Islamic Clothing Primer
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 Islamic clothing 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, Muslim women 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 the front.
The 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 puberty.
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 tunic.
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.
A 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.
Men Islamic clothing
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 look.
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 stylish look.
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 state institutions.
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 school.
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 education.