Essential Principles of Islamic Clothing and Adornment
Truly the greatest thing for which humans have need after food and drink is clothing, with which man conceals his nakedness, protects himself from the heat and cold, and adorns himself for social settings. Given that Islam is a faith that incorporates injunctions inclusive of all areas of life, it has not overlooked the subject of clothing and has established for it inviolable principles and rulings.
It may be that modern man considers clothing and adornment to be from those everyday, mundane issues that are subject to compliance of what is in vogue in each time and place, that it has no relationship to the rulings of ḥalāl and ḥarām and thus not an essential issue upon which life depends. However this claim has but arisen due to insufficient reflection and lack of examination on the effect of clothing on human life. In fact, clothing and dress, despite its relation to a person’s outward rather than his inward, still has a deep effect on his behavior, character and spiritual states. Amongst clothes are those which plant the seeds of arrogance and pride in the soul while others nurture in them modesty before Allah. There are those which establish good character in them and others which pave the way towards extravagance, sin, vanity, and infringement upon the rights of man. Therefore, whoever claims that clothing is but exoteric and that it has no connection to behavior or the character hidden within the hearts is truly uninformed of human nature.
For this reason, Islam did not left the matter of clothing in vain. Islam does not approach any of the affairs of life except with a methodology that conforms to sound disposition and that is in harmony with the demands of nature. Given that humans are disposed to variation in types of clothing and food, Islam did not limit him to one type, excluding others, nor specified for man a particular style or particular form of dress, nor even a particular lifestyle. Rather it established a set of fundamental principles and dictums that every Muslim must abide by in the matter of clothing and then left him free to choose what he prefers from the [different] sorts of dress. Nothing thus prevents a change in the styles of clothing as long as a person upholds these principles and fulfils their necessary conditions.
From the first of these principles is that clothing must conceal the nakedness (ʿawrah) of a person. Islam requires a man to wear that which conceals what is between his navel and his knees, and that a woman conceal her entire body with the exception of her face, hands and feet. Covering the ʿawrah is the most important objective of clothing. Allah, glorified and exalted be He, states: “O children of Adam! We have indeed sent down to you clothing to cover your shame, and (clothing) for beauty”. Thus Allah, glorified and exalted be He, explains that covering shame, i.e. concealing the ʿawrah, is of the greatest objectives of clothing. Clothing that does not fulfil this aim neglects that for which clothes were created, thus making it forbidden for use. All clothes that reveal a portion of the nakedness of a man or woman are not accepted by Islamic law, though they be beautiful or in fashion. Likewise, clothing that is fine and thin or clings to the body, which reveals to the viewer the shape of a portion of the body that must be concealed, would fall under the ruling above in impermissibility and would be disallowed.
The second principle is that the purpose of clothing is concealment and beautification, concealment for reasons aforementioned, and as for beautification, because Allah, Glorified and Exalted be He, calls
adornment when He states: “Take your adornment at every place of prayer” and in His statement: “Say: who forbids the adornment that Allah has brought out for His slaves, and the good, pure things of sustenance?”. Nasāʾī transmits from Abū ʾl-Aḥwaṣ from his father that he related, “I entered upon the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and he saw me in a shabby state. He said ‘Do you have wealth?’ I said ‘Yes, Allah most High has given me all kinds of wealth’. He exclaimed: ‘If you have wealth it should be seen upon you’”. It has also been narrated from Ibn ʿUmar (may Allah be pleased with him) that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Truly Allah loves to see the effect of His bounties upon His slave”. (Tirmidhī 124:5, and he deemed it ḥasan)
As for when the purpose of [clothing] is arrogance, pride, sin, vanity and ostentation, then [such clothing] is forbidden. It is narrated from Ibn ʿAbbās that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Eat what you like and wear what you like, provided you do not fall into two things: extravagance and conceit.” (Bukhārī, as an explanatory remark in the beginning of [the Chapter of] Dress)
The third principle is that clothing which a person uses to imitate disbelieving nations are not permissible to wear for a Muslim if his purpose of wearing such clothing was to imitate them. Ibn Nujaym writes in [the Chapter of] the Nullifiers of Prayer from al-Baḥr al-Rāʾiq (11:2): “Then know that resembling the people of the book is not disliked in everything and indeed we eat and drink just as they do. That which is impermissible is but imitation in that wherein there is blame and where one intends resemblance by it. Qāḍī Khān mentions the same in Sharḥ al-Jāmiʿ al-Ṣaghīr. Based on this, if one does not intend resemblance then it is not disliked according to both of them”. Hishām similarly states in his Nawādir: “I once saw Abū Yūsuf, may Allah most High have mercy on him, wearing sandals bordered by iron nails, so I said to him: ‘Do you see any problem with this iron?’ He replied: ‘No’. I said to him: ‘Verily Sufyān and Thawr ibn Yazīd disliked them because them resemble (the sandals of) monks’. Abū Yūsuf, may Allah most High have mercy on him, said: ‘The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) used to wear sandals that had hair on them (leather not stripped of the animal’s hair) and that is from the dress of monks’.” He alluded to the fact that any form of imitation that relates to the interest of (Allah’s) slaves is not harmful. This type of fixture (i.e. fitting iron nails to sandals) involves man’s benefit as there are pieces of earth and land where it is not possible to cross a long distance except with this type of (sandal) fixture. See al-Muḥīt in the Chapter on Miscellany. See also al-Fatāwā al-Hindiyyah (333:5) in the ninth chapter on disliked actions.
