What is Awrah?
Awrah means the parts of the body that should be covered with clothing. Awrah is divided into two parts:
1. Awrah in Salat- parts of the body that a Muslim should cover during the ritual prayer.
2. Awrah in Nazar- parts of the body that a Muslim should cover in front of the non-related opposite sex.
Awrah in Salat
For Men: Men should cover the area between the navel and the knees. In Salat, they should also cover both shoulders.
For Women: In Salat, a woman should cover all her body except her face and hands. A woman should also cover part of her forehead to make sure no hair is exposed.
Awrah in Nazar
Outside Salat, a person should cover his or her Awrah from others for whom it is not allowed to look at his or her Awrah- the parts of body that a person must cover especially in front of the non-related opposite gender is called Awrah in Nazar. The Arabic word “Nazar” literally means “looking”.
For Men: The Awrah in Nazar is the same as his Awrah in Salat- everything in between his navel and his knees should be covered.
For Women: A woman’s Awrah in Nazar is her entire body including her face and hands.
Note: A woman should cover her Awrah in Salat while performing the ritual prayer- whether she is praying in presence of her husband or she is praying alone in her bedroom. The Awrah in Salat must be covered in any case whether she is performing Salat in dark or light.
The Difference between Awrah in Salat and Awrah in Nazar
Both Awrah in Salat and Awrah in Nazar can be shortened to Awrah- this has caused some to confuse between the two types of Awrah.
As we mentioned earlier, the Awrah in Salat must be covered while a man or a woman is performing the ritual prayer regardless of whether he or she is praying alone or in presence of another person. Obviously, it is allowed for a woman to show her hair to her husband or her brother but she is not allowed to leave the hair uncovered while praying even in her own bed chamber.
This is because the basis for covering in Salat is different than the basis for covering in front of non-related opposite sex. Covering in Salat is in fact Akhz al Zeenah (taking the adornment). This obligation is established by the Quran in the verse: “O Sons of Adam! Take your adornment in every place and time of prayer” (Quran 7:31) whereas the reason for covering in front of the opposite gender is to prevent temptation and desire.
Explaining this, Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim Al Jawziy wrote:
“It is permissible for the free woman to perform Salat having her hands and face uncovered, but it is not allowed for her to go out in the markets and gatherings of the people like that.(without covering the face and the hands)- See Tahthīb As-sunan and 'Ilām Al Muwaqi'īn 2/80]
Also Imam Taqiyud-Din-As-Subki has said:
“The face and hands of a woman are Awrah in Nazar but not Awrah in Salat.)- [Quoted by Imām Al-Khatīb Ash-Shirbinī in his Al-Mughnī Al-Muhtāj.]
Faqeeh Qadhi Ibn Al-Arabi states:
“Woman is Awrah; her body and her voice. It is not permissible for a woman to uncover her Awrah unless out of necessity, or need such as witnessing or a disease that is affecting her body.”(Akham Al-Quran.)
Women Praying in Public
Women should avoid praying in public if they can pray in private. As the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) has said:“A woman’s prayer in her house is better than her prayer in courtyard. Her prayer in her bedroom is better than her prayer in her house.” (Abu Dawud 3811)
If a woman has to pray in a public place, where non-related men may see her, she is obliged to cover her face and her hands in addition to the Awrah in Salah. Even if she has entered the ritual prayer and non-related men enter the room she is praying in, she should immediately cover her face and her hands as well as the rest of her body without voiding her Salat. (Fatwa Regarding Women Pg 105)
Lastly, even as the basis for Awrah in Salat and Awrah in Nazar is different, the rulings concerning each of them differ- women are allowed to uncover their faces while praying Salat in private, however they are not allowed to uncover their faces in front of non-relative men. Although, it is unanimous that in Salat a woman may reveal her face, it cannot be concluded that she can expose those parts to non-mahram men.