Whatever of the woman's body is not allowed to be shown constitutes her 'awrah. It must be covered, for exposing it is haram. Consequently, with respect to non-mahrem men and non-Muslim women, a woman's 'awrah is her entire body with the exception of her face and hands, accordingto the interpretation we have preferred. We agree with al-Razi's argument that Islam has permitted her to expose those parts of the body, the face and hands, which need to be exposed in order to carry out daily busiand for giving and taking; it has commanded her to cover what it is not necessary to expose, and has forgiven her accidental, inadvertent exposures or such exposures as are required by necessity. All this is in accordance with the flexibility of Islam. Says al-Razi, "Since the showing of the face and hands is necessary, the jurists had no choice but to agree that they are not 'awrah, and since the showing of the feet is not necessary, they have differed concerning whether or not they are 'awrah.'' (Tafsir 'awrah.'' (Tafsir of Fakhr al-Deen al-Razi, vol. 20, pp. 205-206.)
With respect to the above-mentioned twelve categories of mahrem relatives, a woman is permitted to expose her hair, ears, neck, upper part of the chest, arms, and legs. Other parts of her body, such as the back, abdomen, thighs and two private parts, are not to be exposed before anyone, man or woman, excepting her husband. The above interpretation of the ayah is closer to its intent than that of some other scholars who say that, with respect to her muharramah (Plural of mahrem. (Trans.)) and other Muslim women, the woman's 'awrah is the area between her navel and knee. Rather, the intent of the ayah seems to support the opinion of some scholars who say that with respect to her muharramah the woman's 'awrah is that part which is not exposed while she is doing her housework; that is, whatever is exposed during the course of her daily chores may be seen by men who are her muharramah.
That is why Allah Subhanahu wa Ta'ala commands the believing women to cover themselves with a loose over-garment whenever they go out, for in this way they may be distinguished from non-believing and loose women. Allah Ta'ala commanded His Prophet (peace be on him) to convey to the whole ummah of Islam this divine message: O Prophet! Tell thy wives and daughters and the believing women that they should put on their outer garments (jalabeebihinna); (That is, whenever they are outside the home or inside it when non-mahrem men are present. (Trans.)) that is most convenient in order that they may be recognized (as Muslims) and not be molested.... (33:59)
During the period of jahiliyyah some women used to go out with the attractive parts of their bodies, such as the neck, upper part of the breast and hair, exposed, and the loafers and lechers would follow them about. Accordingly, this noble ayah came down, commanding the believing woman to cover herself with her garment so that no provocative part of her body would be visible, because her appearance would make it clear to everyone that she is a chaste, believing woman, no lecher or hypocrite would dare to molest her.
It is clear from this verse that the reason for this injunction is not the fear of women's misbehavior or mistrust of them, as some people claim, but the danger to them from lecherous and evil men; for the woman who decks herself out, walks seductively, or talks invitingly always attracts men who lust after her. This verifies the Qur'anic verse, ...Then do not be too pleasant of speech, lest one in whose heart there is a disease should feel desire (for you).... (33:32)
Accordingly, Islam insists that the Muslim woman cover, and so protect herself; no concession is made in this except to reduce it somewhat for old women. Says Allah Ta'ala: And the elderly among women who are past (the prospect) of marriageâ€”there is no blame on them if they lay aside their (outer) garments without displaying their adornment; but it is better for them to be modest. And Allah is Hearing, Knowing. (24:60)
By "the elderly among women" is meant such post-menopausal women as have no desire for marriage or sex, and to whom men are not attracted. Allah has made this concession for them so that they can put aside their covering garments, such as the chaddor, abaya, burqa, jilbab, and the like. However, the Qur'an makes the condition that this should not be for the purpose of displaying the* adornment but only for ease and comfort. Despite this concession, it is preferable and better for them to be more perfect in their dignity and far removed from any suspicion: "but it is better for them to be modest." (24:60)