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I was shocked to read that the Union "is holding majlises and other functions where the ladies and gents sit in the same room or hall where there is no purdah at all". It is amusing to note that they are doing it in the name of avoiding 'discrimination'. Your country is a Christian one. Neither the Catholics nor the Protestants admit women into priesthood. Catholic nuns are obliged to cover their whole body even in their dormitories; and a woman going before the Pope must cover her whole body, even if she, in her public life, is a 'striptease artist'. So, the 'anti-discrimination' laws have not compelled the Christians to relax their rules that are obviously 'based on sex-discrimination. Now coming to the Shia Ithna-asheri Sheriat: - It is the unanimous ruling of all the Mujtahids, right from the beginning upto now, that:- 1.A woman must cover her entire body and hair in such a way that it is not seen by any man who is not within prohibited degree. (Within prohibited degree: with whom marriage is prohibited, like father, brother, son etc. ) 2.It is 'Haram' (unlawful) for a man to look at the body (or part thereof) of a woman who is not within prohibited degree, whether it be with lusty intention or without such intention. Also, it is 'Haram' for a woman to look at the body of a man who is not within prohibited degree; 3.The above rules are for her whole body except the 'face' and hands (from the wrists to the finger-tips); Note: Neck, ears and hair are not included in face' and must remain covered. 4.So far as the face and hands (as explained above) are concerned, it is the unanimous ruling of all the Mujtahids that it is Haram (unlawful) to look at the face and hands of a woman, if that look is with lusty intention; 5.The only difference of opinion is about looking at the face and hands of a woman (who is not within prohibited degree) without any lusty intention. Some Mujtahids say that it is allowed; others say that it is not allowed. The present great Mujtahids (Agha-e-Khoui, Agha-e-Milani, Agha-e-Shahrudi and Agha-e-Shariatmadari) say that it is not Haram to look at the face and hands of a woman who is not within prohibited degree, without any lusty intention. But even then, they say that it is 'Ihtiyat-e-Wajib' to refrain from such looking. Looking at non-Muslim women, who usually do not cover their bodies, is allowed if it is without any lusty intention. Now if someone is prepared to reach the furthest limit, he can do so only if the womenfolk are prepared to cover their whole body from head to foot in a proper way (not in revealing clothes). To put it in a more clear way, a woman must cover herself as is done in Ihram, covering her neck, hair and ears also, leaving only that part of the face open which is washed in Wudhu. This is the tenet of the Shia Ithna-asheri Sheriat. And the Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution of your Institution binds it to follow "Islam according to teachings of the Shia Jaffery Teachings". I think it is high time for the Jamaats to make it compulsory for the women to attend the majlises and other functions in proper Islamic dress, even if they sit behind a partition. The Jews compel their congregation to wear skul caps and prayer-shawls when praying in a synagogue, and it is not considered as an undue hardship. Why our own Jamaats and institutions cannot enforce such rules? I know that these women do not observe purdah in their daily lives. Someone may say that to make such women observe purdah within the Imambara or majlises amounts to hypocrisy! But it is not so. By making them observe the rules of sheriat every time they come to the majlis or into imambara, we do remind them what they should be (and are not); we make them remember how a good Shia Ithna-atheri woman should dress. This 'reminding' is the most important factor in keeping the torch of faith alive. By 'reminding' they will never forget their noble Islamic heritage. Remove this restriction, and your children will not know the difference between Muslim and non-muslim way of life.
If a man is of such an advanced age that he has completely lost all sexual desires, then a woman may go before him with open face. But nobody can fix any age-limit for this change. It depends upon health, race and many other such factors. And in any case, it was improper for the 'Na-Mahrams' to go to see the face of that dead woman. Only 'Mahram' males should have been allowed there, no matter what her age.
Here is the gist of the full mas'ala, which covers all your enquiries on this subject: Woman is obligated to cover her body (except face and two palms) from all men except the husband and those who are in prohibited degree like father, son etc. It is wajib for her to cover even her face and palms from all - other than husband - even from mahram if he looks at her with lust; rather it is ahwat to hide the face and palms from ghair-mahrams in all cases. Man is not obligated to hide his body except the private parts. But it is haram for woman to look at his body - except the face, head, neck, hands and feet. She may look at the above-mentioned parts (face etc.) if there is no lustful intention or enjoyment, although it is ahwat not to look at these parts in any case. Man may look mahram women, provided there is no lust or enjoyment. He is not allowed to look at Ghair-mahrams even without lusty intention; it is ahwat not to look even at Ghair-mahram woman's face and palms.
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