Is it required for a Muslim woman wear a face-veil (niqab)?
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
The majority of scholars say it is permissible for a Muslim woman to keep her face and hands uncovered as long as she observes the limits of modesty in Islam.
وَقُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا
Tell the believing women to lower their gaze and guard their chastity and not expose their beauty except that which is apparent.
Surah An-Nur 24:31
Allah has commanded believing women to conceal their beauty “except that which is apparent” (illa ma thahara minha) or what normally appears thereof. Several of the companions and early Muslims interpreted this statement to mean her face and hands.
Ibn Kathir reported:
عَنِ ابْنِ عَبَّاسٍ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا قَالَ وَجْهُهَا وَكَفَّيْهَا وَالْخَاتَمُ وَرُوِيَ عَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ وَعَطَاءٍ وَعِكْرِمَةَ وَسَعِيدِ بْنِ جُبَيْرٍ وَأَبِي الشَّعْثَاءِ وَالضَّحَّاكِ وَإِبْرَاهِيمَ النَّخَعِيِّ وَغَيْرِهِمْ نَحْوُ ذَلِكَ
Ibn Abbas said regarding the verse, “Except that which is apparent,” that this means her face, her hands, and her rings. Similar narrations were reported from Ibn Umar, Ata’, Ikramah, Sa’eed ibn Jubair, Abu Ash-Sha’tha, Ad-Dahhak, and Ibrahim An-Nakha’i.
Source: Tafseer Ibn Kathir 24:31
Ibn Kathir then writes:
وَهَذَا هُوَ الْمَشْهُورُ عِنْدَ الْجُمْهُورِ
This is the well-known opinion of the majority.
Likewise, As-Suyuti and Al-Mahalli write in their commentary on this verse:
إِلاَّ مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وهو الوجه والكفان فيجوز نظره لأجنبي إن لم يخف فتنة في أحد وجهين والثاني تحرم، لأنه مظنة الفتنة
“Except that which is apparent,” means the face and the hands. It is permissible for a non-related male to look at them if he does not fear temptation, but another person may be forbidden to do so if he suspects temptation.
Source: Tafseer Jalalayn 24:31
What is required is that a Muslim woman observe modest dress and cover her arms, legs, and hair while in public. She should not wear clothing that can be seen through or that is so tight it reveals her form. Above all, a Muslim woman should observe such modest dress during prayer.
Aisha reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:
لَا يَقْبَلُ اللَّهُ صَلَاةَ حَائِضٍ إِلَّا بِخِمَارٍ
The prayer of an adult woman is not accepted unless she wears a veil.
Source: Sunan Abu Dawud 641, Grade: Sahih
She is required to veil herself during prayer by covering her arms, legs, and hair, but she may leave her face, hands, and feet uncovered.
Ibn Taymiyyah said:
وَأَمَّا سَتْرُ ذَلِكَ فِي الصَّلَاةِ فَلَا يَجِبُ بِاتِّفَاقِ الْمُسْلِمِينَ بَلْ يَجُوزُ لَهَا إبْدَاؤُهُمَا فِي الصَّلَاةِ عِنْدَ جُمْهُورِ الْعُلَمَاءِ كَأَبِي حَنِيفَةَ وَالشَّافِعِيِّ وَغَيْرِهِمَا وَهُوَ إحْدَى الرِّوَايَتَيْنِ عَنْ أَحْمَد فَكَذَلِكَ الْقَدَمُ يَجُوزُ إبْدَاؤُهُ عِنْدَ أَبِي حَنِيفَةَ وَهُوَ الْأَقْوَى
As for covering the face, hands, and feet, it is not necessary for the Muslims to agree upon this. Rather, it is permissible for her to uncover the face and hands in prayer according to the majority of scholars such as Abu Hanifa, Ash-Shafi’ee, and others including one of two narrations from Ahmad. Likewise, it is permissible for her to uncover the feet according to Abu Hanifa and this is the stronger opinion.
Source: Majmu’ Al-Fatawa
Therefore, in general it is not an obligation for a Muslim woman to cover her face and hands, but there may be circumstances in which it is recommended to do so. If a woman fears she will tempt men with her beauty, then it would be recommended for her to wear the face-veil. Other women find comfort and security and piety in wearing the face-veil, so as not to be bothered by the glances of unrelated men.
In any case, a Muslim woman who uncovers her face is not being sinful and we should respect her decision. Conversely, we should respect the opinion of those who choose to veil their faces because they believe it is a religious obligation.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.