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How Muslims Are Required to Dress


To some as a subject the Muslim women's dress and Muslim men's clothing may sound trivial. The shari'ah, however, assigns it moral, social, and legal dimensions.

One basic requirement to be a true believer according to the Qur'an is to make one's opinions, feelings, and inclinations subservient to whatever Allah and his Messenger have decided.

It is not fitting for a believer, man or woman, when a matter has been decided by Allah and His Apostle, to have any option about their decision: if any one disobeys Allah and His Apostle, he is indeed on a clearly wrong path.

Surat-ul-Ahzab (33-36)

Placing, therefore, one's personal opinions, feelings, or inclinations above or at the same level as the commandments of Allah is the ultimate of human pride and vanity. This means, in effect, that a mortal is responding to Allah's guidance saying: '0 my creator! Your Law is Your Own opinion. I have my own opinion, and I know best what is good for me." This attitude is befitting for unbelievers and hypocrites, but not for a believer no matter how imperfect (all are!) one may be in implementing Islam in one's life.2

The exposition of truth in an honest and straight forward way may thus cause some unease even to good and sincere Muslims. If may seem safer and diplomatic to avoid the issue altogether, or to present it in a diluted and vague way. It is even safer and more 'diplomatic' to explicitly or implicitly condone each others' infractions, to help each other find excuses and to rationalise our disobedience to Allah subhanahu wata'ala. This attitude is neither new nor is it without consequences. As the Qur'an presents it:

Curses were pronounced on those among the children of Israel who rejected faith, by the tongue of Dawood (David) and of Esa (Jesus) the son of Mary: because they disobeyed and persisted in excesses.

Nor did they (usually) forbid one another the iniquities which they committed: evil indeed were the deeds which they did.

Surat-ul-Ma'idah (5) 81-82
Requirements Of Women's Dress

The First Requirement: Extent of Covering

The dress must cover the whole body except for the areas specifically exempted. The Qur'an states:

Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do.

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husbands' fathers, their sons, their husbands' sons, their brothers or their brothers' sons, or their sisters' sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And 0 you believers! Turn all toward Allah that you may attain bliss.

Surat-un-Nur (24) 30-31

These 'ayahs contain, among other things, two main injunctions:

A Muslim woman should not display her beauty, and adornment (zeenah) except for "that which must ordinarily appear of it" 3 (ma dhahara minha), or "that which is apparent." 4
The word zeenah 5 lends itself to two related meanings:

Natural or bodily beauty, 6

Acquired adornment such as rings, bracelets, and clothes.

The part of zeenah, exempted from the above injunction, was interpreted in two ways:

The face and the hands. This is the interpretation of the majority of the jurists, past and present. 7 This interpretation is confirmed by ijma' (consensus) that a Muslim woman is allowed by Islam to uncover her face and hands during pilgrimage and even during the prayers, while the rest of her body is regarded as 'awrah (that which should be covered). 8 This interpretation is based on the authority of Prophet Muhammad (Allah's blessing be upon him), especially the hadith in which he says:

". . . If the woman reaches the age of puberty. No part of her body) should be seen but this - and he pointed to his face and hands."

Whatever appears of the woman's body owing to uncontrollable factors such as the blowing of the wind, or out of necessity such as the bracelets or even the outer clothes themselves. 9

The headcovers (knumur) should be drawn over the neck slits (joyoob). Khumur is the plural of the Arabic word "khimar" which means a headcover. 10 Juyoob is the plural of the Arabic word "jaiyb" (a derivative of jawb or cutting) refers to the neck slit (of the dress). This means that the headcover should be drawn so as to cover not only the hair, but it could also be drawn over the neck and to be extended so as to cover the bosom.

The Second Requirement: Looseness

The dress must be loose enough so as not to describe the shape of a woman's body. This is consistent with the intent of the 'ayahs cited above (24: 30-31) and is surely a crucial aspect of hiding zeenah. Even moderately-tight clothes which cover the whole body do describe the shape of such attractive parts of the woman's body as the bustline, the waist, the buttocks, the back and the thighs. If these are not part of the natural beauty or zeenah what else is?

Prophet Muhammad pubh once received a thick garment as a gift. He gave it to Osamah b Zayd, who in turn gave it to his wife. When asked by the Prophet why he did not wear it, Osamah indicated that he gave it to his wife. The Prophet then said to Osamah "ask her to use a gholalah under it (the garment) for I fear that it (the garment) may describe the size of her bones." 11 The word gholalah in Arabic means a thick fabric worn under the dress to prevent it from describing the shape of the body.

