Are a Woman’s Breasts Part of her Awra in front of Mahram Men?

Are a Woman’s Breasts Part of her Awra in front of Mahram Men?

Question:

Your answer on the female awra in front of her mahram’s seems to suggest she can expose her chest (breasts) to her mahram (father, brother, son etc). Please clarify as this is causing confusion.

Answer:

In the name of Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful,

As you rightly point out, it was stated in an earlier detailed article that the nakedness (awra) of a woman in front of her Mahram men (unmarriageable kin) such as the father, brother, son, paternal uncle (father’s brother), maternal uncle (mother’s brother), father in-law, grandson, husband’s son (from another marriage) and son in-law consists of the area between the navel and knees (including the knees) and the stomach and back. It was also stated that as a consequence it will be permissible for a woman to expose her head, hair, face, neck, chest, shoulders, hands, forearms, and legs from below the knees in front of Mahram men and impermissible to expose the stomach, back or any area which is between the navel and knees. This ruling was based on the verse of Surah al-Nur (24-31) as explained by the Hanafi jurists (fuqaha) in al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 5/328, al-Hidaya, 4/461 and elsewhere.

As you can see, the chest has also been included in the parts of the body that may be exposed in front of Mahram males, with only the stomach and back added to the area between the navel and knees (with the knees included) in being considered as part of the nakedness. This leaves us with the question as to what is exactly meant by the stomach and back, and what is intended by the chest not being part of the nakedness (awra).

The prominent Hanafi jurist, Imam Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) provides us with answers to these two questions in his authoritative work, Radd al-Muhtar. He states:

“The ‘stomach’ is the soft part from the front, and the ‘back’ is its counterpart from the rear, as mentioned in al-Khaza’in (m: name of a book). Al-Rahmati said: “The back is that which is parallel to the stomach from below the chest till the navel…meaning the area (from the rear) which is parallel to the chest is not part of the nakedness (awra).” This indicates that the chest and the area which is parallel to it from the back are not included in the Awra and that the breasts are also not included in the Awra…..And there is no doubt that it is permitted to look at the chest and breasts of a Mahram woman.” (Radd al-Muhtar 1/404-405)

In this text, Imam Ibn Abidin (Allah have mercy on him) expounds on the issue of a slave-woman’s Awra. He states here and in another chapter of his work that the Awra of a slave-woman (excluding one’s own) is similar to the Awra of a Mahram woman, in that it is permissible to see of a slave-woman that which is permitted to see of a Mahram woman. The area between the navel up to and including the knees was understandable but there was a need to define the stomach and back. As such, he clarifies what precisely is meant by the stomach and back and stipulates clearly that the chest including the breasts and the area parallel to the chest from the back are not considered to be part of the Awra of a slave-woman and a Mahram. Thus, strictly speaking, it is not necessary for a woman to cover these parts in front of a Mahram male.

Similarly, it is stated in al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya:

“It is okay for a man to see from his mother, mature daughter, sister and all other Mahram women such as grandmothers, grandchildren, paternal and maternal aunts, at their: hair, chest, locks, breasts, forearms (shoulders) and shins. It is not permissible to look at their back, stomach and the area between the navel and (including the) knees.”(Al-Fatawa al-Hindiyya, 5/328)

Imam Abd al-Hay al-Lakhnawi (Allah have mercy on him) states in his al-Si’aya:

“The jurists (fuqaha) have declared that it is permissible for a man to look at those body-parts of another’s slave-woman which he is allowed to look at of his own Mahram women, and it is clear that he is allowed to look at the chest and breasts of his Mahram women…” (al-Si’aya fi Kashf ma fi Sharh al-Waqaya, 2/71)

In light of the aforementioned texts related from the reliable works in Hanafi Fiqh, it is clear that, strictly speaking, the breasts of Mahram women such as sisters, mothers and daughters are not considered to be part of their nakedness (awra). Their Awra in front of their Mahrams is restricted to the area in between the navel and knees, the stomach and back. The chest and breasts are not included in the stomach.

Having said that, it should always be remembered that a legal ruling also has a spirit attached to it. What the jurists (fuqaha) have explained is the basic and absolute minimum that a woman must cover in the presence of Mahram men. However, this does not mean she goes around the house exposing her legs chest and breasts, just like a man is not supposed to wonder around in front of his sister and daughter bare-chested. As such, although the chest and breasts are not in strict terms part of her Awra in front of Mahram men, the spirit of Shariah requires that she does not expose these parts unless there is a genuine need.

Moreover, the Fuqaha have stressed that in a case where there is fear of temptation (fitna) or desire (shahwa) on either side, it will be necessary for a woman to cover up in front of Mahrams. As such, if there is any such fear, it will not be allowed for a woman to expose her chest, breasts, legs, etc even in front of Mahrams, neither will it be permissible for a Mahram man to see or touch these areas of her body. (See: al-Lubab fi Sharh al-Kitab, 3/218).

In conclusion, strictly speaking the breasts of a woman are not considered to be part of her Awra in the presence of her Mahrams, but the spirit of Shariah, religious propriety (adab) and local customs/norms (urf) require that she does not expose them unless there is a genuine need. If there is a fear of any sexual desire, then it will become necessary for her to cover up even in front of Mahram males.

And Allah knows best

[Mufti] Muhammad ibn Adam
Darul Iftaa
Leicester , UK

Question #: 5413
Published: 18/09/2006
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