“Prophet! Say to your wives, daughters and all believing women that they should draw over themselves some of their outer garments. This will be more conducive to their being recognized and not affronted. God is Much-Forgiving, Merciful.”
(The Qur’ān – 33:59)
In this ayah Allah the Exalted instructs His Messenger ﷺ to issue an order to his wives, daughters and Muslim women, requiring them, when they leave their homes, to cover their bodies and heads with an outer garment. In this way, they would be recognised and be protected from the machinations of transgressors. Their modest appearance would distinguish them as chaste women, which embarrasses those who follow women to tease and malign them.
Commenting on this ayah, al-Suddi says: “Some wicked people in Madinah used to go out at nightfall to make indecent remarks to women. Houses in Madinah were small. Therefore, women went out at night to relieve themselves. However, they were maligned by such wicked remarks. When such people saw a woman wrapped in her outer cover, they refrained from maligning her as they recognised her as free and chaste. A woman who did not have such a cover was subjected to their affronts as they thought her to be a slave.”
Mujahid says: “When they put on their outer cover, they were recognised as free and chaste women. No one maligned them. As for the ayah ending, ‘God is Much Forgiving, Merciful,’ it means that He forgave women for what had happened in the past, as they were not aware of what they should do.”