The Quran notes that women are admired for their beauty. Now since women are an obvious attraction, they are required to behave in public with additional care, decorum, good taste and propriety. But before we see what the requirements are of a woman’s dress code, let us see what Quran says about the ‘best of dresses’:
“O children of Adam, We have provided you with garments to cover your bodies, as well as for luxury. But the best armour is the safeguarding of your own righteousness. These are some of God’s signs so that you may take heed.” [Verse 7:26].
The above verse says that the best dress is the garment of righteousness. Therefore the starting point for any dress sense is to have a virtuous cloak of good deeds. Both women and men should first safeguard their armour of righteousness, as without it they will be vulnerable. See verse 7:27.
Now how should a women dress? Verse 24:31 gives clear instruction on the dress code to be observed both in public and private. God guides us in the Quran:
“…And instruct the believing women to subdue their eyes and maintain their chastity. They shall not reveal any parts of their bodies, except that which is necessary. They shall cover their bosoms and shall not relax this mode in the presence of other than their husbands, their fathers, the fathers of their husbands, their sons, the sons of their husbands, their brothers, the sons of their brothers, the sons of their sisters, other women, the male servants and employees whose sexual drive has been nullified or the children who have not reached puberty. They shall not walk in a manner so wanton and attract attention to themselves. All of you shall turn to God and, O you who believe, that you may succeed. “[Verse 24:31].
Modest dress for women is described above. She is to cover herself sensibly in public, except those areas which are apparent. For example a shawl or a ‘dupatta’; the simple length of material that is used by many Asian women to cover the head and upper part of their body.
“Our envoy, convey to your wives, your daughters and the women of the believers that when they go out they shall wrap around themselves their cloaks or shawls so that they may be recognised as righteous and modest women and avoid being stared at. God is Protector and the Most Merciful.” [Verse 33:59].
Women are required to take additional care, dress modestly and not display their charms attracting unwanted attention when going about their business outside the home. This also means that their dress should be not so tight fitting that it accentuates the shape and features of their body or private parts. This also means that men’s clothes should not be so tight as to outline the male organs, such as clothes worn during gym exercises etc.
“Women may relax and wear casual dress around their fathers, their sons, their brothers, the sons of their brothers, the sons of their sisters, and other women and their female servants. They shall keep their duty to God. God witnesses all things.” [Verse: 33:55].
According to the Quran, the reason why muslim women should wear modest clothing and be sensibly covered when going out of their homes is that they may be recognised as virtuous women and differentiated from women of a less moral character for whom unwanted attention is of no consequence, and even from prostitutes who use revealing clothes to display their wares and use sexual attraction as an advertisement to ply their trade.
Clothes, like uniforms, identify who we are and send messages of our intentions. Police and nurses uniforms tell us what we should expect from the people who wear them, in this case: protection and health care. Therefore, because of the special attraction women have, the clothes they wear should reflect their status and respectability in society. Righteous women want and need to be differentiated for very good reasons.
In the Quran the word hijabmeanscurtain or barrier. Most people know it to mean a scarf-like headcovering for women. This is the common use of the word ‘hijaab’ and is adopted from the Biblical teachings (Corinthians 1 11:15).The Quran does not suggest that women should be covered from head to toe in garments such as the burka, even veiled or kept apart from the world of men. On the contrary, the Quran is insistent on the full participation of women in society. Muslim women remained in mixed company with men until the late eleventh century. They received guests, held meetings and went to wars to help their fathers, brothers and husbands. They also defended their castles and bastions. It is part of the growing feeling on the part of some European Muslims that they no longer wish to identify with the West, and that reaffirmation of their identity as Muslims requires the kind of visible sign that adoption of conservative clothing implies. For these women the issue is not that they have to dress conservatively, but that they choose to do so.
In Iran, in the early 1980s, Imam Khomeini first insisted that women must wear the veil and chador. But in response to large demonstrations by women he modified his position and agreed that while the chador is not obligatory, modest dress is.
Morality of the Self and cleanliness of conscience are far better than the morality of the purdah. No goodness can come from pretence. Imposing the veil on women suggests that men suspect their mothers, sisters, wives and daughters of being potential traitors to them. How can Muslim men meet other women who are not veiled and treat them respectfully, and not accord the same respectful treatment to the women in their own community? To wear the hijaab or niqab is not an Islamic obligation on women and this can clearly be shown from the Quran.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, for example, is mentioned in the Quran as a pure woman and chosen as a role model above all women. There is no doubt from the Quran that she was a virtuous and righteous woman to deserve such a high accolade. In observing her behaviour as mentioned in the Quran, we see that as she carries the young Jesus with her to her family and they immediately recognise her. Now had she been wearing a veil or a niqab, her family would not have identified her as quickly as they did. After all she had returned after a long absence. This reliably informs us that she was not covering her face, that she was not wearing a niqab. Mary’s people recognising her quickly and with certainty plainly indicates that she was not wearing a niqab or any other covering to veil her face from being seen.