A highly desirable way of concealing the shape of the body is to wear a cloak over the garment. The Prophet pubh, however, indicated that if the women's dress meets the Islamic standards it suffices (without a cloak) even for the validity of prayers. 12
The Third Requirement: Thickness

The dress should be thick enough so as not to show the color of the skin it covers, or the shape of the body which it is supposed to hide.

The purpose of 'ayah (24:31) is to hide the Muslim women's body except ma dhahara minha (the face and hands). It is obvious that this purpose cannot be served if the dress is thin enough so as to reveal the color of the skin or the shape or beauty of the body. This is eloquently explained by Prophet Muhammad pbuh: "In later (generations) of my urnmah there will be women who will be dressed but naked. On top of their heads (what looks) like camel humps. Curse them for they are truly cursed." In another version he added that they "will not enter into paradise or (even) get a smell of it." 13

At one occasion Asma' (daughter of Abu-Bakr) was visiting her sister 'A'ishah, wife of the Prophet. When he noted that Asma's dress was not thick enough he turned his face away in anger and said, "If the woman reaches the age of puberty, no part of her body should be seen, but this, and he pointed to his face and his hands."14

The Fourth Requirement: Overall Appearance

The dress should not be such that it attracts men's attention to the woman's beauty. The Qur'an clearly prescribes the requirements of the woman's dress for the purpose of concealing zeenah (adornment). How could such zeenah be concealed if the dress is designed in a way that it attracts men's eyes to the woman?

This is why the Qur'an addressing the Prophet's wives as the examples for Muslim women says:

 "Bedizen not yourselves with the bedizenment of the Time of Ignorance.. ."


 Additional Requirements 16

In addition to the above four main and clearly spelled out requirements, there are other requirements whose specific applications may vary with time and location. These include:

The dress should not be similar to what is known as a male costume. lbn 'Abbas narrated that "The Prophet cursed the men who act like women and the women who act like men. 17

It should not be similar to what is known as the costume of unbelievers. This requirement is derived from the general rule of Shari'ah that Muslims should have their distinct personality and should differentiate their practices and appearance from unbelievers. 18

The dress should not be similar to what is known as a male costume. lbn 'Abbas narrated that "The Prophet cursed the men who act like women and the women who act like men. 17

It should not be a dress of fame, pride and vanity. Such fame may be sought by wearing an excessively fancy dress as a status symbol or an excessively ragged dress to gain others' admiration of one's selflessness. Both motives are improper by Islamic standards. The Prophet pbuh says:

"Whoever wears a dress of fame in this world, Allah will clothe him with a dress of humiliation in the day of resurrection, then set it afire."19

Requirements Of Muslim Men's Clothing

It should be noted that the basic requirements of the Muslim woman's dress apply as well to the Muslim man's clothing with the difference being mainly in degree. This can best be understood by looking into what Islam defines as 'awrah which refers to the part of the body that should be covered at all times unless there is an expressed exception. The covering of 'awrah is also a condition for the validity of prayers for both men and women.

It has been agreed among jurists on the basis of the Qur'an and Sunnah that 'awrah for the woman is defined as the whole body except for the face and hands. For the man, the 'awrah is defined as the area between the navel and the knees. 20

Within the definition of 'awrah for men and women, all the four basic requirements discussed in this paper are essentially the same:
Man should fully cover his 'awrah.

Men's clothes should be loose enough so as not to describe what he is covering (his 'awrah).

They should be thick enough so as not to describe the color of the skin or the parts required to be covered.

They should not be designed in a way to attract attention. The basic rule of modesty and avoiding "show off" applies to all believers men and women.

The three other additional requirements discussed under the Muslim woman's code of dress apply to men's clothes as well:

They should not be similar to what is known as the female dress.

They should not be similar to what could be identified as the dress of unbelievers.

They should not be clothes of fame, pride, and vanity.

In addition to the above limitations on the Muslim man's clothes, men are not allowed to wear silk and gold. This does not apply to women.


There are surely many other issues pertaining to the subjects that are not covered in this paper Its main focus is on the documented injunctions of Allah (subhanahu wat'ala) as derived from His word (the Qur'an) and as explained by the chosen Messenger, Muhammad (peace be upon him). These injunctions are to be complied with by all Muslim men and women; and in case of transgression, they will be held accountable in the hereafter. Truly husbands, fathers, and mothers do have an obligation to remind, exhort and help each other achieve the pleasure of Allah and to avoid His wrath. In the final analysis, however, it is not coercion or force which is likely to bring about obedience to Allah. It is but, the love of Allah, the acceptance of His guidance as the supreme Truth even if contrary to one's personal opinions, that will bring about the change.

Major References

Al-Qur'an, Translation of meanings by A. Yusuf Ali and M. M Pickthal.

Al-Hadith, as cited.


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