Islam is a complete way of life, each and every aspect is designed by our Creator to advance happy, healthy communities and ease the path to eternal bliss in Paradise. In today’s society modesty is seen as a sign of weakness or insecurity. This is not the case in Islam, where modesty is seen as a sign of respect for oneself and others.
The haya that every human being is born with is seen as something to be treasured. To this end Islam has a dress code for both women and men. Its purpose is to protect the society as a whole and promote modest dressing and behaviour. It creates a barrier between the sexes and allows us to conduct our lives with modesty, dignity and respect.
Islam holds women in very high esteem and the Islamic rules of covering are intended to protect and guard her dignity and honour. The word used most often in regard to covering is hijab. All qualified Muslim scholars throughout the history of Islam agree that fulfilling the conditions of the dress code is an obligation on all Muslim men and women. They have based these conditions on evidence found in the Quran and the Sunnah. Below are the most well known verses of the Quran and the most well known saying from the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) concerning the subject of hijab.
“O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks (veils) all over their bodies. That will be better, that they should be known (as free respectable women) so as not to be annoyed.”(Quran 33:59)
Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and protect their private parts (from sins); and they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what appear thereof…(Quran 24:31).
When a girl reaches the menstrual age, it is not proper that anything should remain exposed except this and this. He pointed to the face and hands.[Abu Dawud]
The purpose of hijab is to cover the awrah and awrah varies in different situations and amongst different groups of people.
We begin with the conditions of hijab for a woman in public and amongst non-mahram men. As long as these conditions are fulfilled a woman may wear whatever she pleases.
1. The hijab (covering) must conceal the entire body except the face and the hands.
2. It should not be translucent or tight. Tight clothes, even if they conceal the colour of the skin, still describe the size and shape of the body or part of it, and create vivid images.
3. It should not attract the attention of the opposite gender; thus it should not be extravagant or excessively opulent. Nor should jewellery and makeup be on display.
4. It should not be a garment worn because of vanity or to gain popularity or fame. The female companions were known to wear black and other dark colours but other colours are permissible; a woman must not however wear colourful clothes because of vanity.
5. It should not be perfumed. This prohibition applies to both the body and the clothes.
6. It should not resemble the clothing worn by men.
7. It should not resemble the clothing that is specific to the non-Muslims.
Men’s Dress code
Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and protect their private parts (from sins). That is purer for them. And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.(Quran 24:30)
Although they are sometimes overlooked or not well understood there are conditions of dress code for men as well. Some of the conditions are the same as the conditions for woman but others relate particularly to men.
1. The part of the body from the naval to the knees should be covered.
2. It should not resemble the clothing that is specific to the non-Muslims. Western clothing that does not represent a certain group or sect is normally permitted.
3. It should not resemble the clothing worn by women.
4. It should not be tight or see-through.
5. A man is not permitted to wear garments made of silk, or jewellery made of gold.
6. Two types of adornment are forbidden to men but permitted for women. These are, gold and clothing made of pure silk.
The scholars of Islam overwhelmingly agree that for men everything between the navel and the knees (including the knees) must be covered in the presence of anybody. The only exception to this is a man in the presence of his wife.
Finally, it is recommended for men not to wear garments that fall below the ankles.
The definition of awrah is the parts of the body that should be covered and this does vary in different situations among different groups of people. However, to fully implement the Islamic dress code it is important to understand a number of other situations in which awrah becomes important.
The awrah of a woman in front of her husband:
There is no awrah between a husband and wife. When a woman is alone with her husband she is permitted to wear any clothing that pleases them both.
And among His Signs is this that He created for you mates from among yourselves, that you may dwell in tranquillity with them, and He has put love and mercy between your hearts. (Quran 30:21)
The awrah of a woman in front of her mahrams:
Who is my mahram ? For ease of writing and understanding we outline mahram’s for a woman; however the mahram relationships are the same whether the person in question is female or male. (Father/mother; son/daughter etc)
A mahram is a person one is never permitted to marry, because of a close blood relationship, breastfeeding or marriage. One’s spouse is also one’s mahram. A mahram is a person one is allowed to be alone with.
· A close blood relationship: For a female, her father, grandfather, son, grandson, brother, both paternal and maternal uncles and nephews. Likewise for a male, his mother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, both paternal and maternal aunties and nieces.
· Breastfeeding: This includes anyone, male or female breastfed by the same mother or wet nurse. (and includes the brother or husband of the one who breast fed the person in question)
·Marriage: People who become your relations by marriage for example father-in-law, mother-in-law, stepfather, step-grandfather, stepson.
When a woman is amongst her mahrams, the scholars of Islam agree that a woman does not have to observe strict rules of covering but rather that she is able to uncover her hair, face, arms, hands, legs from below the knee, and feet. However, a Muslim woman must always remember that she is known for her modesty and haya, therefore she must never make a wanton display of herself.
