أَكْثَرُ مِنْهُ إلَى سَائِرِ الْأَعْضَاءِ. (المبسوط)

This suggests that it is not permissible to look at any part of her body. Since the prohibition of looking is due to the fear of temptation (Fitnah). Yet most of her beauty is in her face. So, the fear of temptation when looking at her face is greater than the rest of the limbs. (Imam al-Sarakhsi 483H, al-Mabsoot).

In the Nass (text) above Imam al-Sarakhsi recognises that much of the beauty of a woman is found in her face. Therefore, greater Fitnah is expected there. Despite this, he goes on to say (see Nass below) that the Hanafis follow the opinion of Sayidina Ibn Abbas. Thus, it is permitted to look at the face and it is not required for a woman to cover her face.

وَلَكِنَّا نَأْخُذُ بِقَوْلِ عَلِيٍّ وَابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ – رَضِيَ اللَّهُ تَعَالَى عَنْهُمَا – فَقَدْ جَاءَتْ الْأَخْبَارُ فِي الرُّخْصَةِ بِالنَّظَرِ إلَى وَجْهِهَا وَكَفِّهَا. (المبسوط)

But we take the opinion of (Sayidina) Ali and (Sayidina) Ibn Abbas (May Allah Most High be pleased with them both). Narrations regarding the permissibility of looking at her face and hands have been established (from them). (Imam al-Sarakhsi 483H, al-Mabsoot).

Later Hanafi scholars

Despite the clarity provided by many early scholars, several later Hanafis did oblige women to cover their faces. They explained that this is due to the fact that men look with desire (Shahwah), which leads to Fitnah. It seems they did not agree that the onus is upon the men to avert the gaze.

وَفِي الْمُنْتَقَى تُمْنَعُ الشَّابَّةُ عَنْ كَشْفِ وَجْهِهَا لِئَلَّا يُؤَدِّيَ إلَى الْفِتْنَةِ وَفِي زَمَانِنَا الْمَنْعُ وَاجِبٌ بَلْ فَرْضٌ لِغَلَبَةِ الْفَسَادِ. (مجمع الأنهر)

In al-Muntaqa: A young woman is prevented from revealing her face in case it leads to Fitnah (temptation). And in our time the prevention is necessary (Wajib) or even obligatory (Fard) due to the prevalence of corruption (Fasad). (Imam Shaykh Zadah 1078H, Majma al-Anhur).

Although it would be correct to adhere to the view of earlier Hanafis, many contemporary Hanafi scholars go with the view of later scholars. Thus, they say it is obligatory for women to cover their faces due to the prevalence of Fitnah and Shahwah. This view necessitates a discussion on the definition of Fitnah and Shahwah.

What is Shahwah and Fitnah
حَاصِلُهُ أَنَّ مُجَرَّدَ النَّظَرِ وَاسْتِحْسَانَهُ لِذَلِكَ الْوَجْهِ الْجَمِيلِ، وَتَفْضِيلَهُ عَلَى الْوَجْهِ الْقَبِيحِ كَاسْتِحْسَانِ الْمَتَاعِ الْجَزِيلِ لَا بَأْسَ بِهِ، فَإِنَّهُ لَا يَخْلُو عَنْهُ الطَّبْعُ الْإِنْسَانِيُّ، بَلْ يُوجَدُ فِي الصِّغَارِ، فَالصَّغِيرُ الْمُمَيِّزُ يَأْلَفُ صَاحِبَ الصُّورَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ أَكْثَرَ مِنْ صَاحِبِ الصُّورَةِ الْقَبِيحَةِ وَيَرْغَبُ فِيهِ، وَيُحِبُّهُ أَكْثَرَ بَلْ قَدْ يُوجَدُ ذَلِكَ فِي الْبَهَائِمِ، فَقَدْ أَخْبَرَنِي مَنْ رَأَى جَمَلًا يَمِيلُ إلَى امْرَأَةٍ حَسْنَاءَ وَيَضَعُ رَأْسَهُ عَلَيْهَا، كُلَّمَا رَآهَا دُونَ غَيْرِهَا مِنْ النَّاسِ، فَلَيْسَ هَذَا نَظَرُ شَهْوَةٍ، وَإِنَّمَا الشَّهْوَةُ مَيْلُهُ بَعْدَ هَذَا مَيْلَ لَذَّةٍ إلَى الْقُرْبِ مِنْهُ أَوْ الْمَسِّ لَهُ زَائِدًا عَلَى مَيْلِهِ إلَى الْمَتَاعِ الْجَزِيلِ، أَوْ الْمُلْتَحِي لِأَنَّ مَيْلَهُ إلَيْهِ مُجَرَّدُ اسْتِحْسَانٍ لَيْسَ مَعَهُ لَذَّةٌ وَتَحَرُّكُ قَلْبٍ إلَيْهِ كَمَا فِي مَيْلِهِ إلَى ابْنِهِ أَوْ أَخِيهِ الصَّبِيحِ، وَفَوْقَ ذَلِكَ الْمَيْلُ إلَى التَّقْبِيلِ أَوْ الْمُعَانَقَةِ أَوْ الْمُبَاشَرَةِ أَوْ الْمُضَاجَعَةِ. (رد المحتار على الدر المختار)

