Allah: An Exalted Woman?
Examining the Issue of Allah’s Veil

Sam Shamoun

In some of our previous articles (1; 2; 3; see also this article) we looked at the depiction of Allah as found in the Quran and Islamic hadith literature and discovered that Muhammad or the compiler(s) of the Quran seemed to believe that Allah was an exalted human being, or more specifically a glorified man. At the very least, these sources presuppose that Allah has human characteristics and/or assumes human form.

Upon further analysis it seems that the author of the Quran further believed that Allah also has some characteristics of a woman, which may imply that he has both a male and female form, somewhat like a hermaphrodite or transvestite.

In order to demonstrate what we mean, it is important that we discuss what the Quran has to say about the issue of women veiling themselves.

The Quran says that women believers are to be veiled:

O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies (i.e. screen themselves completely except the eyes or one eye to see the way). That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed. And Allah is Ever Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. S. 33:59 Hilali-Khan

The Sunni exegetes al-Jalalayn say:

O Prophet! Tell your wives and daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks closely over themselves (jalabib is the plural of jilbab, which is a wrap that covers a woman totally) - in other words, let them pull part of it [also] over their faces, leaving one eye [visible], when they need to leave [the house] for something. That makes it likelier that they will be known, to be free women, and not be molested, by being approached. In contrast, slavegirls did not use to cover their faces and so the disbelievers used to pester them. And God is Forgiving, of any occasion in the past when they may have neglected to cover themselves, Merciful, to them in His veiling them. (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; source)

The Quran further says that the only time women can unveil themselves is in front of family members:

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband's fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards God, that ye may attain Bliss. S. 24:31 Y. Ali

The two Jalals write:

… and let them draw their veils over their bosoms, that is, let them cover up their heads, necks and chests with veils, and not reveal their, hidden, adornment, namely, all that is other than the face and the hands, except to their husbands (bu'ul is the plural form of ba'l, 'male spouse') or their fathers, or their husbands' fathers, or their sons, or their husbands' sons, or their brothers, or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or what their right hands own, all of whom are permitted to look thereat, except for the part from the navel down to the knees, which is unlawful for any other than their husbands to see; 'their women', however, excludes disbelieving women, for it is not permitted for Muslim women to reveal themselves to these; 'what their right hands own' comprises slaves; or such men who are dependant, on what food may be left over, not (ghayri, read as an adjective, or read ghayra as an exceptive) possessing any sexual desire, [not] those men who are in [sexual] need of women, so for example those whose male member cannot become erect; or children who are not yet aware of women's private parts, in [the context of] sexual intercourse, and so to these they may reveal themselves except for that part from the navel to the knees. And do not let them thump with their feet to make known their hidden ornaments, as in a rattling anklet [and the like]… (Tafsir al-Jalalayn; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Another commentary states:

… (and to draw their veils over their bosoms) and they should tie that; and then Allah mentioned the adornment again, and said: (and not to reveal their adornment) their bracelets and ornamented belts and other things (save to their own husbands or fathers) blood fathers or stepfathers (or husbands fathers, or their sons) real sons or milk sons (or their husbands' sons) from other women, (or their brothers) their milk brothers or blood brothers (or their brothers' sons) their real sons or stepsons (or sisters sons) their real sons or milk sons, (or their women) i.e. Muslim women who belong to their own religion, because it is unlawful for Jewish, Christian or Magian women to see them without their clothes on, (or their slaves) female slaves, not male slaves, (or male attendants who lack vigour) or male attendants who belong to their husbands who have no desire for women: i.e. eunuchs and elderly men, (or children who know naught of women's nakedness) children who are too young to sleep with women and do not understand what goes on between men and women, such as these can see the adornment of women without there being any doubt… (Tanwr al-Miqbs min Tafsr Ibn ‘Abbs; source)

Moreover, Muhammad’s wives were only allowed to speak to men from behind a veil or screen:

O Believers! enter not into the houses of the Prophet, save by his leave, for a meal, without waiting his time. When ye are invited then enter, and when ye have eaten then disperse at once. And engage not in familiar talk, for this would cause the Prophet trouble, and he would be ashamed to bid you go; but God is not ashamed to say the truth. And when ye would ask any gift of his wives, ask it from behind a veil (min wara-i hijabin). Purer will this be for your hearts and for their hearts. And ye must not trouble the Apostle of God, nor marry his wives, after him, for ever. This would be a grave offence with God. S. 33:53 Rodwell

