The Qur’anic Dress Code for Women

Marwan Boustany

1         Introduction

 

Modesty in the Qur’an is a topic that is important for both men and women.  It relates not just to appearance, but to modest character and the taking of precaution where possible.  This is because the natural inclinations of men and women to one another is a powerful one and must be proactively dealt with in order to maintain harmony among the members of society.  The Qur’an does not indicate that we must have absolute separation between men and women, rather it arms us with the guidance to best interact in the various potential parts of life where interaction is normal.

 

This document’s title refers to the dress code of women because this is the area where clothing guidelines are given some detail, and it is also where there is some difference of opinion among modern Muslims.

2         Terms and definitions

2.1      Khimar, Jilbab and zeenah

2.1.1      خمار(Khimar)

 

Lisan Al Arab (لسان العرب):والخِمَارُ للمرأَة، وهو النَّصِيفُ، وقيل: الخمار ما تغطي به المرأَة  رأَسها، وجمعه أَخْمِرَةٌ وخُمْرٌ وخُمُرٌ

 

Dictionary of the Holy Qur’an* (لغة القران), by ‘Abdul Mannan‘Omar: “Head cover, scarf, covering and especially a woman’s head veil, screen.”

 

Dictionary of the Holy Qur’an, by Malik Ghulam Farid M.A.: “A woman’s veil; a woman’s veil with which she covers her head; a man’s turban.”

 

So a خمار is (in the context of a woman and clothing):  An item of clothing that covers the head.

 

 

 

2.1.2      جلباب(Jilbab)

 

Liasan Al Arab (لسان العرب): والجِلْبابُ: القَمِيصُ. والجِلْبابُ: ثوب أَوسَعُ من الخِمار، دون  الرِّداءِ، تُغَطِّي به المرأَةُ رأْسَها وصَدْرَها؛ وقيل: هو ثوب واسِع، دون المِلْحَفةِ، تَلْبَسه المرأَةُ؛ وقيل: هو المِلْحفةُ. قالت جَنُوبُ أُختُ عَمْرٍو ذي الكَلْب تَرْثِيه:  تَمْشِي النُّسورُ إليه، وهي لاهِيةٌ،  * مَشْيَ العَذارَى، عليهنَّ الجَلابِيبُ  <ص:273>  معنى قوله وهي لاهيةٌ: أَن النُّسور آمِنةٌ منه لا تَفْرَقُه لكونه  مَيِّتاً، فهي تَمْشِي إِليه مَشْيَ العذارَى. وأَوّل المرثية:  كلُّ امرئٍ، بطُوالِ العَيْش، مَكْذُوبُ، *  وكُلُّ من غالَبَ الأَيَّامَ مَغْلُوبُ  وقيل: هو ما تُغَطِّي به المرأَةُ الثيابَ من فَوقُ كالمِلْحَفةِ؛ وقيل:  هو الخِمارُ. وفي حديث أُم عطيةَ: لِتُلْبِسْها صاحِبَتُها من جِلْبابِها أَي إِزارها. وقد تجَلْبَب. قال يصِفُ الشَّيْب:  حتى اكْتَسَى الرأْسُ قِناعاً أَشْهَبا، *  أَكْرَهَ جِلْبابٍ لِمَنْ تجَلْبَبا(1)  (1 قوله «أشهبا» كذا في غير نسخة من المحكم. والذي تقدّم في ثوب أشيبا. وكذلك هو في التكملة هناك.)  وفي التنزيل العزيز: يُدْنِينَ علَيْهِنَّ من جَلابِيبِهِنَّ

 

Lane’s Lexicon: جلبابA [woman's outer wrapping garment called] ملحفة: (S:) or this is its primary signification; but it is metaphorically applied to other kinds of garments: (El-Khafajee, TA:) or a shirt, (K, TA,) absolutely: or one that envelopes the whole body; (TA:) and a wide garment for a woman, less than the ملحفة: or one with which a woman covers over her other garments, like the ملحفة: or the [kind of head-covering called]  خمار: (K :) so in the M: (TA:) or a garment wider than the خمار., but less than the رداء , (Mgh, L, Msb,) i with which a woman covers her head and bosom:  (L:) or a garment shorter, but wider, than the خمار; the same as the مقنعة  (En.Nadr,TA:)  or a woman's head-covering: (TA:) or the [kind of wrapper called] ٳزار : (1Aar, TA:) or a garment with which the person is entirely enveloped, so that not even a hand is left exposed, (Har p. 102, and TA,) of the kind called ملاءة  , worn by a woman: (TA:) or a garment, or other thing, that one use as a covering: (IF, Msb:) pI. جلابيب (S, Mgh, Msb.)

