In the Name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

Women’s dress code by Tafozali & Turner

[7:26] O children of Adam, we have provided you with garments to cover your bodies, as well as for luxury. But the best garment is the garment of righteousness…

The majority of the so-called Muslim countries use the Arabic word "Hijab" for "Muslim" dress, and it has come to mean that women must cover everything except their eyes. This is exemplified in Afghanistan now, or more moderately, in Iran and some other "Muslim" countries where the women cover all of their bodies except face and hands. But the word "Hijab" has nothing to do with Muslim dress. As we will see, "Hijab" in the Quran means a combination of physical and spiritual barriers. In some "Muslim" countries, a woman’s space is also decreed by using the word hijab. She is asked to stay home and not leave the house. All the above restrictions have come about because of the misunderstanding of the verse 33:53 where the Almighty says to speak to the prophet’s wives from behind a barrier (hijab). Let us go to the source.

What is Hijab?

The word hijab has been used in the Quran seven times:

  1. [7:44-46] The dwellers of paradise will call the dwellers of hell: "we have found our Lord’s promise to be the truth, have you found your Lord’s promise to be the truth?" They will say, "yes." An announcer between them will announce, "God’s condemnation has befallen the transgressors; ...who repel from the path of God and strive to make it crooked, and with regard to the hereafter, they are disbelievers." ...A barrier (hijab) separates them, while the purgatory is occupied by people who recognize each side by their looks, They will call the dwellers of paradise, "peace be upon you." They did not enter (paradise) through wishful thinking.

    God barred the disbelievers from heaven. Therefore the barrier (hijab) here is spiritual as well as physical.

  2. [17:45] When you read the Quran, we place between you and those who do not believe in the hereafter an invisible barrier (hijab).

  3. [19:16-17] Mention in the scripture Mary, she isolated herself from her family, into an eastern location. ...While a barrier (hijab) separated her from them, we sent to her our Spirit. He went to her in the form of a human being.

    Mary isolated herself from her family and relocated while a "barrier" (hijab) separated her, spiritually and physically, from them. At that time God sent Gabriel to her.

  4. [41:3-5] A scripture whose verses provide the complete details, in an Arabic Quran, for people who know.... A bearer of good news, as well as a warner. However, most of them turn away; they do not hear. ...They said, "our minds are made up, our ears are deaf to your message, and a barrier (hijab) separates us from you. Do what you want and so will we".

    Because they put on themselves a physical barrier of refusing God’s message, God placed a spiritual barrier on them, making them deaf to the message.

  5. No human being can communicate with God except through inspiration, from behind a barrier (hijab), or by sending a messenger through whom He reveals what He wills.... [42:51].
  6. [33:53] O you who believe, do not enter the prophet’s homes unless you are given permission to eat, nor shall you force such an invitation in any manner. If you are invited, you may enter. When you finish eating, you shall leave; do not engage him in lengthy conversations. This used to hurt the prophet, and he was too shy to tell you. But God does not shy away from the truth. If you ask his wives for something, ask them from behind a barrier (hijab). This is purer for your hearts and their hearts.... .

  7. [38:32] He then said, "I enjoyed the material things more than I enjoyed worshipping my Lord, until the sun was gone (tawaret bel-hijab).

The prophet’s wives, while at home and relaxing, were not to be disturbed by men during their private times. God made their lives easier by commanding the men to speak to them, if at home, from behind a barrier (hijab). Some "Muslim" scholars have interpreted this to mean that only from outside walls could a man communicate with the prophet’s wives. They also understood from the same verse that the prophet’s wives never left home. They, therefore, wrongly concluded that their wives too must stay at home.

The Arabic word for walls in the Quran is "al hujrat" not hijab. "As for those who call on you (Muhammad) from outside the walls (al hujrat), most of them do not understand" [49:4]. If women were supposed to stay home all the time, there would not have been a need for commandments concerning the dress code for them.

Are Women Men’s Property?

Unfortunately, in some so-called Muslim countries, women are referred to as the "private part," and that is why they have come to see themselves as man’s private property. The word "private part" goes hand in hand with the word (hijab). When scholars are asked what is the "private part" of the woman, the answer is the whole woman is a private part. In Arabic the private part is "awraat" and this word has been used in the Quran in three places.

  1. In [24:31], "awraat" means puberty, the state in which you become aware of the other’s sex physically.
  2. [24:58] O you who believe permission must be requested by your servants and the children who have not attained puberty (awraat) (before entering your room). This is to be done in three instances before the dawn prayer, at noon when you change your clothes to rest, and after the night prayer. These are three private times for you. At other times it is not wrong for you or them to mingle with one another.

