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Purdah: Is covering the face an essential part of Islam?

I had a discussion with a friend on the issue of Purdah. He was not willing to accept that face covering was not an an essential part of Purdah under normal circumstances. I gave the argument that the Purdah, at least, cannot be more strict than that observed during Hajj i.e. if women are not required to cover their faces during Hajj, why would the case be different elsewhere? He said: “Hajj is different thing because there are other things also that we do during Hajj but not in normal life.” I didn’t say anything but later it seemed as if ‘All other things’ that are observed during Hajj are in fact *Extra Restriction* e.g. we can’t kill animals etc. If this is correct (as far as my limited knowledge is concerned), then the ‘latitude’ allowed in case of Purdah still goes against the general rule of ‘Restrictions’. Why?
My question is:
1) Am I thinking right or not?
2) Can this argument be presented to support that face covering is not an essential part of Purdah? (I understand the ultimate argument should be from Quran, but the problem is that most of us are not well versed in Arabic and traditionally face covering has been considered essential despite Quran being there)


Assalamo Alaikum
Your line of argument is correct. Hajj is an occasion when we need to concentrate on spirituality and religiosity more than on any other occasion. There are hundreds and thousands of stranger women around us during Hajj. Had the purpose of covering face been to save men from getting influenced by the beauty of feminine faces, it should have been all the more important during Hajj.
Why did the Qur’an say to the prophet, alaihissalaam, that he couldn’t marry women beyond the categories mentioned for him “even if you are impressed by their beauties”? (Qur’an; 33:52)
Also, it is a mistaken view that the traditional understanding is that face should be covered. Amongst the four traditional schools, only Hanbalis believe that it is important. Hanafis don’t consider it to be binding at all.