 

Dictionary of the Holy Qur’an* (لغة القران), by ‘Abdul Mannan‘Omar: “Loose outer covering; Over-garment; Woman’s gown; Smock; Large outer covering worn by women; Outer cloak; Women’s outer wrapping garment.”

 

So a Jilbab (جلباب) is either: -

 

·        A cloak/gown worn as clothing.

or

·        A cloak/gown worn over other clothes.

 

According to the dictionaries, Jilbab can also refer to the veil/headscarf that covers the chest (Lisan Al Arab), but Allah uses the word khimar for this meaning (a woman’s veil being the predominant meaning for khimar) and the word jilbab for the gown/cloak worn over the woman, which Allah tells women to draw down/lower on their bodies (themselves) as opposed to their breasts in the verse referring to the khimar.  Allah does not waste words or use words needlessly, and so we must both expect and respect the distinction in their uses.

2.1.3      زينة (Zeenat)

 

Dictionary of the Holy Qur’an, by Malik Ghulam Farid M.A.: زينة: A thing by which or with which one is adorned, ornamented, decorated, decked, embellished, beautified or graced, or by which one adorns himself; an ornament, ornature, decoration, embellishment, grace or the means of beautifying, adorning etc; beauty.”

 

Lane’s Lexicon: زينة, … signifies [ما يتزين به] [i.e. A thing with which, or by which, one is adorned, ornamented, decorated, decked, bedecked, garnished, embellished, beautified, or graced; or with which, or by which, one adorns, &c., himself]; (T,S,K;) any such thing; (T, TA;) [any ornament, ornature, decoration, garnish, embellishment, or grace;] ”

 

An important usage of this word is in the sense of something being (made) desirable, beautiful, alluring etc…  Examples of this kind of usage are to be found at: -

 

2:212, 3:14, 15:16 etc… in the Qur’an.  These are in the verb form and have the meaning of making something attractive, beautiful, alluring, fair etc.  The noun form which is what is used in reference to women (زينة) as found in 24:31, 60, means that which is desirable, beautiful, pleasing etc… about the woman. 

 

2.2      The actual way حجاب (Hijab) is used in the Qur’an

 

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَدْخُلُوا بُيُوتَ النَّبِيِّ إِلَّا أَن يُؤْذَنَ لَكُمْ إِلَى طَعَامٍ غَيْرَ نَاظِرِينَ إِنَاهُ وَلَكِنْ إِذَا دُعِيتُمْ فَادْخُلُوا فَإِذَا طَعِمْتُمْ فَانتَشِرُوا وَلَا مُسْتَأْنِسِينَ لِحَدِيثٍ إِنَّ ذَلِكُمْ كَانَ يُؤْذِي النَّبِيَّ فَيَسْتَحْيِي مِنكُمْ وَاللَّهُ لَا يَسْتَحْيِي مِنَ الْحَقِّ وَإِذَا سَأَلْتُمُوهُنَّ مَتَاعًا فَاسْأَلُوهُنَّ مِن وَرَاء حِجَابٍ ذَلِكُمْ أَطْهَرُ لِقُلُوبِكُمْ وَقُلُوبِهِنَّ وَمَا كَانَ لَكُمْ أَن تُؤْذُوا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ وَلَا أَن تَنكِحُوا أَزْوَاجَهُ مِن بَعْدِهِ أَبَدًا إِنَّ ذَلِكُمْ كَانَ عِندَ اللَّهِ عَظِيمًا

 

O you who believe! do not enter the houses of the Prophet unless permission is given to you for a meal, not waiting for its cooking being finished-- but when you are invited, enter, and when you have taken the food, then disperse-- without seeking to remain for conversation; surely this gives the Prophet trouble, but he forbears from you, and Allah does not forbear from the truth. And when you ask of them (the prophet’s wives) any goods, ask of them from behind a partition/barrier (hijab); this is purer for your hearts and (for) their hearts; and it does not behove you that you should give trouble to the Messenger of Allah, nor that you should marry his wives after him ever; surely this is grievous in the sight of Allah.