    In this verse, "awraat" means puberty also.

  3. [33:13] A group of them said, "O people of Yathrib, you cannot attain victory; go back." Others made up excuses to the prophet, "Our homes are exposed (awraat)." They just wanted to flee.

    In this verse awraat means vulnerable to attack.

It is obvious from the above verses that the word "awraat" has nothing to do with women. In the Quran women are called "nisa." Although women are vulnerable to attack by unrighteous men, God protects believing women who follow His commandments.

Whether we are created in the form of a man or woman, we are responsible individually in following God’s commandments. We learn from the Quran that we all are equal in the sight of God. Therefore, what will distinguish us in the Hereafter will not be our gender, race or color, but our righteousness:

[49:13] O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, that you may recognize one another. The best among you in the sight of God is the most righteous. God is Omniscient, Cognizant.

[7:26] O children of Adam, we have provided you with garments to cover your bodies, as well as for luxury. But the best garment is the garment of righteousness…

Dress alone will not eliminate the attraction of the sexes, nor violence against women. A woman may be totally covered up, but still behave in a way that displays her beauty, manipulating men through her sexuality. Another woman may not follow that type of traditional dress code but may be quiet and humble in her dress and manner. She does not play on attracting men. It is one’s innermost intentions that count the most.

In order to protect men and women from sinful thoughts and actions, at the beginning of the verses 24:30 and 24:31, both men and women are commanded to "subdue their eyes and maintain their chastity." The meaning of the word "subdue" is to conquer and bring under control, and the meaning of the word chaste is to stay pure. Therefore both men and women must control and conquer their sexual desires and stay pure. We are commanded to interact with one another in the above state. Other commandments for the submitters’ dress include:

  1. Only show necessary parts of the body [24:31].
  2. Cover the chest [24:31].
  3. Do not draw attention to yourself [24:31].
  4. Dress modestly [24:31, 33:59].
  5. Lengthen your garment [33:59].
"Necessary" Parts

[24:31] And tell the believing women to subdue their eyes and maintain their chastity. They shall not reveal any parts of their bodies, except that which is necessary. They shall cover their chests, and shall not relax this dress in the presence of other than their husbands, their fathers, the fathers of their husbands, their sons the sons of their husbands, their brothers, the sons of their brothers, the sons of their sisters, the other women, the male servant or other employee whose sexual drive has been nullified or the children who have not reached puberty. They shall not strike their feet when they walk in order to shake or reveal certain details of their bodies. All of you shall repent to God, O you believers, that you may succeed.

It is argued by the ignorant that the only "necessary" parts to show are the eyes. In this case the woman is hidden under a tent-like sack, which is demeaning and difficult. On the contrary, God does not wish to make religion difficult for us. It is we who make it difficult for ourselves. We are commanded to dress "modestly" but not to hide ourselves. Therefore, "necessary" parts seem to be the parts that we use to perform the ablution for the Contact Prayers (Salat) five times a day.

Relaxing the Dress Code

[24:60] The elderly women who do not expect to get married commit nothing wrong by relaxing their dress, provided they do not reveal too much of their bodies. To maintain modesty is better for them. God is hearer, knower.

In Webster’s dictionary the word "modest" means "quiet and humble in appearance." This verse is the second time that God tells when to relax the dress. The first one is mentioned in 24:31 which is quoted earlier.

Immodest Behavior and Dress

[33:59] O Prophet, tell your wives, your daughters, and the wives of the believers that they shall lengthen their garments. Thus, they will be recognized and avoid being insulted. God is Forgiver, Most Merciful.

This final commandment is to dress in a fashion that will make others to recognize our modesty and protect us from being insulted. This will happen automatically if one follows the guidelines for submitters’ dress: Dress modestly, cover your chest, lengthen your garment and do not show off details of your body.

It is all right to express oneself through dress and to look beautiful. However, if one dresses seductively, then sexual harassment and humiliating attitude from unrighteous men become more possible. Even more important is that one disobeys God.

[24:31] ...They shall not strike their feet when they walk in order to shake and reveal certain details of their body.

The fashion show model on the runway is a good example of this behavior. Why do some women want to show off their bodies, flirt with men and manipulate them with their sexuality? Don’t they want to be respected as human beings with rights and obligations? That is what God wants for them to be rather than sexual objects. God tells us that women are equal to men [3:195, 4:25] but have different qualities [4:32]. God created everything in pairs [43:12] to complement each other.

Senobar Tafozali & Naima Turner