The women in India do not cover their hands and faces in front of their relatives only; they say it is a custom. Is this covering obligatory or recommended?
If the relatives are mahaarim there is no need for her to cover her face because it is permissible for them to look at it and there is nothing that forbids this.
If the relatives are non-mahaarim; covering the face is obligatory because non-mahaarim relatives share the same ruling as non-family members.
It is obligatory for the face to be covered in front of every non-mahram.
and to draw their veils
Hafidh and others mentioned covering the face is what is intended here and that this covering only applies to non-mahram. This verse is from the specific evidences that indicate (the obligation of) covering the face.
وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَىٰ جُيُوبِهِنَّۖ
and to draw their veils all over Juyubihinna (i.e. their bodies, faces, necks and bosoms)
Shinqeeti has some very fine research into this; that this is from the evidences that indicate the obligation of covering the face which is the greatest cause of fitnah.
This is what people look at. When a man wishes to look at his suitor, does he look at her hand? He looks at her face which is the place of adornment, fitnah and beauty. It is what defines the woman, so he does not look at her hands or her legs. The first thing he looks at is the face, thus it must be covered from him.
If the women used to walk outside barefaced, her male courter would not need to go to her house and see her prior to marriage. The fact they did suggests that the female companions used to cover their faces and due to this their courters were required to go to their homes to look at their faces.
فَاذْهَبْ، فَانْظُرْ إِلَيْهَا، فَإِنَّ فِي أَعْيُنِ الْأَنْصَارِ شَيْئًا
Go and look at her, for there is indeed something in the eye of the Ansaar
[Narrated by Abu Hurriera in Muslim: 1424]
Covering the face from non-mahaarim is obligatory whether they are relatives or not and it is not permissible for her to uncover her face (in front of them). It is obligatory for the female performing Hajj to uncover her face if alone in her hotel room or with her husband. If in the presence of non-mahaarim she covers her face.
The women used to cover their faces if they approached non-mahaarim and uncover their faces if they had passed them during Hajj. This is further evidence for the obligation for women to cover their faces. Likewise is the following well-known verse:
يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّبِىُّ قُل لِّأَزْوَٰجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَآءِ ٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِن جَلَٰبِيبِهِنَّۚ
O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies
The reality is whoever claims it is not obligatory for a woman to cover her face has no clear evidence that compares to the evidences of the majority who forbid the face to be uncovered.
The non-mahram relative is as the Prophet ﷺ described:
إِيَّاكُمْ وَالدُّخُولَ عَلَى النِّسَاءِ .فَقَالَ رَجُلٌ مِنَ الْأَنْصَارِ : يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ، أَفَرَأَيْتَ الْحَمْوَ . قَالَ :” الْحَمْوُ الْمَوْتُ “
“Beware of entering upon women.” A man from the Ansar said, “Oh Messenger of Allah ﷺ What about Al-Hamu, the in-laws of the wife (the brothers of her husband or his nephews etc.)?” The Prophet (ﷺ) replied: The in-laws of the wife are death itself.
[Narrated by ‘Uqbah ibn Aamir in Bukhari:5232]
Answered by: Shaykh Abu Bilaal Al-Hadhramy – may Allah preserve him
Answered on: 6th Rabbi’ Al-Awal 1441 (3rd November 2019)
Translated by: Abou Sufian Saami ibn Daniel Al-Ghaani