The fourth principle is that wearing silk is forbidden for men but not for women. Likewise, the lowering of the lower garment to [below] the ankles is not permissible for men but is permissible for women.
Islamic Clothing Requirements
The manner of dress of Muslims has drawn great attention in recent years, with some groups suggesting that restrictions on the dress are demeaning or controlling, especially to women. Some European countries have even attempted to outlaw certain aspects of Islamic dress customs, such as covering the face in public. This controversy stems largely from a misconception regarding the reasons behind Islamic dress rules. In reality, the way in which Muslims dress is really driven out of simple modesty and a desire to not draw individual attention in any way. Muslims generally do not resent the restrictions placed on their dress by their religion and most regard it as a proud statement of their faith.
Islam gives guidance about all aspects of life, including matters of public decency. Although Islam has no fixed standard as to the style of dress or type of clothing that Muslims must wear, there are some minimum requirements that must be met.
Islam has two sources for guidance and rulings: the Quran, which is considered to be the revealed word of Allah, and the Hadith—the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, who serves as a human role model and guide.
It should be noted, too, that codes for conduct when it comes to dressing are greatly relaxed when individuals are home and with their families. The following requirements are followed by Muslims when they appear in public, not in the privacy of their own homes.
1st Requirement: Parts of the Body to Be Covered
The first bit of guidance given in Islam describes the parts of the body which must be covered in public.
For Women: In general, standards of modesty call for a woman to cover her body, particularly her chest. The Quran calls for women to “draw their head-coverings over their chests” (24:30-31), and the Prophet Muhammad instructed that women should cover their bodies except for their face and hands. Most Muslims interpret this to require head coverings for women, although some Muslim women, especially those of more conservative branches of Islam, cover the entire body, including the face and/or hands, with a full body chador.
For Men: The minimum amount to be covered on the body is between the navel and the knee. It should be noted, though, that a bare chest would be frowned upon in situations where it draws attention.
2nd Requirement: Looseness
Islam also guides that clothing must be loose enough so as not to outline or distinguish the shape of the body. Skin-tight, body-hugging clothes are discouraged for both men and women. When in public, some women wear a light cloak over their personal clothing as a convenient way to hide the curves of the body. In many predominantly Muslim countries, men’s traditional dress is somewhat like a loose robe, covering the body from the neck to the ankles.
3rd Requirement: Thickness
The Prophet Muhammad once warned that in later generations, there would be people “who are dressed yet naked.” See-through clothing is not modest, for either men or women. The clothing must be thick enough so that the color of the skin it covers is not visible, nor the shape of the body underneath.
4th Requirement: Overall Appearance
The overall appearance of a person should be dignified and modest. Shiny, flashy clothing may technically meet the above requirements for exposure of the body, but it defeats the purpose of overall modesty and is therefore discouraged.
5th Requirement: Not Imitating Other Faiths
Islam encourages people to be proud of who they are. Muslims should look like Muslims and not like mere imitations of people of other faiths around them. Women should be proud of their femininity and not dress like men. And men should be proud of their masculinity and not try to imitate women in their dress. For this reason, Muslim men are forbidden from wearing gold or silk, as these are considered feminine accessories.
6th Requirement: Decent But Not Flashy
The Quran instructs that clothing is meant to cover our private areas and be an adornment (Quran 7:26). Clothing worn by Muslims should be clean and decent, neither excessively fancy nor ragged. One should not dress in a manner intended to gain the admiration or sympathy of others.
Beyond the Clothing: Behaviors and Manners
Islamic clothing is but one aspect of modesty. More importantly, one must be modest in behavior, manners, speech, and appearance in public. The dress is only one aspect of the total being and one that merely reflects what is present on the inside of a person’s heart.
Is Islamic Clothing Restrictive?
Islamic dress sometimes draws criticism from non-Muslims; however, dress requirements are not meant to be restrictive for either men or women. Most Muslims who wear a modest dress do not find it impractical in any way, and they are able to easily continue with their activities in all levels and walks of life.