The Hadith Tradition
The term hadith refers to the tradition of Sayings by the Prophet Mohamed, and of actions he did. This tradition is viewed by Muslims as a key resource of practical information on how Muslims are supposed to behave on a daily basis.
There are six canonical hadith collections believed to contain the most authentic reports of the Prophet’s sayings and doings, the most famed being those by Bukhari (d. 870), by Muslim (d. 875), by Abu Dawud (d. 888) and the Musnad by Ibn Hanbal (d. 855).
Veiling according to the hadith tradition
Of the thousands of reports included in the canonical hadith collections, only one can be said to address explicitly the requirement of women’s covering. This hadith is reported by the ninth-century hadith compiler Abu Dawud (d. 888).
This hadith is narrated by Aisha (the youngest wife of the Prophet) and reports an incident involving an encounter between the Prophet and Asma who is the daughter of Abu Bakr, the Prophet’s closest friend and first Caliph at the death of the Prophet:
Asma, daughter of Abu Bakr, entered upon the Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) wearing thin clothes. The Apostle of Allah (peace_be_upon_him) turned his attention from her. He said: O Asma’, when a woman reaches the age of menstruation, it does not suit her that she displays her parts of body except this and this, and he pointed to her face and hands.
This hadith is included only in Abu Dawud’s late ninth-century compilation and is considered to be the single most explicit and authoritative source for the belief that women are required to veil in Islam.