The manner of dress of Muslims has drawn great attention in recent years, with some groups suggesting that restrictions on the dress are demeaning or controlling, especially to women. Some European countries have even attempted to outlaw certain aspects of Islamic dress customs, such as covering the face in public. This controversy stems largely from a misconception regarding the reasons behind Islamic dress rules. In reality, the way in which Muslims dress is really driven out of simple modesty and a desire to not draw individual attention in any way. Muslims generally do not resent the restrictions placed on their dress by their religion and most regard it as a proud statement of their faith.
Islam gives guidance about all aspects of life, including matters of public decency. Although Islam has no fixed standard as to the style of dress or type of clothing that Muslims must wear, there are some minimum requirements that must be met.
Islam has two sources for guidance and rulings: the Quran, which is considered to be the revealed word of Allah, and the Hadith—the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad, who serves as a human role model and guide.
It should be noted, too, that codes for conduct when it comes to dressing are greatly relaxed when individuals are home and with their families. The following requirements are followed by Muslims when they appear in public, not in the privacy of their own homes.
1st Requirement: Parts of the Body to Be Covered
The first bit of guidance given in Islam describes the parts of the body which must be covered in public.
For Women: In general, standards of modesty call for a woman to cover her body, particularly her chest. The Quran calls for women to “draw their head-coverings over their chests” (24:30-31), and the Prophet Muhammad instructed that women should cover their bodies except for their face and hands. Most Muslims interpret this to require head coverings for women, although some Muslim women, especially those of more conservative branches of Islam, cover the entire body, including the face and/or hands, with a full body chador.
For Men: The minimum amount to be covered on the body is between the navel and the knee. It should be noted, though, that a bare chest would be frowned upon in situations where it draws attention.
2nd Requirement: Looseness
Islam also guides that clothing must be loose enough so as not to outline or distinguish the shape of the body. Skin-tight, body-hugging clothes are discouraged for both men and women. When in public, some women wear a light cloak over their personal clothing as a convenient way to hide the curves of the body. In many predominantly Muslim countries, men’s traditional dress is somewhat like a loose robe, covering the body from the neck to the ankles.
3rd Requirement: Thickness
The Prophet Muhammad once warned that in later generations, there would be people “who are dressed yet naked.” See-through clothing is not modest, for either men or women. The clothing must be thick enough so that the color of the skin it covers is not visible, nor the shape of the body underneath.
4th Requirement: Overall Appearance
The overall appearance of a person should be dignified and modest. Shiny, flashy clothing may technically meet the above requirements for exposure of the body, but it defeats the purpose of overall modesty and is therefore discouraged.
5th Requirement: Not Imitating Other Faiths
Islam encourages people to be proud of who they are. Muslims should look like Muslims and not like mere imitations of people of other faiths around them. Women should be proud of their femininity and not dress like men. And men should be proud of their masculinity and not try to imitate women in their dress. For this reason, Muslim men are forbidden from wearing gold or silk, as these are considered feminine accessories.
6th Requirement: Decent But Not Flashy
The Quran instructs that clothing is meant to cover our private areas and be an adornment (Quran 7:26). Clothing worn by Muslims should be clean and decent, neither excessively fancy nor ragged. One should not dress in a manner intended to gain the admiration or sympathy of others.
Beyond the Clothing: Behaviors and Manners
Islamic clothing is but one aspect of modesty. More importantly, one must be modest in behavior, manners, speech, and appearance in public. The dress is only one aspect of the total being and one that merely reflects what is present on the inside of a person’s heart.
Is Islamic Clothing Restrictive?
Islamic dress sometimes draws criticism from non-Muslims; however, dress requirements are not meant to be restrictive for either men or women. Most Muslims who wear a modest dress do not find it impractical in any way, and they are able to easily continue with their activities in all levels and walks of life.