Below you will find some proofs that the niqaab is not simply a practice of the Arab people, but rather, it is a practice of the female companions of the Prophet (saaws). This article is not meant to establish whether or not the wearing of Niqaab is Waajib or Mustahaab (i.e. obligatory or highly recommended), for that is an issue which the scholars of Ahlus Sunnah wal Jamaa'ah still debate about. Instead, the focus of this article is to establish that the Niqaab is indeed a practice of the Sahabiyat and it should serve as a refutation of those modernist who claim that the Niqaab is an expression of Arabian culture and that it is not from Islam and that it is a hinderence to our Da'wah efforts in Western nations (i.e. they claim that Niqaab wearing women work against Da'wah as their "strict" dress scares away potential interested non-Muslims!). After reading this information, you will have to conclude that the Niqaab is a beautiful aspect of the Muslim woman's dress and it is in no way a hinderence to the Da'wah of Islam.
The Mufassireen, such as Al-Qurtubi, site in their Tafseer of the Ayah on Jilbaab (33:59), that the Jilbaab is: "a cloth which covers the entire body...Ibn 'Abbaas and 'Ubaidah As-Salmaani sais that it is to be fully wrapped around the women's body, so that nothing appears but one eye with which she can see." [Tafseer Al-Qurtubi].
However, aside from this Tafseer, we do in fact have an authentic Hadeeth mentioning Niqaab. The Prophet (saaws) commanded: "A woman (pilgrim) does not cover her face with a Niqaab (i.e. does not tie or affix) nor should she wear gloves." [Al-Bukharee;Muslim; Sahih Abi Dawud #1600; authenticated by Al-Albaanee]. Thus, from this authentic Hadeeth, we can clearly see that the Sahabiyat (RAA) were accustomed to covering their faces with Niqaab otherwise, there would not have been any need for the Prophet (SAAWS) to specifically forbid it during the state of Ihram. Likewise, during Ihram, men are forbidden to cover their heads which shows that outside of being in the state of Ihram they were accustomed to covering their heads, and Allah knows best.
The above Hadeeth should not be used to that Muslim women should uncover their faces during Hajj. The Hadeeth is warning against affixing a Niqaab, however the 'Ulama allow for a woman to cover her face with non-affixed material. Our mother 'Aisha (RAA) said: "Pilgrims were passing by us while we were with the Prophet of Allah (saaws). When they came close to us we would draw our garments from the head to cover the face." [Abu Dawud and Ibn Majah. Ad-Daraqutni reports a similar Hadeeth on the authority of Umm Salamah (RAA). Thus, we see that covering the face was a priority of the Sahabiyat and it is certainly a characteristic of the women who opt to follow their righteous path.
When the ayah in Surah an Nur (24:31) was revealed, 'Aaisha (RAA) narrated: "May Allah bestow His Mercy on the first Muhajirat (emigrants). When Allah revealed, '...and draw their Khumur over their Juyubihinna...', (i.e. the women) tore their material and covered themselves with it." [Saheeh al Bukhari]. Ibn Hajar al Asqalanee, who is known as Ameer al Mu'mineen in the field of hadeeth, said that the phrase, "covered themselves", in the above hadeeth means that they "covered their faces." [Fath al Bari]
Clearly many of our contemporary 'Ulama, such as Shaikh 'Abdul-'Azeez bin Baaz, Shaikh Muhammad ibn Saalih al-Uthaymeen, may Allah give them both life (ameen), feel that the Niqaab is indeed Waajib upon the believing women and their argument is strong and convincing, in my humble opinion. Others from amongst our 'Ulama, such as the Muhaadith of our time, Shaikh Muhammad Nassirudeen al Albaanee, may Allah give him life (ameen), clearly feel that the Niqaab is not Waajib but rather Mustahaab (highly recommended). Refer to his book, "Jilbaabul Mar'atul Muslimah". This argument is also strong and convincing.
Regardless of which opinion one follows, I would say that there is no doubt concerning the benefits of Niqaab, and the scholars do not differ in this regard. In fact, today we hear many cries against the Niqaab for many reasons which do not make much sense. For example, the argument that the Niqaab is counterproductive to Da'wah in non-Muslim lands. After having established that the Niqaab is indeed an authentic part of Islam, we must then conclude that to hide it is what is counterproductive to Da'wah. No one would dare think that the Sahabah spread Islam throughout the lands of the earth by concealing the practices they learned from the Messenger of Allah (saaws); thus, as Umar ibn al Khattab (raa) declared: "LET THE SUNNAH GO FORTH AND DON'T STOP IT WITH OPINIONS." Other modernist Du'at claim that Niqaab is in fact Makruh or disliked!! How strange! They stand upon their own 'Aql (intellect) which is weak in light of the authenticated reports we have above.