Islamic Clothing for
Men and Women
Concept of Modesty in Islam for Muslim Women
Modesty is central to the Muslim religion for both men and women.
The way Muslims dress reflects a dedication to modesty in speech,
conduct and all areas of life. The Qur'an and hadith contain the
teachings regarding modesty that prompt Muslim women around the
world to cover themselves.
While those in the West may see
as an unfair and unnecessary burden that oppresses women, or as a
ploy by men to subjugate women, this is not the case. Many women
choose to dress modestly and enjoy it. It is an outward expression
of an inward religious commitment. In addition, modest clothing
helps many women to feel safe and protected from unwanted or
potentially harmful attention from men.
The Quran states that a woman must not display her beauty to men
that are not legal for her. This means she must cover herself and
not wear overly-flashy adornments like jewelry or anything that
would attract male attention. In addition, she must wear thick,
non-transparent, loose clothing so that the shape of her body is not
seen. It is also important that a woman's clothing does not reflect
that of a man's and vice versa.
A Muslim woman's clothes should reflect her humility. They should
not expose her body or show pride or vanity. They are meant to
protect privacy and promote humility and morality.
The Arabic term awra refers to the parts of the
body that must be covered. A woman's awra consists
of her entire body excluding her face, hands, and feet. In the
company of family members and young children, a woman is permitted
to show her hair, neck, and arms. All else is reserved only for the
eyes of her husband.
Islamic Clothing for Women
In the privacy of their own homes,
often wear regular clothes. However, when they go out in public or
are in the company of non-family members, they must wear additional
clothing to cover themselves.
The abaya is an extremely modest Islamic dress which many women in
the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia and the Arab Gulf
countries, often wear. The abaya is a long sleeved, loose-fitting
robe that extends to the floor. It is designed to cover the curves
of a woman's body. Many women wear comfortable clothing in their own
homes and wear an abaya on top when they go out in public.
The abaya begins at the head or shoulders and has a zipper, buttons
or ties in the front covered by overlapping layers. An additional
scarf covers the hair. Many women also choose to wear a veil or mask
that covers the face.
In Iran, Muslim women wear a chador. This is a long cloak that
extends from the top of the head to the feet. Often, it is open in
jilbab is similar to the abaya but more fashionable. Jilbabs are
available in many styles and colors and look more like long tailored
coats than robes.
A niqab is worn by the most modest of Muslims. It is a head covering
with a face veil. Sometimes, a thin slit shows the eyes. Or, the
eyes are covered up as well as the rest of the face and head.
A burqa is a veil that covers a woman's entire body. The eyes are
covered by a thin mesh screen. This style of covering is especially
common in Afghanistan.
In the Quran, Hijab refers to the guidelines of covering up and is a
term used to generally describe Muslim modesty and clothing that
follows Allah's will. While it can refer to any head or body
covering relating to modesty, the term is often used to refer
specifically to the head covering worn by Muslim women beginning at
Arabic Clothing for Men
For Muslim men, the awrah' is the part of the body between the
navel and the knees, or sometimes upper thigh. This means that
these areas must be covered at all times, especially when in
public or mixed company. Just like with women, a Muslim man's
clothing should be loose, thick and not attract attention. Men
are also forbidden to wear gold or silk.
Similar to the customs regarding women, in many Muslim
societies, men wear long, flowing robes or tunics. A thobe,
thawb, dishdasha, suriyah or kandura, is a robe-like garment
worn by Muslim men particularly in Iraq and Gulf Arab
countries. This outfit extends to the ankles and often has
long sleeves. There are slight variations in the thobe seen in
different countries and regions.
A shalwar kameez is a common outfit for both Muslim men and
women, particularly in South Asia. Shalwar are loose fitting
pants, similar to pajama pants. They are held up by an elastic
waistband and may narrow at the ankle. The kameez is a long
In South East Asia,
Muslim men wear a sarong or sarung. A sarong is a long
length of fabric worn around the waist like a skirt. It does
not touch the ground and often has a colorful, checkered
pattern. Women may also wear sarongs as well as those
throughout the Pacific Islands or the Arabian Peninsula.
bisht is a flowing cloak worn in Arab countries. It is
worn over the thobe. Because of warm weather, a bisht is often
only worn for special occasions such as friday prayer. In some
places, a bisht is worn by nobility or tribal chiefs.
Modern Muslim Women Fashions
Today, Muslim clothing, especially in the West, is becoming more
fashionable, while still adhering to the strict standards of
modesty. Bright colors and patterns can liven up a Muslim woman's
For a more modern look, women may shop at non-Muslim stores and
simply choose long, modest clothes. Loose fitting jeans and a long
tunic make a great outfit. In addition, colorful scarves and shawls
are popular in today's fashion and can be used for covering the head
and hair. Long skirts or dresses can be paired with a turtleneck,
knee-high boots, loose leggings and other clothing items for a
Controversy of Wearing a Hijab and Burqa
On September 18, 1989, three young girls were suspended from school
for dismissing requests to remove their head coverings and refusing
to comply with the schools wishes. This incidence at a French public
school began a controversy known as the Islamic scarf controversy in
France or the Islamic veil affair.
The dispute brought to light many issues including Islamophobia, the
difference between Islamic tradition and doctrine, the clash between
communitarianism and minority assimilation and rigid secularity in
In November of 1989, a ruling by the Conseil d'Etat declared that
the religious expression of wearing a scarf was appropriate with the
laicite (secularism) of public schools. In December of the same
year, Lionel Jospin, the minister of education, declared that
educators could decide whether to allow or prohibit the wearing of
hijab in class on a case-by-case basis
In 1990, three more girls were suspended from another French public
school. This led to a defamation suit being filed against the
principle and a strike by teachers in protest of allowing the hijab
In 1994, students organized a protest fighting for the right to wear
a head covering in class. A month later, 24 of that school's female
students were suspended for wearing a hijab. From 1994 to 2003,
nearly 100 middle or high school students were expelled or suspended
as a result of this controversy. In many of these cases, expulsions
were annulled by the courts.
Several feminist Muslims argued that wearing a veil is a form of
oppression and should not be encouraged or allowed in the public
school system. Others opposing the wearing of hijab did so in an
effort to uphold France's strict policy of secularism and believed
that allowing such an obvious religious expression was a danger to
the unity of the French Republic.
In March 2004, a law was passed forbidding conspicuous religious
symbols of all kinds from publicly funded schools. The law does not
apply to universities or parents. Many girls chose to comply with
the new law while others have found alternative methods of