(33:53)

 

As can be seen, Hijab (حجاب) is here used as a screen and barrier (as it usually is in the Qur’an).  So if anything, the usage of this word with regard to the head covering is a cultural innovation in Islam, but not the concept of covering the head.

 

3         Modesty and Clothing as Defined by the Qur’an

3.1      The Overall Context

 

وَلَا تَقْرَبُوا الزِّنَا ۖ إِنَّهُ كَانَ فَاحِشَةً وَسَاءَ سَبِيلًا

And do not (even) come close to unlawful sexual intercourse. Indeed, it is ever an immorality and is evil as a way.

(17:32)

 

As will be expanded upon below, the general context of the verses which discuss conduct and attire in relation to men and women operate is that of attaining modesty both inwardly and outwardly.  A critical purpose of this is so that we stay away from unlawful sexual intercourse and in fact to cut off what paths we may take that would lead to it.  As Allah tells us, we must by no means even come close to such immorality.

 

وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتُ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ ۚ يَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَيُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَيُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَاةَ وَيُطِيعُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ سَيَرْحَمُهُمُ اللَّهُ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ

And (as for) the believing men and the believing women, they are helpers of each other; they enjoin good and forbid evil and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, and obey Allah and His Messenger; (as for) these, Allah will show mercy to them; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise.

(9:71)

 

The avoidance of immorality is a weighty task, as we are drawn to it by our natural (but different[1]) inclinations for one another.  Allah has made men and women the helpers of one another in righteousness, and so they must work to reduce the trials that they may pose to one another.  To this end Allah gives guidance to men and women as will be outlined in the sections below.

 

3.2      Modesty in Character

 

يَا بَنِي آدَمَ قَدْ أَنزَلْنَا عَلَيْكُمْ لِبَاسًا يُوَارِي سَوْءَاتِكُمْ وَرِيشًا وَلِبَاسُ التَّقْوَىَ ذَلِكَ خَيْرٌ ذَلِكَ مِنْ آيَاتِ اللّهِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَذَّكَّرُونَ

O children of Adam, We have bestowed upon you clothing to conceal your shame and as a fine protection. But the clothing of righteousness (Taqwa) - that is best.  That is from the signs of Allah that perhaps they will remember.

(7:26)

 

The garment of taqwa is the first level of modesty and it is most important.  To have taqwa means that you act righteously and protect yourself from Allah’s displeasure by actively avoiding what He dislikes.  This is the solid foundation upon which righteous and modest interaction must be built.

يَا نِسَاء النَّبِيِّ لَسْتُنَّ كَأَحَدٍ مِّنَ النِّسَاء إِنِ اتَّقَيْتُنَّ فَلَا تَخْضَعْنَ بِالْقَوْلِ فَيَطْمَعَ الَّذِي فِي قَلْبِهِ مَرَضٌ وَقُلْنَ قَوْلًا مَّعْرُوفًا

O wives of the Prophet! You are not like any other of the women provided you are righteous; so (if you are righteous) be not soft/submissive* in (your) speech lest he in whose heart is a disease yearn (for you); and speak appropriate speech.

(33:32)

 

The phrase تَخْضَعْنَ بِالْقَوْلِ here refers to being submissive or yielding in the manner of speech.

 

Here Allah tells the wives of the prophet (the mothers of the believers) that as part of righteousness they should not speak softly/submissively to men.  From 33:53 we get the sense that the wives of the prophet would have to interact with a lot of men at their home due to the men visiting to see the prophet to get some guidance and to even visit for food.

 

To get an idea of how the wives of the prophet are not like other women, note their double punishment in 33:30 if they were to be immodest/immoral.  They will also receive double the reward if they are righteous.

 

For those who say that this applies only to the wives of the prophet, does it mean that it is ok for other wives/women to speak softly/submissively and have men in whose heart is a disease desire/yearn for them?  No, there is no limiting indication on this guidance; we are merely given the example of the wives of the prophet (‘mothers’ of the believers 33:6) because they would likely have more interaction than other women given their status as wives of the prophet.  Please note 33:1, 66:1, 66:9, 9:73, 8:70, 65:1.  We see in these ayaat that the Prophet is directly addressed, yet what he is addressed to do is fully applicable to us.

