بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم الحمد لله وحده و الصلاة و السلام على من لا نبي بعده و على آله و أصحابه أجمعين
As one can see many sites refer to the case of Aisha bint Talha from amongst early Muslims to question the originality of the idea of veil in Islam.
This is how they put the contention against veil alluding to some words attributed to the pious lady.
When the son of a prominent companion of the Prophet asked his wife Aisha bint Talha to veil her face, she answered, "Since the Almighty hath put on me the stamp of beauty, it is my wish that the public should view the beauty and thereby recognized His grace unto them. On no account, therefore, will I veil myself."
Many sites (including that of BBC) put the following reference to this, “Women in the Muslim World, ed. Lynn Reese, 1998” telling us the source of the information of many excited to have found something against what they may like to the “Wahhabi version of Islam.”
Simple rule to remember:
The first and foremost point is that even if the statement was proven to be true it could never be used as an evidence on the status of veil in Islamic law. The law essentially rests on Qur'an and Sunnah alone.
For an explanation of what hijab is and its details from Qur’an and Sunnah, see the following linked article by a wonderful scholar of our day, Mufti Muhammad Taqi Usmani:
Coming back to the issue at hand, the original source of the narration is Kitab Al-Aghani (Book of Songs) by Abu Al-Faraj al-Asbahani (d. 356 A.H.).
He puts the narration as;
أخبرني الحسن بن يحيى قال قال حماد قال أبي قال مصعب : كانت عائشة بنت طلحة لا تستر وجهها من أحد. فعاتبها مصعب في ذلك فقالت : إن الله تبارك وتعالى وسمني بميسم جمال أحببت أن يراه الناس ويعرفوا فضلي عليهم، فما كنت لأستره
AL-Hassan bin Yahya – Hammad – his father – Mus’ab: Aisha bint Talha did not veil her face from anyone. Mus’ab reprimanded him on it. She said, “Verily Allah the Almighty has blessed with me beauty. I like that people should view it and they should know how I have been blessed over them. So why should I cover it,”
(Kitab al-Aghani No. 186, Dar Sader, Beirut 2008 vol.11 p.112)
Who was Aisha bint Talha?
Sayyidah Aisha bint Talha was the daughter of Umm Kulthum bint Abu Bakr, niece of Sayyidah Aisha, the Mother of the Believers, and the grand daughter of Sayyidina Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with them all. She died circa 100 A.H.
Abu Al-Faraj Al-Asbahani and his work Kitab Al-Aghani:
Abu Al-Faraj Al-Asbahani (Isfahani) has been criticized by some scholars and some have considered him acceptable.
As to his book, it has strange kind of narrations which might be taken as interesting information or fun facts but can never used in matters of shariah to ascertain the legal status of anything.
Do not ever think of using a book of songs in matters of shari'ah.
The chain of narrators:
First narrator after Al-Asbahani is Al-Hassan bin Yahya, and the last one is Mus’ab bin Zubair who was the husband of Sayyidah Aisha bint Talha.
The narrators in between the above two are, Hammad bin Ishaq bin Ibrahim al-Mosali and his father, Ishaq bin Ibrahim al-Mosali.
The son and the father were both singers and musicians, and not the men of learning and narrators of hadith.
Commenting to a narration from these two narrators about Imam Abu Hanifa, the erudite Egyptian scholar of the last century Shaykh Zahid bin Al-Hassan Al-Kawthari comments;
حماد بن إسحاق الموصليٍٍ ... وهو وأبوه من المغنيين المشاهير من رجال الأغاني، فيكون هو وأبوه من رجال الأسمار، لا ممن يحتج بهم تراجم الأئمة الكبار
“Hammad bin Ishaq al-Mosali … he and his father are from amongst the famous singers from the narrators of Al-Aghani. He and his father were from amongst the people telling stories at night for amusement- not from amongst those who can be taken as evidence in the biographical accounts of the great imams.” (Ta’nib al-Khatib ‘ala Ma Saqahu fi Tarjimati Abi Hanifah Min al-Akadhib, Dar al-Bsha’ir al-Islamiyyah, Beirut, 1990 p.343)
If such cannot be taken as evidence in the biographical narrations about scholars, how can they be taken as evidence in matters of the lawful and the unlawful, obligatory and otherwise?
About Ishaq bin Ibrahim Al-Mosali, Imam Al-Nawawi quotes Imam al-Khattabi in a discussion on a certain hadith to which he and another person objected. After condemning the other person Imam Al-Khattabi said:
والآخر معروف بالسخف والخلاعة وهو إسحاق بن إبراهيم الموصلي
“The other one is known for absurdities and obscenities and he is Ishaq bin Ibrahim Al-Mosali.” (Sharah Al-Nawawi, Dar Al-Ahya Al-Turath Al-Arabi, Beirut 1392 A.H. vol.11 p.91)
Any sane person would know that one known for absurdities and obscenities can only be rejected and condemned and never taken as evidence in matters of shariah.
I hope this clarifies the worth of this narration.
Indeed Allah knows the best!