The Islamic Dress Code
What would you think of a home that provided no shelter and no privacy? What would you
think of a meal that provided no nourishment and no energy? It does not take much to
realize that if one were in the business of selling any of these he would go bankrupt very
quickly. Yet, amazingly the rules seem to be different when it comes to another basic
need: clothing, especially women's clothing. Every year fashion centers in Europe and
America come up with the latest designs. And what have they designed? Another way of not
covering the body; the dress equivalent of the home that provides no shelter and no
One might ask, if a person did not want to cover themselves why would they buy
anything, least of all expensive fashions, to achieve that? If we think about it, we may
see the tension between two forces. All human beings (except for the handful of deviants
who call themselves naturalists) have an inborn sense of shame. People of all religions
agree on the need to cover themselves in public. Yet we also find a force that promotes
nudity. Large segments of humanity are caught between two impulses: to cover or not to
cover. Our clothing designs reflect different levels of compromise between these opposing
Why? What is going on?
Science cannot answer the question. It cannot trace the origins of forces that take
place deep in our mind. In addition, most of the scientific establishment is still
dominated by the followers of Mr. Darwin and Darwinism is a system of belief not science.
Their beliefs keep them from dealing honestly with a simple fact: while all other animals
have a skin that provides them protection against the elements, human beings don't.
Monkeys can live without clothing, human beings cannot.
The Qur'an answers the question. Our bodies did not develop our skin--- so thin and fur
free that it requires external covering for protection---because of some unexplained
evolutionary accident. Our Creator designed it this way so we will always need clothing.
He also put in us the sense of shame that forces us to cover ourselves. On the other hand,
the first act of Satan was to cause Adam and Eve to expose themselves: "So by deceit
he brought about their fall: when they tasted of the tree, their shameful parts became
manifest to them, and they began to sew together the leaves of the Garden over their
bodies." [Al-A'raf 7:22]. This is the source of the tension we see. Two opposing
forces. Good and evil.
With that background we can understand the importance of clothing. "Oh Children of
Adam! We have bestowed raiment upon you to cover your shame as well as to be an adornment
to you. But the raiment of righteousness---that is the best." [Al-A'raf 7:26]. The
address here is to all humanity, emphasizing thereby the universal human need to cover
ourselves properly. The Qur'an then warns that Satan was not finished after his first
attempt: "Oh Children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you in the same manner as he got
your parents out of the Garden, stripping them of their raiment, to expose their
shame." [Al-A'raf 7:27].
Once we realize the nature of the dress issue, it is natural that we should turn to our
Creator to seek guidance for the proper dress code. Qur'an and Sunnah have provided ample
guidance on the subject which can be summarized in four essential principles.
- Our dress must cover our body adequately. Again we cannot determine what is adequate
coverage on our own, as any witness to the misery of those who have tried it can readily
ascertain. Shar'iah, as always, takes us out of this misery by defining it for us. For
men, it is the middle part of the body from navel to knee. For women, it is the entire
body except hands and face. These parts must never be exposed to any other person (except
in case of genuine need e.g. medical treatment). In addition, the cloth must be neither
see-through nor tight fitting.
- Our dress should provide adornment. It should provide for decent appearance. Our
appearance should not be an eyesore for decent human beings. For men, this extends the
coverage requirements to include most of the body. For women, the essential requirement is
that their dress should identify them as respectable ladies who would be honored not
harassed. Additionally, hijab rules aim at protecting them from the gaze of other
- Our dress should establish our Islamic identity. At the least it should not identify us
as followers of another religion. But, additionally it should positively identify us as
- The design of our dress must avoid three deadly sins: show off, arrogance, and self
indulgence. These are very serious diseases of the heart in their own right that we must
avoid at all times. Our garments provide an easy opportunity to nurture them. Hence the
need to be extra cautious. One Hadith states "Eat what you feel like and wear what
you feel like. But avoid two things: extravagance and arrogance." [Bukhari]. At the
risk of stating the obvious one should be reminded that this Hadith establishes an
overriding concern that limits our choices within the realm of what is considered halal.
It does not do away with the distinction between halal and haram.
As one implication of this general requirement, men are also required not to wear their
lower garments below the ankle. (Many well-meaning Muslims today have been persuaded that
this is a petty issue. This misgiving can be put to rest in a hurry if we just refer to
the Hadith of Jabir bin Sulaym, Radi-Allahu anhu, in Abu Dawood. He asked the Prophet,
Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam for some advice when leaving him after his very first
meeting. Of the six pieces of advice given him one was: "Never let your lower
garment go below the ankles because that is arrogance. And Allah does not like
arrogance." Another was "Never belittle a good deed.")
Islam has not prescribed a particular dress style, giving us ample room to accommodate
our needs, circumstances and tastes. However, these principles are for everyone and
forever. Any garment that accommodates these principles will be Islamic dress. This is
Islamic formula to dress for success. Eternal success.