 

What we get from 33:32 is that such speech should be between the husband and wife and that wives should never speak like this to other men.  Allah highlights the reason here as being that a woman speaking like this may have men interpret such speech in a manner that inflames their desires.  This is a lesson that all women, married or not, must learn from and should therefore act wisely with this in mind.

 

Finally, we must consider that Allah links the carefulness in speech with righteousness and modesty in interaction.  This is a general reality, and is applicable to any woman in accordance with 17:32 and 9:71.

 

It can be derived by analogy (for the purpose of harmony) that men should also avoid speaking in a manner that may arouse feelings in the women (other than a wife) they speak with, this would fit in quite well with the concept of 33:32, 17:32 and 9:71.

 

قُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَ يَغُضُّوا مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِمْ وَيَحْفَظُوا فُرُوجَهُمْ ذَلِكَ أَزْكَى لَهُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا يَصْنَعُونَ

Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and (thus) guard their chastity. That is purer for them. Indeed, Allah is aware of what they do.

(24:30)

 

Men should not stare at women; instead they are commanded to lower their gaze.  This is to maintain purity in thought and aid in protecting themselves from immodesty as per (17:32).

 

وَقُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ

And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and (thus) guard their chastity

(24:31)

 

Women should not stare at men; instead they are commanded to lower their gaze.  This is to maintain purity in thought and aid in protecting themselves from immodesty as per (17:32).

 

3.3      Modesty in Clothing

3.3.1     The Specific Context

 

The context here is explicitly for the dress code of women in the Qur’an.

 

وَقُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ* مِنْهَا

And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and (thus) guard their chastity, and not to make a show of their beauty except what (unintentionally) becomes apparent* thereof…

(24:31)

 

* This is referring to what becomes apparent from what is hidden as can be seen from the dictionary definitions below. 

 

Lane’s Lexicon: ظَهَرَ: It was, or became, outward, exterior, external, extrinsic, or exoteric: and hence,] it appeared; became apparent, overt, open, perceptible or perceived, manifest, plain, or evident;… after having been concealed, or latent: …

 

Dictionary of the Holy Qur’an, by Malik Ghulam Farid M.A.:  It was or became apparent, manifest, plain or evident after having been concealed.

 

The use of this word implicitly implies that what is exposed is what was previously hidden and from the context, what should be hidden.  Women must not display/show off their beauty (those parts which contribute to their beauty), except what unintentionally becomes apparent.  This is a general guideline that must be applied to any interpretation of the dress code of women.

 

3.3.2     The Commands

 

وَقُل لِّلْمُؤْمِنَاتِ يَغْضُضْنَ مِنْ أَبْصَارِهِنَّ وَيَحْفَظْنَ فُرُوجَهُنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا مَا ظَهَرَ مِنْهَا وَلْيَضْرِبْنَ بِخُمُرِهِنَّ عَلَى جُيُوبِهِنَّ وَلَا يُبْدِينَ زِينَتَهُنَّ إِلَّا لِبُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَائِهِنَّ أَوْ آبَاء بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَائِهِنَّ أَوْ أَبْنَاء بُعُولَتِهِنَّ أَوْ إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي إِخْوَانِهِنَّ أَوْ بَنِي أَخَوَاتِهِنَّ أَوْ نِسَائِهِنَّ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُنَّ أَوِ التَّابِعِينَ غَيْرِ أُوْلِي الْإِرْبَةِ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ أَوِ الطِّفْلِ الَّذِينَ لَمْ يَظْهَرُوا عَلَى عَوْرَاتِ النِّسَاء وَلَا يَضْرِبْنَ بِأَرْجُلِهِنَّ لِيُعْلَمَ مَا يُخْفِينَ مِن زِينَتِهِنَّ وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

And tell the believing women to lower their gaze and (thus) guard their chastity, and not to make apparent their beauty except what (unintentionally) becomes apparent thereof and to draw their head-coverings over their bosoms.

