The Islamic Dress Code
would you think of a home that provided no shelter and no privacy? What
would you think of a meal that provided no nourishment and no energy?
It does not take much to realize that if one were in the business of
selling any of these he would go bankrupt very quickly. Yet, amazingly
the rules seem to be different when it comes to another basic need:
clothing, especially women's clothing. Every year fashion centers in
Europe and America come up with the latest designs. And what have they
designed? Another way of not covering the body; the dress equivalent of
the home that provides no shelter and no privacy.
One might ask,
if a person did not want to cover themselves why would they buy
anything, least of all expensive fashions, to achieve that? If we think
about it, we may see the tension between two forces. All human beings
(except for the handful of deviants who call themselves naturalists)
have an inborn sense of shame. People of all religions agree on the need
to cover themselves in public. Yet we also find a force that promotes
nudity. Large segments of humanity are caught between two impulses: to
cover or not to cover. Our clothing designs reflect different levels of
compromise between these opposing forces.
Why? What is going on?
cannot answer the question. It cannot trace the origins of forces that
take place deep in our mind. In addition, most of the scientific
establishment is still dominated by the followers of Mr. Darwin and
Darwinism is a system of belief not science. Their beliefs keep them
from dealing honestly with a simple fact: while all other animals have a
skin that provides them protection against the elements, human beings
don't. Monkeys can live without clothing, human beings cannot.
Qur'an answers the question. Our bodies did not develop our skin--- so
thin and fur free that it requires external covering for
protection---because of some unexplained evolutionary accident. Our
Creator designed it this way so we will always need clothing. He also
put in us the sense of shame that forces us to cover ourselves. On the
other hand, the first act of Satan was to cause Adam and Eve to expose
themselves: "So by deceit he brought about their fall: when they tasted
of the tree, their shameful parts became manifest to them, and they
began to sew together the leaves of the Garden over their bodies."
[Al-A'raf 7:22]. This is the source of the tension we see. Two opposing
forces. Good and evil.
With that background we can understand the
importance of clothing. "Oh Children of Adam! We have bestowed raiment
upon you to cover your shame as well as to be an adornment to you. But
the raiment of righteousness---that is the best." [Al-A'raf 7:26]. The
address here is to all humanity, emphasizing thereby the universal human
need to cover ourselves properly. The Qur'an then warns that Satan was
not finished after his first attempt: "Oh Children of Adam! Let not
Satan seduce you in the same manner as he got your parents out of the
Garden, stripping them of their raiment, to expose their shame."
we realize the nature of the dress issue, it is natural that we should
turn to our Creator to seek guidance for the proper dress code. Qur'an
and Sunnah have provided ample guidance on the subject which can be
summarized in four essential principles.
1. Our dress must cover
our body adequately. Again we cannot determine what is adequate coverage
on our own, as any witness to the misery of those who have tried it can
readily ascertain. Shar'iah, as always, takes us out of this misery by
defining it for us. For men, it is the middle part of the body from
navel to knee. For women, it is the entire body except hands and face.
These parts must never be exposed to any other person (except in case of
genuine need e.g. medical treatment). In addition, the cloth must be
neither see-through nor tight fitting.
Our dress should provide adornment. It should provide for decent
appearance. Our appearance should not be an eyesore for decent human
beings. For men, this extends the coverage requirements to include most
of the body. For women, the essential requirement is that their dress
should identify them as respectable ladies who would be honored not
harassed. Additionally, hijab rules aim at protecting them from the gaze
of other men.
3. Our dress should establish our Islamic
identity. At the least it should not identify us as followers of another
religion. But, additionally it should positively identify us as
The design of our dress must avoid three deadly sins: show off,
arrogance, and self indulgence. These are very serious diseases of the
heart in their own right that we must avoid at all times. Our garments
provide an easy opportunity to nurture them. Hence the need to be extra
cautious. One Hadith states "Eat what you feel like and wear what you
feel like. But avoid two things: extravagance and arrogance." [Bukhari].
At the risk of stating the obvious one should be reminded that this
Hadith establishes an overriding concern that limits our choices within
the realm of what is considered halal. It does not do away with the
distinction between halal and haram.
As one implication of this
general requirement, men are also required not to wear their lower
garments below the ankle. (Many well-meaning Muslims today have been
persuaded that this is a petty issue. This misgiving can be put to rest
in a hurry if we just refer to the Hadith of Jabir bin Sulaym,
Radi-Allahu anhu, in Abu Dawood. He asked the Prophet, Sall-Allahu
alayhi wa sallam for some advice when leaving him after his very first
meeting. Of the six pieces of advice given him one was: "Never let your
lower garment go below the ankles because that is arrogance. And Allah
does not like arrogance." Another was "Never belittle a good deed.")
has not prescribed a particular dress style, giving us ample room to
accommodate our needs, circumstances, and tastes. However, these
principles are for everyone and forever. Any garment that accommodates
these principles will be Islamic dress. This is Islamic formula to dress
for success… Eternal success.
See Votes by State