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The institution of Pardah or seclusion of women from the outside world by confining them within the four walls of the house as is now prevalent in India was quite unknown to original Islam and its teachings. Nevertheless, blame is thrown upon Islam that it has perpetuated female seclusion thereby debarring all doors of physical and mental progress.

The Holy Quraan says: “Say to the believing men that they cast down their looks and guard their private part, that is purer for them. Surely Allah is Aware of what they do. And say to the believing women that they cast down their looks and guard their private parts and not display their ornaments except to their husbands, or their fathers, or the fathers of their husbands, or their sons, or sons of their husbands, or their brothers or the sons of their brothers, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or those whom their right hands possess, or male servants not having received of women, or the children who have not attained knowledge of what is hidden of women, and let them not strike their feet, so that what they hide of their ornaments may be known; turn to Allah , all of you, O Believers! So that you may be successful.” (24:30-31)

The Holy Quraan says: “O Consorts of the Prophet (sallal laahu alaihi wasallam)! You are not like any other woman. If you fear Allah, be not too complaisant of speech, lest one in whose heart is a disease should be moved with desire: and speak good word. And stay in your houses and do not display your finery like the displaying of the Dark Age.”  (33:32)  

The above rule is only for the wives of the Holy Prophet (sallal laahu alaihi wasallam). Still it is really a rule of life for all Muslim women and promotes purity of heart and chastity in the relations between the sexes. They are not forbidden to speak to men but as a safeguard to all possible inclinations of the heart to evil thoughts they are told not to indulge in soft and amorous conversation with the opposite sex.   

The Holy Quraan says: “O Prophet (sallal laahu alaihi wasallam)! Say to your Consorts and your daughters and the women of believers that they let down upon their bosoms their over garments, This will be more proper that they may be known and thus they will not be given trouble; and Allah  is Forgiving, Merciful.” (33:59)  

The Holy Quraan further says: “O You who believe! Let those whom your right hands possess and those of you who have not attained puberty ask permission of you three times, before the morning prayer, and when you put off your clothes at midday in summer and after the prayer of the night fall, these are the three times of privacy for you; neither it is a sin for you, nor of them besides these, some of you must go round about waiting upon others. Thus does Allah make clear to you the communications and Allah is Knowing, Wise. And when the children amongst you have attained puberty, let them seek permission as those before them sought permission. Thus does Allah make clear to you the communications, and Allah is Knowing, Wise. And as for those women who are advanced in years and who do not hope for a marriage, it is no sin for them if they put off their clothes without displaying their ornaments and if they restrain themselves it is better for them and Allah is Hearing, Knowing”. (24:28) 

In the first verse, the Holy Quraan speaks of men and women to have their looks cast down and to have their private parts guarded from being attacked or violated. This is quite apparent, therefore, that if women were totally forbidden to go out of their houses, men would not have been required to cast down their looks and to guard their private parts. In a society in which women never appeared in public, the injunction to men to have their looks cast down have been meaningless; and if women would never leave their houses, the injunction to women to have their looks cast down would have been impossible. Thus, Islam gives permission to men and women to go out of their houses. The restrictions to men are that they should cast down their looks when they see a woman and that they should guard their private parts.  

The restrictions of the women are as follows:

  1. They will cast down their looks.
  2. They will guard their private parts.
  3. They will not display their limbs, except what is (i.e. hands and face) exposed, and they can display their ornaments to near relatives mentioned in the verse.
  4. They should cover themselves by an external wrapper or an over-coat; and their exposure of neck, bosom and arms is forbidden.
  5. They should not strike ornaments over their feet as the use of the ornaments whose sounds may be audible is prohibited.

During the Holy Prophet’s (sallal laahu alaihi wasallam) lifetime, women used to be taken by the Arabs in holy wars. Sayyidah Umm-e-Aliyyah (radi Allahu anha) accompanied the Holy Prophet (sallal laahu alaihi wasallam) in seven wars; Sayyidah Safiyah (radi Allahu anha) killed a Jew at the time of the Battle of the Ditch; Sayyidah Ayesha (radi Allahu anha) took part in the battle of the Camel after the demise of Sayyiduna Rasoolullah (sallal laahu alaihi wasallam). 

In order to prevent every chance of falling into evil ways, the Habeeb of Allah (sallal laahu alaihi wasallam) has put the following restrictions to the movements of women:

  1. It is not lawful to cast looks to the private parts of a woman except her hands, faces and feet. There is exception only in the case of wives and slave-girls. No female can lawfully look toward another female so far as the private parts are concerned.
  2. The private part of a free woman is the entire body except the face, two hands and two feet.
  3. A judge can see any limbs he likes for decision in a case before him.
  4. It is lawful to have a first glance at a woman but not the second one. 
  5. A woman may go out covering her entire body but not in nudity or semi-nudity, and not by displaying fineries.
  6. A woman should not remain alone with a man because the Shaytaan then comes in.
  7. No man shall visit a woman during the absence of her husband from home.
  8. No man shall enter a house without previous permission of the owner of the house. If permission is refused, he shall return.

Sayyiduna Abu Sa’eed (radi Allahu anhu) reported that the Messenger of Allah (sallal laahu alaihi wasallam) said: “No man shall look to the private parts of a man, and no woman to the private parts of a woman, nor a man shall be with another man underneath the same cloth, nor a woman with a woman underneath the same cloth.” (Muslim) The private parts of a man are from the navel to knee-joints and of a woman the whole body except hands, feet and face. It is unlawful to keep these parts exposed to stranger.