In conclusion, simply looking and appreciating a beautiful face, as well as preferring it over an ugly face, is fine. Just like appreciating quality products.  Rather it is part of human nature. Even children do it. The discerning child is more inclined towards a person of beauty than someone who is ugly. He is fond of him and loves him more. This may even be present in animals. I was informed by someone who saw a camel that used to be fond of a beautiful woman. He would rest his head on her whenever he saw her, he did not do this with other people.

This is not desire (Shahwah). Rather Shahwah is a lustful inclination that is beyond this inclination. It is the desire to draw close or touch. This is beyond the inclination towards quality products or (a beautiful) bearded man. Because that inclination is simply appreciating beauty. It does not include lust or the movement of the heart to it. Rather that is like an inclination towards his son, or his beautiful brother. Worse that that is the inclination to kiss, hug, lustful contact, or sleeping together. (Imam Muhammad Amin bin Abideen 1252H, Radd al-Muhtaar).

In the discussion above, we find that men simply looking at the faces of women does not constitute Fitnah or Shahwah. Even if they recognise and appreciate the beauty therein, it is still not Fitnah or Shahwah. Rather that only occurs when looking leads to lustful inclination.

So if a man were to look with desire and lust, then the discussion about women being obliged to cover the face would begin. However, even then we will find a difference between earlier scholars who put the onus on the man to avert his gaze. And later scholars who put the onus on the woman and required her to cover the face.

Fear of Fitnah

Another disparity between earlier and later scholars is regarding the mere fear of Fitnah (temptation). Earlier scholars did not seem to hold the view that legal rulings should change when there is merely a fear of Fitnah. Whereas later scholars were stricter. The fear of Fitnah caused them to assert that a change in certain legal rulings had become necessary.

لَا شَكَّ أَنَّهُ يُبَاحُ النَّظَرُ إلَى ثِيَابِهَا وَلَا يُعْتَبَرُ خَوْفُ الْفِتْنَةِ فِي ذَلِكَ فَكَذَلِكَ إلَى وَجْهِهَا وَكَفِّهَا. (المبسوط)

There is no doubt that it is permissible to look at her clothes, and the fear of Fitnah (temptation) is not taken into account in that. The same applies to her face and hands. (Imam al-Sarakhsi 483H, al-Mabsoot) 


There is no doubt that men should lower their gaze and not look at the faces of women. But if they do not adhere to this, what are the legal repercussions? It seems that there are no legal repercussions unless they look with desire (Shahwah) and it causes Fitnah (temptation).

In such cases many early Hanafi scholars said the onus is upon the men to lower their gaze. Many later Hanafis deemed the onus to be upon women. They said that women must cover their faces. Regardless of which opinion one follows, the first question is: has Shahwah or Fitnah been established?

Some people say that because men look at the faces of women, Fitnah has been established. This understanding seems to contradict the Hanafi texts. Rather, even those scholars who deemed it necessary for women to cover their faces, went further than this. They said, Fitnah or Shahwah is established when they look with lust, and it leads to a strong desire to act upon that lust.

And Allah Most High Knows Best.

Answered by Shaykh Noorud-deen Rashid (21.06.24)