Niqab: Compulsory or Recommended?

Question and answer details
As-salamu `alaykum. May Allah reward and bless you for your efforts.I am a British revert to the Islamic faith from many years now, alhamdulillah. I want to put two questions to you, insha’Allah. I am very interested in wearing the niqab and I am wondering if you have any proof or signs that wearing niqab, although debatably not fard, is perhaps at least recommended or more rewarded? Do you think that niqab could make a fitnah for Islam in the world because it looks extreme for non-Muslims who see Islam as already oppressive? Also, if it is forbidden in Al-Haram, does this not mean it is disliked? Also, do you think that wearing western clothes for hijab is not the most pious and perhaps it is better to wear a long jilbab, etc., as this only covers the curves really well? My second point is: regarding shaking hands of men. Could it make a fitnah for Islam if I refuse to shake hands with men in Britain as it is seen as hostile and unfriendly?
Hatem al-Haj

Wa `alaykum as-salamu wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh.

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

All praise and thanks are due to Allah, and peace and blessings be upon His Messenger.

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Dear brother, thank you very much for your good question and for your sincere concern to wear niqab or hijab.

Firstly, it should be stated that there is a consensus among jurists that no woman is allowed to cause any kind of fitnah (temptation) for men. Hence, every Muslim woman has to give due attention to that keeping in mind not to cause any fitnah of any kind, either by her voice or clothing.

Also, as for the niqab, it is a big controversial issue. So, if you can wear it without causing any troubles, either at home or in the community, it will be great. But if it causes you troubles at work or street, you can do according the other opinions that see the hijab is enough.

Responding to your question, Dr. Hatem Al-Hajj, Dean of Shari`ah Academy of America, stated,

Niqab is not mandatory according to the majority of Fiqh scholars. However, there is a significant opinion that holds its obligation and an agreement on its virtue. Women don’t need to wear it under stressful conditions if they don’t believe in its obligation.

However, to see some wear it in every community is inspiring, and would even be encouraging to the women who wear hijab not to give their hijab up or compromise on its requirements. If the difficulties encountered with niqab will cause you distress or impede your progress in other aspects of your religious commitment, then you may take it off, if you don’t believe in its obligation.

As for hand shaking with the opposite gender, it should be avoided if at all possible. There are ways one may indicate with gestures and body language that they are not open to it. When a particular situation calls for a compromise, out of fear of causing much upset and trouble, then it is hoped that Allah would pardon that.

Allah Almighty knows best.