Can you explain the verse “And abide in your houses and do not display yourselves…” [33:33]?

Can you explain the verse “And abide in your houses and do not display yourselves…” [33:33]?


Can you please explain this verse? “And abide in your houses and do not display yourselves as [was] the display of the former times of ignorance…” [33:33] Some say this means women shouldn’t come out of there houses except out of absolute necessity?

Salaam alykum,

Those who argue that misunderstand the strong consensus around this ayah’s context, which is describing the rather lewd ways in which women were expected and socially conditioned into displaying themselves in the time of ignorance [jahiliyyah].

Women would expose their chest, specifically their breasts, and would have bells on their ankles, which they would use to pound their feet on the ground in order to attract attention to themselves.

Women were seen, literally, as objects to possess and as such, men would parade women, and women would find their value in being paraded and being objectified. The social place of women was horrendous, and this is illustrated by the pagan Arab practice of burying, alive, unwanted infant daughters.

In short, women lived in a nightmarish condition, and Islam was the reason in which this changed.

Thus, the ayah in question, if [THIS IF IS VERY IMPORTANT] we expand it to apply to women, in general, would be clearly directed towards protecting women from this social situation and to ensure that women were not treated in this inhumane fashion, i.e. as literal objects to possess.

Now, the reason I wrote that the “if” is very important, because the specific area of the 33 Surah is discussing The Prophet’s household, and it can said that this ayah in particular reflects an injunction upon the wives of The Prophet, who were not subject to the same standards of other women, in that, following the passing of The Prophet they were not permitted to re-marry, but even beyond that, The Qur’an underlines the higher expectations upon them:

“O wives of the Prophet! If any of you were to become guilty of manifestly immoral conduct, double [that of other sinners] would be her suffering [in the hereafter]: for that is indeed easy for God.” [33:30] Muhammad Asad

Thus, it is important that we make this delineation, and we must be careful in applying this ayah uniformly, as the danger is that we may do this incorrectly.

This issue notwithstanding, that women were permitted to leave their homes to pray, in congregation, Fajr prayers (famous narrations abound over this) and other ones, would make the idea that women must be sequestered as a rule to be practically impossible (and cruel) but furthermore, as the tradition illustrates, not a practice of the Muslims, who had women help them during combat (as nurses) and who clearly participated outside of their homes.

Thus, those who claim that women cannot leave their homes are not only misreading this particular ayah, but they are also ignoring the tremendous corpus of the Islamic tradition.

I pray this reaches you and your families in the best of health and Iman, insha Allah.

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