Thus, the veil is something which a believing woman must put on if she is to be pleasing to Allah, just as the hadith literature indicates:

Narrated 'Aisha:
The wives of the Prophet used to go to Al-Manasi, a vast open place (near Baqia at Medina) to answer the call of nature at night. 'Umar used to say to the Prophet "Let your wives be veiled," but Allah's Apostle did not do so. One night Sauda bint Zam'a the wife of the Prophet went out at 'Isha' time and she was a tall lady. 'Umar addressed her and said, "I have recognized you, O Sauda." He said so, as he desired eagerly that the verses of Al-Hijab (the observing of veils by the Muslim women) may be revealed. So Allah revealed the verses of "Al-Hijab" (A complete body cover excluding the eyes). (Sahih al-Bukhari, Volume 1, Book 4, Number 148)

What makes this rather interesting is that the Quran says Allah also wears a veil and only speaks to people from behind one!

It is not given to any human being that Allah should speak to him unless (it be) by Inspiration, or from behind a veil (min wara-i hijabin), or (that) He sends a Messenger to reveal what He wills by His Leave. Verily, He is Most High, Most Wise. S. 42:15 Hilali-Khan

No indeed; but upon that day they shall be veiled (lamahjooboona) from their Lord, 83:15 Arberry

The Jalals’ commentary on the above verse says that:

Nay!, verily, they, on that day, the Day of Resurrection, will be screened off from their Lord, and so they will not see Him. (Source)

Hence, much like Muhammad’s wives placed a screen in front of those coming to present gifts to them Allah has a screen of his own which he places in front of the unbelievers!

The hadith sources say that Allah’ veil is his light which prevents people from seeing him:

A'mash has narrated this hadith on the same authority and said: The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) was standing amongst us and he told us four things. He then narrated the hadith like the one reported by Abu Mua'wiya, but did not mention the words "His creation" and said: His veil is the light. (Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0344)

'Abdullah b. Qais transmitted on the authority of his father (Abu Musa Ash'ari) that the Apostle (may peace be upon him) said: There would be two gardens (in Paradise) the vessels and contents of which would be of silver, and two gardens whose vessels and contents would be of gold. The only thing intervening to hinder the people from looking at their Lord will be the mantle of Grandeur over His face in the Garden of Eden. (Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0346)

The hadiths further claim that Allah will remove his veil only before the believers:

Suhaib reported the Apostle (may peace be upon him) saying: When those deserving of Paradise would enter Paradise, the Blessed and the Exalted would ask: Do you wish Me to give you anything more? They would say: Hast Thou not brightened our faces? Hast Thou not made us enter Paradise and saved us from Fire? He (the narrator) said: He (God) would lift the veil, and of things given to them nothing would he dearer to them than the sight of their Lord, the Mighty and the Glorious. (Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0347)

But this introduces a contradiction within the hadith collection since in another place Muhammad is reported to have said that the creation would be consumed if Allah were to remove his veil:

Abu Musa reported: The Messenger of Allah (may peace be upon him) was standing amongst us and he told us five things. He said: Verily the Exalted and Mighty God does not sleep, and it does not befit Him to sleep. He lowers the scale and lifts it. The deeds in the night are taken up to Him before the deeds of the day, and the deeds of the day before the deeds of the night. His veil is the light. In the hadith narrated by Abu Bakr, instead of the word "light," it is fire. If he withdraws it (the veil), the splendour of His countenance would consume His creation so far as His sight reaches. (Sahih Muslim, Book 001, Number 0343)

How, then, can Allah remove his veil before believers without this utterly consuming them?

Whatever the answer, these facts remain:

It is vitally important to keep in mind that the Quran does not command believing men to wear a veil, only believing women.

Moreover, what kind of veil does Allah wear? Does Allah’s veil only cover his face or his whole body? Which of his parts, if any, are uncovered, i.e. naked?

With the foregoing in mind, it is hard to escape the fact that Muhammad or the author of the Quran believed that Allah is an exalted, glorified woman or, at the very least, a hermaphrodite or transvestite since they also ascribed exclusively masculine qualities to him, such as the use of masculine pronouns, verbs, adjectives etc. Or it may even be that the author of Quran believed that Allah can and does assume the form of a male and female, even though he isn’t either gender.

Whatever the case be, the Quran and hadiths raise up a lot of problems and questions for Muslims to deal with.

Articles by Sam Shamoun
Answering Islam Home Page