And tell the believing women to lower their gaze (from looking at forbidden things), and protect their private parts (from illegal sexual acts, etc.) and not to show off their adornment except only that which is apparent and to draw their veils and not to reveal their adornment except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husband’s sons, their brothers or their brother’s sons, or their sister’s sons, or their women, or the (female) slaves whom their right hands possess, or old male servants who lack vigour, or children who are not yet aware of the private aspects of women…(Quran 24:31)
The awrah of a woman in front of other (Muslim) women:
A woman should dress decently in front of other Muslim women; she can uncover what she would usually uncover, her hair, arms, feet. As for other parts of her body, such as her thighs, and breast area, they should not be uncovered.
Although she is allowed to wear beautiful and flattering clothes and make up, she must take great care to behave and dress in a manner that befits her station and does not offend the haya of other women.
If a Muslim woman finds herself in a situation where there are other women who are known to be morally bad, then she must dress accordingly and must follow the same rules of awrah that apply when in public. (The rules we learned as the conditions of hijab.)
The awrah of a woman in front of non-Muslim women:
This is a matter of some disagreement between scholars. Some say that the same rules apply as for Muslim women, however others say that a woman must observe stricter rules for covering amongst non-Muslim women.
When a woman is deciding on what level of covering to observe in front of non Muslim women she must remember that non-Muslim women may be unaware that she should not describe a Muslim woman’s beauty to any man.
Thus it is important that she makes her decisions based on each different situation. Muslim women should always dress in clothes that above all else express her modesty and dignity. If there are unknown women in a gathering perhaps it would be better to have a higher degree of covering.
The awrah of a woman in front of her children:
If the child is an infant or unable to understand the meaning of awrah and sexuality then it is permissible for her to uncover herself to the same degree as with other Muslim women. If however the child is a male and comes to an age where he understands the meaning of awrah and the difference between men and women then the women’s awrah is the same as it is for other male mahrams.
All Muslims, male or female, should maintain a sense of haya (modesty) at all times because haya is part of faith. A person’s clothing is usually one of the indicators of their modesty.
The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Faith consists of more than sixty branches (i.e. parts). And haya is a part of faith.” [Saheeh Al-Bukhari]
The Awrah Whilst Praying
In the first two lessons we learned a lot of new terms and tried to assimilate a lot of new information. We now shift the focus to what to wear when praying. Praying is something that every Muslim does at least five times per day. It is more than a few moments of quiet contemplation – it is a time when an individual is connected to the Creator of the Universe – Allah. For this pleasure it makes sense to want to look and feel our best.
When the time comes for a woman to pray, one of the conditions that must be fulfilled in order for her prayer to be valid is that she covers her awrah.
“…Take your adornment (by wearing your clean clothes) while praying…”(Quran 7:31)
The Prophet said, ‘Allah does not accept the prayer of a woman who has reached puberty unless she wears a veil’.
The awrah of a woman when she prays is the same as for non-mahram men. (Please refer to the above table). However it is perfectly acceptable for a woman to wear a long loose fitting garment over her indoor clothes, presuming she is praying in the privacy of her home. If she is praying in the masjid, of course she will be wearing clothes that are acceptable in front of strangers.
In order for a man’s prayer to be valid he too must cover his awrah, which is from the navel to the knees. However because Islam is a religion that is very concerned with community cohesion and respect for others, a man must always be aware of where he is. In accordance to the spirit of haya it is always advisable for a Muslim (man or woman) to be cautious about those things that could affect either him or those around him.
It is desirable for a man to wear perfume when he is standing in front of his Lord for prayer. Women must be careful of this point. While it is allowable, even desirable for her to wear perfume in the home it is not acceptable for either her skin or her clothing to be perfumed if she wants to pray in the masjid.
“If any one of you (women) attends evening prayer, let her not touch any perfume.”[ Saheeh Muslim]
The Wisdom in the Islamic Dress Code
There is great wisdom in the Islamic dress code. In order to see and understand it clearly one must remember a few basic concepts. First and foremost, that Islam was revealed for all people in all places, at all times. Thus what is in or out of fashion is not relevant. Secondly, Islam is a holistic religion concerned with humankind’s physical, spiritual and emotional health, and not just for each individual but for the community or society as a whole. This involves respect; for Allah, for each other and for oneself.
Thirdly, a dress code is required for both men and women, Islam does not put the responsibility entirely on one gender, and in fact the verses referring to men were revealed first. However both men and women are commanded to lower their gaze and protect their modesty; and both men and women are expected to create a healthy social environment with constructive morals, manners and values.
The term hijab, is more than a scarf and more than a dress code. It is a term that denotes modest dressing and modest behaviour. For instance, if a Muslim woman was correctly covered but at the same time using bad language, she would not be fulfilling the requirements of hijab. If a Muslim man was covered from the navel to the knee but walking around in public calling attention to himself or behaving rudely he would also not be behaving in an appropriate manner.
Women who wear hijab point out many benefits to be gained from adhering to the Islamic dress code. Some describe wearing hijab as being “set free” from society’s unrealistic expectations. They are no longer thought of as sexual objects, but are desired for their intellect. They are no longer valued for their looks or body shape but for their personality and character. Women wearing hijab report that it minimises sexual harassment in the workplace.
Many women report that people (both Muslims and non Muslims) are more inclined to show good manners towards a woman in a scarf. Men open doors, give up seats on public transport, apologise for bad language, and offer to carry groceries and many other small kindnesses that were once a normal part of life in most western communities.