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What is Zina?

Al-Baghawi (d. 516H) says in Ma'alim at-Tanzil (vol. VI, p. 34, Dar Tayyibah edition, 1994):

His saying " ... they should not show their zina (beauty/decoration)" means that they should not show their zina to other than their mahram. By this what is meant is the hidden zina, for there are two types of zina: hidden and open. The hidden type is things like the anklets, dye on the feet, bracelets on the wrist, earrings and necklaces. These it is not permissible for her to show, nor for the foreing man to look at. But what is meant by zina is the place of zina (in other words, where these jewels are placed).

His saying " ... except what is apparent thereof" refers to the open zina. The people of knowledge have diferred regarding this open zina which Allah the Exalted made an exception for. Sa'id ibn Jubayr, al-Dahhak and al-Awza'i said: it is the face and the hands. Ibn Mas'ud said: it is the clothes, as indicated by Allah's saying " ... take hold of your zina in every place of worship" [Al-Qur'an 7:31], and what was meant by that was the clothing.

Al-Hasan said: the face and the clothes. Ibn 'Abbas said: kohl (eyeshadow), and rings and dye (henna) on the hand. That which is from the open zina is permissible for a man to look at if he does not fear trouble and desire. But if he fears any of that he should lower his eyes. And it has only been made permissible for the woman to display this much for it is not 'awrah (private parts) and she is ordered to uncover this much in prayer. But the rest of her body is 'awrah which she must cover. His - Exalted and Mighty - saying " ... and that they beat their khimar" means that they throw their veils " ... over their breasts" and their chests so that they may cover their hair, their chests, their necks and their earrings. 'A'ishah said: "May Allah bestow His mercy on the first migrating women, who when Allah the Mighty and Exalted revealed 'and that they beat their khimar over their breasts' tore their garments and used them to cover themselves."

Ibn al-Jawzi (d. 597H) said in Za'ad al-Masir (vol. V, pp. 355-356, Dar al-Fikr, 1987):

His saying "they should not show their zina" means they should not to other than their mahram. Their zina is of two types: hidden, like the bracelets, earrings, bangles, necklaces and the like. And open, which is what is pointed to in His - the Most High's - saying "except what is apparent thereof". Regarding it there are seven opinions:

  1. that it is the clothing. Abul-Ahwas narrated it from Ibn Mas'ud, and in another wording he said: it is the loose outer garment.
  2. that it is the hands, the rings and the face.
  3. kuhl (eyeshadow) and rings. Sa'id ibn Jubayr narrated both from Ibn 'Abbas.
  4. the two types of bracelet, which are bracelets and rings, and kuhl. This was said by al-Miswar ibn Makhramah.
  5. kuhl, rings and die. This was said by Mujahid.
  6. rings and bracelets. This was said by al-Hasan.
  7. the face and hands. This was said by adh-Dahhak.

The Qadhi Abu Ya'la said: the first saying is most similar [to what is intended by the verse], and there's textual evidence from Ahmad for it. He said: the open zina is the clothing, and every part of her is 'awrah, even the fingernail. This is supported by the prohibition of looking to any part of the foreign women with no excuse, like that he wants to marry her or that he witnesses against her, in which case he looks at her face particularly. But as regards looking at her with no excuse, it is not permissible whether with desire or for some other reason, and regardless of whether that is the face and the hands or any other part of the body. And if it is said: so why is the prayer not invalidated by uncovering the face? The answer is that there is difficulty for her in covering it, so she is excused.

An-Nasafi (d. 710H) says in Madarik at-Tanzil (vol. II, p. 500, Dar Ibn Kathir, 1998):

"They should not show their zina," zina is what the woman uses to decorate herself in jewellery, or kuhl or dye. And the meaning: they should not show the places of zina, for showing the zina itself - which is jewellery and the like - is permissible. And what is intended by it is its place, or showing [the jewellery]. And the [jewels] are placed there to show off those places, not for showing of [the jewellery] in itself. And its places are the head, the ears, the neck, the chest, the upper arms, the lower arms, the shin, which are for the diadem, the earrings, the necklaces, the sash worn over the shoulder, the bracelet, the armlet and the anklet. "Except what is apparent thereof," except what has become customary and is the nature to show, and that is the face, the hands and the feet, for in covering them is clear difficulty, as the woman has no way of getting around doing things with her hands. Also, there is the necessity of uncovering the face, particularly in the issue of witnessing, or trials, or marriage. It is also inevitable when walking the streets, as well as the showing of the feet, and particularly for poor women.

Ash-Shawkani (d. 1250H) says in Fath al-Qadir (vol. IV, p. 29, al-Maktabah al-'Asriyyah, 1995): "They should not show their zina" meaning what they use to adorn themselves, like jewellery and the like. In forbidding the showing of the zina there is a prohibition of showing where the zina is worn on their bodies even more so. Then He - may He be glorified - made an exception from this prohibition and said "except what is apparent thereof". The people have disagreed regarding the open zina and what it is.

Ibn Mas'ud and Sa'id ibn Jubayr said: the open zina is the clothing, and Sa'id ibn Jubayr added: the face. 'Ata and al-Awza'i said: the face and the hands. Ibn 'Abbas, Qatadah and al-Miswar ibn Makhramah said: the open zina is the kuhl, the toothpick, the dye till halfway up the shin, and the like, which it is permissible for the woman to show. Ibn 'Atiyyah said: the woman should not show any part of her zina and hides all of her zina, and the exception refers to those things which become apparent by the rule of necessity.

It does not remain hidden that the clear meaning of the Qur'anic view is the prohibition of showing the zina except that which appears of it, such as the jilbab, the khimar and the like - e.g. the jewels and similar things which are on the hand and the foot. If the meaning of zina was the places [where the zina is placed], the exception would go back to those things which it is difficult for the woman to cover, like her hands, feet and the like. And that is if the prohibition of showing the zina necessitated prohibiting the showing of its place by sense of the discourse. However, it is possible that the exception refers to the two places we have mentioned (the face and hands). But if the zina includes the places [where the zina is worn] and what the women use to decorate themselves, then the issue is clear, and the exception is for all of it.

[Translator's note: This bit was quite difficult to understand. I think what he's trying to say is that if you take the Qur'an literally, it's prohibiting showing the decorations that women use and nothing more, except that which is seen by necessity, but if you take it to mean the places where the women wear these objects, then the exception is the hands and the face. And if zina means both the actual decorations and the parts where they are worn, then it means that both are prohibited to show except what appears normally].

He continues, giving the references for the opinions (vol. IV, p. 33):

'Abdur-Razzaq, al-Firyabi, Sa'id ibn Mansur, Ibn Abi Shaybah, 'Abd ibn Humayd, Ibn Jarir, Ibn al-Mundhir, Ibn Abi Hatim, at-Tabarani, al-Hakim (who authenticated it) and Ibn Marduwayhi narrate from Ibn Mas'ud regarding His saying "they do not show their zina," he said: zina is armlets, bracelets, anklets, earrings and necklaces. "Except what appears thereof," he said: the garment and the jilbab. Ibn Abi Shaybah, Ibn Jarir and Ibn al-Mundhir narrate from him that he said: zina is of two types - the open zina and the hidden one which only the husband sees. As for the open zina, it is the garment, and as for the hidden zina, it is kuhl, the armlets ...

Be Mindful O Mankind!

To all who love and revere the Book, And earnestly strive to find in it, Not a reflection of their own fancies, But a clue to Unity, Discipline, And the call to higher matters of the spirit, The Fruit of Life, Thought and Study.
- 'Abdullah Yusuf Ali (d. 1373H), may Allah have mercy upon him