And [also tell them] not to reveal their

beauty save to their husbands or their fathers or their husbands' fathers, or their sons or their husbands' sons, or their brothers or their brothers' sons or their sisters' sons, or their womenfolk, or their servants, or male attendants who have no physical desire, or (pre-puberty) children as yet unaware of women's nakedness.  And let them not stamp their feet so as to draw attention to what they hide of their beauty.  And turn unto Allah, O believers (both men and women), in order that you may prosper

(24:31)

 

Women should use their head coverings to cover their bosoms; this would imply the overlapping of the ends of the head covering.  The hair of a woman is a part of her beauty, of what makes her attractive.  So according to 24:31, in addition to the command to cover the bosoms with the headscarf, we have a general guideline which independently indicates that this must be so.

 

An additional and important aspect of 24:31 is in how we have two modes of dress for a woman contrasted in the same verse.  The first is the mode of dress which covers a woman’s beauty for maximal modesty when amongst the generality of men. 

 

The second, in contrast to this refers to a less stringent mode of dress which is suitable for some members of family and for men lacking sexual desire and children unaware of sex and the allure of nakedness.  As is clear, women would not be naked among the stated category of people (“And let them not stamp their feet so as to draw attention to what they hide of their beauty” implies that even though their dress is more relaxed, they as yet cover themselves), however their dress would be more relaxed and more likely to reveal their beauty (for example if they were to stamp their feet).

 

Thus we may derive that what is worn outside would be more extensive and looser to cover beauty and reduce the visual impact to those who may be otherwise aroused/distracted by it.  What could suffice to fulfil this requirement?

 

يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ قُل لِّأَزْوَاجِكَ وَبَنَاتِكَ وَنِسَاء الْمُؤْمِنِينَ يُدْنِينَ عَلَيْهِنَّ مِن جَلَابِيبِهِنَّ ذَلِكَ أَدْنَى أَن يُعْرَفْنَ فَلَا يُؤْذَيْنَ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ غَفُورًا رَّحِيمًا

O Prophet! Tell your wives and your daughters and the women of the believers to bring down/lengthen over their bodies of their cloaks/gowns. That is better for being recognized and not being annoyed/harmed. Allah is ever forgiving, merciful.

(33:59)

 

Women are to cover themselves with a Jilbab, which is a garment/cloak that can cover the clothes beneath.  This is to make the woman recognizable as a Muslim woman.  An aspect of the recognisability here is the modest appearance and style of the jilbab, which is a long/lengthened cloak or gown.

 

The other reason associated with this form of clothing is to help decrease the chance of women being annoyed/hurt.  Annoyed why?  Obviously due to the men who would desire them if they saw the beauty of the women.  To mention that women dressing modestly as Allah commands can in some circumstances make them targets does not refute the dress code, rather it points to circumstances which must be dealt with in the society or from which Muslims must travel away.

 

وَالْقَوَاعِدُ مِنَ النِّسَاء اللَّاتِي لَا يَرْجُونَ نِكَاحًا فَلَيْسَ عَلَيْهِنَّ جُنَاحٌ أَن يَضَعْنَ ثِيَابَهُنَّ غَيْرَ مُتَبَرِّجَاتٍ بِزِينَةٍ وَأَن يَسْتَعْفِفْنَ خَيْرٌ لَّهُنَّ وَاللَّهُ سَمِيعٌ عَلِيمٌ

... And the elderly (post menstrual) women who have no desire to get married commit nothing wrong by laying aside their (outer) garments without making a show/display of their beauty.  And to refrain from this is better for them.  Allah is hearer, knower

(24:60)

 

مُتَبَرِّجَاتٍ   here means that the woman actively makes a display or show of themselves. 

 

This would imply that the elderly/postmenstrual woman can take off her khimar/Jilbab as long as her remaining clothes do not show off or make a display of her beauty.  If we did not understand it in this way (i.e., no khimar/jilbab covering), then it would imply that Allah is saying older women can take off their normal (not khimar/jilbab) clothes in a way that somehow does not show off their beauty.  It is likely that such older women would be dressing in a manner closer to how they would normally dress with their family and the categories mentioned in 24:31, though it is better that they maintain optimal modesty in dress. 

 

Of course, Allah tells such women that it would be better if they did not dress in such a manner.

 

Some Muslims say that as a khimar can mean various things, like a cover or anything which covers, that we should not limit the meaning of the word to headscarf.  Hence, they say, unless we take a backward cultural interpretation of khimar, we have no reason to interpret it as a head covering. 