In the Quran there is further evidence which negates the practice of wearing the niqab. After God informed the messenger about the eligibility of marriage with certain relations, He continues:
“Beyond the categories described to you, you are not permitted to marry any other women nor can you substitute a new wife from the prohibited ones, no matter how much you desire them because of their beauty. You must be content with those already made lawful to you. God is watchful over all things.” [Verse 33.52].
In this verse it is patently clear that Muhammad; the messenger, and other men, are also in a position to see the faces and beauty of women and this clearly establishes that women not related to him did not wear niqab or veils to cover their faces when they appeared in front of him, or indeed anyone else. Even today, in countries like Pakistan and India, muslim women do not generally wear the niqab or hijab. There has been much debate over the wearing of hijab and veil covering the full face, especially in European courts of law and other public places. There appears to be more difficulties in wearing a full veil or niqab as it creates a barrier. People need to be able to see faces when speaking to each other.
Traditional Jewish teachings promote the type of hijab (full-body garment exposing only eyes) that is worn today among some Eastern women. Do note that in the Quran we are also informed about some unbelievers who cover themselves up with garments: Can you identify these people?
“Indeed, they hide their innermost thoughts, as if to keep Him from knowing them. In fact even if they cover themselves with their clothes, He knows all their secrets and declarations. He is aware of their most innermost thoughts.” [Verse 11:5], and Noah said “Whenever I invited them to be protected by You, they placed their fingers in their ears, covered themselves with their clothes, resisted and turned arrogant.” [Verse 71:7].
From these verses it seems that it is the unbelievers who can be identified as those who cover themselves and not the believers.
Some sects prescribe certain forms of dress not only for their women but also for men. For example certain types of caps, turbans, loose fitting shirts, baggy pyjamas, jubas etc. labelling them as ‘Islamic clothing’. Others insist that although trousers and western style suits may be worn, the trouser hem must rest above the ankle. Often these traditions are attributed to the messenger, and so considered a custom that must be followed out of reverence for him. This requirement is derived from the 6th. century Arabian culture in which it may have been essential to keep clothes off the muddy or dirty ground to keep them from soiling. However, these days in most cities it is unnecessary as the roads are paved and clean.
There is no clothing that can be termed as ‘Islamic’ or ‘unIslamic’. The Quran does not promote any particular traditional or tribal clothing and allows freedom of dress in line with modesty that is decreed both for women and men.
Beards were, as they are now, common in times and cultures where they were fashionable or shaving was not a practical every day event. However, religious traditionalists today insist that to keep a beard is an act of piety that earns rewards and is a label of intent for Muslims so that they can be recognised as such. If this indeed was the case, then many native Americans, most Inuit in the Arctic and women would lose out on the virtues of keeping a beard as these groups of people do not have any androgenic hair. The Quran says all believing men and women are equal and it is only the acts of righteousness that define exalted characters. While they may add to your image, beards of any style, length or colour are therefore of no consequence in determining the sincerity or integrity of a muslim and are certainly not obligatory as an act of belief.
Finally there are lessons to be learned from the advice given to the messenger’s wives: “O wives of the messenger, you are not the same as any other women; observe righteousness as you have a greater responsibility. Therefore, you shall be cautious and not speak too tenderly lest he in whose heart is a delusion, may develop mistaken desires; you shall speak only righteousness. You shall make your homes your foundation and do not return to the permissiveness and ignorance of earlier people. You shall observe your commitments and keep them pure and fulfil your duty to God and obey His messenger. God wishes to remove all impurity of the beliefs in your own ways and to purify you completely.” [Verses 33:32-33].
This exemplifies how believing women should conduct themselves in the company of men. Yet, it is important to note that while meetings between men and women are not forbidden there are some necessary restrictions. It is impossible for most men and women in their everyday lives to speak from behind a separating curtain or barrier. However, there can be unseen barriers that help impede bad behaviour. It is important therefore, to engage with each other, especially those with whom marriage, and by implication sex, is not forbidden, in a reserved manner, not flirtatious, evocative or in any way that may be mistaken or misconstrued.
Also all women are encouraged to make their home the foundations of their life and are also encouraged to become homemakers. This does not preclude or prohibit them from having a career, but the priorities of a family life must come first.