 

My answer to this is: the correct understanding must be derived from the context in which the word is, in this case the ayah and the Qur’an as a whole.  The ayah context is something that the women would have with them, which can be drawn over their breasts, which contextually has a predominant meaning of headscarf/ veil.  The Qur’an and ayah context is of modesty and concealing the beauty of a woman.  We must note also that when we look up the word khimar (خمار) in the classical dictionaries in relation to women, the most obvious and foremost meaning is that of the headscarf or head covering.

 

Consider, instead of Allah telling the women to pull their cloaks, dresses or shirts over their breasts (i.e., hide their cleavage), hence leaving them free to wear or not wear a veil, Allah tells them to use THEIR headscarves to cover their breasts/cleavage.  This implies it is something they would normally have with them, not something they may possibly or incidentally have.  

 

To say that Khimar (خمار) means table cloth or some random sheet (explanations I have seen presented) is illogical within the language/ayah/Qur’an context (why would women be normally carrying around random covers?).  To say that the khimar is mentioned only as a cultural fashion with no religious significance ignores the context (modesty/hiding what contributes to beauty) as well as unnecessarily ignores the establishment of a normative practice of:

 

1.       Maintaining and using the veil

2.       Covering the breasts with it(‘s ends). 

 

Consider that men to this day in the gulf wear head scarfs that they let fall down on both sides of their faces, down to and below their shoulders.  It is blindingly obvious that women of the time of the prophet, in the desert, would have sensibly worn the same kind of headscarf.  So now imagine a woman wearing such a headscarf, Allah then tells them to wrap its ends (which would be hanging down on both sides of their faces) such that their overlapping covers their bosoms.  So simple, so clear and so obvious.  It should be noted that if used in relation to a man, khimar can mean a man’s head covering too.

 

Finally, Allah nowhere explicitly says that a woman’s back must be covered by clothing, or that ¾ of a woman’s leg cannot be exposed and so on.  They are however unambiguously implied by the command to hide a woman’s beauty, by the command to cover their bodies with a Jilbab/gown and to use the Khimar/headscarf to cover their bosom.  If women are told to cover their bosoms with their headscarves (within the context of modesty), it is taken for granted that they are covering their heads, so there is no need to explicitly state it. 

 

If it is agreed that khimar means a headscarf, but that it is to be removed from the head to cover the bosom, then it’s like saying (within the context of modesty) “I was told to cover my naval with my top… so I took off my top and wrapped it around my belly”.

 

Some people claim: ‘Why should women have to inconveniently cover themselves up?  Can’t men control themselves?’.

 

This is a common argument, unfortunately.  It is flawed for the following reasons:

 

The first reason is that the urge to show off physically is a powerful and recognisable female trait; as is the recognisable male trait to look at women.  These two traits are powerful and dangerous if not controlled and protected against.  It is a part of mutual modesty and cooperation between men and women that men work hard to not stare and that women work hard not give men anything to stare at.

 

The second reason is that the weak and flawed nature of humanity, all of it, is a Qur’anic fact.  When you recognise that there are likely many who are quite flawed and weak, the logic of acting responsibly and cautiously becomes irresistible.  To act and dress modestly is the most righteous and safest path to follow.

 

The third reason is seen clearly in the following verse.

 

وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتُ بَعْضُهُمْ أَوْلِيَاءُ بَعْضٍ ۚ يَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَيُقِيمُونَ الصَّلَاةَ وَيُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَاةَ وَيُطِيعُونَ اللَّهَ وَرَسُولَهُ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ سَيَرْحَمُهُمُ اللَّهُ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ

And (as for) the believing men and the believing women, they are helpers of each other; they enjoin good and forbid evil and keep up prayer and pay the poor-rate, and obey Allah and His Messenger; (as for) these, Allah will show mercy to them; surely Allah is Mighty, Wise.

(9:71)

4         Conclusion

Modesty is very important in all its levels and is a vital tool to help men and women interact in society in a healthy manner that does not threaten marriages and that keeps unmarried men and women away from one of this world’s greatest temptations, each other.



[1] I mention different because there is a difference here in my opinion.  What attracts a man to a woman and what attracts a woman to a man can be quite different.  For example, many women are attracted to a man who act dominant and who acts confident or over confident, whereas this may be unattractive for men if seen in women.  This can fall in line with Allah’s warning against soft/submissive speech from women to men.